The litter fairy

Have you done a race recently? Have you seen the litter fairy that follows behind the runners picking up the litter and making the course look like no runner has been there? A fabulous person, making the difference, ensuring the good name of our sport continues. Except kids I’ve got some bad news, and you might want to sit down for this, the litter fairy does not exist.

Yet just like Christmas where we all keep up the charade that Father Christmas is real, at races we seem to all carry on not noticing that someone has just thrown a gel wrapper on the ground or has decided to wait until a mile past the water station to throw away their bottle. We carry on in the belief that the litter fairy will pick it up and so our conscience can rest easy. Besides even if the litter fairy doesn’t exist I’m sure these big road races can use some of the massive fee they charge us to pay a team of litter pickers right? Don’t think so.

At the Milton Keynes marathon I saw a guy about 50m in front of me very gently bend over a lay a bottle and gel wrapper on some grass, right in the middle of a beautiful park on the edges of a lake, nowhere near a marshal or an aid station. At that moment I decided the next person I saw dropping litter who was within shouting range was going to get called out on it. So it was that I found myself shouting at a woman at around mile 15 who’d decided that it was ok to dispose of the bottle she no longer wanted by throwing it on some grass which was actually someone’s front garden (incidentally if you ever need to pick yourself up mid race I thoroughly recommend a bit of a rant). Her excuse was that she thought it was near enough a marshal that they’d collect it and besides ‘she’d seen people doing it at other road races so must be fine, but maybe those were main roads and that was the difference’.

I’m not sure where to start with this? I would assume most of these people wouldn’t throw litter on the ground in this way if they were just out for a training run on their own? So why is it acceptable in a race and why aren’t people able to hold onto things until the next aid station which in most road races is rarely more than a couple of miles away. My sense is that it’s worse at the bigger races, but that may be caused simply be more runners rather than a higher percent of litterers. I’ve seen it at Milton Keynes and I’ve seen it at the Yorkshire marathon with people happy to throw bottles away into the hedgerow of some beautiful country lanes. I’ve also only ever seen one other person call someone out for it and that was at the Yorkshire marathon and I gave the guy a cheer for not just standing by.

On the whole I find trail races better but even there you see gel wrappers left on the route, a disgrace in the beautiful surroundings most of those races take part in. I imagine it can also put a lot of pressure on race directors when complaints are made, potentially risking the future of the event if not dealt with effectively. I’d love to know if any race is required to provide guarantees on no litter being left etc, might also be interesting to retrace the route of a big race and see just how bad it is after 5,000 people have run past.

As I quietly ranted to myself for most of the remaining miles of the Milton Keynes marathon it also got me thinking, these big races really aren’t green or eco events are they? Thousands of bottles of water used, most of which are barely drunk, in many cases there is likely damage to paths etc and I don’t think there are many sports nutrition companies that claim to be ethical in their production methods. Compare that to the smaller, particularly trail races, I do which often give some of the proceeds to charity or support trail maintenance etc and that could become an influence on my event choice in the future. But let’s not tell everyone about these anti ‘big running’ races or my nice quiet trail marathon might suddenly become a hard place to get a place in.

Anyone else had a mid race rant at a litter dropper? Or are you one of those people who drop litter and think you have a legitimate reason for doing so?

1 thought on “The litter fairy

  • I called someone out for deliberate littering on a marathon. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear his reply. As it was an out and back type route (multiple out and backs on same bit) I thought he may pick it up on the return leg. He didn’t. I did. I also reported him to the RD but I don’t believe anything was done. A shame as the route although on a tarmac path was bang in the middle of a nature reserve area of farmland on one side and sea on the other.

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