Stur Half Marathon – the mission to create a sustainable event

Into its 33rd year, the Sturminster Newton Half Marathon in North Dorset is a friendly event organised by The Dorset Doddlers, a local running club who always put their runners first! We caught up with Race Director, Christine Willis, to find out more about the strides they are taking to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

A new way to reward runners

Whether a fun run or an Olympic final, athletes of all abilities and ages love to receive a medal and picture themselves crossing the finish line having achieved their goal. However, with the number of mass participation event opportunities throughout the UK, the required volume and wastage of finishers' t-shirts, medals and bags is staggeringly high.

At Stur Half, they have innovated the way they reward their participants at the end of the race with a ‘seed medal’. A paper medal containing wildflower and plant seeds which can be planted, reminding runners of their achievements. Speaking on the idea, Christine said:

“We are runners who are as passionate about the world we live in as we are about our running. We were concerned that the standard race mementos were not sustainable, and we wanted to try something different. The seed medal was a trial and we loved the concept, so we want this to grow further.

“Metal medals often come from countries such as China, have long lead times and are expensive. Trying to ensure each runner has a medal can be challenging as you often over-order and end up with medals at the end that get wasted and can’t be reused.

“At first some runners, particularly first timers, were disappointed about not receiving what they perceive to be a ‘proper medal’, however once we explained our reasoning the responses were largely very positive. Runners have the choice whether to plant their medal, or whether to hang and display the medal as you would a traditional design.”

Supporting local businesses

As well as creating a more environmentally sustainable medal, the Dorset Doddlers have also worked with local businesses to bring their vision to life.

“I took my design to a business in Sturminster Newton and they printed my artwork on card made by one of the oldest paper mills in the UK. Using a local printer meant that I could order more precise amounts with a shorter turn around.”

“Our main sponsor, Honeybuns in Dorset, have used a bee for their logo, so I decided to have the card impregnated with ‘bee and butterfly’ seeds. I was also keen to make the ribbon sustainable, and I settled on garden twine that was made in the UK. This could then be used to tie up other garden plants. To identify the medals, I worked with the English Stamp Company here in Dorset who are a sustainable company and helped us to make the stamp in just a few days.”

Focusing on social sustainability

As well as being environmentally friendly, the Stur Half team wanted to ensure that there were social benefits for the race participants too.

“We want to encourage people to run and enjoy being out in the fresh air in a supportive and friendly environment which is what our races create. We try to keep our race fees low so that the event is more affordable to people who want to give it a go.

“As event organisers and volunteers, we want to ensure we are also giving back to the local community. Our water station marshals have great fun wearing fancy dress each year and we organise children’s fun races for those watching with a ‘Running Bar’ at the end.”

Ongoing sustainable challenges

The Doddlers have been making fantastic efforts to improve their events and carbon footprint, however there are still some challenges which they are looking to tackle in the future. Having gone cup-less on their annual off-road race, the club has now made the transition to paper cups for the Stur Half to ensure that these can all be recycled.

“Due to our rural location, there is no public transport available over the weekends meaning participants need to travel to us by car. We are looking at ways for the future to encourage car sharing by possibly offering discounted race fees to those who share transport or arrive by foot or bike.

What's next

Up next being organised by the Dorset Doddler is their 10.1 mile multi terrain running race The Stickler. which involves over 1500ft of gruelling climbing, beginning with the infamous ’Stickle Path’. And this time they have gone cup-less for the event to try and reduce the amount of plastic and waste generated. Runners will bring their own cups to be refilled at the drink stations.

“We have also been encouraging runners and spectators to donate kit to a drop off area which can then be passed on to local charities. We will continue to do this going forward to try and help others get into running in our community.”