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How Green Running Events Work


Trash lines a street in Queens, N.Y., during the 2009 ING New York City Marathon. Many marathons -- including this one -- have gone increasingly greener since.
Trash lines a street in Queens, N.Y., during the 2009 ING New York City Marathon. Many marathons -- including this one -- have gone increasingly greener since.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

No sport is as simple as running -- all you need is a pair of shoes and the open road. For eco-conscious athletes, running would seem to be the ideal way to stay in shape and limit your fleet-footed footprint on the environment. Not so fast, say the eco-police.

For starters, that pair of $100 running shoes had to be manufactured, most likely in China, where environmental protection laws are lacking at best. According to estimates from Runner's World magazine and the Green Design Institute at Carnegie-Mellon University, an avid runner will go through three pairs of shoes a year, pumping a total of 430 pounds (195 kilograms) of carbon dioxide into the air as a byproduct of the manufacturing process [source: Stevenson].

One dude and his running shoes is one thing, but what happens when tens of thousands of runners converge on a race like the ING New York City Marathon, which attracted more than 35,000 participants (and untold numbers of spectators) in 2009? Just think of the paper cups and water bottles alone. Imagine the snowdrifts of garbage that litter the streets of major cities in the wake of one of these colossal road races. In the past, several tons of race-related trash would go straight from the course to the landfill.

And what about the impact of "destination" races, for which people travel thousands of miles -- burning mind-blowing amounts of fossil fuels -- to race in famous marathons or exotic locales? According to the organizers of last year's Boston Marathon, only 2 percent of the runners were from Boston. Seventy-five percent came from beyond the New England area, and 15 percent flew in from abroad [source: Abel]. If the average flight to a destination race is 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers), that means an extra 4,080 pounds (1,851 kilograms) of carbon dioxide for each traveling runner [source: Stevenson].

Fortunately, in the past decade, there's been a huge movement to make running events more "green." Runner's World magazine even formed an official "Green Team" to assist race organizers in designing eco-friendly events. The results have been impressive -- all-biodiesel support vehicles, biodegradable cups, composting stations and even recycled medallions. Keep reading to learn more about what makes a green race and what marathons around the country are doing to limit their collective carbon footprint.


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