As both a mild-mannered Portland-area health teacher and competitive long-distance trail runner, Tyler Green had his life doubly upended by COVID-19.
His first race of the year—a 165 km trek through the Gaoligong Mountains in southwestern China—was canceled. He also planned to run the Chuckanut 50k near Bellingham, Wash., the 101 km Eiger Ultra Trail in Switzerland, and the Run Rabbit Run ultramarathon near Steamboat Springs, Colo. Each race was canceled in turn.
Then the school year ended abruptly, leaving Green with a lot of extra time to train but nothing to train for.
And so, like many others in the fast-growing sport of trail running, he channeled his energy to FKTs, or fast known times—the speed records for over 2,500 trails worldwide.
The times are tidily compiled at FastestKnownTimes.com, a database that includes notable paths like the Pacific Crest, the Appalachian, and the Wildwood through Forest Park. For a while, Green held the record for the Wildwood Trail and set the record in 2018 for the Timberline Trail, breaking a mark that had stood for more than 35 years. (The women's FKT for the Wildwood is currently held by Green's wife, Rachel.)
The sudden abundance of free time gave him the opportunity to complete a long-term personal pursuit he deemed "the Trifecta": achieving FKTs for the 41-mile Timberline Trail around Mount Hood, the 30-mile Loowit Trail around Mount St. Helens, and the 93-mile Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier.
It's quite an accomplishment, but I have to admit, I saw it coming, because Tyler Green is also my brother. We grew up in the shadow of Mount Tabor, so I've watched him run around volcanoes since he was small.
But the stamina required to accomplish what he has is hard for me to fathom. I wanted to know more about the Trifecta, and the pain of trail running. So I called him for a chat.
WW: How did you get into trail racing?
Tyler Green: It probably started from school races against friends. And then Portland Parks had these all-comers meets at Gabriel Park and Lents Park. So I started doing those races, and that got me into this running thing, and I just continued that through high school. I did one year of college running and then went to Nepal. I hiked a bunch and was getting more into outdoor adventures and backpacking and a little bit of climbing and stuff, and then I got into cycling as well, like cyclocross road and mountain biking. But that was so expensive and you have to spend a lot more time doing it. Then I got back into running and was just doing it for fun and to stay fit. There's the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park, and I wanted to see that trail in its entirety. So I started doing out-and-back runs, and they just got longer, and I got more fit and was having fun seeing all this new trail. So that hooked me.
The first FKT you earned in the Cascades was the Timberline Trail. What got you started on this path?
For years, I thought, wow, it'd be cool to run around that mountain faster than anyone. I mean, it dominates our skyline. We grew up there. We grew up on that mountain, and that trail specifically was one of my first big trail runs. So that really had me interested and I went for it. With the Timberline, I reached a very beautiful state of flow where it felt nearly effortless…not really. But it felt so good.
How did your focus on the Trifecta change as the pandemic unfolded?
The Wonderland Trail is massive. It's twice as long as the other two trails. So that was going to be a multiyear project. Last year, Rachel and I went and checked it out over three days. And then this year, I was going to do it in one or two days and just try it out. When all the races were canceled, going for the Wonderland made the most sense. It's this very clean loop around a mountain, a single official route. It ends exactly where it started.
What are the differences between these trails?
With Hood and Rainier, you're running through these old-growth forests, and the ground has a nice spongy give to it, and you're like, jumping over roots and having fun. And most of Loowit is exposed, out of the trees, ash and sand. So that has this desolate, unforgiving feel. And there are a lot of loose rocks around the size of softballs. Runners call them "babyheads."
What do you eat during these?
I'm trying to get 200 to 300 calories per hour, like the equivalent of a Snickers bar, but in highly digestible forms. Cantaloupe and watermelon are really good. Soda is great. The fizziness is refreshing.
One thing I've seen over your career is, you're always competing against elite competition. Like, in high school, you were up against this legendary field of distance runners like Galen Rupp and guys trained by Alberto Salazar. It seems with trail running you've found an ideal medium.
One of the interesting things about FKTs is, it's just you. You either get the fastest time or your effort disappears.
Tell me about prepping for the Wonderland Trail, the last record you needed for the Trifecta. You knew other runners were training to beat that record also, and one of them is your friend Dylan Bowman, who set a new FKT by an hour and a half. When did you learn he'd set that?
Five days before. We each knew we were going to run it at some point this summer, but to see him break it by 90 minutes—I thought I'd have to run under 18 hours, and he ran it in just under 17 hours. So it was a big shift on what would be required to run this. I found out in the middle of the night, and I was sleepless after that. All I wanted to do is hold the Trifecta for a day. But that's not always feasible because there could be someone running the Wonderland a little bit faster while I was running it. All I can do is run each route as fast as I can.
So, you had this incredible record to beat and you surpassed it by 18 minutes. How did it feel when you crossed the Wonderland finish line?
That final mile or so I was just floating. There's a phrase I've heard that it's like a marionette. It's not like when someone wins a basketball game and everybody's jumping up and down. It's more like you snip the lines and just crumble. And there's relief. I mean, I have discomfort for a while, like my legs are gonna be sore. My taste buds are wrecked. So it's not like I could just sit and enjoy a beer. I kind of nurse myself back and hobble to the car. And then the next day felt more like a celebration, to go back to Paradise Lodge and sit and look at the mountain and just enjoy it. That was pretty cool.
You've mentioned the transcendence of mountains, how these runs are like pilgrimages. Will you describe that a little?
You get to see these mountains from every single aspect. And I think the mountain itself has an energy. One interviewer mentioned that we conquered the mountain, and I almost wanted to correct her and say the mountain conquers us. We happened to run a decent time around it. The mountain gives you scale to yourself and how small you are and how big and grandiose the rest of this world is.
TYLER GREEN’S TRIFECTA
Previous Record: JT Lehman, 5:05:58
Previous Record: John Coffey, 6:24:23
Previous Record: Dylan Bowman, 16:58:41