RAT Race to clean up

Photo: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

As part of Runners Against Trash (RAT), Gerry Armstrong runs a route and as he runs he picks up trash along the way. jenna hauck/ progress

Katie Robinson
The Progress

Just like a rat, Gerry Armstrong likes trash – likes picking up trash, that is.

For 20 years Armstrong has been picking up haphazardly discarded trash laying about his neighbourhoods. Candy wrappers, cigarette butts, even dirty diapers. And he’s been doing it while running.

It doesn’t matter how far the distance, 5 km, 10 km, 42 km, he always picks up the trash. “Carrying stuff while I’m running gives me great upper body strength, and it keeps me incredibly limber,” he said.

But Armstrong didn’t start all this for the benefit of upper body strength. He started more for punishment than reward.

When Armstrong first started running in his 40s, he often had to slow down to a walk part way through his runs, due to exhaustion. To penalize himself for slowing down, he forced himself to pick up trash and carry it until he came across a suitable receptacle. Sometimes, he carried that trash through his entire run.

But soon, it became almost like a game: sprint to the next piece of trash game.

“It was insurmountable at first, but I just kept plugging away and away,” said Armstrong. “The cleaner an area got, the easier it was to spot things, and when I did, it was really exciting to be able to run and pick up the next wrapper, or butt, or whatever else was lying there.”

While living in California, Armstrong formed a society, Runners Against Trash (RAT), and organized a group of runners to assist him in his trash-cleaning adventures. They cleaned their own running routes, popular routes, and Armstrong even went as far as cleaning the first 5 km of the Boston Marathon, before participating the next day.

What first started out as a penalization, quickly evolved into a dream, a dream of cleaning up North America.

“It’s doable,” said Armstrong. “An organized bunch of runners could easily clean an area very fast, and also raise societal consciousness about picking up trash.”

But since moving back to Chilliwack, his hometown, it’s just been Armstrong picking up the trash – he wants to change that. He wants to get RATs out again.

And the benefit of doing such a thing, he said, is everlasting.

“It is such a wonderful feeling being in an area where the inhabitants take such obvious care,” he said, listing “clean” cities in Europe as examples. “The amount of good that can come from this is monumental.

“It’s Gerry’s dream.”

For   more   information, or to get involved, contact Gerry Armstrong by email at gerry@gerryarmstrong.org.

krobinson@theprogress.com