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Several years ago in a Phoenix 5K, I was running — or more accurately, alternating jogging and walking — with my 9-year-old daughter.

We soon added hops, skips and dance moves, anything other than a steady pace, that might propel ourselves slowly forward to the end of our allotted 3.1 miles. I don’t know what compelled us, but halfway through we added an activity that ensured we would only reach the finish line later.

We started picking up pieces of trash.

And since she had no real understanding of how far we were from the end, any remaining desire for competition we might have had was diverted to the trash pick-up. We both cheered when we broke triple digits with our 100th piece of trash. For the sake of the west Valley, I can proudly say we didn’t stop there.

Eventually we crossed the finish line, one of the strangest and most memorable races I have ever taken part in. Imagine my surprise to recently find out we were early US purveyors of a trend known as plogging, a Swedish hybrid that blends the verbs “plocka” (meaning “to pick up”) and “jogga” (“to jog”).

What this European import is about, according to recent articles in Outside Online, Competitor and the Washington Post, is giving people a greater purpose in their runs beyond training and health benefits. Plogging is running while picking up any garbage you see along the way.

That sounds like an easy way to keep our community clean — imagine if a crew of a couple hundred runners each day picked up just 10 cigarette butts, stray papers, fast food wrappers, and Styrofoam scraps from the trails and streets? All in the course of their regular routine! Even in a leave-no-trace region like ours, that could make a substantial difference.

But, according to the Post, it’s not just about beautification. Plogging is like doing “squats while jogging. … A half hour of jogging plus picking up trash will burn 288 calories for the average person, compared with the 235 burned by jogging alone.”

Some runners could get pretty smug if they became hard-core ploggers. My daughter and I sure did lay it on pretty thick, especially as a retort to family and friends who wondered what the heck took us so long. But think of the opportunities this opens up.

You could join a plogging group, which apparently is part of the developing trend in the United States.

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Show that runner you’re interested in how environmentally friendly you are by going on a plogging date — just be sure to explain what it is before saying, “Hey, I want to plog with you.”

Local running groups such as Team Run Flagstaff could have a plogging unit, the Summer Run Series could have a plogging division, and the local brewery runs, bagel runs and Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association weekly runs could add plogging days.

After the Fourth of July parade, the city of Flagstaff could unleash a torrent of ploggers to help street sweepers after the last float has past, thereby saving some city funds and providing a nice cooldown for all those early risers who ran the Downtown Mile that morning.

I can see where all of this could get pretty intense. According to Outside, “plogging events aren’t competitions (but) many participants can’t resist the urge to pick up the most amount of trash in the shortest amount of time.”

My daughter and I are ready to take on all-comers.

Myles Schrag is coordinating editor for High Country Running. He invites submissions on any aspect of the local running scene, as well as submissions for the “To Imogene: A Flagstaff Love Letter” book project. He can be reached at mylesschrag@yahoo.com.

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