Runners, Y’all Are Disgusting

Photo by Rene Schwietzke

Anyone who has run in an organized race recognizes the flotsam and jetsam of a run: water cups, gel packets, and the occasional item of clothing. While the piles of Gatorade cups can be a little jarring to see, they are more or less working as designed. Runners jog by a water table where volunteers have lined up cups, drink their water, chuck the cup, and go on their way. Longer races will give out “fuel” of some kind; the current trend is calorie dense gels that supposedly are easier to digest than actual food. At the end of the race volunteers clean up all the cups and in theory everyone lives happily ever after.

In practice, the cups and gel packets stray. Half a mile down course from the water station you’ll find some errant cups, some mashed to the asphalt and some still rolling around. Maybe the wind carried them there, maybe the shuffling of thousands of feet kicked them there, or maybe someone just held them half a mile. Either way they’ve now escaped the territory of the volunteers and unless the race organizer is particularly diligent (most aren’t) will become part of the local ecosystem.

On Sunday afternoon following the Philadelphia Marathon I went for a run along Kelly Drive, part of the Fairmount Park system which runs along the Schuylkill River. I saw some form of race detritus roughly every 5 feet for the entire length of my 3.5 mile run. The worst offender by far was the Gu gel packets, little foil and plastic pouches now flattened all over the road and sidewalk. A few cups, a few socks, but mostly Gu. Unlike the cups, which are certainly still a problem, the Gu packets will never break down. They will never biodegrade and go away. Instead they’ll eventually get washed into the river, mixed into the Delaware river, and then either hang out in the Delaware bay or get whisked out to the Atlantic ocean to join the other 6.4 tons of garbage in the world’s oceans. Also, it’s ugly.

Despite being a runner myself I can’t help but feel that these marathoners came in, blocked my streets, trashed my city, and left. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the economic activity the race brings to the city. But after my run on Sunday I’m frankly feeling pretty bitter about the whole thing.  In order to make marathons and other major runs a more welcome addition to cities and not just garbage generating traffic jams, three things need to happen:

1. Runners need to learn to be less disgusting

I get it, I really do. When you’re running it’s hard to focus on whether or not your cup made it into the trash can (and often there isn’t one anyway). Tossing your cup on the ground is part of the culture. That’s fine. What’s not fine is carrying whatever it is for half a mile or a mile and then ditching it there. If you’re able to run with your ipod, water bottles, and all the other crap I routinely see distance runners strap to themselves, you can find somewhere to hold that empty foil pouch until you get to another volunteer station.

Speaking of the culture, the culture is bullshit. If you’re an elite runner, I can see how you don’t have time to deal with a cup / trash can / etc. Most people running the Philadelphia marathon are not elite runners. The average finish time is over four hours. Are you really gonna claim you can’t spare the extra 10 seconds to find a trash can?

Also stop stripping during races. If you absolutely can’t handle wearing the same outfit for your whole run, at least have the decency to shed your layers at a volunteer station where it’s more likely to get cleaned up.

2. Race organizers need to step up their trash management game

I’m not going to lay the blame on the volunteers and staff who have the gargantuan task of trying to clean up a race course after the fact, especially if it’s a marathon course. I do however hold the organizers responsible for allowing the problem to get as bad as it is. I’ve been to races where there are only a few small trash cans immediately near the water station, or no trash cans at all. Water stations should have some sort of trash management solution on both sides of the race course, and there should be some place for runners to throw their trash at least a tenth of a mile out. Staff should be collecting the trash during the race so that the wind doesn’t blow it all over the city.

3. Sponsors need to choose environmentally conscious packaging

No matter what some garbage is going to escape. Over ten thousand people run the Philadelphia marathon, and there are probably a dozen or so water / gel stops. You have to plan for the fact that some packaging is going to get out into the world, and that stuff needs to be biodegradable. Then it’s still disgusting and ugly, but at least it’s not going to be floating in the ocean for the next 200 years. Gu packets aren’t even fucking recyclable.

You’re carrying all this shit but you can’t fit an empty foil packet in there?

So yeah, that’s how I’m feeling about the marathon, and running in general, today. On the plus side my garbage-induced rage pushed me to a new personal record: I did a 10:54 pace over 7 miles. My previous best was a 10:59 for 6.2.


First 6 Mile Run

Training for my upcoming 10k is going really well. I had two new running workouts this week: a day of 8×2 speed work and a steady 6 mile run. Both seemed very intimidating going into them but I did them both. The speed work was hard, I ran fast for two minutes then slow for 2 minutes, 8 times, with a mile warm up and cool down.

2014-06-14 18.55.34
Where I run, as seen from the highway


My 6 mile run was on a treadmill because it’s been so humid and I needed a break. It was also a good time to focus on my form since I didn’t have to worry about pace. I did it in an hour and 12 minutes, so I’m well on my way to building the endurance I need for the race. My target time is 1:05, but my training plan has me working up to hour and a half long runs in preparation.

I’m also getting my first running blister, on the very tip of one of my toes. Some cursory googling indicates this might be due to “pushing off” with my toes when I run, so that’s one more think to focus on when I think about my form.


Running a 10k for Fairmount Park

I’m really excited to have snagged a bib for the Philly 10k in September! I’ve joined the Fairmount Park Conservancy charity team, and we’re raising money towards the trail restoration project at Belmont Plateau. I’m asking friends and family to support me by donating to the Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Click Here to Donate Now

For those not familiar with the Fairmount Park system, it’s made up of many parks throughout the city both large and small. I most often run in two of the larger parks: the 1400 acre Wissahickon Valley Park, a beautiful forested area surrounding the Wissahickon Creek, and in the 4100 acre Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River. By comparison New York’s central park is a mere 843 acres. The Fairmount Park Conservancy works with the city Department of Parks and Recreation to maintain and improve all 63 parks in the Fairmount Park System.

Aside from being a great place to run and bike, our local vegetable CSA is grown on land owned by Fairmount Park. I feel incredibly lucky to live in a city with such a wonderful park system so near by.

An overpass in Wissahickon Valley
From my run in Wissahickon Valley

This run will be my first 10k. Previously my longest run at any speed was just over 3 miles, and a 10k is 6.2 miles long. I’ll be spending my summer increasing both my distance and my speed by following a 4 day a week running plan. By the end of the plan I hope to be able to run the 10k in under 65 minutes!

Help Support Fairmount Parks!

Fairmount Park is such an integral part of my fitness and wellness and I am very proud to be part of their fundraising team for the Philly 10k. Please consider supporting both me and the parks by donating on my fundraising page. Our team goal is $5000, but every dollar is extremely appreciated.

Click Here to Donate Now

Follow My Training Progress

As of early June I’m a few weeks into my running training. I’ll be posting on Facebook and Twitter about my running, but I’ll also be updating my blog with my progress. You can see all my Philly 10k training posts at this page, or just click the “exercise” link in the navigation.

Thank You

Thank you so much to my friends and family who have supported me thus far as I slowly become “a runner.” When I started running three years ago I couldn’t make it down the block without wheezing. It took a number of false starts to complete my first 5k. Now I’m up to 5 mile runs, and looking forward to running my first 10k. It’s only through your incredible support that I’ve made it this far, thank you so much.