This post is the first in a new series that will revolve around consumption. And, because I was lucky enough to be in Chicago this past weekend (and it has been on my mind the past few days), the marathon will serve as the entry point for this series.
Let's start with the fact that 45,000 runners participated in the race. Yes. That's a lot of bodies moving over a long distance. A quick estimate of the energy required to move that many people across that much distance is about 100,000,000 Calories.
Let's break that down: In terms of snacks: that's a million hundred-Calorie snack-packs. In terms of electricity: that's about 120,000 kWh —the amount of energy required to power the average American home for 11 years!
That’s the beautiful thing about energy, it comes in many forms: the chemical energy in the snack packs and the athletes’ bodies; the kinetic energy of everyone moving toward the finish line; the heat energy given off by all of the contracting muscles; the solar energy from the sun that made for a race that was a little on the warm side; and the electrical energy powering the clocks on the course and the watches on the athletes’ wrists (to name a few).
One thing that dawned on me—as I’m sure it did on many runners and spectators— was the enormity of supplying over 40,000 runners with energy and hydration along the course.
When I first laid eyes on the mass of runners moving through an aid station, I was astonished at the fact that most of them didn’t trip over each other or the volunteers handing them cups. In the next moment the focus of my astonishment turned from the magic of controlled chaos to the number of cups and gel packets on the ground.
Doing my best to extrapolate to all the runners moving through all the aid stations I was immediately struck by an image of a heaping pile of waste. Hopefully you’re envisioning the sticky mess yourself (it was really REALLY sticky).
But, then the importance of the sign that I had seen at the race expo came rushing over me.
This is a big deal. An event of this magnitude produces an enormous amount of waste. The fact that all of the cups, plates, napkins, and banana peels can be composted makes a difference. The fact that there is accessible recycling for paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum makes a difference. The fact that additional recycling mechanisms are in place to use of the heat sheets makes a difference.
Running, like many other industries is becoming much more geared toward short-term use. All of the waste produced just on the day of the marathon is a testament to that. So, having procedures in place to reuse what we are consuming is vital to the sustainability of the sport, and the Chicago Marathon has started us along the path of doing just that.
Thinking about consumption in this way allows us to answer a very important question: How can we continue to do the things we love to do?
That's the question I will continue to grapple with in this series on consumption.
 To get this rough estimate I assumed an average of 100 Calories per mile multiplied by the number of runners and by the 26.2 miles they completed.