Becoming a Sustainable Runner by Tina Muir and Zoë Rom

Subtitle: Pacing for Sustainability


Posted on October 26th, 2023

By Olivia Baker

Have you ever watched little kids, who are just learning to run, line up for a race? They often have two speeds. Running all-out full speed ahead or barely running at all, having badly misgauged their effort for the distance that needs to be covered…that is until some competition shows up beside them and then it's back to full speed! Likewise, many of us who are young in our advocacy journeys approach climate activism and sustainability in that same way. Often times there's an event, perhaps an oil spill or a natural disaster linked to global warming that spurs our motivation with a sense of urgency to do as much as we can to preserve our environment. However, like children running their first race, we quickly realize that our new pace is unsustainable for the long term and, feeling exhausted from the sudden effort, fall back into our old habits. In running, as in environmental preservation, through such trial and error we begin to learn how to pace ourselves for the length of the race and get the most out of the work we put in as a result. This book is simply designed as a guide to doing just that as individual runners, walkers, and joggers, and as a running community at large.

I chose Becoming a Sustainable Runner by Tina Muir and Zoë Rom for the 20th installment of Runners Who Read because I believe that we could all benefit from learning habits that will sustain our running, our communities, and our environment for years to come. We don't have to feel pressure to make ourselves perfectly carbon neutral, but there are small changes that many of us can make most of the time which are good enough, and most importantly sustainable. In the words of the authors, "You don't need to buy rain barrels and live in a cabin off the grid. You don't have to sail across the rough seas of the Atlantic on a solar-powered boat [a la Greta Thunberg] to your next race. But could you cycle to work most days (again, not shooting for perfection here) instead of making your car the default?...Can [you] invest, spend, and donate money in a way that's more in line with your environmental values?" (pg# xiv). The environment will not change overnight, but if we pace ourselves with small, consistent actions—each of us doing what we can reliably sustain on most days—we can make the most of our impact and together create big change.

Discussion Questions:

1. What things do you already do to preserve the environment? Do any of those changes relate specifically to your running, walking, and/or jogging habits?

2. What are you most looking forward to learning from this book?

Subtitle: Sustaining Your Runner's Mind and Body: Myths vs. Facts (Mini-blog #1)

Chapters 1-7

Posted on November 9th, 2023

By Olivia Baker

There are so many reasons why we run, walk, and jog. Sometimes we are in it for the social life, other times it can act as an escape from society. At times, we are chasing goals and in other moments it's as simple as movement just for the sake of it. Over the course of a lifetime as we age, our priorities change, and different life circumstances happen, that relationship with running fluidly changes with it but not always for the better. In Part 1 of Becoming a Sustainable Runner by Tina Muir and Zoë Rom, the authors discuss ways to sustain a healthy relationship with running both mentally and physically throughout the course of a lifetime. Below are some of the common myths runners believe that can lead to an unhealthy relationship with the activity, and some facts to dispel them.

Myth: If I could just achieve X goal, then I'll be happy and satisfied.

Fact: Linking our happiness and satisfaction to outcomes alone is often a recipe for disappointment because in many ways, the outcome is outside of our control. Further, if we do end up achieving that goal, we tend to find ourselves on what the authors call a hedonic treadmill. "When we finally win that race, get that promotion, or land that book deal, our happiness will temporarily spike, but will quickly return to a set point. We readjust our expectations to match the status quo of our experience and then need even more stimulus or accomplishment to maintain the same level of happiness." (pg#23) While it is natural to raise expectations after achieving a goal, equally as important is enjoying the process.

Myth: Someone else's good result makes my achievement less impressive.

Fact: Life is not a zero-sum game. "Someone else's success is not my defeat. There is plenty of good to go around" (pg#26).

Myth: A run must be hard for it to count.

Fact: "The best run is one that feels good. You don't need to finish feeling wiped out or to even work up a sweat for the run to "count"." (pg#34). Whether you are nailing a hard workout or just squeezing in a few minutes between meetings, it all counts!

Myth: Runners don't need strength training.

Fact: Whether you are a sprinter, ultra-marathoner, or participate in any distance in between, you can benefit from strength training. Strength training helps improve running economy, prevent injury, and overall goes a long way in creating a sustainable running career (pg#44-45).

Myth: By taking time off from running, we are losing fitness and the hard work we spent months putting in.

Fact: "Training is not about one season or one particular moment of fitness. What builds our fitness are months and years of training, which compound even if we take time off." (pg#61).

Whether we are conscious of it or not in some instances, it can be very easy to perpetuate these myths as our relationship with running evolves throughout our lives. By combatting these myths with cold hard facts, we can prepare our bodies and minds for a lifetime of healthy running, walking, and jogging.

Discussion Question:

1. What other myths have you had to dispel to maintain a healthy relationship with running, walking, and jogging throughout life?

Subtitle: Sustaining Your Community: Pouring Into Others (mini-blog #2)

Chapters 8-10

Posted on November 16th, 2023

By Olivia Baker

One of the ways that we can sustain our communities is to re-invest in those that have given us so much. As runners, walkers, and joggers, the running community is certainly one of those spaces and while it may seem hard to make a noticeable contribution to such a large community, there are many ways that we can make an impact within our small running groups of friends and neighbors and for runners all over the world (yes, really).

Become a mentor. When we think of mentors we often think of people who, are further along a path that we are taking and, through experience, can help show us the way forward. In running, it is often someone who has run faster or further than us, but have you ever thought of yourself as a potential mentor? Even if you have only been running for a few years, your experience is valuable and important. Take advantage of an opportunity to run alongside the person who showed up to a group run for the first time to hear out their story and share your wisdom. Being intentional about creating such camaraderie and exercising empathy can create space for new runners to be included.

Share your story. The running world tends to amplify the stories of elite athletes and, especially at a time like this with the Olympics coming up next year, can make it seem like they are the most important stories. However, this is far from true. The stories of every single one of us holds power. As Chris Mosier, a hall of fame triathlete and transgender athlete and advocate puts it (via pg# 112) "Sharing our stories can be empowering to ourselves and inspiring to others. Visibility and representation matter so much, particularly to members of communities who have been told they don't matter. For anyone who believes their voice or story do not matter, there are people out there whose entire lives could be changed by seeing you and hearing your story."

Volunteer at a race. Whether it is a World Major Marathon or a local community 5k, there are always volunteers needed to help with setting up and breaking down the course, managing aid stations, leading pace groups, and also just cheering on people as they run by. Many races could not run smoothly without the help of many community volunteers. Furthermore, in addition to contributing to creating a smooth race experience, volunteering is a great way to shift our perspective towards gratitude and love for our community.

Many of us have received mentorship, been inspired by the stories others so bravely shared with us, and benefitted from the volunteers who help races go smoothly and can attest to the ways those things have filled out cups with love for the running community. When we then allow our cups to overflow into that of others in the form of giving back, we help to build and sustain the communities that have given so much to us.

Discussion Questions:

1. What mentor, running, walking, or jogging buddy, or race volunteer has made an impact on your running career? In what ways?

2. How have you found ways to give back to the running, walking, and jogging community?

Subtitle: Sustaining Your Planet: Run-Specific Tips (mini-blog #3)

Chapters 11-15, Epilogue

Posted on November 30th, 2023

By Olivia Baker

One of the biggest ways as runners that we can reduce our carbon footprint within the sport we love is to make changes to the way that we travel for races. Often times, travelling for races creates a lot of excess carbon usage from transportation surrounding the event, increased consumption while exploring a new location, and sometimes inefficient usage of resources provided during the race itself (road races in particular). However, with a few small adjustments and a little extra planning beforehand, we can reduce the carbon footprint created by our travel to races without adding stress to a trip that is already focused on optimizing performance. Throughout Part III of Becoming a Sustainable Runner, authors Tina Muir and Zoë Rom leave us with helpful tips for doing just that.

To begin with, before we even leave for our trip, we can minimize travel waste by packing a few extra reusable items in our suitcases (pg# 161). Items such as reusable water bottles, reusable cutlery, a reusable shopping bag, and our own soap among other things on the author's Sustainable Packing List take up very little space in the suitcase but go a long way towards avoiding the consumption generated by the harmful single-use plastics found in shopping bags, take-out orders, and hotel bathrooms when travelling.

Once we've packed our bags, we can further reduce our carbon footprint by trying to limit our air travel and use public transportation when we can (pg#159). If a race is within driving range, it is almost always significantly less carbon-emitting to drive than to fly. If it is necessary to fly, planning to use public transportation to and from the airport and during the trip is another way to reduce consumption. Instead of taking an Uber or taxi from the airport, is it possible to take a train, subway, or bus? If a form of rideshare is necessary, is it possible to coordinate a carpool with another participant?

Finally, once we've completed the race, it's important to leave feedback (pg#145). Some races will give out surveys seeking feedback, but even if they do not, taking a minute to email the race director to advocate for a more sustainable event makes a huge difference. Ask race directors to build an offset calculator into registration to help participants be more aware of their carbon impact. Encourage event coordinators to more carefully consider the sourcing and delivery of medals, awards and T-shirts to see if these items, which create greater consumption, can be made optional. Even something as simple as asking for there to be more portable toilets for runners, which save water (and the surrounding environment at races when runners choose to go elsewhere), can have a great impact. Letting the organizers of running events know that we value sustainability has the potential to compound the impact of those sustainable practices on the environment. Individual changes go a long way, but systemic change is ultimately needed as well to truly preserve our earth.

It is the combined efforts of all of our individual and local changes that add up to something that creates global change. As the authors say in their epilogue, "Seeds are being planted with every decision we make. We may never sit under the shade of those trees, but what matters is that we're out here sowing our hearts out…You matter. Your choices matter. Your decisions matter. It can feel like they don't. But just as an ocean is made up of tiny droplets, and together those droplets make something beautiful, powerful, and strong, we can come together with our unique gifts to amount to something really special." (pg# 208).

Discussion Questions:

1. What other ways can you think of to reduce your carbon footprint when travelling for races? What changes do you think could be reasonable for you to make at this time?

2. Some of the ideas presented (and that have been put into practice at some races) to help running organizations offset carbon emissions at their events included partnering with non-profits that 1) calculated the average emissions created by a runner entering a race and gave them the opportunity to offset that cost at registration (a cost that was $14.62 at the 2022 Chicago Marathon) and 2) plant a tree for every time someone opted out of a race shirt or medal. As a consumer, would you be willing to do either of the above things to offset carbon emissions at a race you are attending?

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