When you ask people why they run, they will often give you a list of health benefits: to lose weight, reduce the risk of heart disease; it makes you feel good, it reduces stress. All these are true, but for many runners it is now an ingrained habit. We may have started for health reasons, but now we run for the enjoyment of being outdoors and running.
Today that enjoyment went. I came home seething mad and ashamed of my running community. We have a problem and it needs to be dealt with.
This is the problem:
The IAAF may worry about the impact of drugs on athletics, but I’ve yet to see EPO syringes or blister packs littering the hedgerows. Elite athletes may have a problem with PEDs, but far too many amateur athletes have a problem with gels. In my local half marathon at the weekend I saw a runner throw his gel wrapper into the hedge. At the time I gave him a bollocking, but carried on running. This morning I decided to run back to the hedge (about 4 miles from my home) and pick up the wrapper.
However on my run there I saw at least half a dozen other gel wrappers on the pavement. I stopped at the local newsagents and asked for a bag, so I could collect them all.
As I carried on running I picked up every gel wrapper I could see. Here is what I collected:
Over 100 gels from just 6 miles of hedge. Many of these wrappers looked fairly clean, and some were still oozing sugary gunk. Clearly these were from this weekend, but some are much older. Runners or cyclists out on training runs / rides are discarding wrappers where ever they want to. I passed half a dozen refuse bins today on my run today. There really is no excuse to drop rubbish anywhere you please.
So what do we do?
- Ban gels
- This may be a little outrageous, but I can see no reason for runners to take 6 gels out for a 13 mile race. Do people seriously believe High 5’s marketing crap? One gel every twenty minutes!
2. Get manufactures to give these away
- At UTMB this year, they were handing out these little bags with your race number and drop bags. You simply attach them to your pack and use them for your rubbish. It means used sticky wrappers don’t get mixed with your fresh gels.
- I know a number of trail races where the rules clearly state that runners will be disqualified for littering. I don’t know if Race Directors enforce this, but maybe they should, and at road races as well as on trail. There is always a bin at the water / aid stations.
4. Take responsibility
- If you see someone throw rubbish – shout at them! People know it’s wrong, and can be shamed into behaving better. Shouting is also therapeutic.
- Clean up your own streets and trails – I did today, and I’ll try and remember to take a rubbish sack on my next long run.
Don’t be a Tosser… Bin the gels!
p.s I’m a runner. However cycling has the same problem. I’ve seen cyclists set off on rides with a dozen gels in their pockets. I’ve seen them throw used gels into the gutter. Cycling has the problem too.