S.F. Marathon runners leave trail of wrappers

At the San Francisco Marathon on July 25, 24,000 runners raced from the Embarcadero, north and west along the waterfront, through the Presidio, into Golden Gate Park, and onward for a full 26.2-mile circuit of the city. And while runners are already registering for next summer's race, the legacy of 2010's marathon lingers: a conspicuous, nonbiodegradable trail of energy gel wrappers that, in spite of cleanup efforts, still plasters the streets of San Francisco.

The race's organizing company took charge of the cleanup, marathon spokeswoman Lyz Luke says, but its crews missed a few spots. SF Weekly took an explorative bike ride along the route on Aug. 4, 10 days after the race, and saw more than 1,000 discarded foil packages once filled with fructose-based energy syrup. Most bore the brand name GU. Indeed, Luke confirmed that the Berkeley-based company and race sponsor supplied 50,000 one-ounce packets of its high-calorie goop, which were dispensed at 12 refreshment stations located at intervals along the route.

The litter trail was prominent on Haight Street, where roughly a dozen flattened GU packs per block remained, many glued to the ground by their sticky contents. Along the waterfront from China Basin to the Presidio, cleanup crews had evidently succeeded, for we encountered hardly a sign of the race.

Just down the road, however, the cleaners had obviously dodged their duties: As we entered the woods of the Presidio, the goopy trail resumed in magnificent force. In just one mile, on Lincoln Boulevard between Crissy Field and Merchant Road, we passed hundreds of empty GU packages blown among heaps of pine needles or squashed into the pavement.

In fact, prior to the race, the Presidio Trust, which manages the former military base, banned the marathon's organizers from supplying GU to runners at its water-aid stations. "It's just so messy," trust spokeswoman Dana Polk explains, "and the runners are in this race mentality where they suck it down and throw [the wrappers] on the ground, knowing that someone will clean it up later."

But did anyone really do that? All that's clear from the trail of trash is that those who ran the marathon went the full 26.2 miles; those who cleaned up afterward cut some corners.

 
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