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Tyler Green: On the Pursuit of One’s Personal Best

Tyler Green talks about his less-than-direct journey into ultrarunning, motivations, goals, and defining success at the Western States 100.

By and on June 20, 2024 | Comments

In his 10 years as an ultrarunner, Tyler Green has finished the Western States 100 four times — twice in the runner-up position. He’s also finished in the top 10 at UTMB, won the Black Canyon 100k and Bandera 100k, and finished second at the Javelina 100 Mile.

When you dive into Green’s past, you realize that his running career was the result of being exposed to the sport early on as a kid, wanting to become a sprinter after watching the 1996 Olympic Games, getting peer-pressured into racing an ultra in 2014, and then trying to run fast at the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships so that he would get into the iRunFar Twitter feed, a sure sign of ultrarunning legitimacy.

Now, he’s a top pick for running at the front end of the Western States 100 yet again in 2024. In the process, he discovered that while Chipotle burritos are viable calories for long adventure runs, adding hot sauce to them is a poor decision. He also realized that a final place in a race is not the ultimate measure of success.

Over the past decade of racing, Green, now officially a masters athlete and a new dad, has embraced the process of being an ultrarunner as he prepares for another run at the Western States 100. His story isn’t one of immediate success in the sport — it’s one of perseverance, learning the trade, and sticking to his goals.

2022 Western States 100 - Tyler Green - River Crossing

Tyler Green crossing the American River at Rucky Chucky during the 2022 Western States 100. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Foundations of Running

When Green, then a 12-year-old, watched Michael Johnson win the 200-meter sprint in world-record time at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, his first thought was, “I’m going to become a world-class sprinter.” While the sprinting aspect of running didn’t necessarily work out for Green, he still found his home in the sport. He says of his changing goals from sprinter to professional ultrarunner, “I’ve heard it said you start with 100 meters and then you move up until you find where your speed is, and I had to go all the way to 100 miles before I found that.”

Growing up in Oregon, running has always been a part of Green’s life. His dad ran, as did his uncle and cousins. Green’s first memories of running involve going to an all-comers track meet and cheering his dad on as he ran the 5k, his first exposure to the world of running.

Then, as a little kid, his family would do the Starlight Run 5k as part of the Portland Rose Festival. The route ran over the Burnside Bridge in Portland and finished on the weekend’s parade route just before the start of the parade. For a runner, it meant that you got cheered all the way home by the crowds. “I just remember feeling that surge of adrenaline from getting cheered like that,” Green says, thinking back on it. “I supposed something like the Boston Marathon or New York Marathon could have that.”

Tyler Green first exposure to running

Tyler Green’s first memories of the sport are all-comers track meets where his dad raced. All photos courtesy of Tyler Green unless otherwise noted.

Running was a family affair. Green and his cousins would run in local all-comers meets for young kids. He did his first cross-country race in second grade and discovered that he was “decently competitive,” appreciating the ribbons that came along with the competition.

As he got older, Green ran for the same high school his dad and uncle had. He had a family reputation to uphold on the running team. As he remembers, his dad had been awarded the Bronze Shoe — a shoe literally dipped in bronze — for running the most training miles over the summer before the school year started.

Tyler Green racing cross country

Tyler Green followed in his dad’s footsteps to race in high school.

Nepal and Bikes

Green ran through high school and one year at a community college before moving to Nepal for two years. “I worked for a Christian missionary organization, which is its own story of how I got into that. And my feelings about it now are slightly different, but we trekked around the villages and worked on literacy projects and stuff.”

During those two years, Green says he spent about 200 days hiking around with a pack, up to seven hours daily. He says, “I think that might’ve been how I got a little bit better at the trail, at least the uphill hiking part of things.” Describing the terrain, he notes, “They don’t exactly do switchbacks. They kind of just go straight up, which probably strengthened my legs a little bit.”

Tyler Green in Nepal

Tyler Green spent a year working and trekking in Nepal after high school.

With his life filled with all the new experiences of navigating a different country, culture, and work, running took a backseat. “I would run a little bit just around town, but it wasn’t great,” Green says, saying that his runs were mostly limited to the occasional five-mile jaunts he’d have to get up early to beat the traffic and smog. “It wasn’t so much a part of what I was interested in back then.”

Returning home to Oregon from Nepal, now in his mid-twenties, Green decided he wouldn’t get a car, opting for a cyclocross bike instead. Cyclocross, a style of bike racing that involves racing around a relatively short and often muddy circuit with several mandatory dismounts to carry your bike across barriers, had a vibrant scene in the area then.

The racing scratched Green’s competitive itch, and he eventually got into road and mountain bike racing. Unlike running, cycling was a club sport at Portland State University, where he was going to school, which meant he could compete even though his collegiate eligibility was over. And while he found some success on wheels, the expense of the sport eventually sent him back to running.

Tyler Green racing cyclocross

Tyler Green racing cyclocross after returning to the U.S. after time spent in Nepal.

A Return to Running

Throughout high school, Green rarely ran in Forest Park, the main trail system in the Portland area. If we went to the area, it would be to run the Leif Erikson Trail, a gravel road that wove through the park. As a regular hiker, though, it eventually occurred to him that he could run on the trails he’d be hiking on. He became intrigued with the Wildwood Trail, a 30-mile trail running the length of Forest Park, and wanted to run all of it. But instead of doing it all at once, he did it in sections, often as out-and-backs. Slowly, his runs got longer and longer.

Realizing he enjoyed the distance, he signed up for the 2011 Portland Marathon. “I’d wanted to do a marathon someday,” he says, “and did pretty well at that.” Indeed, he ran it in two hours, 37 minutes, and 10 seconds, even after bonking terribly.

But Green didn’t immediately get hooked on racing. He admits, “I was just a little scared of racing because it hurt so much doing that marathon and bonking as hard as I did.” Instead, he continued with longer adventure runs.

Green’s dad had done the Timberline Trail, a 40-mile route around Mount Hood, in one day, and described how he’d hiked the uphills and flats and ran the downhills. For the effort, he had a button that said “Timberline Trail in One Day,” and Green wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps.

Green and his friend devised a plan they called the “Triple Crown of Masochism,” where they’d run the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park, the Loowit Trail around Mount Saint Helens, and, finally, the Timberland Trail on three consecutive weekends. They finished the first two as planned, but a snowstorm pushed their completion of the Timberland Trail to the following summer. The runs provided Green with valuable learning experiences, such as discovering that while Chipotle burritos can be a good source of running fuel, he couldn’t say the same about when they were doused in hot sauce.

Tyler Green and Rachel Drake scrambling

Adventure runs got Tyler Green into the sport, and he continues the activity with his wife, Rachel Drake.

Green eventually succumbed to peer pressure and returned to racing when a friend invited him to do the McKenzie River Trail Run 50k with him. He even paid for Green’s entry to encourage him to enter.

Again, Green raced well, finishing second after yet another major bonk. Afterward, he and his friend talked, and he remembers thinking, “I don’t know if this ultra thing is for me.” He says, “For both of us, we were just like, this doesn’t really appeal to me. But now we can say we’re ultrarunners; we ran a 50k!”

Green’s next statement was telling of the future, “And then maybe a week later, I was signed up for five races for the next season.” That was 2014.

Figuring Things Out

After two serious bonks in the Portland Marathon and McKenzie River Trail Run 50k, Green needed to figure out his nutrition if he was going to get better. He says, “I think my second [ultra] was the Peterson Ridge Rumble 40 Mile, and I bonked really hard in that one too.” Then there was the 2015 Stumptown Trail 50k on his home trails in Forest Park. “That was my third ultra, and that one I started to connect, get a little bit better.”

Plus, Green got to run alongside trail running legends Mario Mendoza, Ryan Bak, and the Puzey brothers, all of who showed up to the event at the last minute. The race director told Green, “Just run with ’em and see what you can do.” So he did, staying with the leaders for the better part of 20 miles before falling off the pace and ultimately finishing fourth. Coming away from the event, Green thought, “Okay, maybe I’ve got something here.”

After success at Stumptown, Green placed third at the Mount Hood 50 Mile and second at the Waldo 100k in the subsequent months. He also met his future wife, Rachel Drake, during this summer. He reflects on that period, “That was a pivotal year of turning into a whole new life.”

Also entering his life during this period was an interest in Western States, a race he’d first heard about at the McKenzie River Trail Run 50k in 2014. After finishing five ultras in a year, he set his sights on gaining entry into the fabled race. “I started to kind of draw up some plans, but then I got a stress fracture,” a lesson he calls a “learning about the excesses of ultrarunning.”

Still, he was hooked on the thought.

A Journey to the Western States Start Line

Green hung his hopes on an entry into Western States on the 2017 Gorge Waterfalls 100k in April, a Western States Golden Ticket event where top finishers gain a coveted entry. He created a training plan, thinking, “I’m going to start with 60 miles, then the next week, I’m going to do 65. And it built five miles more every week until I got up to 100, and then I was just going to stay at 100 miles per week.”

As part of his lead-up to the event, he lined up for the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships and quickly realized he was way over his head. In describing the experience, he says, “I had hopes of running into the top 10. I think that was the big thing: getting that picture on the iRunFar Twitter feed … that made you legit.”

He puts his 22nd-place finish in perspective. “I just wasn’t there yet.” But after yet again bonking for around 10 miles of the event, he realized he really needed to get his nutrition dialed. “I don’t know quite how I was able to sneak through on that one with the nutrition plan that I had. I have no idea what I was eating or drinking at that time.”

2022 Western States 100 - Tyler Green - finish

Tyler Green rests after finishing fourth at the 2022 edition of the Western States 100 in a near sprint finish with third place Arlen Glick while Western States 100 board member Dylan Bowman applauds him. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

In April 2017, he placed third at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k, just missing out on the Golden Ticket. He tried again at the 2018 Sean O’Brien 100k the following year and placed third again. In a last-ditch attempt, he lined up for the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile and had a self-described “really bad race.”

Later that summer, a wrong turn at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy netted Green a 14th-place finish after running consistently in the top 10 for most of the race. And while the result wasn’t indicative of his form to the outside observer, it was when Green finally started to feel like he was knocking at the door of success.

Defining Success

Green finally earned his Golden Ticket entry to Western States at the Bandera 100k in the spring of 2019. He placed 14th at Western States just a few months later. Returning to the event in 2021, he placed second to Jim Walmsley. In 2022, he was fourth, and then in 2023, he placed second again to Tom Evans. In 2024, he’s lining up alongside the likes of Walmsley, 2022 runner-up Hayden Hawks, and Jonathan Albon.

“Every year, I look at that race, and I’m like, there’s no way I can even get into the top 10. How am I going to run into the top 10? Look at this list … but every year I put myself in the top 10, and it never happens how I expect it to.”

The chance to learn and improve brings Green back to the start line each year. “There’s this feeling of, at some point, I’m going to peak on this race. I’ve gotten faster each year, cutting it down by an hour and 40 minutes, I think. But that’s been incremental … I’m convinced that each year you come back, you can come back a little stronger, and you have another year of training in you, and you’ve got a few new lessons from the previous year.”

Green notes that there are many definitions of success when it comes to running. “It’s doing yourself a disservice if you think that the only way to succeed is to place better. I recognize that I can improve upon myself as a runner … and that that’s going to look different from year to year.”

2023 Western States 100 - Tyler Green - Foresthill

Tyler Green opening up his stride coming into Foresthill during the 2023 Western States 100. He would go on to take second. Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

Green understands that winning Western States is more than just showing up as prepared as possible. “I don’t see myself being super disappointed if I don’t win this year. I think that does a disservice to the training and the competition, even to respect the competition. There are so many things out of my control, and I don’t want to shortchange the experience.” Instead, Green’s measure of success is his ability to run the best he can that day. “Where I would be regretful or disappointed in myself is if I didn’t race to my potential or be able to get what I want out of myself.”

Green turned 40 this year and is lining up at Western States with runners nearly half his age. He’s also just become a new dad, but he’s not letting either factor slow him down. “I don’t put a whole lot of stock in my age. I won’t use that as an excuse for myself to slow down or anything. I’ll slow down when I slow down — when my body says that and when my times start to show that. But I think I’m still running pretty darn strong, and my training, through various fitness markers in workouts, doesn’t show that I’m getting any slower.”

Future Motivations

A lot of wisdom can be gleaned from the sport of ultrarunning, and Green is the ever-ready student. He says, “I think it’s the stories of the people who got into this sport and were immediately really good at it. And then they were immediately winning races. I think my career has demonstrated that my experience is far more about just chipping away at it a day at a time and one race at a time. I always think of it as each time you run the distance, you unlock one little door, and you get to go into this new realm of how you race it.”

In the past five years, he feels that not only has he found his legs in the sport, but he has improved his approach to it. He says now it’s about “choosing the path and working on it a day at a time, as opposed to just thinking that one day it will all be perfect. The good stuff, the really good stuff, doesn’t come immediately. It takes time and marination and fermentation, or something like that, and step by step, you get the really good stuff. Process.”

Tyler Green and Rachel Drake out on an adventure

Adventure runs continue to be part of Tyler Green and Rachel Drake’s life.

And while to the outside observer, Green may seem like a runner specializing in flatter, faster races, he views himself as someone who can excel in the mountains. On his list of races for the future are the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail, Mt. Fuji 100 Mile, Diagonale des Fous 100 Mile, and Hardrock 100. He also wants to return to UTMB, a race where he finished seventh in 2023. It’s a race, he says, that provides him with a measure of “progression and having something to work toward. [It] keeps it interesting and keeps me engaged in the process of improving as a runner.”

While his list of future races is significant, Green got into ultrarunning for the adventure of it, and he hasn’t lost that exploratory spirit. On his long-term list of goals — a run across the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

But first, there’s Western States and maybe a crack at the masters record, which is currently held by Mike Morton with a time of 15 hours, 45 minutes, 21 seconds. “I think looking back at Western States, every year I say, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do this again.’ But I also really have just enjoyed the process of preparing for it and the little steps that it takes to get there. There’s just layers and layers of memories that come along with it. It’s so hard to step away from it.”

This year’s race is extra special to Green, as his wife, Rachel Drake, is also running. Green says, “We’ll probably run at the first half mile together or whatever before we part ways and say, have a good day.”

And anything can happen if Green has a good day out on course.

Call for Comments

  • Does your origin story into running involve peer pressure as well?
  • Are you rooting for Tyler Green to pull off the win at the Western States 100 this year?
Eszter Horanyi

Eszter Horanyi identifies as a Runner Under Duress, in that she’ll run if it gets her deep into the mountains or canyons faster than walking would, but she’ll most likely complain about it. A retired long-distance bike racer, she gave ultra foot racing a go and finished the Ouray 100 in 2017, but ultimately decided that she prefers a slower pace of life of taking photos during long days in the mountains and smelling the flowers while being outside for as many hours of the day as possible. Eszter will take any opportunity to go adventuring in the mountains or desert by foot, bike, or boat, and has lived the digital nomad lifestyle throughout the west for the past seven years.

Eszter Horanyi

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.