Run­ning in The Age of Cli­mate Change

What are our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as run­ners to give back to the en­vi­ron­ment?

Canadian Running - - CONTENTS - By Rhi­an­non Rus­sell

When a trail is more than get­ting from point A to point B: What are our re­spon­si­bilit ies as r un­ners who go out­side and in­habit the en­vi­ron­ment?

The sun was get­ting low in the sky on Ver­mont’s 438-kilo­me­tre Long Trail when Pavel Cenkl reached the high­est peak he’d climb that day. A fire tower jut­ted above the tree canopy, so Cenkl clam­bered up it. He’d al­ready run 45-kilo­me­tres that day, and had 19 more to go to reach his crew and his din­ner – this af­ter a 343-kilo­me­tre bike ride the day be­fore from the Cana­dian bor­der to the Mas­sachusettsVer­mont state line. He was ex­hausted. At the top of the tower, he sat to look out over the for­est in the evening light. “There was some turn­ing point at that

mo­ment,” he re­calls. “I felt this in­cred­i­bly peace­ful sense of bliss, spir­i­tu­al­ity, and then I got back up, hob­bled down the fire tower, and fin­ished up my day.”

Cenkl, who lives in Ver­mont and teaches cour­ses that in­clude en­vi­ron­men­tal phi­los­o­phy at the state’s Ster­ling Col­lege, has com­pleted many ul­tra­ma­rathons and en­durance runs. In nearly ev­ery one, like the Long Trail run this past June, he hits a point where he’s so ex­hausted, or de­hy­drated, or in pain, that the line be­tween him and the en­vi­ron­ment that he’s run­ning in seems to dis­ap­pear. “I feel com­pletely vul­ner­a­ble at that mo­ment,” he says. As a pro­fes­sor, ath­lete, and the coach of the col­lege’s moun­tain and trail run­ning team, he of­ten thinks about the in­ter­play be­tween run­ning and the en­vi­ron­ment.

“At the ob­vi­ous level, that’s what you’re run­ning through,” says Cenkl. As run­ners, we rely on trails, moun­tains, parks and green belts. (And those of us who run on cit y side­walks still de­pend on clean air.) And yet, we also buy gear, shoes, and food, and some­times drive ve­hi­cles to get to where we want to run – all things that have an im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment.

“What are the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that we have as peo­ple who go out­side and in­habit the en­vi­ron­ment?” Cenkl won­dered in a 2015 video, shot be­fore he em­barked on a 2 40-kilo­me­tre self-sup­ported run across Ice­land, where glaciers are re­treat­ing as the cli­mate warms. “Rather than just us­ing it, what can we give back to it?”

Across North Amer­ica, road races are mak­ing it eas­ier for run­ners to be more con­scious about their im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment. With pa­per reg­is­tra­tion forms, ex­cess race T-shirts, un­eaten food and plas­tic cups, there’s long been room for races to clean up their act .

Many have done just that. The Toronto Wa­ter­front 10k, for ex­am­ple, com­posts food rem­nants, such as ap­ple cores and ba­nana peels and do­nates left­over meals to Sec­ond Har­vest, a “food res­cue” or­ga­ni­za­tion that then de­liv­ers them to so­cial-ser­vice agen­cies. The race also uses green por­ta­ble toi­lets, which use eco-friendly clean­ing sup­plies in­stead of harm­ful chem­i­cal-laden ones.

The Ta­ma­rack Ot­tawa Race Week­end, which hosts six races, re­cy­cles all pa­per and plas­tic cups, as well as My­lar blan­kets. Ex­tra race T-shirts are do­nated to lo­cal shel­ters, and only on­line reg­is­tra­tion is avail­able, to re­duce the use of pa­per.

Other races ex­ist pri­mar­ily to raise funds for en­vi­ron­men­tal causes. In 2015, Ben West and Mari McMil­lan started the Great Cli­mate Race, an an­nual 10k in Van­cou­ver’s Stan­ley Park. Rac­ers fundraise, with the money go­ing to var­i­ous re­new­able en­ergy projects in the prov­ince, like a so­lar-panel in­stal­la­tion on the roof of the Van­cou­ver Pub­lic Li­brary, a whale re­search lab that’s tran­si­tion­ing to us­ing solely re­new­able en­ergy, and,

“The goal was, I guess you could say, to turn ath­letes into en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists into ath­letes.”

this year, a so­lar project for the Tsleil-Wau­tuth Na­tion. “The goal was, I guess you could say, to turn ath­letes into en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists into ath­letes,” says West. “I want peo­ple to go for a run and see the so­lar pan­els that they helped raise money for and feel a con­nec­tion to it. I think we just need more tan­gi­ble, spe­cific things in our day-to-day life where we re­ally see that the so­lu­tions to cli­mate change are some­thing that’s very real – not some­thing that’s far off in the fu­ture.” Us­ing Strava, the race also of­fers a vir­tual way to par­tic­i­pate, so run­ners don’t have to drive to the city (al­though the use of pub­lic tran­sit is en­cour­aged). Since its in­cep­tion, the event has raised about $30,000 per year. On the other side of the coun­try, in Toronto, two 10-yearold girls dreamed up an­other eco-con­scious race. Back in 2015, Jas­mine de Pencier and Jett Jardeleza-Toole de­cided to com­bine their love of run­ning with their pas­sion for na­ture and an­i­mals by cre­at­ing a fun run. To­day, the Kids’ Run for Na­ture is held in 20 dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties, and has raised nearly $100,000 for World Wildlife Fund Canada. These events cre­ate change via their large sup­port base. As an in­di­vid­ual run­ner, though, it can feel dif­fi­cult to make a pos­i­tive im­pact, es­pe­cially when gov­ern­ments are ig­nor­ing green­house gas emis­sion re­duc­tion tar­gets or avoid­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a car­bon tax. What can one per­son do in the face of neg­li­gence on such a grand scale? Van­cou­ver-based ul­tra­run­ner El­lie Green­wood of­fers one model. In a 2014 post for, she wrote about how she’s never owned a car, and com­mutes by bike, run­ning, or pub­lic tran­sit, in large part be­cause she wants to live an en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious life­style. Once,

“What are the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that we have as peo­ple who go out­side and in­habit the en­vi­ron­ment?”

Green­wood biked to the bus sta­tion and hopped on a bus to Whistler for a trail run. Af­ter, she took the bus back to Van­cou­ver and biked home. “Be­ing self-pro­pelled def­i­nitely re­quires some de­ter­mi­na­tion, plan­ning, and adap­ta­tion, but for me the ben­e­fits more than out­weigh any of the in­con­ve­niences,” Green­wood writes.

West ac­knowl­edges that this life­style is not open to ev­ery­one. “I think we all need to do the best that we can. I think one of the tough things about be­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal cam­paigner is it’s re­ally easy to fall into mak­ing peo­ple feel guilty, and what I’m hop­ing that we do with the Great Cli­mate Race, and with the work that I do gen­er­ally, is to make peo­ple feel em­pow­ered and give them op­por­tu­ni­ties to con­nect with the nat­u­ral world in as pos­i­tive a way as pos­si­ble.”

Cenkl agrees. He’s em­barked on a se­ries of long-dis­tance on-foot ad­ven­tures that he calls Cli­mate Run, with the goal of teach­ing peo­ple about cli­mate change while push­ing him­self to new lim­its. In 2017, he ran 360 kilo­me­tres of the Scan­di­na­vian Arc­tic Trail, where he ob­served the an­nual melt. And this past sum­mer, he ran the seven high­est peaks on the Faroe Is­lands, home to a large salmon-farm­ing in­dus­try, as well as a poly­styrene man­u­fac­tur­ing plant.

He’s given pre­sen­ta­tions at schools in hopes of en­cour­ag­ing youth to get out into na­ture. But he’s also fielded ques­tions about why, if he’s try­ing to help the en­vi­ron­ment, he f lies across the world to run. “My re­sponse is finger-point­ing doesn’t re­ally help the global sys­temic sit­u­a­tion,” he says. “And I don’t think any of us who grew up in the United States or Canada or western Euro­pean na­tions can re­ally bear up to any sort of ul­ti­mate scru­tiny that way.”

In other words: ev­ery­thing, and ev­ery­one, has a foot­print. “I’d say even build­ing a wind tur­bine or so­lar pan­els has got an en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print,” says West. It’s about be­ing as re­spon­si­ble as pos­si­ble, and re­al­iz­ing the ef­fects of your choices.

Does this mean it’s ir­re­spon­si­ble to drive for an hour to the moun­tains for a run? Not in Cenkl’s eyes, though, of course; he sup­ports car­pool­ing when pos­si­ble. If run­ning in the for­est will forge a deeper con­nec­tion be­tween you and na­ture, and a stronger re­la­tion­ship be­tween you and the peo­ple you’re run­ning with, he be­lieves it’s worth it.

“I some­times get re­ally hard on my­self and oth­ers,” he says. “Why don’t I just run up the street be­hind my house? Well, one, I wouldn’t be con­nected to the di­ver­sity of ecosys­tems and places. I wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily be par­tic­i­pat­ing in a com­mu­nity ac­tiv­ity – other peo­ple who have run up that same moun­tain, we can have those ex­pe­ri­ences, we can share sto­ries about it – maybe I should vote against the mine that’s go­ing to de­stroy part of it, or some­thing like that.”

Cenkl’s view is holis­tic: “If you can lever­age the im­pact that you’re hav­ing to have a net pos­i­tive re­sult, and per­haps build a stronger com­mu­nity or build some in­ten­tional re­la­tion­ships across in­ter­na­tional bound­aries that help to cre­ate an in­ter­na­tional cli­mate ini­tia­tive or some­thing like that, I think it’s cer­tainly more than worth it.”

This is what he’s try­ing to do with Cli­mate Run. He of­ten talks about the im­por­tance of strong com­mu­ni­ties, which may at first seem un­re­lated to tack­ling cli­mate change on the global stage. But he ex­plains: “If we’re con­tin­u­ing to dis­agree and strug­gle and fight with one an­other on the com­mu­nity level, how can we pos­si­bly make some more mean­ing­ful out­side change?”

In a way, de Pencier and Jardeleza-Toole, now 13, prove Cenkl’s point about forg­ing a bond with the en­vi­ron­ment. Both girls have grown up spend­ing time in the out­doors; de Pencier’s fam­ily has a cot­tage near Ge­or­gian Bay and Jardeleza-Toole of­ten spends week­ends at her grand­fa­ther’s home in north­ern On­tario, where she goes white-wa­ter pad­dling. “We’re so lucky to have such a close con­nec­tion with na­ture in that way,” says de Pencier. It’s one ex­am­ple of how a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with the out­doors can en­cour­age ef­forts to make change on a larger scale. Rhi­an­non Rus­sell is a free­lance jour­nal­ist who lives in White­horse, and a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Cana­dian Run­ning mag­a­zine.

OP­PO­SITE Kids’ Run For Na­ture BOT­TOM LEFT Great Cli­mate Race in Van­cou­ver BOT­TOM RIGHT Re­cy­cling, com­post and waste are all sorted by the Green Team at the Sco­tia­bank Toronto Wa­ter­front Marathon

ABOVE An aid sta­tion at the Ot­tawa Marathon shows the amount of waste cre­ated. Cups were later cleaned up and re­cy­cled by the race staff. RIGHT Jas­mine (left) and Jett (right), founders of the Kids’ Run for Na­ture BOT­TOM Kids’ Run For Na­ture

BOT­TOM RIGHT Dis­carded blan­kets at the Ot­tawa Marathon are re­cy­cled Ex­tra food from the Sco­tia­bank Toronto Wa­ter­front Marathon is do­nated to Sec­ond Har­vest Food Res­cue BOT­TOM LEFT

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