On the run with Team Nature

It’s no surprise that many runners care about the environment. We depend on the outdoors to enjoy our sport, and most of us love to run in beautiful places.

But, unlike so many other cause-oriented nonprofits or charities–think of the Race for the Cure or Run MS–environmental groups have been slow to take advantage of the opportunity to connect the work they do to the running world.

The Nature Conservancy is trying to change that, which is how I found myself at the start of the GW Parkway Classic 10-mile race, which goes from Mount Vernon to downtown Alexandria, on Earth Day, a drizzly Sunday morning. Here in the capital region, and elsewhere around the world, Nature Conservancy chapters have organized Team Nature (“Healthy You, Healthy Planet’) to encourage people to get outside and run, and to raise money for the conservancy’s work.

When I had the opportunity to join Team Nature for today’s race–thanks to Mark Tercek, the Nature Conservancy’s CEO, and Kate Hougan, the regional marketing director–I was delighted to do so. TNC does important work, including efforts to protect and restore Chesapeake Bay, which I heard about today from Mark Bryer, who also ran the race. Plus I knew Scott Jurek would be there.

I’m too old for heroes, especially sports heroes, but I am a huge admirer of Scott, who I met recently for the first time. In a terrific book about running called Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (which set off the minimalist running craze, a topic for another day), author Christopher  McDougall writes:

Scott was the top ultrarunner in the country, maybe in the world, arguably of all time.

Scott, who is 38, is a seven-time winner of the  Western States 100-mile endurance run, a trek through the remote and rugged Sierra Nevada mountains, and he set a course record the first time he ran the Badwater Ultramarathon, a grueling 135-mile run through Death Valley where temperatures routinely top 120 degrees.

With Scott Jurek before the start

A vegan,  Scott credits his plant-based diet for his endurance and good health. (He’s also an accomplished cook, as Mark Bittman reported here.)  Eating less meat is, arguably, one of the simplest things anyone can do to help protect the planet. Scott’s got a new book out called Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, and I’ll have more to say about him after I get a chance to read it.

In June, Scott and Mark Tercek will travel to Kenya with a group of Team Nature runners to join in the Safaricom Marathon and Half Marathon at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. According to TNC:

The challenging dirt course follows Lewa’s undulating hills at an average altitude of 5,500 feet. Adding to the challenge and thrill is the runners’ awareness that they share the terrain with elephants, antelopes, cheetahs and lions.

Sounds like fun, no? The event raises money for wildlife conservation and community development.

If you’re a runner, keep an eye out for Team Nature events near you. If not, support a running friend–or, better yet, lace up a pair of (minimalist) shoes and give running a try.

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