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Cheltenham Challenge: Boldy Going Where Non-Ultra Running Events Are Scared To Go

What if every event in the world – whether it is a cycling, running, music, an outdoor festival never generated any rubbish and all it took was for organisers to stand their ground and enabled participants to raise their level of responsibility? And what would the effect be on participant’s times if they were forced to go cupless?

Imagine there’s no event rubbish
It’s easy if you try
No cups or gels to pick up
No rubbish on the ground

Imagine all the runners
Bringing their own bottle
Woo hoo hoo

Oh they say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
Yeah Cheltenham Challenge has gone cupless
And hope more events will do so

….Cheltenham Challenge knows that Zero Waste events are possible. Not repurposed or recycled waste, but ZERO WASTE.

Who knows what happens to the words we speak and the visions we share with others? Who would have thought a conversation in 2014 with the water sponsors and thereafter an email to the Cheltenham Challenge organisers once a year to encourage them to re-examine their waste would really have turned into anything…..4 years on:

Reuse Reduce Recycle

Reflections

Many ultra events have been going cupless for the last couple of years. On the otherhand, the non-ultra running events (such as 5K, 10K, half and full marathons) have been too scared about upsetting runners to ask them bring their own bottle (BYOB) to reduce the amount of single use plastic generated by the event. Additionally the water sponsors can provide water containers that are not single use!

Becos We always done it

There are a number of facts that are constantly being waved in front of organisations that many events refuse to acknowledge:

  • The inadequate recycling of single-use plastic in any country (29% of plastic is recycled in the UK with some portion of that going outside of the UK to process).
  • Not all runners’ rubbish is actually picked up such as wrappers and gel packets tossed into the grass, drain and bushes.  No running event can guarantee all the litter is picked up even when employing professional cleaners due to the irresponsible tossing of rubbish by runners.
  • There is a huge issue with plastic in our oceans. Many major marathons are close to waterways and rivers. It has been observed that “running tossers” have chucked their rubbish into the water ways, or the winds have blown their rubbish into the water ways.

The World Wildlife Fund released that 1 million birds + 100,000 marine life die a year from plastic consumption. There has not been an account for land based animals, but it has been noted the deer in Richmond Park have been consuming the gel packets from cyclist. See report here: http://www.frp.org.uk/pdf/news/1397_Press_release_Ride_London_2016_monitoring_v5.pdf. Similarly cows & sheep (for trail runs), squirrels and other animals can consume gel packets tossed into the grass by runners.

  • A good proportion of “serious” runners are irresponsible and will continue to be so as they feel it is their right to toss their rubbish on the course, regardless of where it lands as the pursuit of a PB (Personal Best Time) is far more important  because that’s what events are all about…..They do not care about the safety of the runners behind them.

We always done it this way

Setting The Benchmark

This year I had the privilege to be involved and see Cheltenham Challenge develop a cupless event. Of course a small portion of “serious runners” were disgruntled but the organisers stood their ground, working hard to ensure the first cupless event for 1,600 participants would be a success.

Environmental Statement

 

The team at Cheltenham Challenge delivered what has to be the cleanest and safest event, I have seen so far that is not an ultra marathon. A very well executed event that hosted 1,600 participants running 5K, 10K and 21km events.

Normally an event village is a trash festival with rubbish left by participants. On this occasion the event village at the end had about 10 disposable cups left around, mainly on tables that came from a coffee stall, + presumably two accidentally dropped gel packets…….and that was it! The area was surprisingly clean!

It’s All About the Trash

As the event’s Waste Reduction Ambassador, thought I’d do a bit of plogging in the 5K event to observe how the hydration points operated. The event had provided some emergency paper cups in case there were still unprepared runners.  I picked up some general public plastic trash along the route + 2 paper cups after the last check point. The hydration points I saw were extremely well run.

Following the 1/2 marathoners, the tail runners picked up 1 small carrier bag of runners’ rubbish.

Last year, 2 large black bin bags of rubbish was picked up by the tail runner + 2 white transit vans of rubbish was collected by the end of the event. Noticeably  the event village was littered with trash in 2017.

What Was in the Bins?

At the end of the event, the large water containers will be refilled by the sponsors of the water and the rest of the waste will be sorted by PrintWaste and recycled. Any waste that cannot be recycled will be sent to the energy recovery furnace. If the cardboard boxes were removed, the waste generated from this event would fill less than one 660 litre bin. The majority of the waste came from the stall that sold coffee, tea and cakes. Next year, hope to see them using reusable cups and separating their coffee grounds / non-plastic tea bags into an organics container that someone can take away to use in their compost!

Some comments from 1/2 marathoners I spoke with

  • I thought it might be uncomfortable to carry a bottle, but it was all fine. In fact I didn’t even notice it (runner who carried his water bottle on a belt)
  • We always carry bottles in events
  • It was really easy, and the marshals were on hand to help fill my bottle
  • It’s a no brainer
  • I could drink when I wanted to, great initiative

Speed Comparison: 2016 vs 2017 vs 2018

The final part is did stopping to fill water cause the 1/2 Marathoners to have a worst time than previous? (Check previous results here). So here participants raised their game, took responsibility for carrying their own hydration device for water and produced the fastest set of times since 2013!

So whoop whoop and a brilliant start to Cheltenham Challenge’s journey to developing a zero waste event where the fastest set of times were generated and everyone still had fun and sufficient hydration!

Cheltenham Challenge would be happy to help other organised events go cupless to move events away from using the traditional old fashion waste generating methods!

…And if you’re looking for a PB, perhaps you should consider BYOB

Becos We always done it- caveman

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