Every Runner Should be an Environmental Advocate

WORDS BY PEYTON THOMAS

Photographs by ricardo guadarrama

01. Peyton Thomas dodges snowflakes in the Great Smoky Mountains.⁠ Patagonia Trail Running.

Your Running Connection

 

April is a time of renewal, a time for possibility. April is when we remind ourselves about the Earth’s importance and complexity. We talk about Earth Week and Earth Day, but in reality, every day should be a celebration and time of gratitude for everything we have. Likewise, Earth does not just mean terra and aqua, but everything in between, including humans and our connectivity with each other and the planet. 

 

Connectivity can be found in many forms, but one way that has felt the truest to me is running. Running gives you a constant reminder of your connection with land and water. Anyone who has gone for a run has felt the rush of wind in their face, the intricate, yet sometimes effortless exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between our breath and the atmosphere. There’s a humility in the way you can at one moment be in a flow state running on single track, gravel, or pavement, and the next, perhaps literally grounded (if you are clumsy, like me). You can encounter water through puddles, streams, rain, and snow. Something is entrancing about movement fast enough to get from one place to another in a reasonable time, but also moving slowly enough to capture your surroundings, having your presence in place is equally essential yet nonessential to the environmental rhythms around you. 

What is Our Impact?

 

Running in different places has an impact on us, but what is our larger legacy on the Earth? While as a society, much of our collective mindset around the pursuit of running has changed to center performance and pushing the bounds of athleticism. However, at our core, I argue, we are striving to bridge a severed connection with the Earth and each other. 

 

We currently live within broken systems that perpetuate violence against people around the world. Whether we are talking about industrial pollution in both urban centers and rural communities, economic status, racial, and political issues delineating who has access to certain spaces, or the long-term impacts of climate change threatening lives and livelihoods. These are things every single person has a stake in and that everyone is touched by. You can find human stories about the loss of language and culture tied to the loss of biodiversity. We hear about community tragedies anywhere from widespread pollution such as industrial biomass plants and chemical waste to extreme events like hurricanes or typhoons

 

We cannot assume that who we are as people and what we experience in our day-to-day lives have no impact on our relationship with running or the larger running community. Everything is inextricably linked. What if we could use running as a spark for justice and action in the face of issues that could largely be within our collective power as a global community to solve? 

 

Equitable Action Running Towards Health in the Name of the Earth- Running for the pursuit of systemic change that will result in the removal of violent, extractive actions harming people and ecosystems while providing more opportunities to communities that have been the most removed, silenced, and invisibilized in society today. 

"We currently live within broken systems that perpetuate violence against people around the world. " - Peyton Thomas

What You Can Do to Take Action for the EARTH

 

Since we cannot remove ourselves as people from the running community, shouldn’t we harness the energy and spirit of the running community to push for collective change? 

 

We should pay attention to what the government, industries, companies, businesses, and local communities are doing to protect people and the environment from harm and not be afraid to ask questions and hold these entities accountable. In the US, federal and state legislation has the power to enhance the possibility for a more equitable and just future just as much as it has the power to take it away. Even policies that may not seem inherently connected to environmental concerns are extremely important. Policies attempting to reduce a person’s autonomy and threatens whole well-being are also attempting to limit connectivity with other people. 

 

Additionally, you’ll want to get to know the brands and organizations that are doing the important work to advocate for environmental protection and climate justice. Follow and support those who are working to grow inclusive outdoor experiences for all. Here are just a few:

Outdoorist Oath is an organization that provides a model to help people identify their unique compass to guide them to take action on environmental issues.

 

Outdoor Afro celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature.

Protect Our Winters helps passionate outdoor people protect the places and lifestyles they love from climate change..

 

Rising Hearts is an indigenous-led organization focused on elevating, promoting, and supporting intersectional collaborative efforts across all forms of movements in cultivating community with the goals of racial, social, climate, and economic justice. 

 

Running Industry Diversity Coalition (RIDC) unites the running industry to provide resources, measure progress, and hold the industry accountable to equitable employment, leadership, and ownership positions and improve inclusion, visibility, and access for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).

 

The Solutions Project funds frontline leaders of color and provides media support for diverse leaders who empower communities to build solutions to the climate crisis from the ground up. 

Pic from Outdoor instagram by Joe Klementovich

Lastly, if you are inspired to take action through running to support community health and environmental connectivity, consider joining us for the Equitable Action Run Towards Health (EARTH) on September 30th, 2023 in the Homochitto National Forest, Mississippi. The event is free, the cause touches on everything from environmental pollution and justice, the power of political representation, health equity, and running in community. Let’s harness our collective movement for bigger and better feats (with our feet)!

Peyton Thomas

I am a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) working with Drs. Cassandra Brooks and Keith Musselman on the Arctic Rivers Project. I received my  Ph.D. in Biology and Marine Biology at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 2022 where I studied fish muscle physiology and potential adaptative responses under projected end-of-century temperature scenarios and extreme hypoxia. I received my  BSc. in Environmental Science with a minor in Biochemistry from Baylor University where I focused on microplastic ingestion in Lagodon rhomboides (Pinfish), which furthered my love for the marine environment and environmental health. Throughout my academic career I have sought to understand both anthropogenic and natural influences on organisms.

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