You Matter

A few weeks ago, I was running with a friend on the trails of Moab, Utah where we live. She was explaining her recent choice to carpool with friends up to ski in our local mountains rather than to run from her front door. Recreating via a 50-mile roundtrip drive in a 4×4 vehicle carries an elevated environmental impact–even when shared among a full car–and she was reflecting on it. “What I do probably isn’t worth a hill of beans, anyway,” she said.

I was shocked enough by her moment of resignation that I tripped twice on the rocks along the trail. These were the words of the friend who hasn’t owned a car for most of her life, has spent years living off the grid, declines jobs that she can’t reasonably ride her bike to, eats vegan, and rarely–we’re talking once or twice a year–leaves her geographic region. In disbelief, I managed to spit out, “You matter!”

I believe this statement to be true. My friend matters. We all matter. Everything, everyone is significant to something, someone.

‘Matter’ is a fascinating word. We learn that it comes from the Latin word ‘materia,’ meaning the ‘substance from which something is made’ or the ‘hard inner wood of a tree.’ Going even further back, we arrive to the Latin word ‘mater,’ or mother.

In basic physics, matter is any substance which has mass and occupies physical space. In other words, matter makes up our physical surroundings–and beyond.

Matter is also a verb used to convey a sense of importance or significance: “It matters that you arrive on time.”

Do you see the same symbolism as I do? To be matter or to matter, thus, is to occupy space, to act with significance, to be of our foundation or core, to be the stuff of which everything is made. All things are matter, all things matter.

The name of this monthly column is “The Collective We” and it functions under this precise principle, that what each of us is and does becomes a part of our greater group. Last year, the column’s theme was volunteerism. We explored the idea that each of us volunteering a small amount for our community and the natural landscapes through which we run adds up to a massive quantity of support.

This year, “The Collective We” focuses on the environment. Most specifically, we will explore in-progress environmental action in our trail running and ultrarunning community. We’ll meet the people, races, and companies who are leading us in our journey toward a better environmental path.

I’ll also spend time in this column taking a long, hard look at my environmental impact. I’ve already been doing this and, as a result, my footprint is shrinking. I’ll reduce it even more in 2020 and share with you that process.

It’s easy for me to become uneasy about the environment, my personal impact on it, and the collective impact our community creates. I know I’m not alone when I’m awake at night with my worry. We counter fear with knowledge and action, and so that’s why we’ll celebrate and learn from those who are already steps ahead of the rest of us in this environmental expedition. Perhaps a few of us will then be inspired to walk the same trail. To this end, this month, we explore the actions of and celebrate two athletes, Damian Hall and Kilian Jornet, and one race, the Snowman Race.

The Kingdom of Bhutan’s high mountains as seen from the Snowman Race course. Photo courtesy of the Snowman Race.

Damian Hall and Kilian Jornet: Big Athletes, Little Impact

Last month, Damian Hall and Kilian Jornet announced their 2020 racing schedules. Both plans were reduced in volume and geographic scope, and each explained that they wanted to make a smaller environmental impact with their athletics. Though Kilian and Damian are professional athletes who make a living through sport, they are choosing to place the planet in front of personal economy. I asked them a few questions to learn about the whys and hows of their choices.

Damian Hall

iRunFar: Why you are trying to make a smaller environmental footprint with your sport involvement in 2020?

Damian Hall: Thanks so much for the opportunity to talk about this. In a nutshell, I’m terrified. It’s 5:05 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I guess I have climate anxiety. I’ve got children and I’m haunted by the idea I may not be doing enough about passing on an okay planet to them and their children. It’d be more surprising, I guess, if a trail runner didn’t have environmental concerns? But I fell into climate-emergency apathy for a while there. Extinction Rebellion woke me up. We may only have 10 years to significantly reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions, possibly eight, before the seas reach a tipping point, feedback loops are triggered, and we’re f**ked.

I think the problem and the solutions are political rather than personal. We urgently need systemic changes, but political leaders aren’t leading on this. So it’s up to us to pressure them, institutions, and companies funding fossil fuels, those who are complicit with the big polluters. I think pressurizing key parties, through conventional channels or the civil-disobedience tactics of groups like Extinction Rebellion, is the most effective way forward.

As individuals we can set an example, too, and I decided to make my training and racing carbon negative this year, among other lifestyle changes. I did five roundtrip flights last year for races and my conscience won’t let me do that again. I have a longstanding commitment to race the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji in Japan, which I have mixed feelings about now. I offset the carbon a while ago, which isn’t perfect, I know. I have a family to support and I don’t feel I can completely stop flying. I’m going to race more domestically, use public transport more (including to get to UTMB), and offset my carbon emissions where I can’t see a better option.

I recently ran a winter Paddy Buckley Round and as an experiment I fueled without animal products (there were a lot of vegan brownies), without plastic waste, and used public transport to get there and home. It was fun to look into and not particularly difficult. Though predictably, I fell asleep on the way home and missed my stop.

Damian Hall holding the Extinction Rebellion emblem made by his children after setting a winter speed record on the U.K.’s Paddy Buckley Round. He did so while trying to minimize the outing’s environmental impact. Photo courtesy of Damian Hall.

iRunFar: Do you have a tangible goal of reducing your carbon use by a certain amount? 

Hall: I’ve teamed up with a carbon coach who’s calculated that in 2019 my family’s emissions (including all of my travel for running and so on) were nearly 16.5 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. The U.K. [where I live] family average is estimated to be 45 tons per year (or 10 tons per adult). Our family-emissions budget for 2020 is 10.23 tons and I’ve offset 13 tons (at a cost of £270) to make us carbon negative.

I know lots of runners who do amazing things, such as Dan Lawson’s ReRun Clothing charity and others who have given up flying or have rewilding or carbon-sequestration schemes, for example. Our political leaders should be making this much easier for us, but they’ve tricked us into doing their work for them. I’ll continue to join Extinction Rebellion and other protest groups in their actions this year.

iRunFar: Does choosing to travel and race less have negative impacts on your career? How have your sponsors reacted? Have you had to make adjustments to your sponsorships?

Hall: Haha, was I meant to ask them? I’m doing what I think is right. If a company doesn’t like that, then I’m not keen to work with them anyway. I’m lucky to have two primary sponsors, inov-8 and Tomax Technology, who are generally very supportive but also conscientious. They are both serious about reducing their carbon footprint and being part of the circular economy, so I doubt there’s a problem. Of course, being sponsored by a clothing company is a little compromising, but almost everything about our predicament is. I’ll try to be more responsible on social media, too; promoting consumption less, for example.

iRunFar: Many outdoor athletes receive criticism for being imperfect environmentalists when they talk about taking environmental action. This sends some athletes into silence or causes them to stop taking action altogether. What are your thoughts on this?

Hall: I previously thought that I couldn’t speak out because that would make me a hypocrite. But we are trapped in a system based on fossil-fuel consumption and almost everything we do adds to the problem. It’s almost unavoidable. Anyone who speaks out is automatically a hypocrite. None of us are perfect or morally consistent. But we can try. I was afraid of being called a hypocrite, but I don’t care anymore. This is too important.

I’ve had some entertaining criticisms. Some people cover their own inaction with nitpicking and whataboutery. Here’s what haunts me: my grandchildren asking, “Granddad, what did you do about the ecological emergency when you had a chance?” I want my answer to be better than, “Er, I squabbled with a few people on Twitter.”

iRunFar: What hopes do you have for our community going forward when it comes to managing our environmental impact? From individual runners to races and from companies to our whole community, where might we concentrate our efforts?

Hall: I’m optimistic about the trail and ultrarunning community because it’s full of incredible people who care about the right things. I’ve been really impressed by races in the U.K. who’ve drastically cut down plastic usage and waste such as unnecessary t-shirts and medals, who’ve started planting trees, and so on. We as a community can really lead on this. Brands, too, should already have a clear idea of how they’re cutting their carbon footprint. I doubt it will be long before we as consumers want to know what a company’s carbon footprint is and we’ll likely do business with the most conscious ones. We could already be politely emailing races and clothing companies about this. It may be in the near future that some runners pick their races depending on how carbon conscious an event is. But also, like the inspirational Clare Gallagher urges, let’s keep talking about this.

iRunFar: How do you respond to someone who says, “I am interested in reducing the footprint I make, but I’m also afraid it doesn’t matter. What does one person matter?”

Hall: To an extent, I agree that we’re sweeping up leaves in a hurricane. If people feel an urge to do something, political changes will have far greater reach than personal ones. I’d suggest instead of analyzing your own carbon footprint, let’s put pressure on the big polluters and politicians. This is an election year in the U.S. which could be a huge turning point toward a more sustainable planet. Please use your votes wisely!

Damian Hall crossing the 2018 UTMB finish line with his kids to take fifth. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Kilian Jornet

iRunFar: Why you are trying to make a smaller environmental footprint with your sport involvement in 2020?

Kilian Jornet: I have been traveling a lot, some years doing races on five continents. Somehow it seems normal as an elite athlete to travel that much, and not only for racing but also for [photo and video] shooting and meetings. I’m very grateful for these opportunities but during all those years I have also seen and realized that I was contributing to the destruction of this environment I love so much. To continue enjoying this playground and so that future generations can do the same, I believe I need to change some things in my lifestyle, and one of the biggest is my travel footprint.

iRunFar: Do you have a tangible goal of reducing your carbon use by a certain amount?

Jornet: I want to reduce the flights that I did last year. I also want to keep paying the carbon compensation for my travel and home footprint that I already have been doing for some years now.

iRunFar: Does choosing to travel and race less have negative impacts on your career? How have your sponsors reacted? Have you had to make adjustments to your sponsorships?

Jornet: It does for sure have a negative economic impact on me, as I won’t be able to attend that many conferences or talks. However, I am happy to make this choice. All my partners fully agree with my decision. In fact, all of them are also working on an ecological transition so it makes sense that us athletes do so. Mostly, it implies planning better our trips and trying to be more efficient such as more video calls and organizing well our travel to do several things on one trip. I will also choose the projects and races that I am fully committed to and that motivate me.

Kilian Jornet in Norway. Photo: Matti Bernitz/Lymbus

iRunFar: How do you explain your sponsorship with Volvic, a company that uses single-use plastics and lots of resources to ship water far and wide?

Jornet: When I started talking with them about a possible collaboration, I wasn’t convinced at first because of the reasons you mention. However, I learned more about the company and discovered that the involvement of both Volvic and the Danone group into a serious ecological transition is huge. This made me start the current collaboration.

What is interesting is the commitment of the group and especially its CEO to change completely the way of producing/transporting. Today they’re protecting water sources, supporting local farmers in the transition from traditional to bio-agriculture, using a communal methanizer to convert agriculture waste to energy, and their plastic is recyclable and every year uses a bigger percentage of recycled materials. Moreover, they are very committed to finding a better way to ‘pack.’

I believe that big groups need to embrace change to make this real in big scale. They are the ones who provide to a big part of the society with low income. I believe if they want to make a change and I can be there somehow to push a bit more, that can only be positive.

iRunFar: What hopes do you have for our community going forward when it comes to managing our environmental impact? From individual runners to races and from companies to our whole community, where might we concentrate our efforts?

Jornet: I think we need change from the whole community. Let’s start with race organizers who need to find cleaner transport solutions or avoid cars to follow the race and to use recyclable or biodegradable materials in everything they produce (aid stations, bib numbers, and more). This also means we as runners need to check the gear we buy. We should ask ourselves, do we really need it? We can also think about what we eat and how to travel more ecologically responsible to a race. And it also has to come from brands that support this sport, from producing better products to giving full thought on the way circuits are structured.

I think it’s a full new vision to our sport: to be aware of the problem and also look at it in a positive way, encouraging our community where we can have an influence. This won’t happen in one day, so we need to take small steps.

iRunFar: How do you respond to someone who says, “I am interested in reducing the footprint I make, but I’m also afraid it doesn’t matter. What does one person matter?”

Jornet: All actions matter, in a different scale for sure, but are important. If everybody thinks that their little action doesn’t make a difference, then it becomes a big [negative] impact. However, if we do small actions–recycling, traveling more efficiently, buying organic, becoming vegetarian, you name it–and we can influence some people in our community, and their actions influence us too, in a short time we can have some [positive] impact. Then, voting and advocating to politicians is basic. They can make laws to fasten this process, and so it is our vote that counts.

Also, we’re the ones who can make a choice on what we buy. (We live in rich countries and we don’t need to worry much about having food and water.) Our choices can influence companies to change and that will affect not only us but also the majority of the population who unfortunately have survival priorities that come before thinking about sustainability. We have that responsibility, too, in our choices.

Kilian Jornet in Norway. Photo: Kilian Jornet

The Snowman Race: Racing to Carbon Neutral

The Kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalayas is the only carbon-negative nation on earth. A carbon-negative nation, I find it moving to sit with that concept for a moment.

Bhutan is a small country–a bit bigger than the U.S. state of Maryland and a little smaller than Switzerland in western Europe–and an agrarian-dominant society–like its geographic neighbor Nepal or perhaps Morocco in northern Africa. It’s also tiny economically, sitting somewhere around the 160th country in terms of gross domestic product, in the relative vicinity of Belize and the Central African Republic (1).

But still, this is not a carbon-negative household or perhaps even a whole company; it is a nation. This fact has come with significant effort, time, and policy at the government level. It is the stuff of environmental-policy graduate-school classes–at least mine many years ago.

A temple in Bhutan. Photo: Luis Escobar

Let me offer a few more data points. As of 2015, Bhutan’s emissions were 2.4 million tons of carbon dioxide per year (2). That puts Bhutan, again, right about 150th to 160th in the world. Over a decade ago, Bhutan pledged carbon neutrality and soon reached it (3). By 2015, it was carbon negative (2). It achieves carbon negativity through carbon sequestration in its forests, which cover a smidge more than 70% of the country’s land area, and hydroelectric power, which powers most of Bhutan and is produced in such excess that it’s sold to neighboring countries. And the country’s infrastructure is set up to offset much more than its projected future impacts.

Bhutan is organizing a 25-person race called the Snowman Race. It’ll take place just once, in October of 2020, over five days and 300 kilometers. Runners will travel through the country’s remote northwest region, where few people live and fewer visit. The area is sometimes referred to as the Third Pole, a 10-country geographic region holding more snow and ice than anywhere on earth besides the North and South Poles (4). Way out there, Bhutan says, despite the nation’s own aggressive and progressive environmental policies, one can see the effects of global climate change. Bhutan wants a few people to go back there and see it for themselves–to feel deep in their bones the global environmental crisis’s presence in such a remote place–and to return to the rest of the world to share what they saw.

The race will also be part of a greater climate summit in Bhutan, the World Climate Action Summit, where global corporate leaders will gather to both celebrate progress made against the climate crisis and commit to a more environmentally progressive future.

To runners, corporations, and governments, Bhutan says, join us in the global race to carbon neutral.

Forward Thoughts

Twenty years ago, a small Canadian band called The Be Good Tanyas wrote a song with a whimsical melody and a lyric which tells us that, “The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs.” In the time since then, “The Littlest Birds” has become something of a personal anthem, my lifetime reminder to pay attention to the details and make space for the quietest voices to speak. Life has shown me the universal truth inside this lyric: the little birds are often who we need to hear the most.

So, to the tiny country of Bhutan asking the whole world to join them in the race to carbon neutral, I am ready to run. I mean that literally and figuratively, and I’m so pleased to say that iRunFar and I will be at the Snowman Race, to document Bhutan’s efforts in carbon negativity and climate change’s effects on the high Himalayas, and to see what we call can learn from this. To Kilian Jornet and Damian Hall and your athletic goal to run with lesser impact, your choices matter. They matter so much that I commit to your commitment; if your lives can be carbon negative, then so should mine. To my Moab trail running friend and her tiny-footprint avocation, you matter. You inspire many, including me, to emulate your lifestyle. This is the matter which composes our trail running and ultrarunning community. They matter, we matter, you matter.

Call for Comments

  • What environmental topics would you like to see in “The Collective We” column this year?
  • Are you working on reducing your personal environmental footprint? If so, can you share a little about the process?
  • Where else in the trail running and ultrarunning community would you like to see action taken to reduce our impact and protect the natural places through which we run?

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)
  2. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/19341bhutan.pdf
  3. https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/submissions/INDC/Published%20Documents/Bhutan/1/Bhutan-INDC-20150930.pdf
  4. https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/the-earth-has-a-third-pole-and-millions-of-people-use-its-water

A Bhutanese runner along the Snowman Race course. Photo: Luis Escobar

Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Managing Editor and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

There are 55 comments

  1. Jeff Rome

    This is beautiful, thank you for writing this! Trail running seems like a sport that encourages traveling maybe a little more than it should, especially with some races being advertised as a vacation more than a race. Now that more high profile athletes are limiting their travel, I hope more continue to follow suit. But it has to be difficult for folks who don’t live where they like to play. Chasing HR qualifiers or the Golden Ticket series can entail a lot of travel if you live out east. I wonder if big profile races could more evenly geographically distribute their qualifying/auto entry races?

    1. Chris Wristen

      Jeff, you raise an excellent point about how the sport encourages traveling, especially when it comes to getting into races with qualifiers. Having lived in both Kansas and Massachusetts, I’ve had numerous friends in both places who desperately want to run Western States, Hardrock, and other big races with qualifiers or lotteries. Typically those qualifiers seem to be heavily on the west coast or in the south, forcing folks to travel long distances year after year in pursuit of qualifiers. I love your idea about better geographical distribution of qualifiers for the ability to reduce environmental impact, as well as opening the doors for a more geographically diverse population to participate in the big races.

  2. Chris

    Yes! We matter! What an amazing piece of writing, and so packed with information! Perfectly woven together and so, so important. It is truly inspiring to see our community members and heroes all moving together toward a better world, and offering help to each other along the way. This article was amazing in its scope from the personal to the political to the national, and it speaks to the great time of action that we are in right now, and how we can choose to be even more engaged today than we were yesterday.

    As a topic in the “The Collective We” column this year, it would be neat to follow the life story of our gear into the twilight of our gear’s lifecycle… Like, what are we all doing with our worn-out shoes and and beat-up packs and damaged headlamps? Are we repairing our stuff or modifying it to fit another use? Are we donating it or sending it to landfills? It seems like many trailrunners enjoy the simple things and are materialistic in the best way possible (not the blindly consumptive way!), in that they love the gear the have, and are conscientious about making it last and taking good care of it.

    Thank you so much for all you do and all you aspire to be iRunfar and iRunFar community!

  3. John Vanderpot

    It’s obviously a topic whose time has come! And it isn’t lost on me that of your 3 “model” examples not one comes from the US, the last time I saw the numbers, and it’s a couple years back now, we represent something like 5% of the world’s population and we use up something like nearly 40% of the resources — indefensible, really, and we’ve got some work to do here!

  4. Scott Reeves

    Trash in the environment is a critical issue.

    There is NO scientific evidence that man made CO2 has a greenhouse effect. In fact science shows that CO2 goes up after t gets warmer (because it is bubbled out of the ocean, for instance).

    This pre-occupation with a fake crisis is causing me to lose faith in the publishing world around running.

    1. Brady Burgess

      Ok I’m going to take the bait.

      Such a strongly stated conclusion suggests you don’t understand how science and scientific evidence works. There certainly is quite a bit of evidence that CO2 (much of which is man made these days) causes a greenhouse effect. You may have good, valid arguments against individual studies or even the weight of evidence, but to irrationally deny the existence of evidence to the contrary isn’t a good way to start a meaningful discussion. Especially not with here among the very well informed audience of I Run Far.

      Here’s a nice dollop of evidence to get things started – It starts at the absorptive properties of the CO2 molecule and goes from there. The forums are filed with some lively debate.
      https://skepticalscience.com/empirical-evidence-for-co2-enhanced-greenhouse-effect-intermediate.htm

      Agree with it or not it passes the bar for evidence.

    2. Clare Gallagher

      What an inspiring read, Meghan!

      Scott, first, I recommend googling the Keeling curve.

      Second, I recommend reading the IPCC report summaries of hundreds of thousands of peer-reviewed studies documenting the anthropogenic correlation between climate change and the burning of fossil fuels. I’d love to see as many peer-reviewed studies proving the opposite, what you suggest. Please do list whatever sources you have for making such a claim that’s sadly never been proven to be true. The climate crisis is here and we cannot be spreading misinformation. We need facts and inspiring people like Meghan, Damian and Kilian leading us to a renewable energy future. So future generations have the privilege to run like you and me. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/

      1. DJT

        Clare – you can point to all the reports you want. Take Patagonia as an example, your sponsor. Why not ask them not to produce a new line of gear every single year? Why not have them just product one pair of shorts or shirt in one color? Why not take aim at the companies you have direct access to? I would imagine you are not going to sway the bottom line. Again as I have stated before people will only do things that are convenient for them and nothing more. How about the running camps that “pro” ultra runners have, why don’t you encourage them to cancel them reduce air travel. Eating vegan does nothing to help climate change. We have an overpopulation that is the ultimate issue. How about have less kids? How about have races alternate to hosting every other year? See where that goes.

        1. Bryon Powell

          Tim F, please go troll somewhere else. Thanks.

          Actually, just stop trolling people anywhere. Really.

          Maybe go for a long run tomorrow. Or find some happiness somewhere. I feel bad for you. I have for a long time. If you need someone to talk to, let me know.

            1. Bryon Powell

              It’s been a consistent pattern for years and, this time, it was done entirely in a trolling manner, as have his comments elsewhere. I’m not letting things continue in that direction. He and I will talk.

              Various folks have respectfully articulated highly varying view points in comments on this article and countless others. It’s possible. It’s great. As we know that’s what can be done, that’s what we expect and requite here.

              Thanks.

          1. Mark

            Byron – I disagree with you respectfully. I noticed you turned off replies what good does that do? You don’t like what someone says so you shut them down? Poor on your side.

    3. Sage Canaday

      Okay Scott,
      So you are concerned about Trash in the environment (good!).

      What about clean air then? Emissions that hurt air quality (And make it hard for runners to breathe!) could be reduced, you think?

      In science we access the bulk of evidence and data to test the validity of a hypothesis/theory….while trying to minimize bias. There is overwhelming evidence that Anthropogenic Climate Change exists (much like there is overwhelming evidence that the Moon landing in fact occurred, gravity exists, and the Earth is round).

      1. Scott Reeves

        Thanks to all who actually went to my blog, where I actually present both sides – with a huge dose of climate skepticism.

        Of course I want clean air – that is one of the few things I think government accomplished. I was alive and drove LA in the 60s.

        There is lots of evidence that open range based ruminant agriculture is good for the planet, if one looks with an open mind.

  5. Eric Coppock

    “Physicists tell us that matter comprises pretty much our whole observable universe.”

    Not sure what it does to your illustration, but this statement is way off. Current astrophyscial models put observable matter at around 5% of everything that’s out there.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for the comment. My statement was poorly worded and so I’ve modified it a bunch. Basically, what I was trying and failed to say was that matter makes up that which surrounds us and we know that matter is present unfathomably (to most of us, I’d guess) far out into the universe. And in its quantity is at least a wee bit of its significance, at least to a lay person like me. Thank you again. :-)

  6. Graham Watson

    Hi, great to see this as a focus. As a small time runner but very conscious of our impact I’m encouraged by the rising profile of this issue in running, particularly by some of the big names like Damian and Killian.
    Two people I think would be worth talking to are Rosie Watson about her New Story Run.
    “Running solo & unsupported, across Europe and Asia, searching for and telling stories of better ways of living, working and meeting our needs in the climate crisis.”
    https://newstoryrun.wordpress.com/

    And Finlay Wild, champion UK hill runner and sky racer who has pledged to be flight free in 2020 and has been promoting this through social media (as well as the UK’s Fellrunner magazine). @FinlayWild

  7. Katie

    I’d like to chip in to agree with Damian’s feeling that medals and race t-shirts (and, of course, paper cups) aren’t worth their environmental footprint. I’d strongly prefer everyone have to opt in and pay more if they’d like one. Race directors, please continue to pursue environmentally friendly souvenirs (like additional course photographers!)

    1. Chris Wristen

      Love this idea! I know in most cases I’d rather have a portion of my entry fees go to covering race photos and then have those as keepsakes instead of another T-shirt to add to the pile. Also, one of my favorite pieces of schwag ever at a race came from the Vermont 50 back in 2015 – they gave out reusable cups from UltrAspire right around the time more races were starting to go cupless. I’ve carried it with me at every ultra I’ve done since then.

  8. Sage Canaday

    Great article! I’m glad that Kilian and Damian both brought up the factor of dietary choices. Of course transportation (flying) is horrible for the environment in terms of carbon emissions (although people often don’t realize that driving can actually be more inefficient on a per person per mile carbon emissions basis…depending on vehicle choice obviously). People often overlook diet as a huge factor in carbon emissions (think in terms of a life cycle analysis of all the energy required to produce 1lb of something like beef)…when the science shows it is a very, very significant impact.

    And I like this quote from Damian: “I previously thought that I couldn’t speak out because that would make me a hypocrite. But we are trapped in a system based on fossil-fuel consumption and almost everything we do adds to the problem. It’s almost unavoidable. Anyone who speaks out is automatically a hypocrite. None of us are perfect or morally consistent.” I fall into this category because I fly an environmentally irresponsible amount. But on the flip side I’m vegan, I live in a shared 400sq foot apartment, I don’t have kids (yet), I rarely drive my car more than 30 miles a week, and I recycle etc. I know I can do more though. I think we all can. One thing is for certain, I will not be silent on this!

    1. Ondřej Šmejkal

      Thanks for mentioning the diet. Based on the carbon footprint calculator, https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx, going from moderate meat eater to vegan can save about 2 tonnes of CO2 per year, which is a big deal. On the other hand, one trans-atlantic return flight or 3-4 shorter flights means approximately the same amount… So, the clear imperative is watching both my diet and flights.

      But, I still can’t fully blame the elite runners for flying more to attend the famous races in the world. They inspire us, and if a single performance convinces some, let’s say tens, non-elite runners to run more, maybe do some run-commutes instead of driving, the total carbon footprint can break even. Nevertheless, I consider Damian’s decision to get to UTMB without flying as totally admirable (and inspirational, too… at least for the Europeans).

      I also like that Damian mentioned, that besides the personal part, there is also political part of the solution. Last year, I’ve attended four civil protests, organized by Fridays for Future or Extinction Rebellion, and I will attend more this year. I would like to appeal to irunfar readers to join these protests, too. This is also a place where everyone matters.

    1. Katie

      Wow, that’s a great concept! It would be so much more fulfilling to know that my entry fee is contributing to something long lasting and beneficial on the land I love to run. Thanks Graham (and Jim!)

  9. Jeff McCarthy

    Thank you so much for such an important and informative article! I learned a lot and will continue to learn so much more from further research and from your continued exploration of sustainability, climate change and the Bhutan event.

    Personally I’m increasingly trying to do more. This has been inspired by my kids, especially my 16 year old daughter who is incredibly anxious about the planet. How can I look her in the eye if I’m not taking action? So I went vegan with her about 18 months ago. We’re cycling or running to local events, or training, or the gym as much as possible. Taking public transport more. Encouraging running club members to car share to races and social runs. Going increasingly plastic free as a household – still much to do! Growing more of our own food. Baking our own bread for about 6-7 years now.
    So much more to do. I’ll start by choosing my events more carefully now. Learning from people like Damo Hall. Thank you.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Jeff, oh, this was moving to read. I want to thank you for sharing your family’s story and the action you are taking and plan to take. We can all learn from and be motivated by each other.

  10. Pavel Paloncy

    “In basic physics, matter is defined any substance which has volume and therefore occupies physical space. Physicists tell us that matter comprises pretty much our whole observable universe.
    [..]All things are matter, all things matter.”

    Please, don’t mess up with physics, if you lack the most basic understanding of it. It is a nice play of the words in the article, however it completely misses physical reality.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Hi Pavel,

      Thank you for commenting. As I said to Eric who similarly commented above, my statement was poorly worded and so I’ve changed it. Basically, what I wanted to say was that matter makes up that which surrounds us and we know that matter is present faaaaaaaaaaar out into the universe. And in that quantity and repleteness is significance for me, and perhaps others? I appreciate you trying to lead me into a clearer direction.

      1. Pavel Paloncy

        “Basically, what I wanted to say was that matter makes up that which surrounds us and we know that matter is present faaaaaaaaaaar out into the universe.”

        Hi Meghan, I appreciate your effort, but what you are saying in the first part is outright wrong. I know that this is a post about running (in fact on, its about environmentalistic crusade these two guys have taken), so there is no need to go into details on physics and essentially we need to simplify. Thats true, but we should simplify without being wrong.

        (No need to go into details such as observable matter vs dark matter etc.)

        Short physical window – Matter is not everywhere, in fact far from it. Most of the space around us literally empty. Not only on the scale planets stars, but also micro world. Roughly speaking in atomic core, there is 10 000 more empty space than is occupied by matter.

        Another thing – particles behave in two ways (at the same time!). As a particles and as waves. As particles they no inner structure, behave like point (of zero lenght), when behaving like waves they dont have a position, they are with equal probability spread over space. This probably the most puzzling thing – not that we dont know their position, they dont have one position. And in this situation trying to define matter as something taking up volume is… confusing at best.

        End of physical window :)

        I am happy to assist next time with physical analogies or proofreading, but this is how things are getting confusing

  11. Monica Ochs

    Meghan,

    This is a beautiful and informative piece. Thank you. I absolutely commit to doing my part to leave this world a better place. I enjoy reading what others are doing so I can learn and emulate. Collectively we ALL MATTER and we can make a difference.

    1. Chris

      Monica,
      We ran out of an aid station at the same time around halfway through the Vermont 50 in 2011. We shared a happy short conversation and I remember your positivity and springy energy. Then you said something like “have a great day” and politely left me in the dust never to be seen again! It was awesome, and I’ve had other wonderful small chats with other runners in races since, but I still remember the impression you made then. It mattered! We do indeed all matter, and I’m thankful to iRunFar that we can see how small our community is and how many of us are helping one another do better out there!

  12. DJT

    All the “pro” ultra runners should end their running retreat camps or would that impact their bottom line. And Salomon or Patagonia for example can take the lead and stop producing a new line of gear every year. People only do stuff that is convenient for themselves. Maybe Kilian doesn’t need someone following him around taking pictures of himself.

    1. Kilian Jornet Burgada

      The pictures thing is interesting. normally all the pictures I take/post are “selfie” I put the camera somewere and timmer. And for the photoshootings we’re working more and more on taking local photographers instead of make photographers traveling. Companies and races should also stop helicopter following, now with the dron technology it is a non sense (other than rescue). The great thing is if we analize all our activities and aspects of our life we can find things to do better, and social media (or this blogs / comments) can be a great ressource of inspiration and a place to take ideas on specifics things to do.

  13. Scott Reeves

    Amazed with the number of people who actually linked to my blog and apparently looked around. That tells me this group is open and looking for the real facts.

    Stay warm, pick up your trash and hopefully breathe easy.

    Scott

  14. Pete

    Humans are inherently nomadic. We want to seek out, explore, see new things. Trail running amplifies our curiosities about the world 100X, especially fueled by social media where we see athletes in stunning locations pursuing FKT’s, races, sponsor obligations, camps, etc. As an example, one elite athlete has been on four separate round trip flights this month, as part of the journey of pursuing a career in the world of ultra running. Can we fault them? With his enormous accomplishments and almost assured lifelong Salomon backing, Killian can hang back now and reduce his travel but what about all the runners trying to get their first sponsorship contract or attempting to maintain the sponsors that they already have? Their only strategy is to get out there and prove themselves with results and it usually involves getting away from their backyards. We’re seeing more athletes now rationalizing their travels with carbon credits but this practice has questionable results and may just be a feel-good exercise. Finally, for those criticizing the travel impact of running camps, the majority of them are run by athletes who are past their competition prime and are attempting to maintain a living in the sport that they love. I hope we don’t get to the point where such activities get publicly shamed. There are not easy answers with these issues in a sport that has a deep foundation of exploring and experiencing the beauty of our planet.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Pete,

      I really loved your thoughts about not wanting athletes to be publicly shamed for the activities they choose or choose not to do. There are a number of reasons that I think this is important.

      First, it’s just plain a deconstructive approach to an important conversation. We need as many people to come to the table as possible in whatever way we can and are able. I can 100% say that public shaming causes some athletes to walk entirely away from the conversation/be afraid of taking any action. I’ve seen it and I’ve heard a number of athletes speak about it.

      Second, what Damian Hall said in this article about us living imperfectly in an imperfect system is dead on. Certainly we should be able to agree that someone trying imperfectly is far better than someone not trying at all.

      I also don’t think any of us could claim to know what an athlete is up to exactly or what layer in the system they are working on. As said by both Kilian Jornet and Damian in this article, systemic change is needed, and there are many athletes who are currently working on the system level, trying to turn the wheels of change in places much higher up than their self alone. And to do so requires some environmental impact. In other words, sometimes making a smaller negative impact to influence toward a larger positive one is part of the process.

      Finally, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of what our community does to help get people outside and experiencing the outdoors. We cannot expect people who don’t spend time outside to develop a love for the outdoors, and it is the love of the outdoors which inspires humans into action to care for it. You can’t skip a layer in this relationship-development process. Getting people safely and happily outdoors, into races or camps or similar, which carries some environmental impact, is part of the process of building a community who loves and therefore advocates for our natural places. Of course, we can often improve upon the process by which we do this to have lesser impact.

      Thank you again for making a comment that I feel is really important for our community to take forward with us.

  15. Ian Ramsey

    I’m so glad that this conversation is happening, and I really appreciate the perspectives in this article. As a longtime environmental activist and outdoor/environmental educator for the past twenty-five years, and as an ultrarunner, this is something I think about all the time. In recent years, I’ve seen a number of instances where an elite outdoor athlete or group of athletes (including ultrarunners) will get excited about climate/eco/public lands activism, and start something/do social media posts/podcast interviews about this stuff. In most cases, such activity has seemed to tail off pretty quickly and the same athlete I heard talking about carbon footprint, etc was next posting on instagram about their next trip to the other side of the world, and there didn’t seem to be any follow-up to whatever initiative they had publicly announced. In a number of cases, I reached out to offer support/help/grunt work and generally, if I did hear anything back, it tailed off pretty quickly as they got busy with their outdoor pursuits. At this point, it seems to me that most of these folks are professional athletes with outspoken activist hobbies that come and go. That said, there are certainly athletes like Claire Gallagher who have demonstrated a deeper and more consistent commitment and I think that’s wonderful. And, as someone who travels a fair bit myself, I’m not judgmental, but when I compare the work that other activists and even celebrities do, I sometimes find the activism of many outdoor athletes to be pretty thin on substance. I look forward to the next generation of outdoor athletes who manage to integrate these realms in a more substantive way. We’re at a turning point in our culture, and we need all hands on board to turn the ship in the right direction. Props to Damian, Kilian and Bhutan for leading the way.

  16. Chris Topher

    Wonderful article Meghan, thank you for the discussion. I want to address our impact to ecosystems on an individual level. One that I think we can all do a better job acting on and promoting. Many races already have a culture of leave no trace that address littering along the trails and also have race crew/volunteers clean up the trails post-race. That is great but what I want to address is something us trail runners can do during our non-racing lives. I have been guilty of passing up litter and plastic wrappers strewn along the trail during my training runs. Not that I would ignore all trash that I came across on the trails, but if I had to take a few paces off-trail to reach it I would ignore it. And that’s where that hypocrite line resonates with me. Because I also hike a lot (and usually with company) I would tend to pick up more rubbish when I saw it because of less concern for my pace/time and because I would have a pack on to store it. Having others with me was also incentive to encourage others to see me doing good on the trail and hopefully inspire them to follow suit. But when I’m running solo it was burdensome for me to stop, get off trail, pick up trash, and then find some way to hold it until I reached the trailhead. These inconveniences were justification for me to ignore the problem and move on. That has changed since the start of this year. I want to make a difference and feel better about my choices even on the small scale. Like you quoted, “the littlest birds sing the prettiest songs.” Now on all my runs in 2020 I wear a pack with plenty of space to collect all the trash I see on my solo runs. I’m thinking maybe organizing a fun run with the same ethos as “clean up day” but with trail runners focusing on different trail systems to make a bigger impact would be amazing. But ultimately, what I want to address is the source. If only I could somehow let the casual trail user who may be guilty of littering know that all those little wrappers are adding up and collecting in our soils and waterways. I have thought about taking photos of all the trash I pick up on my run and posting it to social media but I don’t feel that would reach the casual trail user to make much of an impact. The best I can hope for is to have random encounters with folks at the trail head and explain to them where all the trash I collected came from. I feel that the trails closest to a city are the more chronic cases, but even in remote trails in national parks, forests, and monuments I’ve been able to collect some form of litter. I feel as an ultra runner who can cover more ground that I can make a bigger difference if I’m prepared to. So the simple act of picking up trash on the trail can have deeper impacts that reflect in our daily lives and our carbon footprint. For instance, not purchasing individually packaged snacks, refusing plastic bags and using reusable bottles. There’s a time and place for speed and pace but for me that’s taken a back seat lately (I was never a podium finisher anyway). Our actions must speak louder if we want a hospitable planet for the future.

  17. rms

    I’d like to see an article on whether ultrarunning can remain a viable pursuit beyond 10-15yrs, given the rapid rise in temperatures. I suspect that it likely cannot, at least in southern states, and will become less and less viable every year. And these changes have only begun their acceleration ramps: India is ramping up coal consumption; Japan is building 20 new coal plants; Australia has been sacrificed on this altar and is now essentially a giant coal mine.

  18. Damian Hall

    Amazing words yet again Meghan!

    And, dammit, I wish I’d thought of, “living imperfectly in an imperfect system”. #Genius

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