In a world free of travel restrictions, Beth Whitman would be in Antarctica right now, trekking over ice and snow in the last of four 250-kilometer races. Whitman planned to complete the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series, which, over the course of the year, would take her to Namibia, Mongolia, Chile, and finally the Antarctic Peninsula.
Instead, Whitman is well into the last leg of her own adventure, closer to home: By the end of 2020, she will have run every street—and alley—in West Seattle.
After fitness communities around the world saw races cancelled or postponed this year, undermining months of concerted training, athletes like Whitman wondered how to stay motivated or in shape while awaiting distant race days. Some locals took the challenge in stride: Maren Kludt, a physical therapist in Kirkland, set a collective goal with her family to walk 2,652 miles, the distance they’d need to travel to gather all in one place. Dani Kruger, a data analyst for a health care consulting firm, found an official list of city parks and set out to bike or run to every small park in north Seattle. She also led runs for her own Strava Art Club, creating shapes with the app’s GPS tracking, including a whale-shaped marathon stretching from Ballard to Ravenna.
Whitman, the founder of a boutique tour company that leads trips to Morocco, India, and Papua New Guinea, among other locales, continued to train while placing travel on pause. She heard a podcast with professional runner Rickey Gates, who in 2018 ran every street in San Francisco and started a global movement called Every Single Streeters. Rather than every street, however, Whitman decided to narrow her goal to her own neighborhood and track her runs through both streets and alleys. “It would give me a chance to see more,” she recalls. “And it would also be a way for me to socially distance.”
Of course, alleys posed their own challenges. Runs would take much longer than usual as she stopped at intervals to pull out her map and pen, charting the most efficient path forward. To knock out a dead-end, Beth would have to run both ways, adding on extra mileage and even dashing politely down a long driveway. She tracks her progress through CityStrides, linked through Strava, and has slowly filled in the map since late March.
The hills of West Seattle made for tough runs, not unlike the dunes she would have encountered in the desert ultramarathon series. But in between the arduous uphills, there were days when she’d run home, exhilarated, to tell her husband about a spectacular view of the Olympics. She’d pause for a selfie with the teardrop archway at Duwamish Park or capture a mural of a psychedelic sun. She’d spot a bald eagle in the sunset on Alki Beach or a miniature horse in someone’s backyard or an art installation of vintage bikes. “I get to go experience this whole alternate world,” she reflects; all these little moments of the unexpected, of catching the care someone else has put into their own secret garden, inspired her most.
By April, Whitman felt confident sharing her goal online. It was important to make it public early on, so others could be inspired and consider the Every Single Street challenge for themselves. She thought then she might be done by the end of summer, but with all the mapping and doubling back—not to mention actual training runs and track workouts three days a week—the project spilled into the fall.
To date, Whitman’s run 550 miles across West Seattle. If you add in her training for next year’s 4 Deserts Series, she’s at 1,704 since January and scheming to top 2,020 next month. She’s so close to completing her goal that she has to research official designations for where West Seattle ends and White Center, Rockaway, and Arroyo Heights begin.
“We shouldn’t be looking to other people to host an event or make plans that we can follow suit with,” says Whitman. “We have to make our own goals, make our own purpose, and find a reason to get dressed and get out and get motivated.”