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Opinion

Finding ‘nickels’ of neglected opportunity on my run

Roadside litter, including beer bottles

Roadside litter, including beer bottles Photo Credit: Newsday/Lawrence Striegel

I’m a runner, and seven years ago, I ran fast enough in the New York Marathon to qualify for the more exclusive Boston Marathon.

For Boston, training in my South Shore neighborhood wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to train on hills, so I used a 15-kilometer route in Kings Park for my long runs, combining one or two 15k circuits with repeated half-mile hills.

When I trained for the New York race on the streets of my Brightwaters neighborhood, I monitored progress on home construction projects, admired colorful gardens and listened to the birds (you can’t birdwatch while running).

My first weeks on the Kings Park hills were a struggle, and I needed something to occupy my mind. It was winter, so there were no gardens to admire and few singing birds.

As I ran past wooded stretches on St. Johnland, Sunken Meadow and Old Dock roads, I discovered my mental playthings — bottles and cans. Initially, it was interesting to catalog the discards as alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Budweiser empties were far and away the most common. It was a toss-up between soda and energy-drink cans, Pepsi and Red Bull being the most popular. There were a few water bottles.

Just counting is boring, almost as boring as distance running, so I began to count the discards by their nickel-refund value. I didn’t count the smashed, squashed or broken ones because they wouldn’t qualify for the refund.

I had a surprise when I added “nickels” discarded in the woods of Kings Park. On one circuit along the wooded stretches, discarded “nickels” totaled $7.40 — 148 empties in less than nine miles. Eighteen weeks of that could have more than paid for the gas for my trip to Boston!

Counting cans and bottles was a fun distraction, but led me to wonder what leads people to toss trash into the woods. If you had to throw a nickel with each can or bottle, would you do it? Throwing an empty can or bottle into the woods requires intent. It’s not distraction, it’s not something that just happens, it’s willful — and shameful.

The excitement of running in the Boston Marathon, with its cheering crowds, was so overwhelming that litter never entered my mind.

Even though my marathon days are over, I still count bottles and cans as nickels while running. But, shame on me, I don’t go back after my runs to collect them. If I did, even though it would take years before I could buy a new pair of running shoes, I’d instantly feel like a good citizen.

Reader Christine L. Brakel lives in Brightwaters.

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