Green Habits to Protect Yourself and the Planet
You make an effort to carry your gel wrappers home to dispose of properly after your long run. You bring that reusable bag you were given at last weekend’s half marathon with you to the grocery market. As a runner, you have a symbiotic relationship with the earth, and it may have more of an impact on you and the planet than you realize!
Avoiding the Risks from Pollution
Comprised of dust and pollen particles, carbon monoxide or smog, and other gases, air pollution changes depending on the time of day, season, and location you are running in. Sucking in polluted air will eventually reduce your ability to run at your full potential, and can result in other health conditions. Asthma attacks can be triggered by inhaling diesel exhaust, and smog’s ozone component can damage your cardiovascular system and is linked to some forms of cancer.
The good news is that research suggests the gains of exercise override the adverse effect pollution can have on runners. A study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives revealed that the benefits of exercise have a much bigger impact on our health than the detriments of air pollution. So how can we reap the benefits of running while avoiding the health risks? The answer might be on your dinner plate!
You can also reduce the risk associated with pollutants by checking your area’s air quality index (AQI) before your run. Apps like The Weather Channel provide up-to-date scales that measure air quality based on ozone, NO2, SO2, and other pollutants. Look for a “Good” rating, which means the air quality is satisfactory, the risks associated with air pollution are low, and it is a great time for a run! Consider heading to the gym or indoors for a treadmill run if the rating is “Bad.”
As runners, we love to be outdoors and we’ll benefit from those outdoor workouts (despite air pollution) if we take a few precautionary measures. Earth Day is a great time for us to express our love for the outdoors by doing a little more to preserve and protect it.
Ditch Disposable Water Bottles
In races, it is completely acceptable to swing by an aid station, drink out of those plastic cups and toss them to the side, knowing the volunteers will pick all those cups up. And many of us have stashed a full water bottle or two behind a tree so we’ll have water waiting for us in the middle of a workout (returning for that bottle when we’re done with our run, of course). Carelessly tossing your plastic bottles or gel wrappers in the woods or on the street, however, is not only inconsiderate but a potential threat to the environment!
According to the EPA, plastic trash can possibly cause the most harm to the environment, and in turn all life on the planet. Most plastic is chlorinated, and discharges dangerous chemicals into the surrounding soil. These chemicals then seep into nearby water sources, or the groundwater itself, negatively impacting the earth’s ecosystem. Plastic that is not properly disposed of can easily blow into bodies of water or wash up on coastal beaches, where marine life like fish, birds, dolphins, and sea turtles can mistakenly consume it or accidentally be tangled in it. High concentrations of toxic chemicals from plastic aquatic debris can build up in the tissues and stomachs of marine life and eventually, be deadly.
Choose reusable glass or metal water bottles when possible. Otherwise, use domestically-sourced recycled plastic water bottles on your training runs and during the workday instead of store-bought bottled water. Shop around and you’re sure to find a recycled plastic water bottle that meets your training needs! Refillable bottles will keep your water cooler than disposable bottles and can save you money since you’ll likely refill them with tap-water. You’ll also feel good about helping the environment by minimizing unnecessary landfill waste each time you refill that water bottle!
And if you do see garbage while out logging the miles, plastic or otherwise, be a mindful runner by picking it up and disposing of it properly when you have the chance to!
Donate your Old Running Gear
Don’t know what to do with your well-loved running shoes and gear? As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure! Yup, those running shorts that are too big on you because you lost so much weight training for a marathon, and your running shoes that have over 400 miles on them are exactly what clothing drives are looking for!
With 85 percent of all shoes and clothes landing in landfills each year, repurposing those running shoes is a more eco-friendly option. Stores like Lululemon have been known to host workout gear drives, donating used clothes and shoes to non-profit organizations such as the Lineage Project, which offers yoga and meditation to New York City’s at-risk youth.
The nonprofit Souls4Souls collects gently-worn footwear, and has donated over 30 million pairs of shoes in 127 countries around the world as part of direct-assistance initiatives, disaster relief, and micro-enterprise efforts. You can donate your shoes at one of the Souls4Souls drop-off locations, or host a shoe drive of your own!
Other international programs like One World Running provide running shoes to those in need across the globe. Donated shoes that are assessed and found unsuitable for wear are sent to Nike’s Beaverton, OR location to be ground up, melted down, and transformed into playgrounds, basketball courts, and running tracks through the Reuse-a-Shoe program.
Just because your sneakers are too worn out to run in doesn’t mean they can’t keep someone else’s feet warm! If you want to make a difference in the community you live in, launder your used running shoes on the cold wash cycle (pour in a splash of white vinegar to kill bacteria) and donate them to your local donation center, homeless shelter, or thrift shop. By donating your old shoes and your finishing tees, you’ll help those in need while protecting the planet by keeping them out of the landfill.
Adopt a Trail or Highway
Since April 22, 2019 was Earth Day, you may feel inspired to take your environmentally-friendly efforts as an eco-conscious runner to the next level. We can all do our part to improve our roads and trails by participating in a trail work day. Volunteering some time during the year to make a difference in your local running community is easy and rewarding.
Many trail races will post information about annual trail clean-up opportunities on their website or social media page. Some even give runners “trail service hours” that increase their chances of securing a hard-to-attain race entry. The HURT Hawaii trail series offers runners this chance every April in celebration of Earth Day, teaming up with a local school to clean trails used in their races and emphasizing the importance of being good stewards of the land.
Adopting a highway is also a fantastic means of giving back to the communities you run in. Make litter pick-up a group effort by recruiting your running team or club to volunteer for a day. As volunteers, you will adopt a two-mile stretch of highway for at least two years, and commit to picking up debris a minimum of four times a year. Most highway adoption programs will provide your group of volunteers with bags for trash, safety vests, and basic safety training. Some programs will even post a sign with the name of your running club or team at the section you’ve adopted, so you can remember what you’ve done to give back every time your training run takes you past that sign!
Originating in Texas, there are now Adopt-a-Highway programs all across the U.S. To get more information, visit your state’s Department of Transportation website.
Leave Your Car at Home
As a runner, you should definitely include strength training in your weekly routine. Burpees, lunges, planks, and squats are all great exercises to get familiar with, and the best part is that you don’t need to join a gym to do them.
Think outside the big box gyms and their complicated exercise machines, and get outdoors! Parks, beaches, and the stairs of your town library can all be incorporated into your outdoor workout. Leave your car in the driveway and run from home and you’ll not only do double duty by incorporating your strength training into your run, but you’ll also do your part in reducing carbon emissions.
Members of eco-friendly exercise movements like the November Project often run to the free group workouts and back home afterward. November Project runners keep strong and keep their workouts green by performing plank/push-up burnouts in between running stadium steps. Check out their website to find a November Project group near you!
If you do have to drive to a gym, workout, or race, carpool with friends or take a shuttle if the race provides it. Many races offer discounts to runners who carpool as an incentive to offset their carbon footprint.
Sign up for an Eco-Friendly Race
Held the weekend before Earth Day, races with an emphasis on protecting the planet are popping up all over the country. Reduce your carbon footprint and enjoy a guilt-free run by participating in an eco-friendly race like the Earth Day Run Half Marathon & Relay in St. Cloud, MN or the Run for Clean Air in Philadelphia, PA.
Look for zero-waste events when searching for your next big race. You’ll feel good about registering for races that reduce environmental impact through paperless on-site registration, solar generator use, and reusable race bags or finisher shirts printed with sustainable inks.
This Earth Day, take a long, hard look at your habits as a runner and how they are affecting the planet. With a few modifications to your training and racing, and a dedication to giving back, you’ll be making a positive impact on the environment so future generations can enjoy your favorite spots to run!
- Impacts of Mismanaged Trash, Environmental Resource ,
- Exercise can outweigh harmful effects of air pollution, Science News ,