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For the first time ever, marathon runners will cover the entire 42.195-km course while carrying something in their hands: their own bottles.

Organizers of the Shonan International Marathon announced on Tuesday that the event will be an unprecedented trash-free competition.

The 15th edition of the race, which launched in 2007 and was held twice in 2008 and 2011, has been moved from Dec. 6 to Feb. 28, 2021, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Defense Minister Taro Kono, who serves as an honorary director of the event, said at a Tokyo news conference that the organizers had prepared about 31,500 plastic bottles and 500,000 disposable paper and plastic cups at drink stations for previous races.

In order to reduce waste, participants will run with their own bottles or cups, periodically refilling them from drink stations, which will be increased from 13 to more than 500. Runners will be required to start the race with a bottle filled with 400 ml of water or sports drink.

“The runners will supply themselves water on their own when they need to drink, and won’t generate any trash — that’s what we would like this marathon race to look like,” Kono said. “The participants will be the first ever in the world to run a marathon competing with their own bottles or cups. That’s the goal for the 15th Shonan International Marathon.”

Kono said that organizers estimate they will be able to reduce six tons of CO2 waste through the move, equivalent to 170,000 plastic bottles.

Organizers said that the idea has been in development for two years and is not being implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced many marathon events around the world to reschedule or cancel. But Hidehiko Tamaki, professor emeritus of preventive medicine and global health and epidemiology at Hokkaido University, said that runners hitting the course with their own cups or bottles would help prevent coronavirus infections.

Preventative measures seen at other sporting events around the world will be put in place, such as disinfectant stations at the start and finish of the race for runners to clean their hands and feet. Disinfectant sprays will also be distributed to runners and volunteers.

“Measures like these will perhaps be seen for the first time in the world (at a marathon),” said Tamashiro, who serves as the tournament’s supervisor of infection prevention. “I think this will provide a great opportunity to prepare for possible disasters and pandemics in the future.

In a related initiative, Shonan Marathon organizers also announced their intent to create a water supply system that can be utilized by communities suffering from the aftermath of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.

“We are not just holding this as another marathon event, but we would like to seek more possibilities to contribute to society,” said Kono, who was Japan’s disaster management minister when the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes occured. “The Shonan International Marathon has not relied on tax money since it began and has taken place with the support of the local volunteers. So we would like to use this event to create something we would be able to give back to society when something (like a disaster) happens.”

The race has seen over 20,000 runners participate in the full marathon in recent years, but organizers said they would determine how many runners they would allow in the coming weeks.

A final decision on whether or not to go forward with the event will be made on Dec. 10.

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