Adding Up the Impact of a Coastal Weekend Run

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By Amy Miller

We ran the whole 200 miles of the Reach the Beach relay. Well, not each of us, but all of us together – 12 women from my town – ran the distance between Cannon Mountain and Hampton Beach, NH.

Staying up two nights; cheering on teammates; eating energy bars and date balls for a day and a half; and running three legs in the relay, in my case totaling only 14 miles, were really a blast.

But by the end, I started to wonder about the environmental impact of the relay and the string of vehicles and water bottles it involves. Each of the 450 or so teams had one or two vans and, each of those vans traveled slowly over the New Hampshire roads, dropping off runners, picking up runners, and pulling over to give the runners water. This, I thought, was one of the more frivolous uses of gasoline I had been part of in a while.

So, I decided to find out more about this relay and its environmental impact. Lo and behold, the web site indicates the organizers’ commitment to sustainability. Now in its 15th year, they pledge to ensure the race leaves the “smallest footprint possible on the environment.” To this end, they work with Athletes for a Fit Planet.

Fit Planet provided recycling bins, which were managed by volunteers. Race organizers suggested that teams use giant cloth bags, handed out at registration, to collect bottles, cans, glass, and paper, and then toss these items into bins at transition areas. The race course also hosted portable toilets that used non-toxic chemicals and recycled paper.

The Reach the Beach crew estimates vans and staff vehicles produced about 125 tons of CO2 during the race. To keep that total as low as possible, they urged racers to carpool, come by bus, and purchase $3 tags that offset an estimated 300 lbs. of CO2 – the equivalent of driving 150 miles in a 10-15 mpg passenger van. The offset comes from the wind, biogas, solar, and other carbon-reducing projects funded by proceeds from these tags. Finally, relay folks encouraged us to use bulk water and reusable bottles, which we did. I still feel a bit sheepish about all those miles just for a crazy physical stunt, but I was glad to see the organizers addressing these issues.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, eight chickens, one dog and a great community.

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