Life Health & Wellbeing

Sunday 16 December 2018

'We collected close to 100kg of rubbish in one hour' - Ploggers on popular Dublin beach haul bottles, lids, paper, baby wipes

Australian Ash Senyk (41) has run marathons all over the world. Now he's bringing plogging - where you collect rubbish while you jog - to Dublin and beyond

Ash Senyk is a keen plogger who picks up rubbish while jogging in the Phoenix Park. Photo: Frank McGrath
Ash Senyk is a keen plogger who picks up rubbish while jogging in the Phoenix Park. Photo: Frank McGrath

Sport has always been central to my life. It's a strong part of Australian culture. Growing up in Adelaide, I played soccer in the winter and cricket in the summer. I was also a competitive swimmer.

I got a job with the Tourism Board of Australia based in LA and that's when I started running. I did my first 10k at 20 - that's 21 years ago. I did it in 40 minutes. Six months later, I entered the New York Marathon and got a place by lottery. I was keen to see how far I could go.

I learned quickly and I completed it in just a little over 3hr 40min. I'd gained the experience of marathon running but I hadn't perfected it. Within six months, I'd done a second one in southern California in 3hr 20min.

Now I'm 41 years old and I've ran close to 100 marathons - I've lost count of how many exactly. I've done them all over the world, from Hong Kong to Iceland, New Zealand and through Asia. I ran a really good one in Death Valley in America. You don't spend much time there. You drive in, you run, and you leave. I did Hong Kong on a turn-around. I flew to Hong Kong, ran the marathon and flew back. I was there for 30 hours.

My focus today has shifted. I'm not so much challenged by going faster, it's more about enjoying the serenity of it. When you're on a marathon run, you're insulated from everything. You're inside the barriers. You have one simple task and that's to get to the finish line.

I met my wife Ciara at a conference in Toronto. Running was our common obsession. She invited me to visit Dublin and run the marathon in 2005. I stayed for five days and met her family, and then moved over permanently in 2007. We got married in 2008 and had our son Cadel (5). He's named after Cadel Evans, an Australian cyclist who won the Tour de France in 2011.

Ash Senyk is a keen plogger who picks up rubbish while jogging in the Phoenix Park. Photo: Frank McGrath
Ash Senyk is a keen plogger who picks up rubbish while jogging in the Phoenix Park. Photo: Frank McGrath

In 2014 I set up a shop called Run Logic on Essex Street in Temple Bar in Dublin. When I opened the store, there weren't many stores open along the stretch. Now it's grown beautifully as an arts area. Mine is a running-focused store with a bit of swimming gear, as well as things like foam rollers and accessories for sports therapy.

Central to our shop is the coffee machine. We make it a social place so people can come and share ideas, talk about their running, ask questions, get advice and buy something if they need to. It's about trying to build a running culture. It's really a place for like-minded people to go and have a chat.

The running group was always part of the shop. We get between five and 20 people every Wednesday night. We'd do between five and 20km. For the longer runs, we do destinations like Howth and Dun Laoghaire, and we use the Phoenix Park a lot. At its core is fun. There's no racing and nobody gets left behind. We finish at a café or a restaurant.

I spent some years as an exchange student in Sweden and I learned to speak Swedish. Recently, this invention from Sweden called 'plogging' showed up in the media. It's a combination of two words. In Swedish, to 'plocka upp' means to pick up or collect. That combined with jogging makes plogging. I thought the whole idea was fantastic. I discussed it with a couple of the people I run with and we thought that a brilliant place to do it would be on Sandymount Strand.

Our first plog was only last month. We'd 30 people go out the first time we did it. We collected close to 100kg of rubbish. We lifted bottles, lids, paper, baby wipes, wrapping, everything… we're going to make this a regular one. Once a month would be great.

We called Clean Coasts to get them to partner with us for the plogging event and they were exceptionally helpful. They provided the bags and the gloves. They also helped with the clearance from the City Council for us to be able to do it.

There's no wrong or right or rules to plogging. It's very simple. There are a couple of health and safety things which are important. You need to be aware of the environment you're plogging in and aware of any particular rubbish that may be hazardous. Generally, you need gloves and a rubbish bag, and you need to be aware of any traffic hazards or any marine hazards like beach tides or waves.

Plogging is not a race. It's a casual thing of collecting rubbish while walking or running. It's something people could incorporate easily into their run. A tiny bit of collecting rubbish while running is easy. If you see something that sticks out, it's a perfect chance to get rid of it rather than passing it by every time you run.

What I learned very quickly is that plogging is extremely rewarding. Even though it sounds a little strange - jogging along while collecting rubbish - there's a great sense of achievement. Afterwards, everyone had big smiles. When we saw the proportion of rubbish to the bodies that collected it, we realised we'd made an impact locally.

Plogging has become popular in the UK and in continental Europe, and of course in Scandinavia. My dream is to do this event once a month and to look around the country at different areas. I've never run in Donegal and we've been discussing with Clean Coasts if we could do one there. Going running on the beach there while we collect rubbish would be fantastic.

Going back to the marathons, I've run around the world - the excuse you use to run a marathon somewhere is you get to interact with the culture and meet people. There were people I'd never met before who came to the plogging event and I'm sure they'll be curious about the next event. It's all about creating a culture.

For more information see www.facebook.com/ploggingireland/.

In conversation with Kathy Donaghy

Irish Independent

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