Travelling on foot might well leave behind a lighter carbon footprint than other ways of getting around. But with just a few simple tweaks to your training and racing routine it’s easy to become an even greener runner.
Over 1.5 million tonnes of textiles and 100 million pairs of shoes are thrown away every year in the UK. Most of them turn up in landfill sites, so give your worn-out kit a longer lease of life.
Over half of the textiles Brits throw away could be recycled – but we only recycle or reuse a measly 14 per cent of this. Drop your old running gear off at one of Britain’s 6,000 textile banks and you can walk away happy knowing that it’s got another useful life ahead of it. Clothes that are too tatty to be worn again are shredded before being made into new items such as dusters, padding and cloths used in factories.
Take race T-shirts and other kit in good condition to jumble sales, charity shops or car-boot sales – or donate them to a novice runner. You could turn cotton race T-shirts into cleaning cloths, covers, fancy dress costumes, pyjamas or even a patchwork memento of your racing success.
Brand new shoe
Shoes with traditional EVA midsoles can linger in landfill for up to 1,000 years before they degrade, so make sure yours get a new lease of life. The Variety Club children’s charity has 3,000 shoe recycling sites throughout the UK, mostly in supermarket car parks and in some specialist shoe shops, such as Up & Running. Or help Nike give old trainers another sporting life as basketball courts, tennis courts, running tracks and children’s playgrounds. Find your nearest drop-off point at www.nikereuseashoe.com.
You can also send nearly new shoes direct to Africa to help new generations of athletes - find out more at www.shoe4africa.org.
Textile production can hog scarce resources, so opt for bamboo-fibre technical tops and socks. Bamboo shoots up quickly, and doesn’t need pesticides or nearly as much water as thirsty cotton crops. And when you’re done, bamboo fibre is biodegradable and free of nasty chemical pollutants.
Turn it down
You drag your kit through all weathers, dumping sweat and mud on its hard-working fabric. So it’s even more important that runners make their bigger laundry load work hard for the environment. Next time you load the washing machine, turn it down – washing clothes at 30ºC is good enough for all but the muddiest kit. Or try replacing chemical detergents for Ecoballs, reusable washing balls that work out at a bargain 3p per wash.
Take a trip to a health food shop and stock up – it’s easy to make your own running-ready snacks with these back-to-basics recipes from former RW Nutrition Editor Anita Bean.
To make the perfect isotonic drink, mix 500ml of fruit juice with 500ml of water and 0.5g (one eighth of a teaspoon) of salt, or 200ml of squash (organic or without artificial sweeteners and additives) with 800ml of water and 0.5g (one eighth of a teaspoon) of salt. Both these options make one litre of isotonic drink, and contain around 6g of carbohydrate per 100ml - the ideal concentration for rapid fluid absorption. Adding a little salt (sodium) encourages you to drink more during a run and helps your body to retain, rather than excrete, fluid when you stop exercising.
Whip up your own energy bars with this simple recipe. Each bar is virtually fat-free, easy to digest and supplies 30g of carbohydrate - enough to fuel 30-60 minutes of hard running. Combine 175g oats, 85g muesli and dried fruit together in a bowl. Warm 3tbsp of honey in a small saucepan until it becomes runny, then add it to the oat mix. Stir in 150g dried fruit (such as raisins, dates, apricots, figs, apple, pineapple), two egg whites and 175ml apple juice. Press the mixture into a lightly-oiled 18x28cm baking tin. Bake at 180ºC for 20-25 minutes until golden. Allow to cool slightly then cut into bars.
Honey is a natural, cheap and effective alternative to energy gels. One heaped teaspoon provides 13g of carbohydrate - enough to fuel 20 minutes of running. Use runny honey in plastic tubes or cut honeycomb - available from health food stores - into slices and wrap it in foil. And as a bonus on top of its high carb content, honey is also packed with vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants.
Race organisers are always looking at ways to lower their impact on the local environment - here are a couple of easy ways you can lighten your racing carbon footprint too.
Entering races online not only saves you time and hassle, it also helps prevent thousands of registration forms from going unused.
When you pop your next race in the diary, have a think about how you – and hundreds or even thousands of other entrants – will get there. Save on petrol costs and carbon emissions by using public transport if possible, or by organising shared transport with friends or running club mates. If you’ve still got spaces in your car, try www.carshare.com, a directory of UK car sharing sites.
Packaging currently makes up around 18 to 20 per cent of the average Briton’s household waste, so reduce and recycle the packaging you consume to be kinder to the environment. It could even save you money.
Buy energy drinks in powdered form. It comes in much smaller packaging relative to the amount of drink you’ll end up with, making it more eco-friendly to transport and saving you the trouble of recycling hundreds of plastic bottles.
Plastic – not fantastic
Plastic bottles and bags made using oil can also take hundreds of years to degrade. Swap plastic bottles for a reusable one. And of course, it goes without saying that if you're using gels or bottles on a long run, take them home with you.
If, despite your best efforts, your favourite routes are still scattered with other people’s litter, try eco-running. It’s a new craze direct from the US, combining running and helping the environment, and don’t worry – you won’t need pricey new kit. All you need to call yourself an eco-runner is a rubbish bag (biodegradable, of course). Just take a bag on your runs and pick up all the litter you see along the way.
Light bulb moment
The average household wastes £30 a year simply by leaving appliances on standby. If a charger or power pack is warm or has a light on, it's probably using power. Save electricity – and money – by popping your GPS charger or MP3 player into a timer socket. You can make sure it’ll always have enough power to last through your next training session, without it using up needless electricity.
Or, if you’ve already turned your computer on, plug your device in there rather than a wall socket. While most wall sockets are only 30-40 per cent efficient and leak energy as your device charges, firewire and USB cables have an efficiency rating of 85 per cent. They’ll even charge faster.