Seedling Trail Run

Planting trees
Fellow trail runners? (Froi Rivera | bbc.com)

Last night I had a peculiar dream. I took part in a trail run competition that combined the sport with an environmental challenge. The runners' task was not only to get to the finishing line as soon as possible — we were also supposed to plant trees on the way!

We would earn points based on both the finishing time and on the number of seedlings planted. In this way the slower runners could improve their chances by planting more trees. But planting takes time as well, so it was an exercise in balancing the two.

Seedling Trail — a new running discipline!

 

At each of the refreshment points on the trail there was a large box of tree seedlings with roots bagged in biodegradable fabric. After a quick drink we would simply grab a few of them and run on.

One would be excused to assume that the scheme was flawed since anyone could stick the young plants in the ground anywhere along the path, or even chuck them away after the next turn. But the organizers — that is, my sleeping brain — took every precaution.

There were several simple rules about appropriate planting locations.

For example we could not dig too close to the path, and not too close to other sprouts, either. That meant that the easiest spots were getting populated real quick and the latecomers had to strategize between wasting time looking for a vacant spot in an overplanted area or running on with the load in hope of finding another straightforward plot really soon. This was not necessarily a disadvantage for the slower runners, as they were free to choose between picking up seedlings at the start or at one of the refreshment stations.

There was even a role for the supporters as they were encouraged to dig holes in the soil on beforehand and in that way help their family members or other favourites. Cheering by digging!

In order to avoid fraud we would also document each planting. That was very quick thanks to each tree having a unique biodegradable ID tag and an app on our smartphones. Just snap a picture and the system would be able to identify the tree and its geographical coordinates, and the planting quality would be evaluated in near-real time by an AI trained with millions of images of freshly planted trees.

And so in the finish each of us would be awarded a score that reflected both the finishing time and the number of correctly planted trees. Accidentally damaged seedlings were tolerated as long as they were recorded, but sloppy planting or discarding was penalized by negative points.

 

A weird dream of an endorphin addict, for sure.

But it made some sense, though. It's runners' passion to quickly criss-cross wide natural landscapes. Planting a few trees could be our contribution to the forests the next generations will love to run through in the coming decades. And the scheme could further be simplified by using seeds instead of seedlings, perhaps using simple shoe- or waist-mounted dispensers that would drop or shoot a seed in random intervals (perhaps triggered by steps of the runner).

 

So if there's somebody thinking of doing this for real, let me know — I'm in :-)


The idea of speed competition points based on metrics other than time is definitely not exceptional. There are many other examples. One peculiar is that of Yannick Bestaven who, in January 2021, was awarded a time bonus for his role in rescuing a fellow competitor in the round-the-world sailing race Vendée Globe.

running seedling tree trail reforestation environment sustainability nature

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