It may seem obvious that trail races promote environmental sustainability–but that hasn’t always been the case. Although many trail runners like to think of themselves as eco-minded humans prancing through the forest, the reality is that our sport can involve unnecessary trail trash. Canadian trail race directors are changing that, and here’s the scoop:

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Four years ago, 5Peaks Trail Running Series National Race Director Amy Puzey concluded how unnecessary plastic cups were at her trail running races (around three cups per registered runner). This would equate to over 45,000 cups each year for all thirty 5Peaks trail running races across the country. She decided to make a change.

5Peaks cupless aid station. Photo: Rob Shaer

Puzey began setting the environmental standard for trail races (and all races) by implementing a cup-free policy across the country. The change wasn’t easy at first, but the trail culture is catching on. 5Peaks race participants are asked to bring their own water bottle, reusable cup, or hydration pack for replenishing at aid stations. Puzey believes all races, especially trail, races should go cup-free. “Everyone has been wonderful about the change and I think all of the race directors are realizing what a huge impact it has.”

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Cupless aid stations at 5Peaks trail races. Photo: Andre Lessard

Three years ago, race directors Geoff Langford and Gary Robbins from Coast Mountain Trail Series (CMTS) pulled out all the stops at their aid stations. From flagging to recycling and compost, the CMTS races are committed to leaving no trace. Much of the course flagging is reusable, and Langford and Robbins take special care of the markers. Prior to the race, CMTS volunteers are instructed to not bend flags or wrap flagging tape around them. After the race, Robbins lays out the flagging supplies on his lawn to ensure they are sorted and organized for the next race. “Our lawn is very colourful for a while,” explains Linda Barton-Robbins.

Spending more time in nature often increases our connection with it, and in turn, many of us feel an innate desire to protect what we love. Change isn’t always easy, but promoting environmental sustainability at trail races is becoming a trend in the trail race culture.

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