Eat More Plants

We make many decisions in our lives each day that impact our carbon footprints. Surprisingly, one of the most significant decisions to affect climate change is the food on our plates. 

The food on our plates you say? Yes, and here’s why: The raising of livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 15-20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined. According to the EAT-Lancet report written by a team of 37 leading scientists and published in the prestigious Lancet medical journal in 2019, “A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”

So how do you shift your diet towards plants? There are a number of different approaches, but the key is to be motivated (you are!) and to take the first step. 

As a first step, focus on adding more plants to your diet. Add fruit to your breakfast. If you only eat salad with your dinner, consider adding a small salad to your lunch as well as your dinner. And eat an apple, orange, banana, or other piece of fruit for a midday snack. Try a plant-based milk in your coffee.

Once you make these small additions, shift to slowly removing animal products from your diet. Replace the eggs and bacon on your breakfast plate with whole grains like oatmeal and fruit. At lunch, replace your cold cuts and cheese sandwich with a bean burrito, veggie burger, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. At dinner, move to meat as a condiment rather than the main course. Replace your typical meat pasta sauce with a meatless red sauce and add more vegetables to your plate. 

Beans and lentils are your new friends. So are greens, tofu, and more veggies. There are a plethora of vegan cookbooks and websites to help you on your journey. Try the recipes here: https://www.meatlessmonday.com/favorite-recipes/. Another great resource  is the Vegan Starter Kit from the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine at https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/plant-based-diets/vegan-starter-kit.

You’ve likely been eating the Standard American Diet for a long time (i.e., your whole life), so don’t expect to be able to ditch meat, eggs, and dairy in a single day. Go slowly; give your body, your palate, your biome, and your mind time to adapt to the change. And any step you take, no matter how small is a step in the right direction.

If you live in the Seattle area, you may be interested to know that we will be giving a talk entitled Eat for the Planet on Sunday, March 8th, 2020 at 7pm in the Admin Building at St John’s Catholic Church at 106 N 79th Street, Seattle 98103. Please consider joining us for lots of tips and tricks on eating more plants. 

Paul & Suzanna Litwin

Recycle

As I mentioned in prior posts, my approach to consumption of resources can be summed up with these five words: reduce, reuse, renew, reconsider, and recycle. In prior columns, I discussed reduce, reuse, renew, and rethink. It’s time now to talk about recycle.

It’s not an accident that I put recycle last on my list of words. Certainly, recycling is admirable and you should not throw away recyclable materials. Nor should you muck up your bins by practicing what is called “wishful recycling,” when one ignores the rules and throws non recyclable items in the recycling bin according to recent article on kuow.org:

Industry-wide, an estimated 20 percent of what we recycle is trash, according to the Washington Refuse & Recycling Association.

Even when you get it right, recycling is not a panacea:

Alli Kingfisher, recycling coordinator for Washington state, said no one should be too smug about their recycling. “Recycling is only one step above disposal,” she said. Don’t get her wrong: recycling is important, but it’s not the end-all-be-all of green living. If you really want to increase your overall environmental impact, try to reduce or reuse before you even get to the recycling part,” Kingfisher said.

Are you practicing wishful recycling? Perhaps it is time to reread the Seattle recycling/composting rules and teach your family members (including children) to follow the rules. You can view an online version of the SPU recycling guide at https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/SPU/Services/Recycling/EnglishRecyclingdodont.pdf.

What about reducing your usage of single use items such as plastic water bottles and utensils, even when they are potentially recyclable? When possible, are you using reusable containers and purchasing bulk items that reduce packaging waste?

Reducing your consumption, reusing an item multiple times, or not making a questionable purchase is always better than purchasing an item that can later be recycled. But when you do use a recyclable item, make sure it ends up in the right recycling or compost bin.

Rethink

As I mentioned in prior columns, my approach to consumption of resources can be summed up with these five words: reduce, reuse, renew, rethink, and recycle. In prior columns, I discussed reduce and reuse. This time, I’d like to introduce rethink.

Reconsider could also have been “reconsider” or “re-assess”. The idea is to reconsider your normal patterns towards a more sustainable lifestyle. For example, if you currently drive to work, could you consider taking the bus or riding your bike instead?

This can also be applied to potential purchases. Most mobile phone manufacturers release new models of phones annually and many people have gotten into the habit of buying the latest each year. Should you reconsider if you really need to upgrade to the latest and can delay that upgrade for an extra year or two? Similarly, do you really need that new fill-in-the-blank appliance, piece of clothing, appliance, or other cool new gadget?

What aspect of your life might you rethink to come up with a more sustainable path?

Renew

As I mentioned last time, my approach to consumption of resources can be summed up with these five words: reduce, reuse, renew, rethink, and recycle. In prior columns, I discussed reduce and reuse. This time, I’d like to talk about renew.

When I think about renew, I think about the use of renewable resources. We need to reduce our usage of non-renewable resources such as oil, coal, and gas, and move in the direction of renewable resources. Making use of renewable resources is not something that is easy, but it can and must be done. When purchasing your next car, will you consider an electric or hybrid automobile? How about installing solar panels on your roof? Yes, I realize that this is a bit more of an investment than purchasing a steel water bottle. Nonetheless, these are viable options for some of us.

Another way you can work on “renew” is to lobby your state and federal elected officials for greater investment in renewable resources. An easy way to communicate with the governor and your state representatives is to go to the website https://access.wa.gov/. At the federal level, you can go to https://www.senate.gov/, https://www.house.gov/, and https://www.whitehouse.gov.

How about contacting one federal or state official this week and making a pitch for investing more in renewable resources?

Reuse

As I mentioned last time, my approach to consumption of resources can be summed up with these five words: reduce, reuse, renew, rethink, and recycle. Last time I discussed reduce. This time, I’d like to talk about reuse.

Using something multiple times is always a better alternative to the use of single use items, even if those items are recyclable since there is a cost to recycling an item. After years of using plastic utensils at work, I recently realized that a better approach would be to bring in a set of stainless steel utensils from home. At my office, I also keep a steel mug for coffee and tea, and a steel water bottle.

Reuse can also mean reusing someone else’s things. Instead of purchasing a new car, book, dress, laptop, children’s clothing, or mobile phone, have you considered purchasing a used version of the same?

The other side of this, of course, is to sell or donate used items when you no longer need them.

You can donate used baby items in the back of many churches and Goodwill, the St Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, and other thrift stores will gladly take most other used items.

What items in your life can you reuse that you are not currently reusing? What items can you donate?

Reduce

It is up to each of us to change our lifestyles, and reduce both production and consumption. Will it be a challenge? Absolutely, but don’t we want to preserve this beautiful planet for our children and grandchildren?

My approach to resource consumption can be summed up with these five words: reduce, reuse, renew, rethink, and recycle. Let me explain.

Reduce: Try asking yourself these sorts of questions to help you reduce your consumption: Do I need to turn the heat on or can I put a sweater on? Do I need to drive to the store or can I walk there? Or maybe it can wait until tomorrow? Batching up your needs and reducing the number of times you drive to the store is another good way to reduce your use of fossil fuels. Do I turn the lights off when I leave the room? How about shortening my showers? When I use the dishwasher or washing machine can I reduce the amount of soap I use? Anytime I can reduce my usage of consumables, it will also reduce my carbon footprint.

What one thing can you reduce your use of starting today?

Next time, we will talk about reuse.

Why Drawdown?

In a prior post, I introduced Project Drawdown and the Drawdown book, edited by Paul Hawken. Drawdown represents a carefully researched and curated list of the top 100 “climate solutions that had the greatest potential to reduce emissions or sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

Many feel that in order to avert climate disaster, the big push must be for systemic change at the national and global level and that this means political change at the top. There’s no doubt that true leadership at the top is sorely needed and that many of us, including myself, will lobby, protest, and vote for change. But alas, we can’t sit on our hands while we wait for a favorable set of leaders to be voted in and make the sustained systemic changes that are so desperately needed.

Politics is what it is: warts and all. A lot of sound-bite-driven, short-sighted leadership that moves at a snail’s pace. (That does not mean your vote is not important; by all means vote in every election at all levels of government and always vote your values.)

But the world is burning and we need to act now, and act on all four levels as prescribed by Will Grant (see his excellent video below): 

  1. individual
  2. family and friends
  3. community and local institution 
  4. the economy and policy change and changing laws
Will Grant on the Four Levels of Action

Drawdown is not about waiting for change to happen at the top. Rather, Paul Hawken and his esteemed group of scientists, researchers, and students have done the hard work to research the top 100 solutions for stopping and reversing climate change. This represents a path forward; a recipe for the change that is needed.

Is Drawdown the only path? By all means, no. But it sure looks like a good one and could be the roadmap that world leaders and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) need to put them on the road to saving our planet.

But it’s not just for our leaders and the IPCC. Project Drawdown is also for each of us to get started working on climate change at the first three levels: personal, household, and community. We can drive the change that is needed and drive it all the way to the top, while also pressuring those at the top (or replacing those at the top), to do the right thing, the sane thing, the thing that is needed to save the planet.

Additional resources to learn more about drawdown:

Project Drawdown

Many people and many organizations are working in the climate change space. At St John the Evangelist catholic church in Seattle, my wife, Suzanna, and I formed the Saint Francis of Assisi ministry about a year ago to create a group to discuss, educate, and act on this crisis. We have also reached out and, in some cases, joined forces with a number of other groups, including the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Seattle Climate Change Meetup, Climate Reality Project, and Project Drawdown.

Drawdown book cover

Paul Hawken was tired of the naysayers who said nothing could be done about climate change, so he he founded Project Drawdown, assembling a coalition of researchers, scientists, students, and scholars who put together a list of “climate solutions that had the greatest potential to reduce emissions or sequester carbon from the atmosphere.” The group also published a book entitled “Drawdown: the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming” in 2017.

Kathy Dawson will be speaking at St John the Evangelist about Project Drawdown on Sunday, February 9th, 2020 at 6pm. If you live in the area, please consider joining us to learn more about this exciting initiative.

In both the Project Drawdown book and the website, you will find 100 comprehensive solutions, grouped by broad area (e.g., energy, food, etc.) and ranked according to their ability to reduce or sequester carbon. Each “solution” includes the facts and references to back up their projections, including the number of Gigatons of reduced or sequestered carbon dioxide (or equivalent reduction in other greenhouse gases) between 2020 and 2050, the net cost, and the net savings. 

Project Drawdown represents hope in a sea of despair; a blueprint for solving the climate crisis and reversing global warming. Yes, reversing! I encourage you to buy or borrow the book or checkout the website which contains plenty of information for free. And, by all means, join us on February 9th, when Kathy Dawson will talk about Project Drawdown. Hope to see you there.

Read the follow-up post: Why Drawdown?

The Post-Throwaway Culture

Pope Francis talks about a “throwaway culture” in his encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si:

These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish…We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them.

How can we move away from a throwaway culture of convenience towards a culture of renewal and sustainability?

Here’s one idea to start with; expect more suggestions in future posts: Do you visit coffee shops like Stumptown, Blue Bottle, Caribou, Costa, or Starbucks, or the espresso stand at work?

Are you bringing your own reusable coffee mug to your coffee shop? If not, why not purchase a steel coffee mug and bring that with you. Just think of how much paper cups and plastic lids you will save by doing this.

Suzanna and I have been using double-walled steel coffee mugs that we bought over 10 years ago at Starbucks. Okay, I may have lost one of them and replaced it, and we may have a spare, but you get the idea. I estimate we have saved over 6,000 single-use cups and lids over the past 10 years. Bonus: many coffee shops give you a discount when you bring your own mug since it also saves them money. This can be a good first step away from a throwaway culture.

White River 50 Mile Endurance Run 2018

Faking a smile at Sun Top. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

I somehow faked a smile for Glenn’s photo of me summiting the final climb of the race: Sun Top. That is, right after my true self was revealed to the camera in a less flattering shot.

A few hundred feet later, I saw the white tent that indicated I had reached the Sun Top aid station. I stumbled ahead and located a green Rubbermaid container with nothing piled on top of it and quickly claimed it as my own. Thankfully, it didn’t give way when I sat down on it, nor did anyone chase me off it. My head sank low. For the second time in the race, I was wrecked; there was nothing left.

What can I get you?

Quickly, an aid station volunteer descended upon me, asking me “what can I get you?” as she avoided telling me I looked like death (but I am pretty sure she thought it). “I don’t know,” I quipped. Really, all I wanted at that moment was to stop moving for a few minutes and gather myself up.

After a few minutes, I raised my head and asked for water and watermelon. She offered to fill my hat with ice. I agreed to it. “Can I get you your drop bag?” Yes, I answered, not moving an inch off my perch. “It’s number 151 and it’s big and black.” Within seconds it appeared, but all I wanted out of it was the bottle of Coke. The volunteer told me that she had fresh Coke but I insisted on mine; I didn’t want to take someone else’s chance to energize. “Do you want a cup?” Sure. I opened the bottle and poured some in the cup. It was warm. “How about some ice?” “That would be great.” I sucked that Coke down and slowly I came back to life. At the previous aid station at Fawn Ridge, I could no longer stand my warmed over Tailwind nutrition sports drink so I had them replace it with water and ice but that too had warmed and wasn’t exactly something to look forward to.

I have no love for Coke and Pepsi and all these companies stand for, which is basically the need to make billions while sending millions — maybe billions — to an early grave by pushing gallon after gallon of diabetes and heart disease to the masses. But during a 50-mile race, I have to admit that Coke (or any caffeinated soda for that matter), is the magic elixir I so desperately needed.

Another volunteer made his way over (I wish I remembered their names) and asked me how he could help me. What a wonderful thing that these volunteers were so helpful when I was at my lowest. Just as if they were a sales rep at Nordstroms and I was one of their top customers with a fist full of credit cards ready to purchase thousands of dollars of clothes. But there was really nothing in it to motivate this awesome crew of volunteers other than the good feeling in their hearts, knowing they helped another runner achieve their goal. (I hope to pay that back a little volunteering again at Cascade Crest 100 in a couple of weeks.) Speaking of Nordstroms, I mentioned that I wanted to change my shoes, and suddenly the shoe salesman in my volunteer came to life. I muttered something about being able to do it myself, but before I knew it my Topo Terradventures  had been untied and removed, and my Salomon Sense Rides were securely on my feet. Talk about service! I next mentioned that I wanted to put my poles in my bag since I had little use for them on the remaining 13 miles. I collapsed them and he carefully placed them into my drop bag with my dusty pair of Topos.

After a few more pieces of watermelon and some fresh water added to my Nathan bladder, I rose to my feet and headed out, shouting a big thank you to those tireless volunteers, as I started to move again. It was 6.5 miles straight down to the next aid station along a dusty gravelly Sun Top road.

A long way to run

50 miles is a long way to run. I realize that many others have run much further, but prior to July 28th, I had not. I have been wanting to move up to 50 miles since I did my first 50K back in 2015 at Chuckanut. Fast forward 3 years: I have now completed 5 x 50K’s and have been able to get past my reoccurring ankle injury to finally make it to the starting line of the White River 50 Mile Endurance Run.

The race director, Scott McCoubrey, was yelling something around 5:45 AM. I couldn’t hear anything but a few bits here and there. Something like “it was going to be hot” and “hydrate a lot” plus he was detailing every turn of the race. But I had already run the second half of the course in training, and since I was going to be in the middle (back) of the pack, I wasn’t too worried about getting lost. Not to mention, that I was carrying a map of the course and, as it turned out, the course was well marked.

The start. Photo by Suzanna Litwin.

We lined up around 5:50. I walked to the back. At 6:03, the race started. There was no gun or bell. At least I don’t think there was; it was hard to hear since Scott was not using a megaphone. I believe it was just Scott counting down to zero and we were off. Anyway, I started my watch when I detected runners in the front of the pack moving. And we were off.

The days leading up to the race were quite hot for the Seattle area, topping 90 degrees fahrenheit for days. I was worried about the heat and its effect on us runners but it was cool enough at the start. However, within the first half hour, I noticed that my shirt and shorts were soaked in sweat. So much for the cool weather.

We started on a gravel road. Someone behind me called my name and I turned around to see Alison Gillespie, my friend and physical therapist. We chatted a bit before moving into single file as we made a u-turn onto the single-track Skookum Flats trail and headed across the river and highway 410 towards the first aid station at Camp Sheppard.

As we passed the aid station, Alison mentioned that her watch was 1.5 miles behind the purported distance of the aid station: 3.9 miles. I looked at my wrist, and replied “mine too” as we started to slowly climb for the next 8 miles to Ranger Creek. My watch continued to be off the remainder of the race between 0.6 and 1.5 miles. In reality, the only distances that mattered were the posted course distances, not what my watch told me. That said, it was useful to have a rough idea where one was on the course and how long it was to the next aid station.

Blackened forest

Blackened trees between Ranger Creek and Corral Pass.

The trail up to Ranger Creek was a whole-lot-of-up, single-track, lots of switch backs, sort of trail. At one point, I passed an old friend, Daisy Clark who was shepherding a group up the trail. At mile 12, I arrived at the aid station at Ranger Creek. Ten-time Seattle Marathon winner and Mount Rainier FKT record holder, Uli Steidl, was working the aid station. I stopped to adjust my socks.

Alison came in a few minutes after me, but headed out before I left. I leap frogged her a few minutes later and settled in with a group of runners for the bulk of the run to Corral Pass.

The forest service had only opened up this the portion of the trail a few weeks prior to the race. Now I knew why. The landscape was heavily blackened by last year’s fires. The trail was very dark in places, with lots of soot mixed in with the dirt.  This made the footing a little tricky in places, even a little dangerous in places along some steep fall offs.

Besides the fire damage, I was surprised at the amount of ups and downs on the way to the next aid station. For some reason, I thought it would be flatter.

Heating up

A lot of the trail during this stretch of the race was exposed and it was getting hot.

Fire-ravaged forest with Mt Rainier in the background.

The trail between Ranger Creek and Corral Pass was the sole out-and-back section of the course. This was a good chance to see the leaders of the men’s and women’s races, including a few runners that I recognized, which included locals Keith Laverty, who placed 3rd in the men’s race, and Western States Superstar, Katlyn Gerbin, who also ended up finishing 2nd at White River.

At mile 17, we reached the Corral Pass aid station. I grabbed my first drop bag and attempted to eat a sweet potato burrito I had packed but ended up throwing most of it out. My stomach just didn’t feel like it. I switched to PB&J, which seemed to go down better and added some Tailwind sports drink to my hydration bladder.

The music at the aid station was some sort of country blues. I have to say it was quite depressing which I guess was a good thing, because I soon hurried out of the station after re-applying some sunscreen.

The aid station, at 5670 feet, was supposed to be the highest point of the race, but I soon discovered that would not be the case, since the way out of the aid station was up a steep hill that must have been another 50-100 feet higher before dropping back down to meet the trail we had cruised into the aid station on. After another mile or so of sometimes steep uphills, the bulk of the return to Ranger Creek was flat or down.

I adjusted my socks again at Ranger Creek, mile 22, paused for a few seconds, and then headed down the 5 miles of switch backs towards Buck Creek. One runner must have been having a hard time on the downs because at every switch back he moaned. I quickened my pace to get him out of earshot. The moaning soon faded into the distance. On the way down, I came across Jaclyn whom I had met on the White River training run several weeks ago. She was having some IT band problems and was trying to stretch it out on the side of the trail. That brought back memories of my IT band issues; fortunately, my IT band hasn’t bothered me for a while. I was loving the down hill, even though the footing was sketchy in places due to the fire damage.

Buck Creek festival

At mile 27, I reached the Buck Creek aid station, which was right next to the start/finish, and had an almost festival-like atmosphere, with lots of volunteers, runners, and spectators talking, yelling, sitting, standing, and moving about.

A good (and fast) ultrarunner friend, Sean Micheal, was standing there looking pretty nonchalant. Mind you, Sean should have been about an hour or two ahead of me, crushing the second half of the course. I quickly realized that he had dropped due to his nagging knee injury. It’s kind of funny, but here I was 27 miles into a grueling race, with the worst still to come, and I was chatting up Sean, letting him know that he made a wise decision to drop.

Another ultrarunner friend Christie, who was actively spectating at White River, was asking what she could get me. “How about some ice in your hat?” I said yes, but after about two seconds, I could not tolerate the ice directly on my head, especially since I have no hair up there to buffer the cold. I lingered a few more minutes, eating a few items at the aid station and then decided I better get going.

A few steps later, another familiar but encouraging face was calling my name but, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t place the face. She was imploring me to look up at the mountain I was about to climb. It wasn’t until a day or two later, after a Facebook comment, that I realized it was Holly, who I had run with the summer of 2017, the week before she was about to run White River. After a quick look up, I followed the trail out of the aid station. The trail meandered a bit alongside campsites and parking lots. For some reason, I stopped to stow my poles, and then passed a few runners on the flats.

The second half

The trail starting climbing 1700 feet over about 4 miles of switchbacks and I pulled my poles out only minutes after stowing them. I had run this half of the race three weeks earlier on “fresh legs”, thinking at the time that it wasn’t too bad. This time, however, the experience was quite different after 28 or so miles under my belt. In fact, this was some of the darkest moments in the race for me, even as the sun was beating down pretty hard. The real race had finally begun. A coupe of runners passed me. The course was alternately shaded and exposed. The temperature was in the high 80s or low 90s. I was struggling.

Making my way up to Fawn Ridge (4280 feet elevation). Photo by Suzanna Litwin.

We continued to climb. More runners passed. Finally, I reached the Fawn Ridge aid station. A worker called out “151” and suddenly, several people yelled out “Paul”, including my hard-working aid station volunteer and wife, Suzanna.

“What can I get you?” I quickly made a bee line for a camp chair in the shade. (In fact, it was one of the camp chairs I had loaded into our car the day before, when we left our house heading for White River.) I was wrecked. Suzanna fetched some cold water. There were 4 or 5 camp chairs there and they were all filled by tired runners. I asked Suzanna to dump out my Tailwind — I could no longer tolerate the sports drink (probably because it was hot and I had been drinking it for 8 hours now). Suzanna refilled my bladder with cold water.

Suzanna also fetched a chilled bottle of Coke from my drop bag and dunked my hat in cold water. My stomach had just rejected one type of sugar water but here I was craving and enjoying a much more pedestrian sugared beverage. And it helped to revive me. I drank all 16 ounces, and then it was time to go so I headed up and and onward towards Sun Top, another 5 miles away and about 750 feet higher in elevation.

While I “wasted” about 15-20 minutes at Fawn Ridge, I left a new man. And for the next hour or so, I felt much better. I soon came up upon Daisy (who must have snuck by at the aid station while I was sitting) and her entourage as we climbed our way up. It was good to settle in with a pack and listen and occasionally converse. Daisy mentioned that a nice downhill section was coming soon. After about 3 miles of up, we came upon the cushioned downhill section. I scrambled ahead of the group and took off. Another runner, Mary, went with me. I started to slow a bit and Mary passed me. After a mile of the downhill, we passed a gravel road and begun the final climb to Sun Top. By this point, the Coke had worn off, and I was again struggling as I walked that final mile to the aid station.

Finally, I came upon Glenn Tackiyama, who was taking photos of the runners. Sun Top was just around the corner.

Coming up to Sun Top in Beast Mode. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

As I left the aid station at mile 37, I began a slow walk down the forest road, which for the first few hundred feet was quite rough with lots of rocks and pot holes. Still, it was downhill, I was feeling better since the aid station, and after a little hazy math and dispensing with my idea of finishing in around 12 hours, I came up with a new, though unlikely goal: finish under 13 hours.

After walking about 50 feet, I started to jog around the giant rocks and potholes. Soon the road made a u-turn and the rocks were gone. I settled into a comfortable pace, put some earbuds in, cranked up some Silversun Pickups, and started passing the slower runners. I made a point of saying hi or “nice work” as I passed each one. Most of the runners looked familiar since we had played leap frog for the past 10+ hours. I was feeling good; my pace quickened. My watch called out some fast splits: 9:18, 8:08, 8:09, and 7:48. I was cruising and when no one was around singing along to the music and practicing diaphragmatic breathing. I must have passed a dozen people down Sun Top road.

Not so Flats

The road flattened out at the bottom and after another half mile the Skookum Flats aid station appeared at mile 43.5. I grabbed a bit of watermelon and a few ounces of Coke and was off: no time for dawdling. There was 6 and 1/2 miles to go and I was determined to run as much of “the flats” as I could. It’s worth mentioning that the Skookum Flats trail is pretty technical. Lots and lots of roots, oh and it isn’t exactly flat. But the name Skookum Rooty Rolling Hills Trail didn’t make the cut when naming the trail.

Rounding the last turn. Photo by Suzanna Litwin.

I had read and heard many comments from prior runners complaining bitterly about “the flats” which I had run on “fresh legs” three weeks previously. Fortunately, I more or less knew what to expect. I was also determined to finish the race strong and had a deep desire to break 13 hours so I dug down deep and started running. Within the first 20 feet out of the aid station, I passed two runners who were walking. Over the next 6 1/2 miles I would pass another 20 or so runners, almost all walking that last 6 and 1/2 miles. I mean after 45 or so miles, who wouldn’t want to walk?

How much of Skookum Flats did I run? I probably ran 2/3 of it, walking the up hills and occasionally a few flat portions. But every time I caught myself walking an easy portion, I told myself to pull it together and get running. Running would make the pain go away sooner. Running would help me achieve my goal of breaking 13 hours.

With a couple miles left, I turned off the music and put my earphones away. I wanted to fully experience the end of the race. Then in the distance, I could see the light break where there was a road. I climbed the trail to the road and turned to the right. Just then, two runners I had recently passed shot up ahead of me with one final burst of life. I let them go. Too young and with too much energy left in their tanks, I thought.

The final stretch to the finish. Photo by Suzanna Litwin.

As I saw the finish line in the distance there was lots of much appreciated cheering. I made final push to try and catch the closer of the two runners but she was going too fast for me.

As I rounded the last corner of the race, I could see Suzanna. Twenty yards later I was over the finish line. A volunteer handed me my White River 50 Mile Endurance Run souvenir glass filled with some water, mentioning that I could swap it for some beer after I finished drinking the water.

I slumped into a chair as Suzanna doted over me. To say I was exhausted was an incredible understatement; every muscle in my body seemed to hurt. At the same time, what an incredible feeling: I had just completed my first 50 mile race, and I made it under 13 hours.