Running makes humans feel good.

Maybe it’s the rhythmic plod of feet on gravel along the scenic Back Cove trail, where the rising tide fills the bowl-shaped cove. Or maybe it’s the sound of patterned exhalations on the quiet early-morning streets of our well-gardened neighborhood.

Or maybe we’re just glad to fit into the same pair of pants from one week to the next.

Either way, while we’re bragging up our mileage with the folks at the office or amusing ourselves with thoughts of athletic prowess, Mother Nature’s wondering when we’re going to pay it forward.

That good lady has worked overtime greening trees along every trail we run. She’s sent cool breezes down residential streets and let rain fall on Baxter Boulevard when the summer sun got too heavy.

Mother Nature’s thoughtful that way. She’s also hopeful we’ll return the favor, seeing as how she’s nursed our species up from one-celled protozoa and even managed to keep her sanity during that awkward prehistoric period when we couldn’t stop lighting fires.

Runners who take to the outdoors for long stretches or short sprints are in an ideal position to help keep their routes free from debris — and make Ma Nature proud in the process.

It’s a thought Jeremy Litchfield had over Memorial Day weekend 2008 while running with a friend.

“We just were doing a lot of trail running. At the end, we started picking up litter,” he said. “Later that evening, we were just sitting around thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool‘ “

And Trash Running was born.

The idea first took off in Chicago, then in Washington, D.C. Earlier this summer, Litchfield launched Maine Trash Runners after settling back into his home state after some years away.

The idea is simple: Go for a run, pick up some trash. And everyone is invited.

It’s a be-nice-to-the-environment kind of thinking that’s behind Litchfield’s other endeavor as well. He’s the self-proclaimed Chief Pace Setter at Atayne, a company that produces and sells high-end sports gear from recycled materials. “But it’s a lot more exciting to say, ‘from trash,’ ” he said.

The Trash Running groups began as a grassroots effort to promote the business. Now they’re a way to get runners thinking about the environment. Even better, to get them to snatch up a wayward wrapper or plastic bottle off the curb as they’re finishing up their morning five miles.

“If everyone, these 22 to 25 million runners in the U.S., if each one once a week picked up one can and recycled it, the amount of energy that could be saved is insane. The collective impact is insane,” he said.

Litchfield organizes monthly Trash Runs in the Greater Portland area. Many of the runs follow local road races, such as the group’s recent “trashing” of the L.L. Bean 10K on July 4.

Increasingly, race organizers are inviting the Trash Runners to help out with recycling programs geared at greening local road races, such as the Urban Epic, Maine Marathon and the upcoming Tri for a Cure triathlon in South Portland. There are running volunteer opportunities, but 18 non-running spots also need to be filled.

“People shouldn’t get tugged away by the title. It’s open to everyone whether a runner or not,” he said. “It’s about combining physical activity with litter collection. If you go on a one- to two-mile hike and you pick up trash along the way, we consider that trash running or you bike somewhere and you pick it up.”

Litchfield simply hopes folks get in the habit of picking things up when they go out. The environment will benefit, and you never know what you might run across.

“We’ve found trash on runs that I’ve kept, like a fully functioning iPod and a very nice pair of sunglasses,” he said. “On the last trash run, I found an old bicycle chain. It’s rusted and took on this weird shape. It looks like a piece of art.

“People think you put something on a curb and it magically goes away. That piece of plastic on the ground you might walk by goes into a storm drain, into the ocean or animals eat it.”

Helping pick up some of it is the least we can do for Mother Nature, who has always done pretty right by us.

 

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at: [email protected]