Cupless Concerns

Thankfully, over the past few years there has been a movement in ultrarunning culture and in races themselves toward a more environmentally conscious approach. I’ve heard of more and more individuals deciding to race closer to home to minimize their environmental impact from burning fossil fuels to travel to far away races. Several races have ‘gone green’ by including recycling at start/finish areas, and in rare cases at aid stations. Other races have seemed to discourage waste by minimizing the amount of throwaways they put in race ‘goodie bags:’ flyers, stickers, and other advertisements. Some races have even stopped giving everyone a shirt, knowing that the majority of people end up just giving them away or throwing them in their closet under dozens of other race shirts.

This consciousness is of course a move in the right direction, and is very much preferable to the alternative of blindly promoting consumption, waste, and excess which modern culture has seemed to do to a shocking degree. There can come a point, though, where all this excitement about conservation and sustainability can go too far. Things which can have the best intentions, and make a lot of sense initially can, and often do, become so popular and trendy that they end up becoming an excessive and environmentally unfriendly practice in and of themselves. A great example of this would be the use of reusable canvas bags to replace plastic and paper grocery/shopping bags. If we all owned one or two of these bags and used them most every time we went to the store this would be an undisputed benefit. Instead, in our excitement over being as ‘green’ as possible we all now own dozens of these bags, and retailers push them on us by having them conveniently located at the checkout stand for 99 cents (or in some cases give them out for free). The prevalence of these bags makes it way too easy to assume that using one of them is ‘good’ and using a traditional paper or plastic grocery bag is ‘bad.’ The problem is that in our demand for these reusable bags, we have created a market for manufacturers to produce these things by the millions, and nowadays these ‘reusable’ bags have become a throwaway item of their own. However well intentioned it may have been at the beginning, the canvas-bag trend has become an extremely excessive and ecologically unfriendly consumer trends.

There is a trend starting in running races that I could also see going down this same path. I am referring to the reusable-cup trend. On the surface, this seems like a very good idea. The use of thousands of paper cups to serve runners their water, electrolyte drink (hopefully the new Clif electrolyte mix because that stuff rocks), and soda is extremely excessive and cannot be replaced soon enough. The idea of giving runners reusable cups so that they can carry just one with them and reuse it at each aid station is a great idea in theory, but now that’s it’s becoming so much of a trend it’s easy to see a future in which one can reasonably question whether this is a preferable alternative to the throwaway paper cups. How many foldable silicone cups does one person really have a use for? How many will we each need to have in our closets before they become as clearly misguided of an answer to a problem as the canvas bag has become?

The good thing is that, as racers and race organizers, we are at a point where we can still nip this excess in the bud before it happens. Currently the trend is to go ‘cupless’ by giving everyone one of these reusable cups to use to drink fluids at the aid stations. This is a great approach if you are the only (or one of a few) race doing this, but as this becomes more and more the norm, the last thing anyone (or any ecosystem) needs are more of these reusable cups. As a solution, I suggest we all shift our consciousness as soon as possible from looking at this trend as an undisputed benefit to this planet to something that has potential to be a large problem of excess in its own right. It’s only a benefit if we keep the amount of these things in circulation low enough that those that do exist are being regularly used, and not thrown in the back of a closet, and then a year or two later into a landfill.

Race organizers: many of us don’t need any more of these cups. Yes, some of us do, but not all of us. I can’t be the only one out there who has as many of these as I could ever possibly use. Especially considering that one is as many as you can ever use (I can’t recall a single time in my life in which I used more than one cup at a time). Going cupless is a great idea for your race, but you are not actually going cupless if you purchase hundreds of silicone cups to give to all the racers. If you’re going to go cupless, seriously go cupless. We can handle it. Consider allowing people who want to purchase a reusable cup as part of their race entry to do so. This way, those of us that already have them will just pass on that option, and instead of purchasing hundreds of these items, you will be purchasing a couple dozen.

Racers: Don’t be afraid to demand this foresight and consciousness from the races you run. Your voice will be heard. Also, consider that we’re all carrying water bottles most of the time. Shift your consciousness. Why can’t you pour a bit of Coke into your water bottle to drink at the aid station? If that doesn’t work for you, then simply bring one of your foldable cups with you that you already have in your closet. This might take four or five seconds longer at each aid station. In a 100-mile race this might cost us a full minute. In my opinion, this is a very small price to pay for the alternative of either using a couple dozen paper cups, or of blindly allowing the reusable-cup trend to become so popular that we are eventually filling up shoeboxes with these things, never to use them again.

I know I can’t be the only one who has a hook in my house for canvas bags that has nearly a dozen bags on it. Is this better than the alternative of the couple hundred paper/plastic bags I might have used instead? It’s a moot point to compare. The reality is that they are both very excessive, and the best answer would be to have one or two canvas bags that I used all the time. The way canvas bags have been forced on consumers in the past decade, though, it would be nearly impossible to only own one or two of them. Hopefully as racers and race organizers, we can avoid the same being true of reusable silicone cups a decade from now.

Call for Comments (from Meghan & Bryon)

  • Tell the truth, do you have too many reusable grocery bags and reusable race cups?
  • In addition to Geoff’s suggestions, what else can the running community do to ensure that reusable cups don’t follow the same trend as reusable grocery bags?
  • While Geoff suggests using your own water bottles, are there any other options you can think of for drinking at aid stations that don’t require obtaining another piece of gear?

There are 101 comments

  1. LLeite

    Great topic!

    I confess: owner of 11 reusable grocery bags and only 1 reusable race cup. Here we don't have races that give reusable cups (yet).

    The race cup should be a part of the a runner's own race kit, just like the safety pins for the bib / headlamp / whistle / survival blanket, etc depending on the race format.

    An alternative to the silicon reusable race cup is to give new use to something that you already own (just like Geoff's water bottle example).

    A good tip from a friend, confirmed and used with success in a recent race: get a small TetraPak package, cut the top and bam! You have a fordable reusable cup for free, and it can even hold hot drinks!

  2. Hone

    I like getting the plastic bags from the grocery store. I use them to pick up my dogs poop when he drops a massive steamer in my neighbors yard. I tried using the reusable bags for a while but my wife would get super pissed when I would bring the bag back into the house and put it back on the door.

  3. Jarrett

    Same goes for a lot, shirts, finishers medals, Frisbees, bottle openers, and whatever else gets called swag at races. Some people want this stuff, but most of the time it's junk nobody really needs. More races need the option to opt out of receiving all of it or just stop giving it away at all.

  4. Gary

    I completely agree with this. Another problem of the disposable plastic cups (which in the UK are used to a shocking degree in races) are that a proportion of runners will completely ignore any litter bins and just throw them on the floor. It's disrespectful to the environment, the trails and the race volunteers who they expect will just go around picking these up after the race is over. It's arrogant and extremely short sighted.

  5. Sarah

    I agree. I think all races should pull the trigger and just go cupless. Force us to deal with it. As far as having too many reusable bags or cups go; you can always say no. It's very easy to do. You tell the person handing you one "That's ok I already have one" if they put it in the swag bag you can find a race official and hand it back to them. I'm sure if enough people did it then next year they wouldn't give them out.

  6. Rob Youngren

    I'm shocked that nobody has realized that there is another way of going "cupless" at race events. Instead of requiring the runners to carry a silicon/plastic cup, why not have reusable, hard, plastic cups at aid stations? Have a plastic bin filled with a water/bleach mixture to use to "sanitize" the cups between usage camping style. Sure it puts a bit more work on behalf of the aid station volunteers but it is an alternative approach…

  7. Jason

    Geoff, This year I decided to turn our race " cup less" and I provided a reusable cup to all participants. This was a first here in the great state of Georgia. We also decided to use tupperware and dishes from home at the aid stations. We kept a line of communication with participants open for ideas prior to the event in ways to reduce waste at the race. As for the cups ending up in the back of the closet, I have witnessed several participants from our race continuing to use their cup. Several local race directors have contacted me to say they plan to go "cup less" and not offer the reusable. So by offering the reusable cups and getting participants comfortable we have moved forward here in the SE with reducing waste at races.

  8. Jonathan

    A lot of races in Texas have gone cupless and most of the races I do are cupless. I usually run with a handheld but also carry a Hydrapouch with me to fill with Coke or Mt Dew. It's easy to carry and everyone at aid stations comment on it. As for bags, I have 2 and will not buy any more.

  9. Barry

    Two birds could be killed with one stone if cups were made of something edible and nutritious that the runner could then consume for extra calories. Woven bacon is the obvious choice, perhaps fused together with melted cheese.

    1. Morgan Williams

      But helpfully, in my view, don't supply one.

      I bought the Raid Light "fold out" version 3 years ago and use it in every ultra I run.

  10. Rcannaday

    I always use water bottles, avoid the plastic cups because they are a very big pain to use mainly and get lost easily. In road races I wish there was simple solution for the 1,000s of runners they see, especially 5k's and marathons.

  11. Bazza

    Gonna say something rad here but if us runners were completely self sufficient during races by having our own food and drink stuffs in a drop bag for specific aid stations, then there is no need for the race organisers to even worry about it, if as a runner and crew co-op you are found to be littering the trails with your own packaging etc then it should result in instant Disqualification.

    We are all adults and we all know what works for us and what doesn't so bring your own.

    I suppose that extreme end of the spectrum, but everyone else comments are pretty cool to!

    1. Utah Runner

      I don't necessarily agree with all the sentiments expressed in this article, nor those expressed in the comments, but I do agree with 'Bazza.' If ultra RDs don't want cups on the course, the solution is easy – DON'T PROVIDE cups, of any kind!! Its really that simple. I would never be deterred from entering an event simply because the organizer wasn't going to provide cups. I concede that a different solution may be called for with regard to road races.

  12. Jesse

    Great Article! I think to start having people think in this direction is great! I think it should also start the conversation about travel, and how far we fly to race and the impact this begins to have on our environment. I would like to see races begin to charge a larger fee based on distance traveled.Then use that extra fee to purchase energy offsets. A "cap and trade" in a sense, while not ideal, it might discourage those that travel extensively without regard for impact. Which would encourage more local racing, and stronger community in that regard.

    Thank You for starting this conversation!

    1. Naomi

      I disagree with this as I like to choose races that are not always "local" as I train "local" all the time. I like the travel for a different trail and a new experience. Travel and registration to races is already expensive enough. I do love the idea of less waste, however. And like the thoughts going into this conversation.

      1. Sean

        I don't think this is something you need to worry about, Naomi. As a race director, not only would it be a complete and royal pain in the butt to calculate exactly how far each participant traveled to run in my race, I surely don't want to discourage people from traveling to it by hitting them with a travel tax. And really, how would we know how far each individual traveled? Just because someone lives XX miles from a race doesn't mean they traveled from home to said race. And what about those that live on the road? I have plenty of ultrarunning friends who are happily living on the road, vagabonding around the country and beyond to race, play, and just enjoy as many cultures as possible.

        Travel is a very good and healthy thing. It allows us to experience different cultures. Staying in our home bubbles our whole life can be dangerous, leading to narrow-mindedness and all of the negativity that goes with that.

        Now, regarding Jesse's mention of energy offsets, if individuals want to purchase these, then that's great! That should be each individual's choice. Choice is good and healthy.

      2. olga

        I, too, love to travel to a race – this is my way of living life as opposed to live where life put me:) We're going too far. Airlines will not stop flying. But a few less cups.shirts will fill landfill if I opt out.

        1. Jesse

          I agree that it would be a pain, and I love to travel as well, and quite frankly do it often. However as carbon output from air travel is very high and immediate, perhaps we should travel maybe only a couple times per year? Considering Global Climate change is "turning our western mountains and forests into tinder boxes in the summer" perhaps limiting how much we travel may preserve the mountains for us to run in, in the summer? Otherwise if they are all on fire, which I am sure you have noticed in the last decade is increasing, we won't be able to run there anyway. I don't really have a great solution, besides limiting one's own consumption even if sometimes it is painful.

          1. Ian Sharman

            I love to travel to races and am already off-setting this carbon usage with my choice to not have kids, the single biggest way to reduce carbon emissions relating to an individuals life. So really I'm an eco hippy.

            1. Tom W

              Great idea Ian, this would make for a wonderful condom marketing campaign. "Use condoms to reduce carbon emissions." You should contact Trojan to see if they are interested in sponsoring you. After all they gave Roy Munson $500K and he was only a bowler!

          2. Lizzie

            The problem with this, though, is that the people it will have the most impact on are the ones who can only afford to travel once or twice a year (or less) in the first place.

            A price increase that is large enough to impact someone who can already afford to travel by air many times per year would make that race completely out of the question for someone who can only travel to a race every once in awhile. Also, this may have already been mentioned, but many people will look for a race nearby if they are already traveling somewhere for a different reason.

            I don't think that simply charging people more is a good way to fix this. You did mention an increase in local races, though. I think that's a huge factor in reducing travel. I've noticed that in my area (in the last 2 years especially) there has been an explosion of new, local races. This is awesome. Having a ton of races in my own back yard throughout the entire year means that unless I want to plan a vacation around a race I don't need to travel more than a half hour to run a quality ultra. I think that the increase in smaller, local ultras will ultimately cut down on people (at least average runners who do ultras for fun and aren't competing to win big races) traveling JUST to run a race.

            Before this gets too long, the new 100 milers popping up might do the most to help this issue. A couple years ago before I even ran my first 50 I remember looking up 100s and feeling sad that pretty much any one of them would require a flight or at least a ton of gas money on top of the higher entry fees that go along with 100 milers. Even 50ks were hard to find. This year I was able to attempt to run a 100 miler three towns away from where I live. This trend is awesome and it's exciting to see ultrarunning grow so quickly on the local level :D

        2. Larry

          Olga, vacations are cancelled! Sorry… You must stay home where you belong. Run god awful boring loop courses, cook, and knit.

  13. joe

    We are already eating food taken from a communal food bowl cross contaminated with god knows what. Just have a couple of plastic cups for those with special needs outside of what can be put in their water bottles or hydration packs.

    Swag, disposable cups, grocery bags, pacers, crew, aid stations, finishers medals…Whew! Just prop me up and carry me to the finish line will you please? Oh wait, you mean we still have to run?

    I hate to say it but we are turning into a bunch of sissys with really good endurance.

  14. Rich Gordon

    I've never understood why races don't use unwaxed paper cups. They are extremely cheap and can be recycled and/or composted. Not a single sports drink maker I know of offers logo printed cups in an unwaxed version in their sponsorship product line. It's hard for a race or racers to "go green" when the corporate backers don't empower that movement.

  15. Speedgoatkarl

    One suggestion not mentioned here yet, and what we do at Speedgoat 50k.

    #1. I was asked from Ultraspire to purchase 350 reusable cups for runners. Although they are a great company and my personal sponsor, I refused to buy them, but gave Ultraspire the option to sell them at the Speedgoat race. This worked great cuz' those who needed one, got one, those who didnt' need one, had no waste. First step in the right direction. They sold about 100 this year.

    #2. No race paper in bags, and for us….no bags, just get your nice Patagonia shirt,(one that is cool and people actually wear)a nice pair of Drymax socks, and Speedgoat coffee if you like coffee, at the end of the registration line. . Most tech shirts are junk and get thrown in the trash or become a rag…RD's should give nice gear or nothing,even if it costs a few extra bucks.

    #3. At the Speedgoat race, we use hard plastic cups at aid stations, our aid stations only get about 50 cups for 350 runners….shit, now what? use a 3 bucket system to wash cups during the race. Use biodegradable soap. It's fair to say a few of these cups get lost in the shuffle, but 90% or so come back for next year…to use and use and use again. It worked great at Speedgoat if you have enough volunteers to make it happen.

    #4 hard plastic plates, bowls that can be used each year, again, no waste, our garbage at the end of our race from aid stations is ONE bag, not even full, pretty impressive for 350 runners.

    Great topic Geoff, the grocery store analogy is a perfect example of waste.

    1. Sean

      Karl, you've got a great thing going at SG. One suggestion though – even though I know that you're shirts are cool, people actually wear them, etc, why not make it an option on the entry form? For those of us who have run more than a few races, we already have way too many of the cool shirts, too. And really, even for those who have't run many races and don't have many of the cool shirts, well, they should at least get the option, too. Entrants could pay $15-$20 less for the no-shirt option. I wish ALL races had that. Even ones that don't, I still occasionally don't take my shirt – even if it's a nice one.

      Side-note: my race, the Peterson Ridge Rumble doesn't even have shirts. I give out finisher's socks. I believe the Rumble was one of the first races to give out socks. My thought was that most runners have way too many race shirts already, but we go through socks pretty quickly. Socks seemed pretty logical to me.

      Regarding optional shirts, the same goes with finisher's buckles at races. Why not make those an optional item? Here's a little blog post I wrote on this very subject in 2009:
      I believe that's all Nick wanted from the Grand Slam – the option to buy or not buy the trophy.

      Basically, we all have too much crap already. How much more do we really need?

      1. olga

        Sean, you were a pioneer in "not a shirt"! And socks get worn a little faster too, so at least every year a pair is not a bad perk:)

      1. Weldon

        Personally, I'd like to see more nicely designed regular cotton t-shirts that can be, and would be, worn casually for many more occasions. I agree that most of the tech t's handed out at races are not the quality I'd like to run in, most of the time, and the designs are often ones I'd not want to be seen in. Sweat shirts are also preferable if good quality with good design. I do have a couple of pairs of socks from races which I really don't wear much at all – socks are such a personal thing, I think. Thick or thin, etc., everybody likes something different.

    2. Ddog

      Speedgoat is a great example of a great race…the t-shirts have a cool design (although sometimes the sizes/fit are off but the design offset the fit)…they also gave out socks which were both super cool and great quality and still get "dude love those socks…Karl should sell them" comments…and they started giving out a cool little medallion for finishers. You could be one of those that dines only on bitter herbs every day and say we didn't need any of this…but I paid money and I like these things. As has been said…if your going to do something do it like you'd want done…ie quality…or lower my entrance fee and stop doing things that you know when you picked them that people wont use.

  16. Martin from Italy

    Just make having your own cup an obligation for all runners and don't provide any at the aid stations (people will get used to it and wise up pretty quickly). Nearly all trail/mountain races in mainland Europe use this system. A foldable silicon cup weighs next to nothing and can be slipped into a pocket or in a bag on a belt.

    What do you mean you don't have any pockets? You're carrying gels and energy bars aren't you?

  17. Alex

    Great read.

    With our "arena" being the natural world (often specifically public forests, wilderness areas, etc…), I am quite pleased to see that we as trailrunners are considering our impact on the places we occupy.

    This summer I've worked at a couple of aid stations, and was astonished at the amount of waste that we created/were left with at the end of the day. There were loads of cups, sure, but I was taken aback at how much food went to waste. I know aid stations often take pride in providing any and everything a runner might want or need to continue their grueling endeavor (and it sure helps me when I'm running), but perhaps races as a whole should take a less is more approach to running a race.

    With minimalism so present in our gear, that shouldn't bee too hard. ;)

  18. Todd Sinclair

    I think idea has some legs (no pun intended). In the ultra world, a few seconds in a 100 miler is no big sweat (at least for this mid packer). Aid station workers need to make sure the drinks are slat (in terms of pop) and enough ways to fill up if there is a bit of a crowd. They are great people and will figure it out. The most fun comments in other forums have been around marathons…. that would be funny. Imagine NYC marathon going through the 5 mile aid station and everyone stopping and getting out their cups…. likely a different problem.

    I would also suggest different garbage receptacles at our Aid stations to get garbage in one, recycling in one and organics in another. Good article Geoff.

  19. Donna Braswell

    I bought 2 cups from REI that are collapsible and much more convenient and functional than the ultraspire theme. It is my plan to bring them to every race, cupless or not. I hope to set a good example and push what you just said in this-bring your own so that there aren't excessive ones' being made.

    Thanks for the thought provoking subject.

  20. OOJ

    This is a phenomenal idea. I thought of this at Sonoma 50 last year, when it was announced that the race was going cupless.

    My mom is notorious for having holiday parties with plastic plates and utensils…then washing and re-using ALL of them the next year. I'm not sure she's had to buy more forks/knives/spoons/plates since the '90s.

    Yes, it would be a pain to wash cups, BUT…it would solve the dilemma of:

    – Needing cups at AS' (for those that like to drink soda, etc, but not carry it)

    – Not continuing to mass-produce a different receptacle that runners have to carry

    I guess I'll have to put my $ where my mouth is and volunteer to wash dishes at an ultra…

    1. Matt

      Not sure that the washable cups would pass muster with the health department, unless they were washed in the equivalent of a commercial kitchen.

      1. Rob Youngren

        I didn't know the health department had any involvement at all at race events? If that were the case I'm sure they'd have obvious issues with just about any race aid station out there with food out in the open. Dirty hands soiling the food, unclean water coolers, etc… etc… Reusuable cups would be a tiny issue in my opinion.

  21. Anonymous

    They handed them out at Backbone Traverse in March of this year, first time I'd seen them, brought it to a 50K the next weekend and people were curious…they handed them out at SD 100 in June…now they're all I use, have 3, can't recall where the 3rd came from, but they're everywhere…another year or two, if everything goes right, and people will be like, "Remember paper cups?"

    Now, what are we gonna do about all the gel wrappers?

    JV in SD

  22. Scott

    Right on Geoff! Your article really hits home for me, I'm in Seattle, and yesterday as I was just driving through downtown I saw a bright red reusable bag blowing through a parking lot like a tumbleweed I immediately thought about what it will be like when the ocean has millions of these nearly indestructible bags floating around in it…..

  23. Cole

    I am not sure. How does this affect runners (including Jornet) that do not want to carry a hand-held (which impacts pace, efficiency, and leads to imbalance injuries) and want more minimalistic running in the present? As long as they allow us to use our hands for water consumption (like drinking out of a stream), then I am good for it.

    1. Danny

      I ran a cupless half marathon that required a water bottle to start. I already knew I wouldn't use it as I never drink for that distance. I don't think it slowed me down that much carrying an empty bottle the whole race though!!

  24. KenZ

    Totally agree. Local race series here lets you opt out of T-shirt, and even discounts entry fee $5 when you do it, although to be fair, I'd opt out anyway. I would encourage race organizers to not put dates on their shirts, as many do, so that they can be re-issued if not taken at the following race. Several races do this, but not all.

  25. miquel

    Everything we do to limit our "footprint" is important…But, if a few hundred of us drove our cars to the race then the impact of cups is pretty small in comparison.

  26. olga

    YES! Stop the "swag" please! At all! Have an option to purchase extra available, how many shirts, socks, etc can I have racing 10 times a year for 15 years? Yes, I choose not to pick it up, but it still gets ordered, and then what, disposed? Donated to Goodwill with race logos?

        1. Bryon Powell

          Thanks, Matt and Jim. I'd probably tweak things a bit given how my thoughts and races have changed since then, but the idea remains – I want less swag… and saying "no" to it at race check-in is too late.

          1. max

            That article needs a bump to the front page now more so than when it was first written. 100 miler shirts are nice though, I only got 2 of them and both are showing their age.

  27. Jon Olsen

    I know this is a little off topic but…..Not until the majority of runners around the world can make a living in this sport, are we ever going to get the best runners together consistently. There are a lot of runners that are competitive in this sport but have strenuous day jobs and families. Moreover, a lot of races have entry limits that make it difficult to get the best together. Look at the best trail runners in the World right now….running is either their sole income or they are single living a very minimalist lifestyle. Prize money won't make a difference until it is like road racing/track(Olympic sports) we need to just appreciate the sport for what it is and not try to make too many changes. Change is sometimes good BUT not always the solution.

  28. Mike

    Oh lord…more #firstworldproblems. I think we should have racer-less races. Instead of post-run banquets the food can be given to local shelter for homeless people. Imagine all the methane that will be reduced by not having GU farting ultra runners scurrying back and forth.

    Seriously people, no tshirts? I want my god damn tshirt. If I end up not using it, I'll give it to someone else…and that includes the local Salvation Army or hospital thrift store.

    1. Bryon Powell

      Folks, don't feed Mike's trolling.

      Mike, please contact me offline. I've tried contacting you privately and you've not responded. There's away to communicate your contradictory opinion in a positive, useful manner. This is not that.


  29. Weldon

    I dislike that people too often adopt an all or nothing solution such as doing away with paper cups altogether and requiring reusable cups. My local grocery store did that with bags, for awhile, but soon found that they were giving away way too many reusable bags to people who forgot theirs or who just didn't want the reusable bags. It cost them too much money, I'm sure, so are now back to paper or plastic. Plenty of people still use canvas or other reusable bags and others who reuse the paper and/or plastic bags are also happy. In the ultra running community, I think runners overwhelmingly want to be environmentally conscious and refrain from using paper cups. But the reality is that reusable cups are more expensive for races to give away (so will drive entry fees up), they are less convenient in that they are one more thing to carry with you and dig out when you reach an aid station, and paper cups are actually recyclable. So, here, a middle ground may be a good idea. Encourage the use of recyclable cups, make them available to those who want them, but still provide (hopefully fewer) paper cups.

    BTW – I recently ran a race that did not use paper cups (didn't hand out reusable ones either)and felt great to pull out my reusable cup (acquired from a previous race) at each aid station. That being said, it sure would have sucked if I'd lost that reusable cup out on a trail somewhere.

  30. Luke Garten

    I have tried putting what coke in a bottle to take with me. I even opened the coke the night before in the fridge so it would be flat. It was terribly sticky ad still somehow had enough carbonation to make it hard to drink while running. Never doing it again.

  31. Matt

    The foldable cups are a great idea and solve a problem for some runners, but definitely not something that everyone needs. They should be available to those that need them as the Speedgoat has done, but I think that the race organizers should perhaps foot the bill and offer them to those that would like to try one or forgot theirs, or feel they would USE an extra. Race directors are obviously saving on an expense if they're eliminating the paper cups, why not buy a hundred through a sponsor to have available for runners that need them? Any leftovers can be handed out the following year. Love the reusable cups/plates at aid stations where there is sufficient help to pull it off.

    Race shwag really should be optional, at least for those that register before items are ordered. Something that worked well at our races last year was to offer runners a choice between several options (hoodies, long and short sleeve tech T's, caps, handhelds, visors, mugs, socks etc.) One item was included with registration fee and additional items could be purchased, which helped offset the costs. It's a little more work on our end so not everyone will go for it, but it's something that I'd like to see more races offer. Most runners will be able to use at least one of the items offered. There's never going to be one single item out there that EVERYONE needs, especially year in and year out for people that run the event more than once.

  32. Jim

    I'd like to continue the conversation with the woven bacon cups. Perhaps even those sugar cones that have a layer of chocolate so the ice cream doesn't leak through.

  33. Matt

    Speaking of reducing the environmental impact that an event has, how about using composting toilets instead of chemical toilets? Not a popular subject to talk about, but it eliminates what would have been a high volume of toxic sludge and removes it from being processed in a sewage treatment facility (huge strain on the power grid) and instead produces something that is positive for the environment. Eco Commode has portable composting toilet event trailers that can come to events in the south west(shameless plug).

  34. Shad

    At the risk of realizing I'm the only one who can't drink straight I found the collapsible cups difficult to use. Mostly it just spilled all over me. Ended up tossing and using handheld instead.

    Most everyone here enjoys being outdoors and is familiar with the sometimes sketchy sanitation of running and eating for long periods of time. Despite this it seems a few extra cups is worth protecting the racers. Anyone ever done a #2 in a race and grabbed a hand full of M&M's? Well I'm sure nobody reading this has but those other people certainly do.

    As far as cleaning cups that sounds nice but I guess I'm a pessimist but don't have so much faith in humanity. A race being cup less or not wouldn't have any impact on my decision to do it or not. The only difference is that I'd use my own bottles and rinse w/ a little water if needed. Tougher for people who use packs though.

  35. Ellie

    I recently ran a road marathon in the UK. Water on the course was in plastic bottles which was pretty horrendous but other aspects were great; no gels or anything other than water on course, a t-shirt and medal but no bag and no flyers. Post race food was a carton of juice and a banana. The whole lack of 'stuff' was refreshing, better for the environment (bar the plastic bottles) and made the entry fee much lower than a similar race in North America.

  36. Scott

    About just putting a horse trough at the aid stations for runners to just dunk their heads into for a drink. One filled with coke, one filled with some electro drink, one with water. It would be way more communal and badass

  37. Andrea

    BYOC. Bring Your Own Cup.

    P.S. I have about 8 reuseable grocery bags and use them all in rotation but could live with just a few of those, and 2 reuseable race cups of which I like neither, so I am on the hunt for something light & packable.

  38. Ddog

    Not meant as a downer comment by the way…but a couple of reasons that people maybe don't wear the race shirts is that some shirts used for races either were constructed so poorly (ie always feel like the shirt is on backwards or the proportions are wrong) or the race logos/design/color are just plain silly. If we're going to keep doing race shirts…which I support…make them cool otherwise don't make them at all.

    On the cup issue…all the races I know that were cupless just had reuseable cups at the aid stations…if you didn't like that then you used your own waterbottle. common sense.

    1. Lstomsl

      The reason I don't wear the shirts is that the new tech Ts all smell like ass after one or two runs. Give me a cotton T or nothing at all. But yeah some are just ugly,mic you have to give out a shirt at least keep it to subtle earth tones.

      And runners we don't have to wait for race directors to solve this problem fr us. Bring your own cup and don't use the ones provided whether its a cup less race or not. If we all do that they won't be able to waste all that plastic even if they wanted to.

  39. whatisultra

    What I'm reading here are great suggestions- less trash, reusable containers, less travel, composting toilets, less race junk, etc. The common denominator, however, are RDs and volunteers who are willing to do a little more work. I think ultimately it comes down to RDs implementing these changes and suggestions (and they have!) and runners committing to volunteering more to make it happen.

  40. Sniffer

    I'm down with the whole less provided more responsibility on the runner. Less aid stations, farther apart. Carry your water, poles, food/gels. Drop bags at half way…Just sounds tough…not that it needs to be ay tougher…imho

  41. RunDC

    The efforts by Karl and others to reduce cup waste is fantastic! I find some runners' flippant attitude towards the impact of air travel concerning though. People tend to focus on what they can see (cups) and disregard the much more substantial impacts that are invisible (air travel).

    In terms of carbon tonnage, flying to three races in a year would have about the same impact as the average american household's electricity usage for an ENTIRE YEAR:

    The efforts by race directors to lessen their impact thus far is substantial and deserves the praise it has gotten in comments here and elsewhere. But I would challenge them to think bigger.

    1. adam

      Great point!

      In the climate game small fish are just small and big fish are getting away with murder because we're all stuck in the muddy shallows patting ourselves on the back and pontificating about vegan local vs. organic..bla bla bla.

      Think about some dude in Arkansas who works at walmart, eats Mc d's every day, doesn't have a smart phone, 50 pairs of running shoes and all the other latest light/high tech gear, shops at walmart, drives an old truck 3 miles to and from work every day….never flys, hardly has time to take a weekend getaway, let alone travel very far for a real vacation with his family….this guy is greener than any of us!

    2. t dog

      Great point, RunDC. Thank god I (now) live in Utah, with races nearby aplenty!

      Extending outside the realm of races, another way to reduce one's running-related carbon footprint is pretty obvious: stop driving to trails. This isn't possible for a lot of people, unfortunately, but a major factor in my decision to move to Salt Lake was my ability to bike from my house to trailheads. I think it's very easy to ignore the greenhouse costs of a daily drive to one's favorite trails, or a weekly drive to a mountain range on the other side of the state for a longer adventure (especially if such an adventure necessitates bringing two cars!), because wilderness is a necessity, after all! But it is because of this necessity that we need to consider these impacts.

      In my opinion, no outdoor enthusiast should ever stop asking the question, "What are the environmental impacts of my interactions with the environment?" because they are often so great, varied, avoidable, and minimizable if one is conscious enough!

      Additionally: Bryon, I think more articles of this flavor would be a spectacular and welcome addition to iRF. I believe there are a wide variety of "green" topics related to trail running and racing; I hope to see more in the future.

  42. Mark M.

    Perhaps I'm unsophisticated – but this discussion seems a bit esoteric and utopian to me.

    I just can't get worked-up over paper cups (properly disposed of after use); or the carbon footprint associated with trail ultra race event; or the greenhouse gas emissions of trail-runners with bad stomachs.

    My eco-angst is much more fueled by bottle-strewn and pizza-box-littered trails (I will pick these up along the way); dirty diapers in stream beds (Forgive me, but these I do NOT pick up); and confrontations with paint/beer can wielding taggers who say "it's ok, someone washes it off anyway."

    So my rudimentary environmental conscience says:

    "If you encounter any kind of cup with a refreshing liquid at an aid table – Drink!" (just reuse that cup for a second/third serving).

    "If nature calls while out in the woods and no composting toilet is handy, make like a bear and – DO!"

    "If you have the opportunity to drive/fly to the most gorgeous locations in the world to hike/run the trails – GO!" (*sigh*…if only).

    As long as you are courteous to those you encounter and are respectful of the natural surroundings you enjoy…I suspect we will all be in a pretty good place.


  43. ken michal

    Great dialogue!! I've found that the collapsible cups are great for holding salt tabs (reduce, reuse, recycle, right?)! This way, I have a back up if I accidentally drop my cup too!

    I've noticed that for the collapsible cups to be more effective, there must be more volunteers at AS's during peak times to simply pour soda. Even if volunteers car-pooled, would the cup waste be any worse than fossil fuel burning cars transporting volunteers? I don't think cupless events are doing so much for the environment at the time… Instead, they help to remind us that we are ALL environmental stewards and the forests and parks we race through a precious resource! I would prefer races had compostable cups (and did the work to make sure they ended up in the compost pile…)!

    Here are a couple more things I would love to see at events (we even did a couple of these things we did to help green our races when I was an RD) and ideas for runners as well:

    -Buy in bulk! I'm sure every RD out there already shops at Costco for supplies… Instead of buying five, one pound bags of trail mix, buy one fiver and take the time to split it up! Sure, it's a couple minutes more work but it's even cheaper to in bulk!! The same can be said for energy gels as runners! Gu wrappers suck! We should all carry flasks and buy larger quantity (I've been carrying flasks for years)! I know Hammer and Carb Boom sell jugs… I wish Clif did!!! I dream of a world without those foil wrappers… As a matter of fact, I'm sure that "packetless" races would have much more of an environmental (an aesthetic!!) impact than "cupless"!!

    -Use reusable (tupperware) dishes at AS's! Once again, a little more work but more cost effective and less wasteful! As runners, take a second to reuse the paper cups that are there instead of reaching for another! Trust me, I've logged some serious volunteer time and have seen a ton of people use a ton of cups because it's convenient! Heck, it would cut down tremendously on cup use if everyone carried a water bottle in the first place!! Short distance folks (and newbies) are notorious for this and grabbing 5 cups in an AS… Maybe we could hand out hand held water bottles instead of shirts?? (Ok, a lot more expensive…)

    -Recycle bottles and cans, especially those post race beers! ;) It's a little harder at AS's but it can be done! All it takes is a little communication from the RD to the AS Captains, a separate bag and a couple seconds more work! We've done it at ITR…

    Thanks for the great topic, Geoff!! We're blessed with some amazing places to run and it's up to us to keep them beautiful!!

    All Day!


  44. Nicole


    On the topic of races, I've seen a handful of events that make an effort to be "green", but I'm curious whether any race management organizations have actually measured their races' impact, and maybe then the impact of these "green" efforts. And I'd go gaga if there was any efforts to standardize some type of green indicators for races. I vaguely recall Clifbar supporting some type of system, but please let me know if anyone knows of others.

  45. Jon Allen

    I was starting to think I'm the only one who isn't too worked up over disposable cups given how cheap they are, the relatively low amount of energy to make them, and how well they compact in the garbage. Glad to see there's a little science saying that, for the most part, the impact is about the same for disposable vs reusable. I'm not trolling, I'm just being honest about my feelings.

    I like races where I can fill my handheld with water to drink, but then also have disposable paper cups pre-filled with soda sitting on a table.

    I'm all for minimizing waste where possible, but I hope we don't lose sight of the big picture. Like others have said, just driving or especially flying to a race uses FAR more energy than a few cups. And while we use re-usable grocery sacks, the amount of packaging material (paper, cardboard, plastic, saran wrap, etc) enclosing the food we carry home is much greater than the handful of plastic bags we don't use. I guess I'm saying I hope we don't focus so much on a small item that represents .01% of our energy use (paper cups) that we ignore the rest of the 99.99%.

    I'd say the trend of buying 100 calories of sugar in a pre-packaged foil gu pack that is shipped around the world and never decomposes is a much bigger energy waste than a one cent paper cup that will decompose. Yet I still use gu's for all my calories at races cause it is what I prefer. Along with my apples flown in from New Zealand and my bananas from Nicaragua. :)

  46. ColombiaCorre

    Water station logistics can be especially challenging for events with a lot of people like the Bogota half marathon with 45,000 runners. The Bogota Water Company runs 20 hydration points with 200,000+ bags of drinking water. There are also cups of water available to runners but huge piles of bags of water are stacked on tables for runners to grab and handed out quickly/efficiently by event support to runners as they run by. It works really well. Runners can keep going full speed while drinking; no stopping at a table and waiting for a cup or trying to drink out of a cup while running. Bags of water are the best. The bags can be stuffed in pockets, don't fill up trash cans quickly and are all vacuumed up and recycled.

  47. Duane VanderGriend

    I like disposable cups filled and ready for me at aid stations. After the countless hours of training and the cost of shoes, gear, and travel, I appreciate that service from the RD and the volunteers.

  48. Adam

    Spot on. I ran at the Chester Marathon on Sunday and the sheer number of bottles just thrown into the verge or people's gardens was awful. Same goes for trail races – who simply discards gel packets in the middle of nowhere in the Lake District?

    1. Bryon Powell

      You mean all the stuff in these boxes?!… Yeah, I dread figuring out how to effectively share all that with the world.

      Did drop three boxes of very lightly worn men's size 9 running shoes off at the Park City Christian Center before we left. Got some classics in there like Fireblades, Raceblades, old Cascadias, Hardrock 07s… but I did snag the only pair of functional Montrail Hardrocks! ;-)

  49. AnyTrail Ultra

    The PbTenOneFifty2 in Leadville June 27-29 will be completely cup less. Runners will need to bring a water bottle or prepared to "cup" their hands. :) #PbTenOneFifty2

  50. Dan'l

    Shhhh: I'm an aid station captain for a 100-miler. We use 40 paper cups for the entire race. When we have a free moment, we wash them with the extra water we drive into the A.S. It's our approach to "reducing our footprint."

  51. Brad

    That's all well and good, but there are some if us that live in the most boring places to run ultras. Great and scenic areas are for everyone to enjoy, not just those who live nearby.

  52. rkmk

    Thanks Geoff for verbalizing a common thought among trail runners.

    Commenting is a little overdue, I'm catching up on the best articles of the year :-)

    A lot of the comments lead to consider how we actually measure and influence the environmental impact of our racing (@Nicole) with each and every one of us having their own sensibility. I'd be interested in having readily available environmental impact information about the races that I do, to know where should i put my efforts, e.g. for a provocative example: if I cancel one race at the other side of the world per year, can I not worry about going cupless?

    Off the top of my head, I would assume that on a global scale, travel is by far the most damaging impact on the environment, but I'm curious to see the list of the main environmental issues that we generate. Probably a lot of it is not running-specific. It'd be great to get your thoughts on this.

    1. Global environment:
    – Travel (air + car)
    – Gear requirements
    – Race marketing (flyers etc)
    2. Local environment:
    – Littering (e.g. cups)
    – Overuse of trails (impact on fauna, excrements leading to diseases, wild camping etc)
    3. Societal impact:
    – Economic impact for local communities (both good and bad)
    – Cultural impact (raising awareness/promoting a particular region while using it

    Not all of these are quantifiable, and most of these are definitely not comparable, but as a race participant I'd love to have a sense of where these stand. For instance, I think UTMB has a lot of great initiatives (e.g. going cupless, not too many aid stations, and generally a good sense of what works in the mountains) but the sheer number of participants may make it a huge negative impact for the environment (and frankly, totally killed the race experience for me – try racing on a technical single track as packed as subway car!)

    Like I said, each of us will have their own sensibility when it comes to what to do with such a list, as some people will travel to another continent but make sure they won't leave too much behind (the most common preference, because of the cultural gains) while others will only race locally but leave the occasional gel out on the trail (which might end up to be a lot more eco-friendly)

    Here's an example of one rule I have when it comes to travelling: if the race is going to take less time than the (one-way) trip, then I simply don't do it. Crossing the world for a 5K, doesn't really do it for me – the environmental impact has to be justified by the personal impact. I do realize that crossing the world for a 500K is not more sustainable than crossing it for a 5K, it's just that the trade off makes it worth it for me and that it limits my travels overall (@Ian: I do have kids, so maybe that's why :-)

    Another example of what we could learn from this is that on particular trails, people are littering more, or that this has a bigger impact there. You could imagine having a cleaning team that goes on the trail to pick up the remaining litter after the race (does that ever happen? I've always wondered). This could be made of volunteers, or financed by racers (through fines or fees etc). Probably the wrong incentive but maybe more environmentally friendly. Or maybe we could give benefits (e.g. guaranteed entry for next year) to those who clean up enough litter on the trail while racing?

    I don't even know whether smaller races are more eco-friendly (because of limited travel and trail use) or the large ones are (because of more volunteers who can help clean up and potential funding for eco–friendly activities)

    Or maybe we come to the conclusion that apart from the local impact of littering, trail running is a rather eco-friendly activity, that we should enjoy it with a free conscience (@Mark M) and that to have a better environmental impact we should put our efforts elsewhere.

    Surely many race organizers and participants have thought about this before, it'd be great to have a place to exchange ideas on this topic.

    What do you think has the biggest impact on the environment?
    What can we do about it?
    What are your rules when it comes to choosing races according to their environmental impact?
    Is there a place where this is discussed? on iRunfar?

  53. Lucy Scrase

    This is commenting sometime after the previous comments. With the topic of plastic and reusable products very much in the public eye at the moment. Are there many cupless events in the UK now? The more I think about the races that I have been too and the amount of waste, there has to be some positive actions moving forward by RDs. The reusable cup sounds like a great thing to have in my bag, which cups are the best on the market?

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