A Saskatoon man has put a positive new spin on “junk miles” by running a marathon distance with a wheelbarrow while removing trash from the Saskatchewan city’s streets and trails. On May 6, Keegan Hartery set out on a self-supported 42.2-km effort through the province’s most populous city to rid that day’s running route of litter.
“I runs lots, and I just thought one day, what if instead of just running for myself, I ran and did something for others,” says the 24-year-old, who is a sheet-metal worker by trade. “Running around you see lots of garbage. So I figured, well, if nobody else is going to pick it up, I’ll do it and turn it into a marathon and just see how much I can pick up.”
Hartery made up the route for his “garbage marathon” as he went along, but made an effort to steer his wheelbarrow into urban areas. “We have the Saskatoon Trail Alliance, and they do some cleaning on the actual trail here, so I tried to focus more on the inner city of Saskatoon, where there’s much more of an issue with littering and with garbage. So I did a little bit of both, maybe 30 per cent trail and then about 70 per cent sidewalks, roads and alleys.”
Filling his wheelbarrow with trash and then emptying full loads into the back of his pickup truck, Hartery filled five 42-litre garbage bags during his run—a personal best, of sorts, of five litres of garbage per kilometre. Although he didn’t come close to matching his marathon PB of 3:34:30, Hartery says he was happy to take his time.
“It took me over six hours to do it, and I was in no rush. I really took my time, and I would just jog between piles of garbage,” says Hartery, who clocked a respectable moving time on Strava of 4:28:02. “I’ve found it to be a lot easier than a normal marathon, just because of the super-slow pace.”
Constantly pushing and stopping his unwieldy wheelbarrow proved much more of a challenge, however. “Stopping so much was probably the biggest issue,” Hartery says. “There were times when I was running 10 feet, stopping, bending over and picking something up, and I would do that for kilometres. That was the most taxing part, the inconsistency of my running, just bending over and picking things up over and over—that was worse than the running, for sure.”
Hartery says some of the finds from his marathon left him scratching his head.
“I found a pair of shoes that had these little razor blades in them—I’m not sure what the deal was with that,” he says. “I also found half of a garden shear that looked like it had been sharpened on both sides.”
By far the most common items he collected, he says, were disposable coffee cups and plastic 7-Eleven “Big Gulp” cups. “There must have been about 300 of those Big Gulp cups,” he says.
He adds that while running a marathon with a wheelbarrow was challenging, it didn’t take too much of a physical toll. “I went for a 15-km run two days after, so I recovered pretty well.”
Hartery says he’s already thinking about what he can do to top his garbage marathon.
“I’m considering a few I ideas I think might be fun to do. There’s a river that goes through Saskatoon, and a lot of garbage gets into the water and ends up on the banks. My next idea might be to do a similar thing to the marathon, but more along the shore. We have tonnes of trails that almost go right down to the river, so even with people cleaning the trail, a lot of garbage ends up on the water’s edge, and that kind of ends up getting disregarded. That might be a fun thing that I can do. But I’m not sure if I would run it or if I would paddle it in a kayak, or maybe a canoe.”
He adds he would be flattered if others were to run with his example of using physical activity to make their communities cleaner. “I’d love to see the idea catch on,” he says.