I really enjoyed my run at the Stort30 this past weekend. It is a beautiful route, and it was really nice to see so many people out enjoying the fine weather. The fishermen on the river were probably wondering what in the hell we were doing, spending our morning running along a muddy river bank. But frankly I think the same thing about their hobby. So, y'know, horses for courses and all that.
But one thing that disappointed me was the number if discarded gel wrappers I found on my return journey. Littering is one of my bugbears, and I like to try and do my part to help when I can. I once really annoyed my wife by picking up and carrying a bin bag full of beer cans that some bugger had dumped in a bush. Sure I looked like a massive alcoholic (the dishevelled beard didn't help matters), but for the sake of a few minutes searching for a bin I was happy to act the bum.
But it seriously annoys me when people just dump their rubbish while they run. Sure, sometimes it is an accident; things can fall out of your bag. It may also not be due to other runners at all, as other people use the route as well, including cyclists. However the packets weren't there on the way out, and mysteriously appeared on the return journey.
I wasn't too worried about my time, so I picked up all of the ones that I saw. One in particular was half full, which was lovely to deal with. But I just dumped then in a pocket and got on with it.
If you've got room to carry a gel, you've got room to carry the wrapper. It doesn't take any extra time really to shove a rolled up wrapper in a pocket on your pack. If you're worried about the mess, just carry a little sandwich bag or something with you. At UTMB, they gave everybody a little pouch which could be clipped on to your bag somewhere convenient. The same effect can be achieved with a little plastic bag. Hell, the checkpoints were so close together in this race (about 5 miles), it really wouldn't be difficult to just hold onto it until the end. There really is no excuse.
Some people have suggested that the problem comes from road runners who are used to races where rubbish is cleaned up afterwards. But come on people. We're all grown ups. It must surely occur to these people that it's not nice for others (particularly people just out for a Sunday stroll) to see this kind of mess. It gives us all a bad name.
And it can potentially be very bad for the future of running events, never mind the environment and local flora and fauna. Permission has to be obtained to hold races on these trails, so if people are complaining about the mess being made by the runners then they may simply not allow it to go ahead the next year. All for the sake of shaving 5 seconds off of your 100 km time.
I put a post (or more aptly a "rant") up on Facebook about this, and it was great to see that generally people were also saddened by it. Some people thought instant disqualification was even the way to go. Too harsh?Maybe not. I'm certainly not the first person to talk about this problem, and there are various initiatives to help promote conscientious trail use, such as the RunTidy initiative in Wales. Please take the time to show your support and help keep our trails beautiful. There was even an article in the Guardian where Jeremy Paxman asked why more people don't challenge litter bugs.
Many problems in this world could be solved by people just not being dicks, and thinking about others. Litter is also one of those things that builds - if one person litters then others will be more likely to do the same. So I'm going to try and make it my business to keep the trails clean and tidy, and try to pick up any rubbish that I see while out and about. I hope that you'll join me. Let's start small and build up to world peace, eh?!