All right, I’m just going to come out and say it right here.
I failed my first cupless race.
Yes, me. Mister Zero Waste, owner of an event sustainability company and decrier of our current throwaway society. Here I will confess all, so you can learn from my sad experience and avoid similar shame.
To be fair, I did not fail the actual race, just the cupless part. If you’d like to, you can read about how my race went on my personal blog (RunBikeThrow) at this link.
The Potawatomi Trail Races take place every April at McNaughton Park in Pekin, Illinois. The runners follow a ten-mile loop along the park’s trails, which feature some lovely steep climbs, quad-killing downhills, and a couple of creek crossings for good measure. You pick your poison – from 10 to 200 miles – and then run the appropriate number of loops within the 72-hour race window (Thursday through Sunday). I was there to run the 50-miler and find out what I could do to help the event go Zero Waste.
The day before my race I volunteered at the base camp aid station and introduced myself to the director of volunteers and the race director, who were both interested in making the event more sustainable. In fact, for 2019 they were trying two waste reduction ideas for the first time.
For one, the race was cupless! Every runner got a flexible silicone cup to take along on the trail. Most trail runners carry their own water bottle or hydration pack, so the cup was for when they also wanted soda or an electrolyte drink. This way the aid stations didn’t have to put out and throw away hundreds of waxed paper cups.
In addition, a City of Pekin recycling bin had been set up at base camp next to one of the trash cans. It was clearly marked, but some non-recyclable material had been tossed in, and some recyclables (water bottles, etc.) had been put in the trash. I sorted it out.
A bit later I met the guy who’d arranged for the recycling bin. Like me, he wanted to help the race reduce its trash, but he didn’t have time to supervise the bin, and no one else knew what belonged in there. I made a sign listing what was recyclable, and kept the bin sorted while I worked the aid station. But after my race on Saturday I noticed it was gone. The race director told me the bin had been too contaminated. Something they can improve for next year.
But I failed as well. I hadn’t intended to. I carried a handheld water bottle, and the electrolyte drink they had doesn’t agree with me, so I brought Gatorade to drink at base camp after each loop. With those bases covered, what did I need a cup for? So I left it at base camp.
During the race I developed stomach trouble. Ginger ale sometimes helps, and the aid stations on the trail had some. Problem was – I hadn’t brought a cup for it. Fortunately, they had a few waxed paper cups under the table for this kind of situation. Feeling guilty but grateful, I accepted one, drank my ginger ale, and threw the cup away. This happened twice more before I finally got smart enough to fold up the waxed cup and put it in my pocket for future use. (Sigh. Either ultrarunning messes with common sense, or lack of common sense leads to ultrarunning. Not sure which.)
But as the race will improve its sustainable practices, so will I. That silicone cup will be in my pocket at my next trail race, which is also cupless. And I’m working Zero Waste at it, too. Must set a good example so I can scowl disapprovingly at those who don’t.