Stop Bitching About The Trash

Being grouchy about grouches

I am as sick of the “clean up your trash” posts and blogs as you are about “correct burpees”, “obstacle completion” and “taking two medals” posts. Here’s the deal. No one is doing it on purpose.

I have never witnessed one person drop their Gu energy gel, mustard, or cliff bar and act like they didn’t. I have never seen someone miss their pocket, and say “Whoops! Glad, it’s someone else’s job to get it”. I have never seen anyone crumple up a wrapper, and say “Fuck this venue!”

You know why? Because it is not happening.

I have completed over 70 obstacle races. I have run in the morning, and in the late afternoon. I have run with elites and the masses. I have gone as fast as I can, and I have gone as slow as I can. Never seen that kind of bad “garbage” behavior from anyone.

Ever had a BBQ or party at your house? Ever helped anyone clean up at the end of their party? If you haven’t, here is what you are going to find in the later hours. Garbage – everywhere you look.

You are going to find napkins on the ground. You are going to find plates of half eaten shit in every nook and cranny. Bottles of things finished and unfinished, in places you didn’t even think people went. Why is that? Is it because your friends and neighbors hate you? Cause they hope you have hours and hours of cleaning to do when they leave? Cause they have no fucking manners?  Nope. It’s because that’s what happens when you are eating and drinking without any “boundaries”.

Here is how a normal, “boundaried meal” goes.

Someone announces that “the meal starts”
You sit down.
All the food that is being served is in one place.
The food is more than likely being brought to you from a single source.
Everything is served directly in front you.
Everyone starts eating together.
You are in that seat for the duration of the meal.
If you do get up to take a call or go to the bathroom, your meal and all utensils stays in your “seat”.
At some point, the meal ends. Everyone finishes around the same time.
Plates are cleared by someone or by you.
Meal over.

At a BBQ or party, it is a “boundary-less meal”. The party and conversation flow naturally, as they should. (Who wants to attend a party with a bunch of rules?)

There is no set start time.
Food is often served from a multitude of places.
Drinks are out of fridge and one or more coolers.
You serve yourself, or someone may bring you something to try.
Since people are all coming and going at separate times, people are always beginning and ending their meals.
They are also going back for more food and drink as the day wears on.
People are consuming in multiple rooms.
Some are standing, some are seated.
Some are walking and talking and eating at the same time.
Rarely is someone going to ask to clear your plate.
The meal is never over, until everyone is gone.

It is easy to see that with no boundaries, there is a much more likely chance that plates don’t get cleared, and that bottles never end up in the recycling container.

Let’s create an example at a typical BBQ, just for the fun of it.

Your friend Bob has his little plate of burger and vegetables and is talking to Sue near the grill. Bob sets his plate down (temporarily) and excuses himself to go the bathroom. On Bob’s way to the bathroom, Larry shows up to the party and gives Bob a huge bear hug. “Holy Shit Larry! I have not seen you in months. We have to catch up! Just let me go to the bathroom first”. Bob comes out of the bathroom to find Larry. Larry is no longer there, but Jen is. Bob is glad he runs into Jen. He has been meaning to ask her about which soccer coach her son had last year, cause Bob is hoping to send his boys to that coach this year. In the middle of that conversation, Tom shows up and gives Bob a hard time about the horrible choices Bob made in the recent fantasy football draft.

We could keep going on forever. Bob’s little plate of food that he set down (temporarily) was neglected.

So now here we are at the obstacle course. Most everyone is in a different state emotionally, mentally, and physically than they ever have been before. So when they do stop to eat something, and a chain of distracting conversations happen, they are even less likely to remember that water bottle they set down “for a second”, or the wrapper they were going to pick up “when they are done stretching their legs”. Sometimes, people are not even stopping to eat. So when they are running, it’s possible, that the the wrapper just missed the bag or fell out of a pocket.

If trash bothers you out on the trail, pick it up.

If you volunteer to sweep a course and find more garbage than you thought you would, throw it away anyway. That’s what you signed up for.

Do not get on Facebook like the righteous prat you are, and tell everyone how bad they are for being litterbugs.

You wouldn’t do that to your friends at your party.

Matt B. Davis

is the host of the Obstacle Racing Media Podcast and the author of "Down and Dirty-The Essential Training Guide for Obstacle Races and Mud Runs". He is also the only (known) #wafflehouseelite obstacle racer.
  1. Yeah, I’m with Hannah. I’ve seen it more often than not…people purposefully dropping that GU packet on the ground after sucking it down. You can’t convince me that THAT MUCH trash ends up out there by accident. I’ve been running and racing for 10 years now, and somehow always seem to still have my trash in my camelbak at the end of the race. So maybe instead of sharing my righteous blog post 😉 I should be giving lessons on how to better shove your crap into your bag so it doesn’t accidentally get neglected?

    Seriously, I get that some of it is accidental. But being tired or “distracted” is absolutely ZERO excuse for trashing our beautiful mountains and trails. It’s just lazy.

  2. Matt – I really like the vibrant, almost story-telling type voice you use with your writing…. and I totally disagree with you.
    I have been a competitive athlete in a variety of sports for over 15 years and have experienced a wide variety of racing venues, sizes, and levels of respect for place. Contrary to what you claim your experience to be, I have seen countless examples of people deliberately leaving trash on the course. Some of these litterers (yes, that’s what they are) don’t want to carry a sticky, empty wrapper; others don’t want to bother themselves with empty foil and plastic; others simply don’t have the “this is wrong” programming about littering, and many (if not most) racers don’t have a sense of relationship with the place/ownership of it, and really think nothing of deliberately dropping wrappers. To think that everybody is doing this accidentally and out of the goodness of their well-intending hearts is naive.

  3. I can’t disagree more. I run all types of races and this is a issue in all forms of racing. But in the woods they can’t run a street sweeper to clean up the mess. IF YOU BRING IT OUT THERE BRING IT BACK WITH YOU. It’s that simple. This should be key in any race you participate in. Making excuses for people who are too lazy or just don’t care is sad.

  4. On at least 3 separate occasions in my last year of OCR, I get 30 or so yards past a water station and I come across paper/platstic cups turned upside down and placed on top of the plant life. Like some “hey, some asshole was here” crown. You absolutely WILL NOT be able to convince me that those were accidents, and those people need to be called out.

    And those are the people for which these posts you are complaining about are aimed.

  5. Unfortunately, you have blinders on Matt. I am far from a tree hugging OCR fan but reading your article at best infuriated me and at worst disappointed me. The trash I saw at last year’s VT UB was unprecented and I’ve run in some of the largest marathons on the east coast for the past 15 years. There is a difference between dropping your trash near a road water station where there are trash cans and volunteers, who signed up to clean up our trash AND haphazardly dropping your trash on a remote path in the middle of a single track overgrown mountain trail. If OCR wants to be taken seriously and turn the corner among mainstream competitive and leisure racers, they must respect the sacred land the franchises so quickly tought as the positive draw to their close-to-nature events. #disappointed

  6. “No one is doing it on purpose.”? THAT is the problem. People have become so oblivious to their own actions that they don’t realize they are doing it. THAT is why we need to continue to bring awareness to the issue. People don’t intentionally throw their cigarette butts out the window of on the sidewalk but they do it, and that’s one of the worst kinds of littering in the US. This issue has to be treated like we teach our small children, you have to hold their hands and sometimes yell at them until they get it. It’s very simple, if you pack it in, pack it out.

    1. THIS.

      I love you Matt but this entire article is a bunch of garbage. If thousands of people can go to a Burning Man and leave it like they were never there, we can spend one day on a course and mind ourselves.

      And not only have I seen people purposely dip their bandage but I’ve totally called them out (loudly) on it. Most have the sense to at least look embarrassed. But the point is it shouldn’t be happening because we should be more mindful.

  7. Yes, because the first thing I think about when I see wrappers and plastic containers on a trail (race-related or otherwise) was “Man, that person really put it there with malice intent.”

    No… sorry Matt but completely disagree. Bringing awareness to the issue of littering the trails with junk is a more important issue than the possible mental state of committing the act. Pack it in and pack it out. If you can carry a Wreck Bag, you can carry your trash.

  8. Matt had a good point, the intensity of the moment and a certain randomness certainly have something to do with race litter, but dropped trash also reflects the idea behind the 1968 “Tragedy of the Commons” which reflects the notion that people are motivated to use public spaces to the utmost while taking the least responsibility for them.

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