Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sustainable running: in for the long run

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Monday October 15. Today is blog action day, with a special focus on environment, so "hello world, hello Earth!"

This year, within our francophone networking association in the Bay Area, SiliconFrench, we made sustainable development, or sustainability, the main theme for a seminar series.

Next month, on November 8, I organize one of these events with the topic: "Sustainability and you, sustainability and I." Or what does sustainability mean at our individual level and how can you and I contribute to it. Please consider joining us if you are in the Bay Area on the 8th.

I have been really intrigued with the opportunity behind sustainability. Or should I say challenge? As we become more powerful with technology, something which is called progress, we have created major trade-offs and issues now requiring our human intelligence to get resolved. If I was to name only one difference between humans and animals, that would be this one: we are given the luxury to resolve the issues we create. God gave us this freedom, let's see how smart we are to use it for many more years, centuries, million years.

On Friday night I went to see Un jour sur Terre (, an amazing documentary about our blue planet, also called the miracle planet in the movie. See some images for yourself on the website, and go see it when it hits your movie theater. To be honest, I'm still uneasy with the fact that $47 million to make such a movie though. After all, it's only about nature and animals. Not even a Hollywood cast to pay! Just animals trying to survive in our changing environment. With a budget like this, not to mention the hours spent in cars, planes or helicopters, such education on our very own environment doesn't seem very... sustainable to me, but if this is what it takes to change the world... What it takes to each us, grown-ups, to pass on a sustainable planet to our kids and the coming generations...
Environment is the topic of today's blog action day. And what about the connection with running and the title of the post, then?

Well, running, and more precisely ultra running, are highly connected, mingled to environmental issues. Such as through these concepts:
  1. Open space and trails. There are 24 or 48 hour-races, even 6 day running events taking place on stadium tracks. 100 miles on track? That's 400 laps! And what about the many marathons in megalopolis? If it is to cover some distance, would it not make more sense to actually travel through the countryside instead? Like Phidippides getting the news of the Battle of Marathon. But for that we need our environment to be protected, prepared, and saved by smart urbanization. Sustainable urbanization.
  2. Water. No taste, no nutrition facts on a box or a bottle, just potable water. This summer while training on the Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc course, how lucky I feel to be able to run at every village's fountain. Water from the evaporating and diminishing glaciers. What a luxury which is very fragile. Something which isn't possible with most of the water streams I've seen on the trails in the US. And that's only the beginning, we may all miss water at some point if we are not more careful about usage, and efficient with recycling. On his first Western States 100-mile runs, Gordy Ainsleigh, the inventor of ultra trail running, did not need aid stations to get fluid. Nowadays, we have aid stations every 3 to 5 miles...
  3. Air. Running without breathing, which plan is that? Yes, we need air, a lot of air, a lot of good and fresh air.
  4. Temperature. Have you tried to run in Singapore? Singapore is one of the rare places where I prefer running on a tread mill. Too hot and too humid, all year around. Raising temperatures, or disturbed weather, will impact our ability to run in some areas. Like the unprecedented hot and humid conditions at last week's Chicago Marathon... An occasion to be thankful for the many places on Earth which are not too hot to run. And the Bay Area in particular which provides excellent and optimal conditions all year around.
  5. Food. Everybody can run, really. Just look at any back of the pack of a marathon. OK, unless you have issues with your joints. I know, it doesn't mean that everybody should run, I'm the first one to say that you have to love it. After all, it's a hobby except for a very limited elite field. Anyway, the point here is that food has a lot to see with running. Good food and good eating habits really help. And I'd rather have this good food coming from our natural environment, rather than synthetized, not you? Like Hervé pointed out in one of our SiliconFrench meetings, bio food was used to be the only one we had, and cheap as it came down to picking the free food growing naturally in our environment. It became the most expensive food, only affordable to the wealthy in our so-called developed countries...
  6. Wilderness. What a pleasure to encounter a bobcat, a coyote, deers, rabbits, birds, at the corner of the trail. Or an uncommon tree or plant. Something which you don't see in our urban lives. Without having to fly around the world. Without having to go to the movie. Just enjoying our close by environment. This makes the run so much more enjoyable. This too requires sustainable urbanization, when urbanization is required...
Gordy Ainsleigh offering free massages during the 2007 Wester States pre-race briefing, before his 22nd run and finish, out of 34 editions:

Like any activity, running can impact the environment as much as it benefits from it. This is a reason the number of participants to most of our ultra races is limited by organizers or park rangers (e.g. ~370 at Western States).

But sustainability is more than environment. It is about the interconnection between the environment, the business and the social development which makes any development, any progress, durable.

Similarly, sustainable running is more than protecting or enjoying the environment. There is a social aspect to it, e.g. running in a club or with friends. Running for a cause. Running for the community. Running to raise money. Running to be healthy, for your personal ecology. Running smart so you can run longer. Farther and faster...

Sustainability is complex, let's see how 14,000 blogs on environment helps us gathering ideas to change the world. For the better. For the long run!

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Interesting observations.

I've always wondered how ultrarunning fares ecologically. The only way it's clearly environmentally sustainable for me is that in order to get my miles in, I often run, bike and/or BART it to and/or from work. Or maybe I commute by running BECAUSE I'm able to do it and it's the green thing.

Bryon Powell said...

I thought you should know that your blogger action post has inspired me to write an entire week's worth of post regarding the intersection of trail running and the environment. Thanks for bring attention and consideration to this important issue!