An Open Letter to Spartan Racers: Leave No Trace.

One thing I love about the obstacle racing community is how it instantly connects people, and creates a bond as tight knit as family.  This past summer at the New Jersey Tri-State Super Spartan, Geoff and I struck up quite a long conversation and created an instant bond with a fellow Spartan that we had more than a few things in common with, including matching (sort of ) kilts.  Yesterday afternoon I received a message from this friend, Walt.  He had just completed his first Spartan Trifecta, which for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Spartan community, means that he completed all three distances of Spartan Races (sprint, 3-5 miles, Super, 6-8 miles, and Beast, 13+ miles) in one calendar year.   While Walt was stoked with his accomplishments, and rightfully so, he had a very upsetting experience regarding the disrespect fellow racers had for the course.

In other words: they trashed it.  Literally.

Now, I wasn’t at the SC Beast.  But I did witness the exact same situation in both New Jersey and Killington this year, with wrappers for gels, chews, bars, and drinks strewn haphazardly and seemingly everywhere.   It was more than disgusting…it was heartbreaking.  It seems to me that Spartan Race has brought upon themselves a unique scenario: while “ripping people off of the couch” they are bringing hoards of new athletes out into the field that not only have little knowledge of general race etiquette, but they have zero experience with what it means to respect our trails ,and the whole philosophy of “leave no trace”. 

Walt wrote a fantastic letter to the Spartan Race staff, and gave me permission to share it with all of you.  Spartan Race has already replied to Walt numerous times, assuring him that they have a “sweeper” crew that comes a long and cleans up after the racers.   This of course is commendable.  But keep in mind, we are on the trails, not on a street, and chances are high that this trash may be blown off the trail into the woods before the staff has a chance to clean it up. Further, some of us (like myself) simply want to enjoy our time on the beautiful trails and not tiptoe over trash for the entire course.  Therefore,  even though this letter was intended for the Spartan Race staff, I felt it was important to share this letter with ALL OCR athletes to make them more aware of the situation.

It’s simple: if you bring it ON trail…bring it back OFF trail.   Carry your trash in the exact same pocket/pouch/hydration pack that you carried it in when you stepped foot on the starting line.   Water/aid stations ALWAYS have garbage cans.  Please use them, and not the trail.  Nature is a gift, not a given right.  It is up to ALL of us to preserve it for future enjoyment.   Be a true Spartan (or any athlete for that matter): respect our environment.

Thank you Walt for bringing this to our attention.

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“An open letter to Mr DeSena and all other high ranking staff… Mr DeSena,

I did my first Spartan race in 2011 when it finally was close enough for me to get to in PA. Long before Reebok and all of the bouncy “athletes” of the world started making a sport of it. Although I admire what you have brought to the world with this race, it saddens me that with all the education for training and diet and the supposed “lifestyle” …the simple concept of being responsible for yourself and your actions (other than a small blurb here and comment there) is nonexistent. Please allow me to politely and enthusiastically encourage you to walk one of the race courses AFTER a weekend event.

Manipulating the ground and the construction of challenging obstacles is one thing but, the ignorance of so many of the participants is indescribable. I traveled through the Carolina beast this past Saturday and the forest already looked like a public DUMP by noon. At the same time, I made sure I thanked every volunteer that would hear me and every runner that I was able to catch tucking the wrappers from energy gels, protein bars and other products back in their pockets to take back out of the forest. To many, including myself, this concept is more important than any medallion you can give me and I will gladly mail all of them back to you in exchange for the simple effort of making sure your race announcers command attention and add this to their pre-race.

This race was started by a good man and has been a great accomplishment for everyone from single parents with just enough cash to register to now professional athletes… don’t let it go into history as just another even that comes into town, trashes everything and then leaves.”

– Walt Marinkovits, 2014 Spartan Trifecta finisher

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Comments

  1. says

    I was at SC Beast this weekend. I too was appalled by the amount of litter covering the trails, people senselessly casting nutrition packaging where ever, whenever they were done. There were many, like myself, who carried our trash out (admittedly, it’s probably all still in my hydration pack), but clearly not enough. Now, I did have the training of the Cub Scouts as a Den Leader for my sons Pack for years. We learned, LEAVE NO TRACE. Yes, boys 5-13 learning how to respect nature and leave no trace of their passing through… It’s shameful that anyone would think it was OK to just drop litter on the trails (lord knows there was MILES of just trail running – but I will cover that in my race recap…lol) – I know that Spartan Race likely has “sweepers” but honestly, does that make it acceptable for grown people to trash the trails? HELL NO! It’s frankly disgusting and irresponsible behavior, and I’d love to know if these same people just haphazardly drop trash on the streets where they live and work? Do they toss empty wrappers from their cars as they travel to race venues? Kudos for getting people off the couch, but if these are the same people who don’t have the sense to carry their trash out or at the very least deposit it in the trash cans at the water stations, they should just keep off the trails period. On a side note, the noise pollution was surprising as well – who listens to music during an OCR? More than you’d think. <>

    • says

      Preach, sister. And yes, every time I go to use my hydration pack again, I reach in the pockets to discover sticky trash, LOL! I *always* forget to clean it out.

  2. Tammy says

    I too hate to see trash on the course. Its a mentality that I’ll never comprehend. When I did my first Beast in 2012 at Killington, I was devastated by the trail of trash that wandered through the woods up the back side of Bear Mountain. Two weeks after the race I went back to Bear to take my sister on that God-awful, trail-less trek. I figured we’d have no trouble finding and staying on the “trail” as we could just follow the trail of empty gu packets and energy bar wrappers. To my very pleased amazement, we only found two tiny pieces of trash. The clean-up crews really do a great job of cleaning up the mess that these ignorant racers leave behind. Its disgusting the amount of trash that gets dumped on these beautiful trails but thankfully, Spartan makes sure its gone when they leave.

  3. says

    Thank you Walt, I am a veteran of over a dozen Spartan races and over 45 in general races. I have served on the Spartan “sweeper” crew many times and enjoyed the chance but was appalled by how carelessly people just through their trash down, I really hope this is taken seriously, I have run several RAGNARs and they really work hard to live the “Leave No Trace Behind” motto.

    Jim Driscoll Spratan

  4. says

    I ran in a later heat and actually didn’t see much trash at all…the majority of that was thanks to Walt I am sure!!! My husband and I made sure to put all of our trash back in our packs because we do not litter. We are grown adults and grown adults know better! Even the simplest paper packaging of a salt pack went back into my plastic bag!

  5. says

    Oh yes! “Can it” was a slogan at the marathon I ran this weekend…there is no reason that runners cannot hold their gels until the next water stop where there are plenty of trash cans!

  6. Mary says

    I haven’t done a trail race, but it annoys me even on the roads to see the litter strewn about. I don’t understand what’s so hard about carrying it to the next trash can or aid station. Even with my aid station cups, I’ve ended up carrying them the next mile or more to the next aid station because it’s really hard for me to throw it on the ground if i’ve passed the end of the aid station before I’m done with it.

    Heather, I also have sticky pockets in my race gear from throwing things back in that are not empty.

  7. says

    People EVERYWHERE toss garbage onto the streets, trails, pathways.. it is annoying and disgusting. I am not sure what the answer is because I even see garbage laying on the pathway right beside a garbage can. A sad commentary on the ME-ness of our society in general in North America anyway.

  8. says

    Oh yes. Killington was where I had my first experience with seeing all this litter and it really makes no sense to me. There is absolutely no excuse for dropping the wrapper when you’re done with it. Stick it in a pocket or back in your pack or in your waistband. Take it in, take it out.

  9. Walt says

    The most disappointing part for me is that The people at Spartan race profess that being Spartan is not just an event or a race but a “lifestyle” . How can you teach a lifestyle without teaching …”life”? I’m not trying to brag or blow my own horn in any way here but, I started participating in mountain man competitions and the like when I was a Boy scout, long before It was the “trendy” or the “cool” thing to do I won my first Blue ribbon 30 years ago when I was 16… one of the proudest accomplishments in my life at the time. To make things even more interesting amongst ourselves, we made a contest in seeing who could come out of the forest with the most trash in our packs… we kicked ass AND cleaned up at the same time… today? I see an attitude of entitlement in so many racers. ” I paid my money to be here” comes out of the same mouths that complain about the volunteers telling them they can only have one plastic cup (despite the fact they can refill it however many times they want). Some of the same ones will happily elbow you in the ribs to get past you trying to make time in the open heat because they didn’t wanna fork out the extra sheckles for a true competition heat. The Spartan folks are not the only ones to blame for all this but, the fact that they don’t make an effort to teach and enforce is very disheartening. So, now what? Do I expect to hear from anyone of the “commanders” of Spartan or Reebok? sadly, no. If asked, I WILL stick to the offer I made… I will gladly send them all the medals I’ve ever earned…just to hear the announcer dude DEMAND everyone’s attention and DEMAND they pick up their crap.

    Walt

  10. says

    If the race organizers can’t educate the participants and get them to cooperate, they are passively encouraging them to trash the environment with the belief that, “Well…someone else will clean it up for me.” If you compare that to the trail running community with local race directors who work their ass off to get state/national approval for their events, and the runners who are very serious about leaving nothing but foot prints…it’s a pretty big contrast. Many of the trail races I run…you are DQd if reported to have littered. It’s that serious to the RD. Therefore it’s that serious to the participants. I honestly don’t believe Spartan race organizers care that much.

  11. says

    Trash on the trails is unthinkable! I don’t run obstacle races very often but I’ve been fortunate with the trail races. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen trash on a trail race course. Knowing the trail running community it’s hard to imagine someone littering.

  12. says

    Good for you Walt! It’s a privilege to get to run/race on nature’s path and we need to be respectful of it. If I don’t have a place to throw an empty gel pack, it goes on my person. Yes, I end up even stickier by the end but I can shower off after. Leaving garbage on your routes is such a pet peeve. I can’t even handle not throwing my water cup in the can in a race…and I have terrible aim!

  13. says

    I too was at SC and had a wonderful experience once again, but the sad fact is that this article is accurate. I noticed many GU packets, wrappers and even bottles strewn about the course. I would like to see Spartan Race make a concerted effort to educate newer runners to the necessity of taking off the trail what you bring on.

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