As Tom Green, 70, crossed the Conquer the Wall Endurance Challenge finish line on March 12 in Williamson, West Virginia, he reached a rare milestone in ultrarunning that only a few people have: completing a 100 miler in a fifth decade of life.
This adds to Green’s storied career in ultrarunning that includes being the first person to run the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (Old Dominion 100, Western States, Leadville, and Wasatch Front 100) in 1986 and being dubbed the “grandfather of ultrarunning.” Since then, he’s been to the top of the sport, and as he got older, faded to the back of the pack where he finds people are having the same, if not more, fun.
“One thing that hasn’t changed my whole running life is the fact that I can still do the best I can do,” Green told Runner’s World. “I’ve evolved. When I first did 100s, I did it more for competition against other runners. Now, as I’ve gotten older, it’s usually just me competing against my own limitations.”
Even with his evolution, Green has embraced the various reasons to keep going.
“I’ve noticed many runners, particularly the good runners when they are no longer able to compete at a competitive level, they just stop running,” Green told Runner’s World. “For me, I’ve always had different reasons to keep running and be part of this camaraderie, and that’s what keeps me going.”
It’s hard to bet against Green completing an ultra, but this latest milestone was almost taken away from him in April 2015.
While trimming a tree at his home in Maryland, a branch swung down and struck Green in the head, fracturing multiple parts of his skill and causing a stroke among other injuries. As a result, the part of his brain that controls his balance was no longer functional.
It took six weeks before he could take 10 unaided steps. It took many more months with a walker to recover, but his balance never returned. Green had the strength in his legs, but balance was the only thing keeping him from doing the one thing he wanted to do: finish one more 100 miler.
“Since the accident, have lost so much as a result of the brain injury and stroke, the one thing I wanted to try to hang onto was running,” Green said. “It just feels so good to be able to get out and do these runs with friends as opposed to sitting on the couch.”
To do this, Green had to find something to keep his balance for him while running so he wouldn’t be swerving. Surprisingly, a jogging stroller was the answer.
It took an adjustment period, but once he found his groove, Green was ready. He lined up for his first 100 since the accident in September 2017 (the Yeti 100)—one with a flat surface for his stroller.
Green thought that would be it for him, hanging up his buckle-chasing days and doing shorter ultras and races. Then a friend mentioned if he ran a 100 miler after turning 70, he’d have run a 100 in a fifth decade of his life.
“It got me motivated,” Green said.
He was planning to visit a friend on March 12 in West Virginia near the Conquer the Wall race. That friend convinced Green to sign up three weeks before. When race day came, Green was running with his stroller going after the milestone.
With 47 hours to complete the run, Green wasn’t terribly worried. These days, his brain doesn’t do well without rest after about 12 hours. With breaks and some walking, Green was able to hit the 100-mile mark around 45 hours.
“For me, it’s not so much the story of making five decades but being fortunate enough to come back after the accident to finish a 100 at all,” he said.“ That’s what I feel the best about. The rest is just gravy.”
Green isn’t sure how much longer he can go, but he plans to run as long as he can. He’s signed up for the Pine Creek Challenge in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, and the Yeti 100 in Abingdon, Virginia. Both are in September, and he’s after a lofty goal.
“My goal this fall is to try to run a get into the top 60 or 70 for the fastest times by a U.S. runner over the age of 70,” Green said. “I don’t know how many more all-night pushes I can do in order to go under 30 hours like I want to to reach this goal, but I think I’ve got one more left in me. But I’ll keep doing these runs as long as I can finish, I’ll continue to do them.”