How trail running can limit its impact on the environment

Highland Kings

by Trail Running staff |

The recent Highland Kings Ultra has highlighted the need for race organisers to be eco-aware

The Highland Kings Ultra has put trail running in the headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past week.

The new, 120-mile event in Scotland, which was controversial from the moment it announced its £15,000 entry fees, was widely criticised last week after pictures showed the “biodegradable chalk” left on rocks for navigation purposes. Although the substance may have been designed to wash away, concerns remain over the lasting damage. Several days after the event finished, Lucy Wallace, president of Ramblers Scotland, was still noting the bright markings on her walks. She wrote on Twitter: “Today I walked between N Goatfell & Goatfell, & then down to the Shoulder, photographing every yellow blob of paint I found. It's a small part of the @KingsHighland course, and I know there's loads of paint elsewhere too. I found 35 painted marks.”

Trail Running agreed in advance to publish a series of articles during the event before knowing about these methods, which we obviously do not condone.

Organisers Primal Adventures have since issued the following statement: “Living and working in the area, the team are acutely conscious of the environmental impact that events such as Highland Kings have. As such we sourced and used high quality biodegradable chalk for the event, but we are aware of the impression any sort of marking can have, so had always planned to have a team returning to the course this morning (the day after the event) to wash down all surfaces.

“We did carry out industry research and went over and above to source material recommended for this type of event. The route markers were only used purely from a safety point of view for the athletes.

“Moving forward, we are always looking at best practice and working with the local community is of paramount importance to us, and so feedback such as this is extremely helpful.” They published a further statement today (see below).

It is encouraging that Primal Adventures seem keen to learn from this incident. The reaction itself to the pictures is enough to remind us that the trail running and hiking communities are self-policing to a considerable extent when it comes to the environment. Although some events are greener than others, every organiser surely knows their race will not last long if it shows disregard for the environment. That has been thoroughly well highlighted by this episode.

The trail running fraternity is more eco-conscious than the average runner but there is always more that can be done. Trail Running magazine has on several occasions published features highlighting ways in which the trail running community can limit its negative effect on the environment – such as this one.

Races can cut down on the use of plastic packaging used, for example for issuing water to runners. High-tech alternatives are being created, for instance from the company Notpla, which makes biodegradable water containers.

Organisers should consider carefully whether they need to give away free clothing which may go to waste. Initiatives such as Trees not Tees encourage the planting of a tree as an alternative to a free race T-shirt. Events could generally cut down on giveaways – or at least use more environmentally friendly material, such as wood for medals.

Car-sharing or the use of public transport could be actively encouraged by race organisers. Maybe you could charge for parking or make entry discounted for local runners.

Could you use recycled paper for bib numbers? Clearly, runner communication should be paperless.

Another idea is biodegradable tape for marking the course, if necessary. Obviously, this will need to be removed afterwards. Using marshals may be preferable, if possible, to avoid material being forgotten about.

In the Races section of each print issue of Trail Running, we will endeavour to highlight any ecologically positive measures taken by your race. Email to advise us of details.

Even if you are not a race organiser, here are some ways in which every runner can limit their carbon footprint:

■ Recycle shoes and kit

Companies such as ReRun clothing and individual sports shops can help. Plus, when your shoes are no longer good enough for running, you can wear them as everyday items. Also, sell or give away kit.

■ Buy eco-friendly kit

The newly released Salomon Index.01 is totally recyclable. Meanwhile, manufacturers such as Inov-8 produce only vegan shoes. Other kit is billed as being produced using environmentally friendly measures or using recycled materials.

■ Wear kit longer

Ask yourself if you really need new kit just because your existing gear is old.

■ Wash your kit less

Microfibres from certain clothes can end up in the water systems during the wash. To cut down on this and on overall clothing consumption, how about wearing your sports gear for a couple of general uses before you get it sweaty on another run?

■ Don’t accept free race T-shirts

That’s if you don’t need them. Encourage organisers to use

■ Consider planet-friendly races

For example, Greener Miles Running organise several events while trying to be as eco-friendly as possible. Many other events organisers advertise their green credentials on their website and you can check these out before entering.

■ Get ‘plogging’

The relatively new craze of picking up litter as you’re running can add an extra element of purpose to your run.

■ Buy powdered sports drinks

Using powdered content that you can make up yourself should cut down on the use of plastic bottles.

■ Travel wisely

Share a car when travelling to races or use public transport if possible.

Extend your shoe mileage

inov-8 footwear manager Bodil Oudshoorn offers some tips on how you can make your running shoes last longer.

■ Remove the footbed and, using cold water, hand-wash or rinse the shoes inside and out.

■ Always allow them to dry naturally with the footbed removed. Stuff them with newspaper to speed up the drying.

■ Never wash the shoes with warm water or in a washing machine.

■ Never leave shoes to dry on a radiator or expose them to other forms of heat.

■ Removing the footbed after a run allows the shoes to air properly. Ensure you tip out all the grit from inside the shoe, too.

Updated statement from Primal Adventures:

“Since the event ended, the Highland Kings team has been working with the National Trust for Scotland to remove all traces of markers from the course.

“We sincerely apologise for the upset we have caused in relation to route markers on our recent ultramarathon event.

“It was always in our operations plan to have our team return to the route in the days following the event to remove all trace of the biodegradable chalk.

“This has now been completed as planned with every step retraced to ensure the markings are removed thoroughly and satisfactorily. We are working with the National Trust for Scotland to ensure that the removal meets its standards.

“Together with marshals, support runners, GPX routes pre-programmed on watches and daily athlete briefings the route markers were planned to support athlete safety as they were unfamiliar with the region and this type of terrain.

“All materials during the event were specifically selected to protect our green spaces including the use of biodegradable chalk. Living and working in the area, we are acutely conscious of the environmental impact that events such as Highland Kings have and will learn from this experience.

“We would like to assure anyone concerned about the lasting impact of the Highland Kings ultra that we are absolutely committed to delivering a sustainable legacy for the region.

“We welcome all comments and would be delighted to work with anyone concerned on future Highland Kings ultra events to ensure we continue to create unique experiences our community can be proud of.”

Pics: Lucy Wallace

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