Do trail races result in unnecessary damage to the environment? 

           Let me be the first, respectfully, to twist this topic into a more manageable direction. Variables – those fickle kinks to the cogs – make any sensible explanation to this broad, indiscriminate question almost impossible when considering the 800 word limit. I can try … so first let me give it a shot.

            Question: ‘Do trail races result in unnecessary damage to the environment?’

            Answer: ‘I don’t know.’

            And there you have it! I don’t know. And rather than spend the next ten minutes defending a position on shaky ground – with the rocks tumbling about and limbs cracking in the storm – I state unequivocally that I haven’t the foggiest if your average trail race (whatever that may be) results in unnecessary, malevolent damage to its immediate surroundings.

            Now let me explain why I don’t know: there are all sorts of trail races. Big ones, small ones … 100 mile ultra marathons through the Rocky Mountains and 5k tromps in the woods behind the local elementary school … we’re talking Dr. Seuss here: one, two, red, blue – in this day trail races are trending faster than naked photo shoots while straddling a large piece of construction equipment. Trending, what an amusing concept. And yet it’s pertinent for this discussion.

            Why, you ask? Google ‘trail race 2014’ and see what happens. Go on, do it. It’s dizzying, isn’t it? A veritable smorgasbord of racing options in the coming year awaits the trail minded individual.

            The logical question following such a realization is, of course, what?

            What is the money going towards?

            That’s right – where does the money flow? Into the pockets of the race directors? To charity? If so, what charity and how much? How about this: how much is going towards local conservation efforts?

            Boom. Dynamite. Let’s blow the doors off and dig deeper. Local conservation efforts, now there’s an idea … a bit of honey to sweeten the damage done because of the race – because of the hundreds of feet stamping along the single-track of the cherished woods – and then all the wrongs of the race is fended, mended, and perhaps (dare I say it?) amended. So what?  Well, what if this is a successful race? What if you’re getting more entries each year? Then you’re raising awareness and bringing in additional monies to pay for these conservation projects.

            And that, dear readers, results in a positive return to the environment. Simple as that. But perhaps this is just a pipe dream – something to wake up to, hanging on my ceiling above, staring back with its pale, glimmering eyes – this idea of a positive feedback loop … a recurrent tract that not only brings outdoor enthusiasts to the starting line, that not only raises awareness in the surrounding community … but also actively participates in nature conservancy to repair any damages wrought from racing.

            There’s hope. Hope for you, me, and the trees. Hope that we can one day, together, as a community, makes these trail races – all four hundred a year and counting – events that reap beneficial impacts to the surrounding environment. For as our renewable energies are moving to not just a zero impact industry but rather a positive impact (i.e. - providing energy back) we as a running community must move towards leaving constructive impacts on our trails so the surrounding habitat remains as healthy and vibrant as the day the race was conceived.

            And if we can do this – unite together under a bond of conservation – then I’ll have a more concrete answer to this question of ‘Do trail races result in unnecessary damage to the environment?’

            The answer, of course, would be no.