This past summer, I signed up to pace and provide crew support for my friend who was taking on the Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run, a challenging trail race through the Central Cascades of Washington State.
It was at this race that I met Tia around 2 am—we were both passengers in a car leaving an aid station. It was dark, cold, and probably raining. Tia had been running for over 16 hours and was kind enough to engage in small talk. I found out that she is the Race Director for Miwok 100k and was getting her MBA at Southern Oregon University. My ears perked up when she mentioned her thesis would focus on reducing the environmental footprint in ultrarunning. As a self-professed tree hugger who enjoys trail running, I was delighted to hear that Tia is taking on the ultra waste challenge.
Tia also happens to be quite the prolific ultarunner, taking on some of the sports toughest races, including Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, Leadville Trail 100 Run, and the grueling 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon. Tia spent seven years as the managing editor of UltraRunning magazine (she left UR in 2014 to be a full-time student)—it’s clear that I was in the company of ultra greatness.
I recently caught up with Tia in Ashland, Oregon to learn more about her role as the RD for Miwok and how the race is at the front of the pack when it comes to reducing waste.
HOW DID YOU GET INTERESTED IN ULTRARUNNING?
I was a solid 5k-road runner for many years, but I found that I needed more of a challenge. I ran the Death Valley Trail Marathon in February, 2000 and took second place in the women’s division. I decided maybe trail racing wasn’t so bad and I got hooked (and went back to win that race the following year). My parents were volunteering at the 2000 Miwok 100K in May and I thought, “ I should try that race.” And so in 2000, I ran Miwok as my first ultra.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TAKE ON THE ROLE OF RACE DIRECTOR FOR MIWOK 100K?
I really enjoy organizing. When my kids were younger, I was a “room mom” at their school for many years—and even became the “Pizza Queen” (as the monthly pizza lunch organizer was traditionally known) for the entire school. I was raised to be involved in the community and the idea of combining my love for trail running with community engagement was very appealing, and Miwok provided the perfect opportunity.
IS ELIMINATING PAPER CUPS THE KEY TO REDUCING WASTE AT RACES?
Waste from cups adds up quickly. For example, let’s say an ultra race has 400 runners and 10 aid stations—that’s 4,000 cups that go into the landfill! Since 2013, Miwok has been cup-free—there are no paper cups at aid stations—runners must bring their own cup. For those who don’t bring a cup or forgot theirs, we provide a set of “communal” cups—one for water, soda, and electrolyte—for the runners to use. Although it can be hard to adjust to bringing your own cup, overall, I’ve had very positive feedback and the race policy is preventing about 4,000 cups from going into the landfill each year.
WHAT OTHER WASTE PREVENTION PRACTICES DO YOU INCORPORATE AT MIWOK?
We provide recycling and composting bins at each of the aid stations. Each aid station has a designated “waste management engineer” to make sure everything goes into the proper bin. Since being proactive about sorting and composting (and being cup-free), the reduction in trash has been astonishing—the race has gone from a 10-cubic-yard dumpster to a 2-yard dumpster—in 2013, we reduced what we sent to the landfill by a whopping 60 percent.
Proactive “pre-cycling” has also been an important part of reducing our waste—I choose food products that come in minimal packaging and buy in bulk whenever possible. As the RD, I’m also very conscientious when it comes to the food we provide the runners. We provide as much “real” food as possible and try to avoid processed foods. Although, the tortillas with hummus are always a hit, we know that sometimes they just want an Oreo! To reduce our food waste, we donate leftovers to a local organization.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE RACE SWAG?
Runners love swag—however, swag can add up to waste, so we make sure to provide quality and useful products over quantity. In 2014, Whole Foods provided reusable cloth bags for the Miwok goody bag.
WHAT’S KEEPING YOU BUSY THESE DAYS?
I’m a full-time MBA student at Southern Oregon University. In March 2015, I’m heading to Germany for six months as part of my graduate program to explore global sustainability in racing (no worries, I’ll be back for the 2015 Miwok). I’m also on the Board of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run where we are looking at how we can reduce waste. And I’ve just finished a two-year stint on the Board of Directors of Rogue Valley Farm to School.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE?
To successfully reduce waste at races, you really have to implement policies and initiatives that are runner-friendly—it has to work for the participants. If a mid-pack or slower runner has to crawl all the way to their car and back after running 50 miles just to get their plate in order to eat at the finish line, odds are they will leave instead. As trail running and races become more popular, we don’t want to create more waste unnecessarily—we all need to work together to reduce our environmental footprint—but measures do need to fit into the context.
Thank you, Tia, for your time and sharing your story. It’s clear that Miwok is an example of how to do a race right and I hope that your waste prevention measures become the standard for all races.
May 2, 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of Miwok 100k and I plan to be cheering on the runners as a “waste engineer” at an aid station. Registration for the lottery will be on Ultra Signup from Saturday, December 6th (8:00 am.) through Wednesday, December 10th (midnight).
What waste prevention measures and policies have you seen at races? What’s the best thing you’ve received for finishing a race or in your goody bag?