Glass Half Full

Scout Phillips Uncategorized 6 Comments


I know, I get it, it can often feel like the marketing teams behind some of your favorite events are just working overtime to get you suckered into making another superfluous purchase to fill their pockets. For just $5 extra you can run in honor of your imaginary friend and we’ll write their name in the sky with invisible ink!! What a deal! It can be frustrating at times to feel like you’re being asked to pay more only to get less in return. So, what’s the deal with “Going Cupless?” Isn’t it just another money making gimmick?

The fact of the matter is, although many of us are brought together through our love of trails and being outdoors, we often underestimate the impact we have on the very environment we come to enjoy. The amount of waste that can be produced over the course of an organized trail run can be quite overwhelming. While Aravaipa Running has begun to make a conscious shift towards more responsible practices that include recycling at all events, we know we can make a more lasting impact by REDUCING our waste production overall. As stewards of the trail and the trail loving community, we want to encourage all of our runners to find ways to create a more positive impact on the world around them everywhere we go.

That’s where shifting all of our events to cupless races fits in. Most of you are already bringing your own water bottles that you fill along the trail, some of you already have your own favorite collapsible cup, and that’s awesome. In the U.S. alone, more than 2.5million plastic bottles are thrown away per HOUR. On top of that, only 5% of all plastics in the U.S. are actually recycled. Truly, the most responsible and sustainable approach is to rely less on tossing our waste into the right bin, and simply reducing our waste overall. That is the idea behind going cupless. We want to generate less waste, to be less of a throw away culture, and to leave the natural spaces where we recreate better than how we found them.

While there are mountains of data to match the mountains of trash that we produce, not much of it is specific to our unique sport. So, let’s go on a virtual run together and see how many cups we might use:

You’ve signed up for a local 100K and you’re very excited. You’ve been training a lot and have figured everything out; your shoes, your shorts, your lucky bandana. You’ve made piles of snacks, lube, hydration packets, extra clothes and more that you’ve shifted from one aid station drop bag to another at least a dozen times, and now everything is in the right place. Race morning can’t get here quick enough, and in one more sleep you’ll be there.

Race morning and you’re milling about the start area. You’re a little nervous, but mostly excited. You wander over to the aid station and grab a cup of coffee. Worried that your stomach is not quite ready for just the coffee, you grab a small cup of ginger ale. All is good and you chat with your fellow runners, lining up at the start. The RD counts down the clock and you are on your way. Your legs feel good, stomach feels good, you are focused and your training has paid off. You hit the first aid station, realizing you haven’t really consumed anything from you water bottles, you grab a cup of electrolyte drink, toss it back, and keep moving. Another 6 or so miles go by and you see the next aid station. You did remember to drink water on that stretch, and you have the incredible aid station volunteers fill your water bottles. As you wait, you toss back a cup of electrolyte drink, which surprisingly is the most amazing thing you’ve ever tasted in that moment, so you toss back two more. Now, it’s time to keep moving.

Aid station 3 rolls around and you stick to potatoes and salt and refilling your water bottles. This is the first place you have a drop bag, and you look through yours and realize none of the things you packed seem appealing in the moment. You keep moving. As aid station 4 approaches you hear another runner talking about how ultra’s are the only place they drink sodas and it sounds like a wonderful idea. You hand off your mostly empty water bottles, toss back 2 cups of soda and one of electrolyte drink, just to keep things balanced. You’re halfway through your race now, and things are still feeling good. Focused, you continue on.

Aid station 5 is a welcome sight. You took a fall between the last aid station and here, and you’re feeling a little beat up. The angels at this aid station have just made some potato soup and offer you a cup. You gladly accept, sit in a chair, and collect yourself. After the soup you toss back a cup of soda, and head out. Fortunately, nothing of consequence occurs between aid stations 5 and 6, just smooth trail miles on some beautiful single track. Your mood is lifted and you are going to get this done! You fill your bottles at aid station 6 and again look at your drop bag and miracle of miracles the food you packed looks appetizing, so you grab that and go.

Aid station 7 is a little bit of a blur, you’re moving better than expected, especially after that fall, and now you’re really pushing that pace. You don’t really want to waste time filling your water bottles, so you toss back 3 cups of electrolyte drink, thank the volunteers, and keep on trucking.

Aid station 8 is your last chance to grab anything before the final stretch. You don’t even look at your drop bag, as you have a real chance to set a major P.R. if you just keep going. You ditch your water bottles (no need to carry the extra weight) and toss back 2 cups of electrolyte drink, 2 cups of soda, and you are running out of there.

The finish line in sight, you can’t help but smile. You surpassed all of your A goals by unbelievable margins. You hang out and chat with other runners, with your support crew, and strangers who you met on the trail who are your new best friends.

You used 18 cups.

If we do the math, and there are 300 runners registered for this race, who average 15 cups each, that’s a total of 4500 cups for that race alone that will be thrown away.

We want to be stewards of this sport, which means we must be stewards of the land. Are you willing to make one small shift in the way you approach this sport that could have a true and lasting impact on the environment around us?

There are many options out there when it comes to cups that are easy to stuff in your waist pack, small shorts pocket, hydration pack, etc. We want you to find the cup that fits best for you. Maybe it has a carabiner that clips the cup onto your running vest. Perhaps it is your favorite color, or a souvenir from a favorite race. Whatever it is, we want you to bring it to every race. We want you to use it with pride, knowing that your small action is truly making a big difference. As the Dalai Lama said, “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.”

Is your reusable cup half empty, or half full? Bring it to any of our aid stations and we’ll keep it on the full side for you.

Comments 6

  1. So spot on! It would be good to take a clear plastic bag and fill it with the avg amount of cups and trash used by a runner during this cupless race. It would be so eye opening to visually see it and to take that times 300 runners. That way they can see what kind of difference ONE person can make. You can’t control what others do but it starts with you saying “I can make a difference!”.

  2. Great read. So glad to see everyone is on the cupless train! Respect Mother Earth and she will show her true beauty!

  3. Big fan of this initiative at large and Aravaipa has a massive potential impact in the running community with this effort.

    Really appreciated the virtual run analogy to paint the picture for usage.

    Forgive me here for a moment; but after reading through this article several times now, I still see no formal/actionable decision being made by Aravaipa to actually go cupless. It all felt kinda warm and fuzzy until I couldn’t find a single statement about what you are doing at the race organization level.

    Advocating for your runners to mitigate their usage by bringing their own reusable cups is a great start, but will you still have cups?

    1. Post

      Currently about 80% of our races are cupless, and we are working towards 100%. In an effort to ease the transition, we have hard plastic reusable cups that we keep at each aid station for “emergency use” when runners forget to bring their own. In the same vein, we do sometimes have paper cups available as a backup, but they are no longer placed out for consumption at our cupless races, so it’s still dramatically decreasing the numbers we used to go through.
      It’s all part of a process, and we’re doing our best to move in the right direction.

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