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What is an Eco Marathon?

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crowd watches marathoner cross finish line What is an Eco Marathon? www.runnerclick.com

When it comes to environmentally conscious modes of transportation, running is about as “green” as it gets. No fossil fuels are burned, no one-use plastics are needed, and the only carbon emission is your breath. You don’t need gear like a bicycle, skateboard or rollerblades, yet you can still get around much faster than walking. It’s perfect!

Until recently, however, this ideal scenario was only possible for an individual runner. Due to the enormous amount of participants, staff, and spectators they command, the logistics of your average marathon don’t normally include the goal of leaving zero impact.

What is a Marathon?

The modern marathon (with a distance of 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers) officially started in the 1896 Olympic events. But endurance running has a long, rich history with humankind. Originally, humans would often have to run great distances to hunt animals. Before weapons or other modes of transportation evolved, we had to rely on our own two legs to run down our prey. The stamina needed for this “marathon” of survival was prized among hunters, and necessary for our existence.

As our weaponry became more advanced this method of hunting became less common, yet endurance running was still highly valued and played a crucial role in the world. The most accomplished runners became all-important messengers for wars, world events, warnings, and other urgent notices. Runners were used as messengers in most cultures well into the 19th century, and in the present day, some cultures still use runners as messengers.

Today, our best runners gather from all corners of the Earth to participate in marathons. Marathons are an annual or biannual chance to prove one’s endurance – some runners love the competition, but for many runners their reasons to participate are personal and the competition is within. Marathons play an important role in the running world, and outside of it too – there are a good number of people who use marathons or half marathons as a worthy goal to work towards, a feat to achieve, and they often greatly improve their health in the process.

What is an “Eco” Marathon?

So, we need marathons. But we also need to save the Earth from pollution, litter, and carbon emissions wherever possible, especially with big events involving thousands of people. Some marathons have tens of thousands of participants, and there are over 800 marathons worldwide every year. There is a chance to make a big difference on a scale that vast, not only for each marathon event but also in setting an example for other sports to implement environmentally conscious protocols for their events. Fortunately, it’s very possible to have a reduced or even zero environmental impact marathon.

Several forward-thinking modern marathons have already begun making these eco-conscious changes, and are leading the charge towards a more sustainable and clean environment for our future. There’s even an eco-marathon in China where participants are encouraged not to compete on time, but to enjoy the beautiful scenery and pick up litter along the 42.2km course.

What Can I Do?

As a runner, you can choose to purchase eco-friendly gear and seek out the eco or “green” marathons in your area (see list below). What can you do if you wish to participate in a non-eco marathon? You can lend your voice, and write a formal request to the marathon board requesting that they implement environmental friendly procedures for next year, suggesting several of the tips below, and asking that they are certified by an organization like the Council for Responsible Sport (www.councilforresponsiblesport.org). The Council for Responsible Sport is one of the world’s leading responsible sports certification programs, helping sports events move towards sustainability by measuring the environmental impact of their event and helping them to manage that impact.  If enough people ask, marathons will change. Together, we really can make a difference.

“Eco” Marathon Tips

By implementing the following changes, marathons can make a big leap towards zero waste.

  • Online registration and emailed communications (no paper)
  • Medals made of recycled metal
  • “Goody bags” made of recycled materials filled with eco-friendly gifts, or digital goody bags with special offers or coupons
  • Participant shirts made of recycled textiles
  • Compostable drinking cups provided at water stations
  • Locally sourced snacks at the finish line, and donation of leftover food to local food banks
  • Provision of carpools or shuttles to and from marathon site to reduce carbon emissions
  • Gifting finishers with tree seedlings to plant (Portland, OR)
  • Offering carbon offsets to runners who travel more than 80 miles to an event (Mount Werner, CO)
  • Providing a giant 40ft water fountain to reduce paper and plastic cups (Hartford, CT)
  • Having participants pick up litter along the course (China)

List of Environmentally Friendly or “Eco” Marathons

Each of these marathons is making a dedicated effort to turn their events into eco-conscious affairs by incorporating some or all of the Eco-Marathon Tips above. This is a short list and does not include all of the environmentally conscious marathons.


  1. Portland, Oregon Marathon
  2. Catalina Island, California Marathon
  3. Las Vegas, Nevada Marathon
  4. Mount Werner Classic Trail Run, Colorado
  5. Boston, Massachusetts Marathon
  6. Austin, Texas Marathon
  7. Shelby Farms, Greenline, Tennessee Half Marathon
  8. Hartford, Connecticut Marathon
  9. Amica, Seattle, Washington Marathon
  10. Bank of America, Chicago, Illinois Marathon
  11. Nature’s Path Whidbey Island Marathon, Washington
  12. Great Lakes Endurance Trail Running, Michigan
  13. Big Sur International Marathon, California


  1. Eco Slow Marathon INBA, China
  2. Radisson Blu International Larnaka Marathon, Cyprus
  3. Patagonia International Marathon, Chile
  4. Manitoba Marathon, Canada
  5. Canmore Rocky Mountain Half-Marathon, Canada


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