Sunday, October 28, 2012

Trail runners are becoming a problem . . .

I probably have a different perspective than most.  Besides being an ultra runner, I am also: 1) a race director, 2) the coordinator of volunteer trail maintenance at one of our state parks, and 3) on the Advisory Board of that park.  Plus, I've been a trail runner since about 1974. 

In my early days I never saw another trail runner.  EVER!  I would see hikers, but never runners.  I'm sure there were other trail runners around . . . but not that many!

And during my early days I would see some trash on the easy / short trails near parking areas.  But in the real backcountry I rarely saw much trash except around popular trout streams!  But that isn't the case anymore!  I'm seeing less and less hiker and fisherman trash.  But I'm seeing more and more runner trash!  Namely . . . empty gel pack and the tops of gel packs!

Come on folks!  We can do better than this!

So far all the runner trash seems to be going 'under the radar' of my park officials.  And those of us doing the trail maintenance (all trail runners at my park!) try hard to cover up the problem by picking up all we see. 

My park is a fairly small park where we can easily cover the trails.  But some of the larger state and national parks have huge trail networks that become quite difficult to maintain completely.  At some point park officials will start noticing the trash problem . . . maybe some are already seeing it.  So . . . guess what happens.

Parks will start making it harder and harder for race directors to get permits to have our races!  That's what!

So here, my rant takes two prongs:

  1. The first is obviously a human problem.  Trail runners.  Folks . . . if you carry a gel pack in, you can certainly carry it out!  Simple!  And be extra careful with the tops you tear off!  Try to not totally tear the top off.  Then, you can easily roll the empty gel pack up and stow it in a pocket or small zip lock bag to dispose of when you get to a trash can.  If you do tear it completely off, stick it inside!  Just don't drop it!  These things just NEVER degrade!  And if you do happen to drop it . . . consider it a race penalty and GO BACK AND PICK THE DAMN THING UP!!
  2. The second prong of my rant is directed to the companies that manufacture gels, etc.  You all hire smart people.  Find a way to package gels so that the tops won't get torn off!  And is it possible to package gels in something that is bio-degradable?  You all have a huge responsibility here.  It is simply not okay for you all to continue to produce packaging that PROMOTES littering.  And when you come up with a great packaging idea . . . don't patent it . . . share the idea freely so everyone can benefit!
 One more idea for trail runners . . . on your training runs, carry a plastic grocery bag and help us trail maintainers by pitching in and picking up trash any you see!  And if you see a park ranger, make sure he knows what you're doing!!!  :-)


  1. The pocket of my water bottle is filled with not only my own gel wrappers, but also a handful that I picked up off of the floor during the Medoc Trail Races. Well said Frank; it needed saying. The amount of trash was definitely more noticeable this year.

  2. I've hauled way too much gel trash out of Umstead the past few years. It's sad that these idiots can't pack out a few GRAMS of their own garbage.

  3. I forget the manufacturer, but there is one that has a "tail" for lack of a better term that serves to hold the ripped off tab after you open it....I used to use them when I climbed a lot but can't remember the maker. Anyway, that is the best/easiest solution to the tabs being left's much easier justify dropping that tiny top when you are exhausted than to justify discarding the entire package.

  4. Damon - I'm seeing so many of the "tiny tops" that I honestly feel like they are a real problem. My dream would be that runners will not 'justify' dropping any trash whatsoever.

    I love that one manufacturer has what may be a partial solution . . . I want to see it. But all the manufacturers simply HAVE to get on board.

  5. I will mention a name. Hammer sells it's gel in bottles (20oz?) and also has hand size dispenser bottles (5oz?) that can be refilled. No more gel packs. We have a local park that if you take the far outside trail you can stretch it to about 3 miles. I see gel packs on the ground there. I do pick them up but never gave any thought to showing that to park workers.

  6. Damon, Agreed! I run a lot on the AT in Maryland, particularly north of Highway 77 to the PA border. I too pick up what I see, and at times I've filled an entire 3 gallon bag!

    My good buddy Bill maintains the AT from basically Burkitsville MD down to Harpers Ferry - and he does a great job of trail maintenance. Just wanted to give a "shout out" to another trail runnner (responsible, that is!).

    Runners: We're better than this! It is already difficult at times to do anything in the State Parks - we owe it to ourselves to not provide any more fodder for the Rangers to close off the trails to us runners.


  7. Mike - I was so worked up in my rant, I totally forgot Hammer! They do have a GREAT solution here . . . but they do also sell the other packaging! I wonder how we runners can make all the other gel companies take note?? Maybe us race directors need to help out here . . . barring gel packs from our races!

  8. Folks . . . I just found the Clif Shot company website and found out that they, too, have gels (I didn't know that!!).

    But more importantly, their gel packaging seems to solve the "gel top" problem! I've never used these . . . but I'm sure going to give them a try!!

  9. Agreed, I always pack out. Also pack out any trash I see on the trail no matter how cumbersome. Damn shame!

  10. I went out after the race this year (Saturday afternoon) and ran a lap of the course. I picked up 9 gel wrappers during that run. I was discouraged. Especially when 4 of those were within 1/4 mile of the trash can down by the creek.


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Littleton, North Carolina
World's Slowest Runner . . . well, at least in contention for the honor. Just your average "below average" runner.