Great Event, But Where’s All the Trash?

Last Sunday was another “first” in my adventures in running – an early morning two-hour drive to Grand Rapids and the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon & 5K.

Photo from Gazelle Girl website

So, one might wonder why a manly man like me would be part of a female-only race. Well, I was not there to take part in the race, but to pick up after it. Yes, I was on the waste collection and sorting team. A minor version of Mike Rowe doing a Dirty Job. (Being called the “Green Team” didn’t mean we got to keep our hands clean.)

What kind of stuff gets tossed out at a race? Some of just about everything. But the main categories are food waste, cups, water bottles, and Gu / energy bar wrappers. Any large event generates a lot of all of that, and the Gazelle Girl had over 3,500 runners, plus spectators.

What made the job intriguing was that last year, a grand total of one 6 lb. bag was sent to the landfill. Yep, one 6 lb. bag. Everything else was either recycled, sent to a composting service (Organicycle), or (as with the Gu wrappers) sent to Terracycle, a company that turns the scrap into other products like children’s furniture.

Gazelle Girl waste bins 2How did this happen? Good planning and lots of information. One way of limiting waste, for example, is to tell people not to bring something that’s going to end up as landfill trash. Another way is to mark very clearly what goes where, and to staff the stations, which I did briefly before moving to the lovely sorting brigade.

So how much waste actually went to the landfill this year? See below. Enough of describing what happened – I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story. Enjoy! And many thanks to Chelsea and the other Green Team members for helping me learn how sustainable a race can be!

No one's going to steal this waste on my watch!

No one’s going to steal this waste on my watch!

I was so good at manning the station that they moved me to sorting.

I was so good at manning the station that they moved me to sorting.

A sample compost bag. Most of the cups and lids were compostable, but we had to sort out the others for recycling.

A sample compost bag. Most of the cups and lids were compostable, but we had to sort out the others for recycling.

Even with bins all around, there was still food waste scattered everywhere. Sigh. Grow up, people.

Even with bins all around, there was still food waste scattered everywhere. Sigh. Grow up, people.

The final tally. The truck has the compost and Terracycle bags. The bins and bags are for recycling.

The final tally from the start/finish area. The truck has the compost and Terracycle bags. The bins and bags are for recycling. Aid station bags were left on-site and picked up on Monday.

And here's what went to the landfill. Yep, that's all.

And here’s what went to the landfill. Yep, that’s all.

Gearing Up – Ultras Ahead! And a Trashy Update

My first ultra of 2015 is just a week away, and it’s time to start putting things in order for the big day. Actually, the big weekend, as I’ll be doing the Running Fit Trail Marathon “No Wimps” challenge again – half marathon Saturday, 50K Sunday. No guarantees that I’ll jump into the lake again after finishing, but we’ll see.

"No Wimps, Baby!" - 2014

“No Wimps, Baby!” – 2014.

I’ve done the prep work; from now until race day it’s rest and maintain, backing off on distance just a tad and slowing the pace way down. Today, for example, I cut down my long run from 16 miles to 11, and ran easy the entire way. I’m also working in some bike rides, which keep the legs moving without overstressing the knees.

But the tricky part of ultras for me isn’t sore legs, but other factors that cause discomfort. It’s these things more than fatigue that put me at risk of not running as well as I hope to. So I will be making a couple of adjustments at the Trail Marathon. If all goes well I can carry them over to my Glacier Ridge 50 miler, and onto my next 100K attempt later this year.

Lubrication. Chafing is a big problem when I go past 50K, and was one of the things that contributed to my DNF at my 100K attempt last year. Let’s just say that no man wants to experience skin rubbed raw where mine was. Two mainstays of ultrarunners, Vaseline and Body Glide, don’t work well enough for me. Skip at Body Specs recommended Cramer’s Skin Lube, and I just ordered some. That plus compression shorts instead of regular shorts should help a lot.

There are times... (Source:

There are times…

Electrolytes. When I’m on the trail I sweat a lot. An awful lot. From learning the hard way I know I have to keep my salt level up. Until now I’ve been relying on salt-dipped potatoes at the aid stations, which work really well for me – but they don’t always have salt at every station. So salt tabs seem like a logical thing to bring along.

Stomach relief. So far I’ve been fortunate in that eating during an ultramarathon doesn’t bother me. But you never know. And this article explains why runners can get an upset stomach. So I will be packing a roll of antacids, just in case.

Followup: Race Trash and what’s being done about it

This is from the Berlin Marathon, but quite typical. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

This is from the Berlin Marathon, but quite typical. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

A couple of posts ago I talked about the amount of trash generated during a typical race, and the efforts made by some events to cut down on that waste. On Sunday I will be part of the “Green Team” at the Gazelle Girl half marathon in Grand Rapids – a race that last year produced one 6-lb. bag of trash. Everything else was recycled or composted. I’m going there to find out how they do this, and I’ll share what I learned with you next week.

And before I go, I want to give a big shout-out to the 21 PR Fitness runners who are going to toe the line at the Boston Marathon on Monday. Go get ’em, guys!

PR Fitness - Boston Marathon runners 2015



Good Running Form = Tired Arms?

I did a long run yesterday, and boy, are my arms tired.

Your logic escapes me, sir.

Your logic escapes me, sir.

The logic would be obvious, Mr. Spock, if you had been at the running clinic at the Ann Arbor Running Company on Wednesday. It was led by Grant Robison, a star runner at Stanford and Olympic miler in 2004. Over 20 people of all ages showed up to get tips on running with better form.

During high school, college, and his Olympic career, Grant told us, he never studied proper running form, and doubted that most of his fellow Olympians did, either. That may have contributed to his frequent injuries, one of which brought an early end to his participation in Athens.

Today Grant is a teacher for the Good Form Running program, which focuses on three key aspects of running form – posture, foot landing, and body lean. Here are the main points of each:

  • Posture – body straight, pelvis under hips, proper arm swing
  • Landing – midfoot on landing, feet under hips, cadence around 180 steps/minute
  • Lean – bend from ankles, not at waist
Here's a short video showing the main principles of Good Form Running. It's sponsored by New Balance, so there are some not-so-subtle references to the company and their shoes. But the advice is good.

Here’s a short video with Grant demonstrating the principles of Good Form Running. It’s sponsored by New Balance, so there are some not-so-subtle references to the company and their shoes. But the advice is good.

I’d heard all these principles before, and working on them has helped keep me free of serious injury (falls not included) for several years of 1000+ miles of running. But what made this clinic particularly useful to me was the easy drills Grant taught us to develop the habits of good form.

For example, to restore correct posture, all that’s needed is to “reach for the sky” and then let the arms drop. “You can’t touch the sky with a tipped pelvis,” Grant pointed out. Sure enough, it worked like a charm – and it can even be done while running.

To establish a midfoot landing habit, just try heel striking while walking, or walking in place. You can’t do it – it feels too unnatural. Practice that, then letting your feet fall naturally under you while walking. Then extend that to running.

For proper arm swing, just walk in place, letting the arms swing naturally. Then without lifting the shoulders, just bend the elbows to create a 90 degree angle. This “shortens the lever” for more efficiency when running. “Most runners don’t use their arms enough,” Grant said. “It’s hard to run fast with slow arm movement. So when you go out running next, I want you to use your arms more than your legs. Concentrate on the arm movement, and the legs will naturally follow, even when they’re tired.”

For proper lean, all we did was stand straight and let ourselves lean onto our toes. “The moment the toes curl is the proper amount of lean,” Grant said. “Then just release the toes and you’ll fall naturally into your run.”

Afterward, a few of us went out for a four-mile run to try out the things we’d learned. I tried to follow Grant’s advice to run more with my arms than my legs. A couple of times I noticed my arms were not as active as they should be and got them back into action, but other than that I didn’t notice any difference in my technique.

When I woke up Thursday morning, however, my first thought was, “Why are my biceps sore?” Well, that came from exercising them in a way I wasn’t used to – which means my arm form has been less than ideal for a long time.

On yesterday’s long run I worked on form again. Sure enough, at several times over the 16 miles I realized that I wasn’t using my arms properly. I’d let them drop or wasn’t swinging them purposefully enough. At my next race (45 miles of trail April 25-26), good form will be very important to finishing strong, and this will give me something to focus on over the next two weeks.

Bottom line, if there’s a Good Form Running clinic in your area, I recommend it. It’s free and has good advice for runners of all levels. If there isn’t one, here’s a page on their website with more helpful videos.

Celebrating the Easter Spirit (and its costumes)

My best wishes for a peaceful and joyous Easter to everyone, regardless of your faith or celebration preference. Spring, with its promise of renewal, is upon us! We read these words from Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews in church this morning:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us, and persevere in running the race that lies before us…Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.

And for those who participate in the modern version of a certain pre-Christian fertility ritual, click here or on the picture below to see a fun collection of fitness activities featuring people (and other creatures) dressed up in bunny costume. Wow.

From the "Fit is a Feminist Issue" blog.

From the “Fit is a Feminist Issue” blog.

And don’t forget the chocolate!

Handcrafted chocolate Easter egg from Sweet Gem Confections in Ann Arbor. Just one of Nancy's amazing creations.

Handcrafted chocolate Easter egg from Sweet Gem Confections in Ann Arbor. Just one of Nancy’s amazing creations.

Water, Water (and Trash) Everywhere

The 2011 Chicago Marathon, my first-ever 26.2, was sweaty, painful, taxing to my physical and mental limits – and one of the best days of my life. So much was wonderful; the weather, the energy of the other runners, and the cheers of the crowds lining the course. Yet there is one disturbing image that sticks in my mind about that race:

Blue sponges.

Yep, just like this! Thanks to Marathon Pundit for this photo.

Yep, just like this! Thanks to Marathon Pundit for this photo.

Somewhere in the middle miles, an aid station handed out large blue sponges soaked in cold water. Oh, how fabulous, I thought as I took one and cooled off my steaming head. But then I looked ahead to a curb-to-curb sea of sponges on the road for at least 50 yards. Volunteers were trying to sweep them away, but the runners were too thick. So I gingerly ran through the mess, hoping I wouldn’t slip and get trampled by my fellow sponge-bearers.

At other aid stations it was empty water cups everywhere, although nothing quite like the sponge station. I’ve run enough races now to know this is pretty common, and that most are well-run enough to pick up after themselves. Even so, that’s a lot of cups, sponges, and other detritus that end up in a landfill.

This is from the Berlin Marathon, but quite typical. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

This is from the Berlin Marathon, but quite typical. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Let’s look at just one resource critical to a race: potable water. There needs to be plenty of it, delivered quickly to runners in stride and to exhausted, dehydrated finishers. But it’s heavy and bulky, and needs to be at several locations along the course, along with its packaging and distribution materials. This means a lot of plastic, transportation costs, and manual labor – and a lot of trash.

Here, for example, are some numbers I found from the 2011 New York Marathon, with 47,000 runners and Lord knows how many volunteers, crews, and spectators. Just making water available during the race resulted in the following:

  • 237,200 free disposable plastic water bottles
  • 93,600 eight-ounce bottles of water
  • 2,300,000 paper cups

All of which contributed to the more than 100 tons of trash collected afterward, including six tons of paper and three tons of metal, glass and plastic. (See more interesting numbers from the marathon here.) It led Mother Jones to write an article entitled, “Are Marathons Bad for the Planet?

2012 Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon: just one of the water stations.

2012 Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon: just one of at least 7 water stations.

As the 2011 NYC marathon raised $33 million for charities and generated roughly $250 million for the city’s economy, I’d argue that it was a positive event overall. But it came at a substantial cost in setup and cleanup. Is it possible that those costs could have been reduced – substantially reduced, even – while maintaining the quality of the race experience?

The good news is that the answer appears to be yes. From simple “cup-free” races to internationally recognized “sustainability certification” some events are reducing their impact on the environment, and the associated costs, through innovative approaches and better management of existing methods. Here are just a couple of recent examples.

From Running USA:
Sonoma‘s Destination Races Strives For Zero Waste

ONOMA, Calif. – In July the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, presented by Newton Running and produced by Destination Races of Sonoma, achieved an impressive 96.98% landfill diversion rate…compostable products [replaced] all the water bottles, coffee cups, paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils that would typically be headed to the landfill.  This plan also resulted in a 62% reduction in greenhouse gases.
Read the full article here.

And this is from the website for the Two-Hearted Trail race in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula this June.
Environmental Measures

  1. Greenlayer, eco-tech shirts made from 100% recycled polyester.
  2. Each runner must carry a functional hydration system or a minimum 20oz water bottle. There are no cups at the aid stations.
  3. Food served after the event are either locally produced, organically grown, or both.
  4. Medallions and glasswork awards are made by Michigan artists.
  5. Food waste is composted and all other materials are recycled.
  6. Course is marked with reusable flags that are removed after the event.

And while this 2009 festival in New Zealand was not a race, it shows what a day-long event with 25,000 attendees can achieve in waste reduction. Highlights include 5,200kg of materials recycled or composted vs. only 550kg to landfill, an 86% reduction in their greenhouse gas emissions, and eliminating the need to landfill contaminated recyclables – a reduction 640kg of waste over the previous year.

Next up: an organization that has created a multi-level certification program for recognizing races that reduce waste, conserve resources, and promote local businesses. It seems to be catching on. Stay tuned!

Thrills, No Frills, And A Wish Fulfilled

The vernal equinox is upon us, and with it came the annual No Frills All Thrills Trail Race at Huron Meadows Metropark. Hard to believe it’s been a year since the memorable 2014 race, with its Iditarod-like conditions.



The NFAT is one of my favorite races, in part due to the minimalist approach the organizers take. No shirts, no photographer, not even chip timing, just an 8K or 4K trail run through a pretty metropark. For an early spring run in unpredictable conditions, it attracts a surprising variety of runners of all ages. I even saw a stroller this year. Now that’s hardcore.

Just a couple of weeks ago, with snow still covering southern Michigan, I’d expected something similar to the 2014 race, where snow and ice covered the entire trail 3-4 inches deep. But the recent thaw took care of that. I asked the nice lady at the registration area what the trail was like this year.

“The first half mile is a bit muddy,” she said. “And there’s some snow and ice, but not much. It’s much better than last year.” Which would have been true about any year other than 2014. I replied that last year was one for the ages, and she said. “Yep. The Ice Ages.”

NFAT starting lineYet last year I pulled off once of my best efforts, aided by many runners deciding mid-race to drop to the 4K rather than stick out the full 8K. I wound up in 6th place overall. This year, with the trails mostly clear and runnable, I figured there was no way I would finish in the top 10 again. But I lined up in the front anyway.

As promised, there were some muddy spots, and a few large patches of snow and ice here and there. But most of the trail was in surprisingly good shape, and my Saucony Peregrine trail shoes provided good grip throughout. I got off to a good start and settled in at the rear of the lead pack, about 20 or so. We pulled well away from the rest of the runners, and with no one behind me to worry about, I began to work on those ahead.

The 8K route isn’t a killer but it has its challenges, and my winter workouts and all the hill work in Costa Rica paid off as I caught and passed other runners beginning to tire. And no other runners passed me. I love it when that happens! I crossed the finish line in 36:46 – good for an age group win and 9th place overall. Top 10 again!

Saving the best for last: a nice steep hill 100 yards from the finish line.

Saving the best for last: a nice steep hill 100 yards from the finish line.

Top things I love about this race:

  • The “no frills” as proudly advertised. Low key and straightforward.
  • A trail race in March means the conditions are unpredictable and practically guaranteed to be different from year to year.
  • It’s a good test of my fitness level as I get set for my late spring and summer races.
  • The organizers are very nice people, and so are the other runners. Every year I have a good time chatting with people after the race, and learning about other can’t-miss trail races. This year I found out about the debut Two Hearted Trail Run in the UP in June. (Don’t tell anyone – space is limited and I haven’t signed up yet.)
"No frills" race swag: gloves, chipless bib, and age group award.

“No frills” race swag: gloves, chipless bib, and age group award. (Spibelt is mine – and I highly recommend it.)

Normally, I’d be adding “the post-race goodies” to the list. But the homemade chocolate chip and red velvet cookies of the past few years were missing this year, replaced by boxes of store-bought. Perhaps it’s just as well – a couple more of those red velvet cookies and I’d have proposed to the baker, which probably wouldn’t have gone down too well with my wife.

And now for the big news I promised last time:

Coach Marie has a new baby daughter! Kasey June Morgan was born on March 13. Congratulations to Marie and her husband Rob, who faced difficulties in having a child, but whose patience and optimism saw them through. Kasey doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to be a runner. Heck, she already has a 100+ support group!

Kasey doesn't know it yet, but she's going to be a runner. Heck, she already has a 100+ support group!

And in other news, I’m signing up for two spring ultras: the Pinckney Trail Marathon Weekend April 25-26, and the Glacier Ridge Trail Ultra (50 miles) in May. And the 100K retry is also on the list – just need to choose the venue. Stay tuned!

Exiled in Paradise, and I Shall Have No Pi

The running gods either love me, or hate me.

A week ago last Thursday, my wife, DD #2 and I flew to Costa Rica. They came for fun and sightseeing. So did I, with the side effect of having to work at our office starting last Monday. (Yes, the company I work for has an office in Costa Rica. Deal with it.)

Costa Rica - Rachel with Macaw - 2We all had a blast over the first weekend, despite a lost passport that had to be replaced, and the ladies departed for home on Wednesday. I was to stay until Friday, then fly home to run the Pi Day race with daughter on Saturday.

What was the Pi Day race, you may ask? Well, as we all learned in school, “pi” is the mysterious number that expresses the relationship between the circumference of a circle and its diameter: (C = D * pi), more commonly known as 3.14159, etc. etc. to infinity.

From USA Today: amazing pi recitation feats. Because, apparently, all of the world's other problems have been solved.

From USA Today: amazing pi recitation feats. Because, apparently, all of the world’s other problems have been solved.

Saturday was March 14 (3-14), thereby the moniker “Pi Day”. Add in that it’s 2015, and it’s 3-14-15 – a once-per-century event. So Epic Races in Ann Arbor organized a little race: 3.14 miles on 3-14-15 at 9:26:53 a.m., thereby snatching the first 10 digits! And to top it off, there was pie (the food kind) at the finish line. Both of us being nerds (she a late bloomer) we signed up right away.

But the running gods had other plans for me.

Volcano eruption - Costa Rica

Thursday afternoon, one of Costa Rica’s slumbering volcanoes decided it was time for a little fun. The ashfall was light and no real damage was done, but they had to close the airport until they could clear it. Which led to incoming flights being diverted, which led to return flights being cancelled, mine being among them. “The earliest I can get you home,” the airline agent said when I called, “is Monday.”

So my part in the Pi Day race was scuttled, and I was forced to spend another weekend in Costa Rica. “Just so you know,” one of my coworkers helpfully told me, “no one here feels sorry for you.”

Well, si la vida te trata limones, haz limonada, I always say. The enforced additional layover allowed me to catch up on some things that I’ve been putting off due to a hectic schedule. Back home, I’d have run the race, then crashed for the weekend, or done stuff around the house. With none of those distractions here, I was free to focus on my backlog. And I got some more running in.

What is this "snow" you speak of.

What is this “snow” you speak of.

My runs have been short here – the longest has been 10K – but it’s included a lot of hill work (inescapable), and I climb six flights to my room several times a day. Plus it doesn’t take much heat to wear me out right now, as I’m still acclimated to below-freezing weather. But I hear it’s already much warmer at home, and spring trail races are coming up. Gotta stay in shape!

Heading home tomorrow – and there’s big news in my running life to share next time. Stay tuned!