The Garbage Collectors

The garbage collectors is a group I made on Garmin Connect. You do not need to be s.e.r.i.o.u.s. about training to be serious about the environment, but it might be easier if you are. Here is an example of how.

I discovered plogging - picking up litter while jogging - in the spring of 2020, during the first lock-down of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was an incidental discovery since I was not planning to integrate garbage collection into my training schedule. While in lock-down, Marleen got two grippers and plastic bags from the municipality of Groningen. We intended to engage Fay and Olivia in an act of civic duty by playing a garbage-collecting game. Our original idea was that Marleen and I would hold bags while Fay and Olivia filled them up. But our expectation for fierce competition between F&O for who would have collected the most garbage was soon disillusioned and downgraded. Then M and me picking up litter, whereas Fay and Olivia played at the nearby playground. The transition from F&O collecting garbage to us was also helped by the fact that gathering litter while F&O play at the playground involved more movement than standing still watching.

As with new things, there is always an aura of excitement and overdoing it around them. As a child who gets a new toy, picking up a new hobby, or to new year's resolutions, I got caught in the excitement, and I brought the gripper everywhere I went. But I soon realized I was often lagging if I was to stop every time I had to pick up garbage. Therefore I thought of becoming a moving-garbage collector. A new motoric-coordination challenge was born: gripping litter while walking without stopping. My expectations for success with this new challenge were low. I expected to scrape the gripper about failing to grab any garbage. But to my surprise, I was more successful than I anticipated: about 50% of all the times I attempted to pick-up something. 50% might look like a low percentage, but my trash bag was filling up. Moreover, I was not bothered by the failures because I recognized that I did NOT have to pick up ALL the garbage at once. On the contrary, at my next passage, I would have grabbed any piece I missed or the pieces left, if there was too much to collect. In short: collecting garbage while walking was here to stay.

Upgrading the challenge from gripping while walking to gripping while running went naturally. However, not all types of run/training are plogging-friendly. One can easily imagine the clumsiness of threshold runs with voluminous garbage bags or frantically swinging a gripper in the air during an interval/sprint. On the other hand, (long) slow runs are ideal. In slow runs, I rigorously try to follow the serious[1] recommendation to keep my heart rate in zone 1 (HR1). For me, HR1 translates to a speed between 8 and 9.5 km/h (pace min/km), which is slightly faster than a brisk walk. This speed is well suited for gripping while moving. Moreover, I use two expedients to maintain a steady pace. Firstly, I use a gripper, which does not require me to stop, bend over, and grab something. Secondly, I use small bags, namely plastic bags for bread loaf. These are about 20-cm wide and 50-cm long. Using small bags is key. After all, 1) they do not impede running because they do not become too voluminous; 2) they can be dropped in any trash bin that I meet on the way allowing me to A) drop bags too full or heavy B) not bringing home other's trash C) stop collecting if I got tired of it. I also wear re-usable plastic gloves. These are less comfortable to wear while running than other gloves or no gloves. However, plastic gloves offer better protection than no-gloves or other gloves since collecting garbage is filthy.

Plogging added extra purpose to my running training. Before I found slow (long) runs boring and tedious, more of a mental rather than a physical exercise. But I cannot avoid them. After I integrated them into my training schedule, I have seen a boost in performance and a reduction of injuries. Therefore, I overcome slow-run boredom with the extra challenge of searching and gathering litter while running. Plogging also gives me a boost because I help to keep the neighborhood clean. Every time I run a garbage-collection activity I get positive/encouraging feedback from people and some say to feel inspired into following my example. To get more exposure, I also started a group on Garmin connect to promote plogging. Maybe that will get others involved too, and it will be cool to browse through other's routes covered while plogging.

[1] In 'Serious training for endurance athletes' Sleamaker and Browning recommend to perform the slow-runs in heart rate zone 1.

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