One day Nicolas Lemonnier decided to pick up the rubbish he found along his running route. He has come a long way since then and now heads up a thousand-strong running community, is friends with Mark Zuckerburg and has completed a marathon during which he collected one piece of litter for every kilometer that he ran.

The photo almost resembles that of a newly-signed football player, sandwiched between the coach and the manager. On the right is Nicolas Lemonnier, a 35-year-old osteopath from Nantes, in France. His wife is on the left. And in the middle, as the player, is Mark Zuckerburg, with a big smile on his youthful face. In front of Zuckerburg who, according to Forbes Magazine, is the tenth most influential person in the world, Nicolas Lemonnier holds up a t-shirt, bearing the words ‘Run Eco Team’.

So how did the Frenchman come to pose with ‘the millionaire in flip-flops’ who founded Facebook? Unlike the general public, Nicolas didn’t have to win a competition or queue for hours on end in order to meet the Facebook founder. “Mark Zuckerberg invited my wife and I to Palo Alto in California for Facebook’s anniversary celebrations” begins the osteopath, “I met him along with lots of his employees. It was both an interesting and enriching experience.”  That was last February when the social network was celebrating its 13th anniversary. Thanks to the projects carried out by Run Eco Team, Nicolas Lemonnier had caught Mark Zuckerburg’s eye a few months earlier. The invitation came soon after.

1 run = 1 piece of litter

As a young boy, Nicolas wasn’t a big running fan. He chose football over running, despite being pretty good at it. “I was really good at endurance stuff. In the first few years of secondary school, I would always come first in cross country, even though the others were really good athletes.”  But during his teenage years, his social life took over. Some years later in July 2015, Nicolas took up running again after finding out that his wife was pregnant.

But after just a few runs, he was left horrified at the state of the routes he’d been following.  “Whether it was in the city or countryside, there was so much rubbish!  So one day, instead of taking selfies like all of the other runners (who I can’t criticize because I used to be one of them), I posted a photo of me with a piece of litter.”

From France to Facebook

The response was immense with comments flooding in and it was soon after that Nicolas Lemonnier created the group ‘Run Eco Team’. He launched the concept 1 run = 1 piece of litter, always carrying a small rucksack with him on his runs to collect the rubbish. His group was quickly joined by hundreds of Internet users, sparking an association to be created and merchandise to be sold. And then one day Nicolas Lemonnier received a message on Facebook: “It was 14 July 2016.  I looked at the sender’s profile and saw that she worked at Facebook’s headquarters.  She wanted details about ‘Run Eco Team’.”

Intrigued by the adventures of Nicolas Lemonnier, the tech guru Mark Zuckerburg was quick to offer a helping hand. “I was told that Facebook wanted to make a film about my story” recalls the Frenchman. “An American crew from San Francisco came to film the clip at my house.  When Mark Zuckerburg put it online on Christmas night, the views rocketed. He invited my wife and I to meet him at Facebook’s anniversary event in Palo Alto. ”

Marathon man

It was a monumental publicity stunt for the association which has drawn in sponsorship from an array of VIPs. And to attract even more attention, Nicolas Lemonnier announced another challenge: to run the Nantes Marathon during which he would collect a piece of litter for every kilometer. “We were going to film the duration of the race on Facebook Live which lasts 4 hours, no longer. So I trained to run it in 3hours 30 minutes. After adding on 15 minutes to take account for picking up the rubbish, I was left with a 15-minute margin to work with.”

He managed to complete the race in 3 hours and 46 minutes having collected 48 pieces of rubbish. So what’s next for him? With 20,000 subscribers on Facebook and an army of litter-picking runners deployed throughout France, Nicolas Lemonnier sets out his next mission: “I’d love the chance to go for a run with the French President and Nicolas Hulot.” Perhaps in the pursuit of saving the planet, it wouldn’t be out of the question to send an invite to Donald Trump.  Via Facebook of course.