Aid stations are the perfect antidote for physical and mental fatigue. I’ve contemplated calling it quits many times during a race, but the energy garnered from one always keeps me going. While aid stations are typically a welcome relief for runners, they can also be a source of great environmental waste; though they don’t need to be.
There are many practices race directors can do to lessen a race’s environmental impact, and eliminating single-use paper cups is one such approach. Instead runners pack a small collapsible cup during the race (or just rely on a hand-held or hydration vest). I’ve used collapsible cups in several races and it’s easy and I felt good knowing I wasn’t contributing any additional waste.
When I found out my favorite local racing company was going cupless, I reached out to Renee Seker, one of the three founders of Go Beyond Racing, to learn more about their decision as a way to encourage other race directors to follow their lead.
What inspired you to go cup-free?
We are trail runners and love being in the woods. We are always looking for ways to lessen our races’ impact on the environment. For the last few years, we’ve purchased compostable plates, cups, bowls, and silverware, and even paid for carbon offsets for the shipping of those items. Talking with you at our Go Race Series, where you volunteered, inspired us to look for additional ways to do good. We were looking for what the next step could be and decided that cupless races were best.
What steps did you take to get started?
It was fairly simple to begin. We notified the runners of Volcanic 50, the first race we implemented cup-free aid stations. We blogged about it and shared our views on social media. The race has a mandatory gear check beforehand, so it gave us a chance to talk with the runners and answer any questions. Of course some folks forgot to bring a cup, but their fellow runners lent items.
What’s been the feedback?
The feedback has been amazingly positive. We were actually expecting some complaints because it is a change and not everyone loves change; but we haven’t heard from anyone telling us going cupless is a bad idea or that they are upset about our new policy.
Any tips for race directors who want to follow your lead?
Just do it. It is not hard and the impact is positive in every way. The only advice is to communicate it very well ahead of time and be prepared for runners who show up without something to drink from. We typically have UltrAspire collapsible cups for sale at our races; runners will also borrow cups from their fellow racers. I’ve even seen some runners use Ziploc bags in a pinch.
What’s been the impact – how much have you diverted from the landfill?
The impact is significant. At Volcanic 50, the first race we were cupless, the amount of garbage coming back from the aid stations was less than half, maybe even less than three-quarters of usual. And when you have a remote race like Volcanic, where the aid station volunteers hike out the garbage, it makes for happier volunteers. After sorting through the garbage from the race and separating out the recyclables, we had only a few bags that went to the landfill.
To reduce additional waste, we donate leftover and unused food from our races to Neighborhood House, our local food pantry; and we recently switched to reusable plastic plates and bowls at our aid stations to reduce paper products.
What are you excited about for your 2017 racing season?
One thing that really excites us is the increasing numbers of runners trying their first trail race or their first ultra with us. It is very inspiring and rewarding, as a race director, to see runners complete something they didn’t think they could. Our 2017 race calendar is available online.
Anything else you’d like to share?
We’d like to say thank you for all that you are doing to inform people about their impact on the environment and point out ways to lessen the mess we leave behind.
Go Beyond Racing produces races in the Pacific NW from 5K’s to 100 miles and selects a local nonprofit as the beneficiary for each race. It’s clear Renee and her team are an example of how to do a race right, and I hope their stewardship becomes the standard for all races.
We can’t eliminate race waste all together, as there will always be a negative impact with traveling to/from a race, but eliminating single-use paper cups is a welcome trend in the industry. Outside of what Renee shared, other best practices include forgoing race swag, using virtual race bags, composting, upcycling gels and endurance wrappers through TerraCycle, and having race t-shirts be optional.
Visit the Council for Responsible Sport for additional tips and resources. The organization provides objective,
Used your own cup during a race? Please share your experience here, as well as other practices you’ve seen at races to help eliminate waste.