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Was it worth it?

"He took his kid by the hand and left."

I never ran a marathon, so as you are reading this, you have the right to think that I don't know what I'm talking about if you don't agree with what I have to say. I like to run but I never understood why running a marathon was an accomplishment. I understood that you're putting your body through a lot and by the time you're done it can feel like a relief that you did it, but was that an accomplishment worthy of admiration? Was your body in on your need for validation? How is the planet better off following your arduous undertaking?

I've been chasing marathons for while here in the UAE, trying to figure out what can be done about the waste that is generated from these obviously very popular events. This morning, I checked in where the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon was happening and documented what every news outlet in the UAE somehow fails to document. It isn't their job I assume, or they do not want to alienate sponsors and be critical of anything that has "Dubai" in the title. So this is where we come in: we are not being "negative," we are simply questioning why an event that is able to invest $100,000 in a winner, can be so wasteful.

As I arrived to one of the hydration stations at the venue, I overheard a man giving a pep talk to a woman in marathon gear who was seated, apparently from exhaustion. I understood that he was trying to get her to get back on her feet and make it to the finish line. I was too busy taking a video of the open and abandoned 3/4 full bottles and plastic waste in front of my eyes until I heard a thump and looked in their direction. The woman had apparently mustered the energy to get up and to let go of the burden of the almost full plastic bottle of water in her hands. She let it go and ran.

The man was standing there, and as I looked their way, I noticed that interestingly he had his reusable bottle on him and was with his kid. The kid inquired about the obvious: whether people were going to be cleaning up, and there was no reply that could be overheard. The man kept cheering the runners on; I kept wondering, why? When the thumps and the sight of the bottles on the ground in front of his kid's own eyes became all too much to bear, I think, he took his kid by the hand and left.

Somebody was indeed cleaning up and that was their job. But whose job was it to advise against the use of so much single use plastic at an event where more than 50,000 people were expected to participate?

It's good to ask questions because while so many of us are busy challenging ourselves for self validation, some of us need to get busy wondering why. Why are so many of us interested in recalling the ancient glory of Greece? Why is it OK for a grown up to be parading around in a medal (which every participant received dutifully factory wrapped in plastic)? Why do so many of us go through so much trouble to make it through a marathon, making sure we have the right gear on and keeping ourselves hydrated and electrolyte balanced but won't commit to living a less wasteful life? Does running a marathon absolve us from any sense of environmental responsibility? Knowing what we know now about the plastic waste problem, can we continue to turn a blind eye?


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I took a little time to look at the social posts made by the Dubai Marathon participants because I wanted to see the marathon through their social eyes. One of the posts I came across was from a "supporter" carrying a sign which read: "Smile :) Remember you paid for this," while her friend's sign read: "Full marathon today :) Netflix marathon tomorrow!" and another picture of the supporter offering bite size Snickers (which explains the wrappers I found). There were a lot of posts about the struggle that paid off and the rewarding feeling. Others were just happy to participate with their friends, colleagues or loved ones. There were also group pictures of participating companies and their teams, other…

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