I’m Tyler’s brother, and for those of us who love him, that race was a dream, a culmination of steady persistence over a tenacious running career. We see his preparation, how diligently he works at his craft. We hoped with him. And when he crossed the finish line with Rachel, we were proud. There’s no other word for it.
In 2019, Tyler ran Western States for the first time. He finished 14th, which was impressive enough, but Ty was convinced he could do better. When the pandemic locked most of us in, he got busy gobbling up FKTs: the Loowit Trail, the Timberline, the Wonderland, the Lost Coast. Western States was cancelled in 2020, but when the race returned in 2021, Tyler entered unheralded to all but a few.
The lead runners belted out of the gate, working to keep up with the dominance of Jim Walmsley, and Tyler stuck to his plan. As the day wore on and the heat climbed, cooking out competitors one by one, Tyler rose with the mercury. When he broke fifth, we were astonished, and when he made three more passes to emerge in second place at Pointed Rocks, we felt elated. He jogged the last joyous legs with his wife, Rachel Drake, still spring in his step. The finish is seared in my mind, and I know I’m not the only one.
To don an M2 bib at Western States is to be among an elite cadre of distance-running’s greatest, and Tyler’s sense was he’d run his perfect race to reach that podium. All day, he was in flow, the breaks broke his way, and the ending was fit for a film. All that left a conundrum: how could Tyler possibly improve on perfection?
That was the pressure, but there was also opportunity. Jim Walmsley––who possesses three of the four fastest times in Western States history and was the only person to run the course faster than Tyler in 2021––wouldn’t be running in 2022.
Tyler saw an opening. Everyone saw an opening.
In the ensuing months, as Tyler’s star in the running world ascended, his life looked much the same: he coached track and taught gym to high schoolers; drew up training plans for clients; worked on home improvements; lounged and lived in Portland with Rachel and their dog, Teddy.
Meanwhile, he trained harder than ever, pacing 25 miles of Dylan Bowman’s second place finish at the Hard Rock 100, and running the Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS), part of the larger project of racing UTMB, Europe’s most famous trail race. Tyler won the 55k Moab Red Hot before placing fifth and 2nd in the Chuckanut 50k and Gorge Waterfalls, respectively. Except fifty springtime kilometers in the Pacific Northwest is not quite akin to one hundred miles through the Sierras in summer. To acclimate to the parched heat and steep terrain, Tyler’s final quest before WSER was running the Grand Canyon, rim to rim to rim.
During that trip, he met up with Jim Walmsley to run Elden Mountain and talk shop. One major takeaway was that Walmsley rarely, if ever, hiked, even on the steepest climbs. Tyler endeavored to hike less of the course than the previous year. If his effort last year was a breezy nine out of ten, he aimed to max out in 2022.
After months of training, analyzing the splits, and ironing out efficiencies, Tyler targeted a time closer to Walmsley’s than his own 2021 finish. He shaved minutes off his plan through a series of factors: upgrades to Nike’s Ultrafly Next%, improved crew preparation, fitness gains, and experience.
For Western States, Tyler sported some key Osprey implements. In the first half of the race, he wore a light gray Duro with a 1.5 liter reservoir. In the latter stages, his approach was more minimal, dropping the pack.
The other Osprey item Tyler brought with him to Olympic Valley was as functional as it was sentimental: the very same Eclipse overnight pack which Tyler has carried since trekking through Nepal eighteen years ago.
In February, before Tyler set off for Moab, our family gathered for the first time to celebrate his birthday and meet our new niece, Ines. We gathered around the table with warm hearts, all of us together for the first time since Covid-19 broke out, and then just before Dad offered thanks for our meal, Tyler and Rachel announced she was pregnant.
To understand our gratitude at this growth, you’d have to know the losses. How, eight years ago, cancer killed my wife and Tyler moved in for a while to support my daughter and I. Or how last winter, our grandfather passed. Or how, just the other day, our Uncle Mike died. Ty and Rach’s declaration of growth is sweeter in light of all that bitter loss.
Yet Rachel’s pregnancy also presented a new challenge. Tyler and Rachel are fine-tuned twin trail-running machines, and his career has flourished alongside her, their drive and energy lifting up the other. He may not put it this way, but a writer can recognize another artist’s muse. After her first trimester, Rachel couldn’t keep her usual pace. Tyler would do the running for both of them, but he missed her by his side.
As I met with Tyler in the lead-up to Western States, his demeanor was subdued. He hoped to win, yes, and he believed he would run a faster race, but that wry grin of underdog confidence from the year before was gone. He told me about a moment, arriving at the Peachstone aid station in 2021 and hearing Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” The theme impressed on Tyler’s heart: Surrender. Anything can happen on race day, especially over a hundred miles.
Against the solitude and grander expectations, Tyler carried a mental edge: his memories of the race. That was where experience factored in. This would be his third time through the trail, start to finish. Planted in his psyche are the places where he and Rachel ran together, the spots where he made key passes, the stretches he ran with friends––Drew, Jordan, Nick, Yassine. There are memories of where he nearly gave up and pushed through. With each pass, this legendary trail becomes a place Tyler more closely knows.
And so, on June 26th, Tyler and his growing family and veteran crew arrived at the line in Olympic Valley. The Western States Endurance Run was set to start.