The Urban Wildland Half Marathon and 5K:
A Race for Both the Runner and Nature-Lover Within

By Mackenzie Lobby
With Photos by Kristen Goodman and Ashley Miller

The Urban Wildland Half Marathon and 5K have gotten a lot greener over the years. An event that once dumped over 16,000 cups into trashcans headed to the landfill has quickly become one of the premiere “green” events of the region.

If an event with 1,300 total finishers can produce that much waste, imagine the mound of litter and debris that piles up at larger races! The Urban Wildland Half Marathon and 5K is far ahead of the curve in setting the green example, according to race organizers.

“We’re hoping to create a model for other events to show them that it’s not that hard to go green,” race director Amy Markle said.

As a runner myself, I decided to go undercover to see what this “no-waste” race was all about. I was interested in whether time and financial constraints might force organizers to cut corners in the efforts to go green. In addition, I wanted to see if this was a legitimate race from the runner’s perspective, not just the environmentalist’s, so I joined the crowd of runners on the streets of Richfield.

On both accounts, the 2008 running of the Urban Wildland Half Marathon on August 2nd was a success. The course was particularly unique. Markle said her team made great efforts to avoid area road construction and “showcase the neighborhoods and green spaces in Richfield.” This was apparent from the gun, or more literally, the air horn.

The race started in Richfield’s Veteran’s Memorial Park and wound itself through surrounding residential neighborhoods to Woodlake Nature Center, the beneficiary of the race’s proceeds. As we went off-road into the nature center, runners took in the prairies, forests, and marshes of the preserve. Upon exiting the nature center, we made our way through a number of city parks, taking us onto small paths around calm ponds, bustling playgrounds, and busy tennis courts.

The finish brought runners full circle as we came through the woods in Veteran’s Memorial Park, spitting us out to the finish line on the other side. We were met with a number of organic treats, PowerAde, water, and a large cheering squad of volunteers.

The race itself was flat and fast—just how most runners like it. The volunteers were friendly and proactive on the course and mile markers were visible for all runners to see. From everything I could gather, the race organizers had also done a good job of fulfilling their green mission. Online-only registration, reusable runner bags, and compost bins were perhaps the most obvious signs.

After chatting with Markle, however, it became clear that efforts went much further. Cups were bio-degradable, food was shipped in recyclable packaging, garbage bags and food were compostable, race signs were reusable, shirts were printed locally, and race brochures were printed on paper generated from a sustainably harvested forest. When all was said and done, Markle reports that roughly 90 percent of materials from the race were composted and about 10 percent were recycled.

“Going green ties in with our mission at the nature center,” Markle said.

The mission also includes “connecting the public with the natural world, environmental education, and training people to be outdoor educators,” she added.

It turns out that many of those friendly volunteers along the race course were kids from Richfield Public Schools who will benefit from field trips to Woodlake.

Markle went on to say that the event “really brings the community together.” While many of the over 200 volunteers consisted of schoolchildren and their parents, the event is made a success with the assistance of many of the Richfield city staff as well as the local sponsors.

As for the future of this race, Markle says, “every year we try to carry out more green initiatives.” It seems that a carbon capture garden may be the next undertaking, which will be created with donations from runners in order to offset emissions from commuting to and from the race.

Watch for the carbon capture garden as well as other new green endeavors at next year’s race. Not only is it a chance to support a great cause, it’s also a prime opportunity to set a half marathon PR or to train for an upcoming fall marathon.

This “no-waste” race is sure to appeal, whether you’re a runner or a nature-lover at heart.