After a long period of taking forced breaks, the major trail running events slowly got back on track last summer. With a strong desire to reduce environmental impacts. The French Maxi-Race on Lake Annecy is one good example of how race organizers and shoe brands are working together to lead the way.
Back to the world of old. In 2019, the Maxi-Race on Lake Annecy in southeastern France brought together a record number of 9,000 enthusiasts. Some were alarmed by these high numbers and the drift towards gigantism in trail running events. But Cyril Cointre, a former ultra-trail runner and a member of the race’s organizing committee, was nevertheless keen for the race to be ambitious in terms of environmental impact. He intended to use this event as a “test laboratory.”
Among the initiatives was an operation to collect and recover up to 2,000 pairs of used shoes. To do this, the organizers relied on the expertise of Run Collect. This start-up was created in 2017 in Lyon, France, by the “two assiduous runners who wear out a lot of shoes” Antoine Jeantot and Romain Drouot, which today has a network of nearly a hundred labelled retailers that help customers to give a second life to running shoes.
The event usually takes place in May, but after a gap year in 2020 the Maxi-Race returned in 2021 on an unusual and late date, the last weekend of October, to compensate for the uncertainty that still hung over the beginning of the season. The organizers decided to limit the number of riders to 5,000 for the entire event. The reasons for this were partly sanitary, but also to limit the impact of the runners on the paths. While financial constraints did not allow the renewal of the partnership with Run Collect, many initiatives showed an undiminished desire for transformation.
Paying attention to the details
In preparation of the 2022 event in the end of May, the organizers have left no stone unturned. The food supply is undoubtedly one of the major assets of the Maxi-Race: in association with Greenweez, an online organic products store located on the shores of Lake Annecy, the food products are now “100% organic or from local products.”
Water supply is another priority. For 2022, the objective is to not exceed a threshold of 3,000 plastic bottles for several tens of thousands of liters of liquids drunk by the runners in all the races, explains the organization. This means that only 2% of the volume of drinks consumed by the runners will be in bottles. Therefore, alongside its efforts to limit the consumption of plastic bottles, the Maxi-Race uses eco-cups made from seaweed.
Meanwhile, the race markers – fabric tape and milestones – have been reusable or eco-friendly for many years. In addition, half of the routes are based on a loop system so that runners don’t have to use a vehicle to get to the start. For the other routes, a bus system has been set up.
As far as the trails are concerned, a first cleaning is first conducted a few weeks before the event.
“Then, during the races, the trail keepers carry out a meticulous collection after the runners have passed through, followed by another check within ten days of the event,” explains Stéphane Agnoli, the race director.
A consultation on the choice of routes with respect to the fauna and flora is carried out with environmental associations and local authorities. Among other things, this can lead to the creation of footbridges for the preservation of wetlands. The race organizers also make sure to alternate the trails used from one year to the other.
“The dominant theme is to minimize our impact,” concludes Stéphane Agnoli.
Participants also contribute
On another note, the awards for the runners have been rethought.
“This year, we opted for wooden finishers’ medals made in France. 2021 was the last year we were making welcome t-shirts. After having analyzed the production of recycled organic material, we realized that there is no real difference if we look at the overall production process. A lot of water is used in the manufacturing cycle of organic textiles. Concerning recycled textile, Europe still lacks production units, so these products are often manufactured in Asia, so it is not a sustainable option for us.”
About fifteen local sports and non-sports associations are involved in the event. Each year, the Maxi-Race donates part of the proceeds to them so that they can implement and build projects. Each runner, upon registration, contributes between 1–3 Euro. The organizers then complement this amount to reach a total of 30,000–40,000 Euro which is donated to the associations. In 2022, the social focus will be the “Sepas Impossible Relay.”
Hailing from the same region as the event, the association Sepas Impossible was created in 2014 to communicate about Multiple Sclerosis (MS), to break the isolation of patients and to advocate with public authorities to build a medical establishment for a dignified and adapted care.
Is the running community catching speed?
At the same time, the team behind Run Collect is also carrying on its actions with a new prestigious partner, Hoka, which signed a major partnership with the UTMB World Series last fall. Antoine Berthoud, Hoka Events Manager, explains more:
“The partnership with Run Collect with some of our events in France and Europe will allow us to offer a solution to our communities, to recycle their worn-out shoes.”
The way Run Collect works remains the same, as one of the founders, Antoine Jeantot, shares:
“Around 95 percent of our work revolves around our 150 labelled shops on the territory. And 80 percent of the shoes are donated to associations after being sorted. We then collaborate with Fast Feet Grinded, as the remaining 20 percent of the shoes are shipped there to make recycled floors. We only operate one shipment a year to reduce transportation impact.”
The trail running community may have started late on its way towards more responsible ways of doing what they love most. But this is a community known for both speed and endurance. Now the race is on.
For two days at the end of May, nearly 10,000 trail runners gather in Annecy at the boarder of the French Alps. Around Lake Annecy they can choose between distances from 16 to 110 km.
The event is part of the international Maxi Trail Series, sponsored by Salomon.
Visit maxi-race.org for more information.
Lead Photo: Cyrille Quintard