Our retreats often take us into wilderness areas, even UNESCO World Heritage Sites, National Parks and into National Forests. It is our collective responsibility to limit our impact on these wild places.
We want you to be comfortable in the new and foreign environments in which we run, as well as understand that –especially as women – you’ll be able to manage your personal hygiene needs in a way that is environmentally responsible and appropriate. We understand that, especially when you’re new to trail running, it can be a little awkward to ask where it’s OK and safe to pee, use a toilet or manage your period.
That’s why we’ve partnered with Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, which protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly.
Leave No Trace’s primary goal is to prevent the avoidable impacts and to minimize the unavoidable impacts. Doing so protects and preserves both natural resources and the quality of recreational experiences for everyone. This can also minimize the need for restrictive management activities by land managers. We truly believe that if everyone did something, even something small, to minimize his or her impact on the out-of-doors, the result would be profound and lasting.
Here are some ways you can be prepared with the right knowledge about how to retreat responsibly in these beautiful natural places.
Travel on durable surfaces, and follow designated trails
Some of the trails we run take us through fragile natural environments. When you step off the trail, you may trod on soft ground surfaces that don’t easily recover from your steps.
In some places, it takes hundreds of years for your footprints to disappear. This is the case in Moab’s deserts, a black crust called cryptobiotic soil covers the sand and is essential to providing plants with a way to grow in this arid climate.
And in Iceland, a thick, spongy moss coats the black volcanic rock that covers much of the island. A volcano erupted, spewing out molten lava that devoured everything that was in its way. As time passed, the lava cooled down and eventually became solid rocks. The lava field remained barren and dark for a long time, until the wind brought in some moss spores from elsewhere. The tiny moss spores landed on the lava field, and started to grow. These fuzzy green plants help prevent soil erosion, retain water and humidity, and are actually home to many microorganisms. It feels heavenly to run on, but is actually quite delicate.
Stay on the trail to avoid widening trails unnecessarily. When running in the Canadian Rockies’ or Italian Dolomites’ alpine tundra, be aware that cold temperatures and long winters make for a short growing season. So when you step on tiny alpine flowers and thin grass blades, they don’t easily recover. Stay on the trail to avoid widening them, killing plants and grass in the process.
OK, so where do I pee?
When you need to pee mid-run, it’s natural to want to do so in privacy. We often encounter other trail users, so you’ll want to find a spot under the cover of rocks, trees, bushes or other natural cover away from the trail to do your business.
(Please tell at least one other person before you venture off trail to do your business so that we don’t think you’re lost!). As best as you can, step on durable surfaces (avoiding wild flowers, cryptobiotic soil, etc). In Moab, for example, follow a dry, sandy stream bed (called a “wash”) to a nearby bush or step on hard rock slabs instead of walking across a plot of cryptobiotic soil.
At no time is it OK to leave behind toilet paper, tampons, pads or any other hygiene products.
Regardless of what you may want to believe, they do not degrade quickly when left out in nature. It is your responsibility to “leave no trace” behind from your run, even if this means carrying your used toilet paper into a baggie and carrying it out (or at least to the nearest trash can). Your Run Wild Retreats goodie bag includes Honey Stinger Chews, and after eating them, keep the chews’ foil packet to re-purpose as a trash receptacle. Bring a few tissues in your hydration pack to wipe clean after a pee, then place the tissue in your empty chew foil pack. We also provide Ziploc snack bags that you can also use for this purpose.
If you need a toilet during the run:
Your retreat leader will tell you whether or not there is a bathroom at the trailhead so you can plan ahead. At no time in any of the places we run is it appropriate to poop on the ground. Most of the time, it’s not too far to a place with a bathroom, or at least, a porta-potty. On many of our runs in Europe, there are cafes and public bathrooms periodically.
In some places in Europe there is a fee to use the toilets (such as campgrounds in Iceland and mountain rifugios in Italy). We pay for the toilets in Iceland, and in Italy, we recommend you have a couple of Euros for the toilets there. Your retreat leader will always inform you of when in the run you can expect to pass by toilet facilities so you can plan accordingly.
Your retreat leader or guide can usually inform you of where these are. If you need to change a tampon or pad mid-run and there is no bathroom available, you can do so behind a bush or rock pile, though you must be prepared to place your used hygiene products in a baggie and carry them out with you in your hydration pack. Most of the time, it’s not too far until we come to a place with a trash bin in which you can dispose of your trash. Just don’t leave it behind!
Be considerate of other trail users.
We share the trails with other users, be it mountain bikers, hikers or walkers. As a group, we must be respectful of and patient with other users as well as the natural environment in which we are traveling. For example, this means yielding the trail to mountain bikers by stopping running and standing on the edge of the trail where it is safe and feasible to do so.
Please be aware of your surroundings. For this reason we have a policy that prohibits the use of headphones (or speakers, for that matter) on the trail. When you want to stop to take a photo, adjust your clothing, catch your breath or just soak the scenery, that’s totally fine, just please step to the side of the trail so you are out of the way of any other foot traffic and where it’s safe to do. Avoid stepping off the trail completely (potentially stepping on delicate ground), and instead stand on the far side of the trail so that the rider can pass safely.
When coming up behind hikers to pass, verbally announce your intention (saying something like, “I’d like to slip by on your right!” or something like that) so avoid surprising them. Often, when hikers see you coming toward them, they will stop and let you pass, though it’s not expected for them to yield to you, so in all cultures, it’s most polite to be the first to yield.
Leave the nature in place
Take lots of photos, by all means, but please don’t pick the flowers or remove rocks and other natural “souvenirs” during the retreat. In the National Parks in particular, removing items, no matter how small, is illegal. We understand the temptation to bring home a handful of black sand from Iceland’s Reynisfjara, for example, but we ask that you resist out of respect for this remarkable natural environment.
Enjoy your retreat!
Founder, Run Wild Retreats + Wellness