Running With the Climate in Mind

Tina Muir is an environmental advocate and a runner. How does she carry her eco-awareness into her favorite sport?

I have been running for decades — from college cross country right up to marathons. I love running’s seeming simplicity and the sense of freedom it gives me, particularly on crisp fall days. I just throw on some wicking clothing, a solid pair of running shoes, and a watch (or not), and head out the door. What’s not to love? Well … 

A lifelong recycler and composter, I started to wonder how the principles of living sustainably could extend to my sport. From spent running shoes to energy gel wrappers, from the hundreds of plastic cups at races to the carbon footprint of traveling to races by car or air, running has an impact on the environment. Where to start addressing it? Ask Tina Muir — who just wrote a book about it!

Muir is the founder and CEO of Running for Real, host of the award-winning podcast of the same name, and co-host of another podcast called Running Realized. She’s also a mother of two and a former elite runner turned sustainability advocate. She has worked with the United Nations, the New York and Chicago marathons, and the Peachtree Road Race on sustainability initiatives. Through her podcast and social media presence, she starts conversations and shares resources on sustainability, climate change, and how individuals can make a positive difference through what they do in their own lives. Her book, Becoming a Sustainable Runner, co-written with Zoë Rom, merges runners’ passion for their sport with their concern for their health, their community, and the environment.

When I connected with Tina, she had plenty of tips and resources to share:

Consider Where You Spend Your Money

When shopping for running gear, look for brands like Tracksmith and Allbirds that make durable items. “Your purchasing power matters and has the potential to make change,” Tina said. “Spending a few extra dollars (if you are able) to purchase from companies that are truly doing the work (but be aware of greenwashing, we go into what this is and how to spot it in detail in our book), you will be a part of making the other companies pay attention and make changes themselves.” 

In addition to buying fewer items and purchasing those of higher quality, wearers of Allbirds and Patagonia benefit from those companies’ resale and take back programs (on their websites) to pass on gently used items. Tina also recommends looking for Buy Nothing groups as a great way to pass on and find running items.

What Can You Do With Truly Spent Gear?

For those running shoes that have exceeded their useful life, Tina recommends utilizing GotSneakers. It’s free to use (and may even earn you a few dollars). Most shoes that we consider “done” still have plenty of life left to give. GotSneakers sends shoes to markets that connect with runners less fortunate, therefore keeping them out of landfills for longer. If the shoes can’t be passed on, GotSneakers recycles them into other items (like playground surfaces). 

Combating Microplastics When Laundering Sports Gear

Athletes wash a lot of athletic gear, much of which sheds microplastics. Tina suggests purchasing items that are made with natural materials since these items release fewer micro plastics. However, if, like me, you have had some items for years, get a guppy friend washing bag, which collects microplastics and is great for running clothes. [Ed. note: Bluedot loves the PlanetCare filter for washing machines, as well as the Cora Ball.] Always check the clothing labels for washing instructions, but from an environmental standpoint, washing in cold water, then air drying or using drying racks in the winter, will be more sustainable. 

Race Travel: Keep It Local When You Can

Buying local doesn’t just apply to food. Consider racing closer to home, and walk, cycle, or take public transportation to the starting line. Even carpooling helps. Tina often takes the train to cities for races and extends her time there to explore nearby locales. 

Race Fuel: What to Do About Those Packets 

Quick fuel like GU, gels, or gummy chews are a part of race day, but their packaging creates a lot of waste. Tina recommends purchasing bulk items and packing your own food. However, if you do nonetheless use GU, Terracyle has a great program that allows runners to send in their GU single use packaging for free to be recycled. 

Tina’s advice helped me feel less overwhelmed about how to build sustainability into running. “People often feel helpless,” she told me, “but those most in it — like Zoë and I — feel hope and optimism about the future. We know we can figure this out …”

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Corey Burdick
Corey Burdick
Corey Burdick is a writer who has spent decades pursuing her passion for all things food and wine. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and holds a WSET Level 2 certification from the Vermont Wine School. When she isn’t writing or cooking up something delicious with locally sourced foods, you can find her exploring hiking spots and testing out the best vegan treats she can find. Her work has appeared in Edible Green Mountains, Edible Capital District, The Burlington Free Press, Local Banquet Magazine, and Best of Burlington Magazine.
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