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What's a green marathon?


Green Marathons: Making a Race Green
The Las Vegas Marathon participates in an eco-rideshare program.
The Las Vegas Marathon participates in an eco-rideshare program.
Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

­Green runners don't make a race green, although they certainly deepen the shade. Greening a marathon takes effort from the runners, race directors, volunteers and sponsors.

According to the Greenteam, a group of experts from Runner's World and Nature's Path, there are about 30 green-friendly races in the United States and Canada (races varying in distance from 5Ks to marathons) [source: The Greenteam].

Every race needs a location. Green races are located near public transportation and emphasize biking, ride shares and car pooling. The Nike Women's Marathon and Las Vegas Marathon both recently joined an eco-rideshare program called PickupPals. The Fall Cross running series in Colorado encourages participants to travel green by giving away prizes. The Mount Werner Classic Trail Run, also in Colorado, offers carbon offsets to runners who travel more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the event. Marathons also need sponsorship to help offset costs, and eco-friendly race sponsors can help increase green awareness and advocacy for anyone attending the event.

With location and sponsorship down, the race is on and runner registration begins. Most registration and communication is paper. Race directors looking for an eco-friendly change look to online registration and e-mail communication. When paper is used, green options include printing on FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) recycled materials with soy or vegetable-based inks rather than petroleum-based types. Race bags, the goody bags given to race participants, don't need to skimp on good swag to still be green -- instead of plastic bags, they're replaced with reusable cloth versions and filled with Earth-friendly race shirts and other treats.

On race day itself, pace cars and security vehicles are replaced with bicycles or hybrid or biodiesel cars. Clean power can be used to generate electricity at the start and finish lines and to power the race clock -- the Austin and Portland marathons both use solar power.

Participants wouldn't sustain their energy for long without being provided food and water. Biodegradable paper cups, recyclable containers and foods from local farmers' markets are provided at many green marathons; some require runners to bring their own handheld water bottles or waist packs to refill along the course. One stunning display of green originality is the 70-foot (21-meter) long water fountain created for the ING Hartford Marathon finishers -- so far it's saved 20,000 plastic bottles and paper cups from use since it was built in 2007 [source: Hartford Business Journal].

Green marathons commonly reward their finishers with medals created from sustainable materials such as recycled glass, metal and wood. The Portland Triathlon gives out trophies made from recycled bike parts and the Portland Marathon offers one of the most sustainable awards -- a tree seedling.

At the end of the day when the race has been run and the medals given out, the final thing to do is clean it all up. Waste collection at conventional races usually means a lot of plastic cups and sport drink containers -- at the 2007 ING New York City Marathon alone, 75,890 plastic water and Gatorade bottles were collected on the course. What helped green the race was that 22,080 pounds (10,015 kilograms) of plastic and cardboard were then recycled [source: Bastone]. It's not only cups and cardboard that trash the course -- shoes and clothing are discarded along the way. Green events donate gently used clothing to local thrift stores, and at the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon, for example, runners can donate old shoes at the finish line to the Soles 4 Souls organization.

Learn more about green marathons on the next page.