Developing a Cupless Event

Developing a Cupless Event

There are a couple of mis-conceptions:

  1. Paper cups / compostable cups are better than plastic cups (all depends and you will need to read my post on Plym Trail Marathon)
  2. A cupless event means the runners bring their own water in their own water carrying device

Whilst the second point is something that self-sufficient ultras might make their participants do, most ultras provide their participants hydration and a buffet at every check point! Hence ultra events tend to be cleaner than road events due to the lack of potential available rubbish. Road running participants have been conditioned to behave inconsiderate to other runners by throwing the disposable cups and bottles on the floor without regard for their fellow runner who might come along and skid/trip on the object that has now been placed at their feet. Purely from a safety point of view, road events MUST enforce runners to put all their items into the bin, including those nasty gel packets that get stuck on your shoe!! Additionally runners will waste water provided in the cups / bottles.

Finally using 1.5 litre bottles to dispense water often sees caps disappearing down drains or left in the grass as well as water wasted as partly used bottles will mean emptying out the contents of the bottle. When it is windy, the cups are tossed off the running route and into bushes and water ways. So what can an event do to create safer events and to provide hydration to its participants? Here are some ideas.

1. On your website, tell participants that you are a “cupless” event and they will need to bring their own bottle/cup/water bladder to receive hydration at the hydration/check points.

Wearing 3 different ways to get a drink: Cup, Bottle, Bladder

2. Ensure participants acknowledge this requirement at registration. Below are 2 check boxes that you will need to put on your registration forms that you want acknowledged before you allow a participant to register.

3. On your website suggest to participants how they can now plan their hydration during training. That is they can choose which hydration point they will fill up on rather than queue desperately at hydration points or bump into other participants!

4. For events that are in hotter climates, on your website and in all your literature, encourage participants to BYOB to reduce cases of dehydration. As a marshal on the Thorpe 1/2 Marathon with temperatures reaching 16 degrees celcius, I saw a number of participants suffering from heat and recommended they carry the bottle of water supplied to them at their next check point!

5. Transport large quantities of water from bowsers, jerry cans, reusable water dispensers (see below about sponsors)

6. Distribute water at hydration / check points with jugs and gravity fed water dispensers (see below about sponsors)

7. If you are a lap event, you could go the extra mile by offering your participants reusable cups and their choice of drink!!!

Saturn Running are a multi-lap event and use reusable collapsible cups that come with lids, water dispensers and jugs. They also ask their participants to BYOR. This is a great initiative as they can provide reusable cups to participants who have forgotten to bring their own. As it is laps, the organisation set it upon themselves to provide an additional service to ensure participants had the drink they wanted.

Water dispensers and jugs. Tap water in the UK is clean and drinkable
Red Arrow: pointing to different types of bottles + a collapsible bottle (circled)
Green Arrow: pointing to different types of cups + collapsible cups (circled)

Want to Provide Runers Ideas of What to Carry?

Before “running cups” came along, I used camping cups (plastic and metal) that would clip to my harness. Now-a-days “running” cups & bottles are more sophisticated. They collapse so that you can stuff them into a pocket and weigh next to nothing.

For events with longer distances between hydration points, I use a water 2 litre water bladder. I used to have a running bottle (picture below) that I could clutch easily but when I lost it, I got a device to hold a normal bottle that could be easily clipped to my harness (picture above)

So you don’t want to look like me and want to use a resuable cup in an event? See how Max and Silia are carrying their cups below.

Max (LHS) with a collapsible cup clipped to his running belt
Silia (RHS) uses a pink bum bag to stuff her collapsible cup

My Water Sponsors Feel Their Branding Will Not Be Seen

Water sponsors want their brand to be seen! With what we know today about “recycled” plastics, providing disposable water bottles will be seen as backward. Different setups can be used such as Bowsers, Jerry cans to carry the water all can have the water sponsors logo on it.

Pumps / gravity dispensed water from 20 litre water bottles can be used and set up at tables. What will be important at the hydration tables are that there are also water jugs to dispense the liquids by volunteers into runners who want to move faster through. Slower participants can dawdle and use the gravity fed / pump dispensed water containers.

Drinks dispensers at forefront, gravity water dispensers behind
Gravity water dispensers with reusable water containers (Photo from Green Nudge)
Photo from Green Nudge

It really is easy and every road event can truly create events that are cleaner and safer for the participants and better for the environment. A win-win-win for all. If as organisers you feel guilty for spending less on disposables and less on cleaning then please donate to my cause; and if sponsors find they are providing less water they can also donate to my cause; additionally if volunteers feel guilty because there is so little cleaning up they can also donate to my cause:

So what’s stopping you?

If you are a 10K event, the fast runners will only need water at the end, the slower runners can BYOR. For 1/2 or full marathons, contact me if you fear retribution from the running clubs for stepping up. I would be happy to hear them out and ask them why they think carrying a cup/bottle/hydration device will affect their PB (Cheltenham Challengers know a secret here) and why they feel they are unable to achieve a PB whilst being responsible for our environment that affect all of us.

In 2018, Cheltenham Challenge successfully implemented a totally cupless event with 1600 participants BYOR cup/bottle/hydration device. They could not believe about how much time was saved by teaching participants to be more responsible!

Finally if you are concerned that runners will forget their cup/bottle/hydration pack, then sell them a reusable collapsible cup with your logo at the beginning of the event / registration. Then they will have a nice souvenir that they can reuse at other events.

2 thoughts on “Developing a Cupless Event

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