Jason Green spreads enthusiasm, evokes joy and embraces inclusivity
By Henry Howard
Jason Green introduces himself as an “ultra enthusiast.” And it’s the passion for the sport that he brings — as an ultra runner and ultra race director and — that endears him to the ultra running community.
Green started Yeti Trail Runners a decade ago out of his garage. Since he lived next to a state park, he invited friends over for an ongoing free event for the last 12 years called the Yeti Spaghetti. The park ranger, who was inspired to start running because of the group, requested Green to create an event inside the park.
“That ranger went from running zero miles to finishing a 100-mile race,” Green boasts. “He moved on to another area. He called me up last year and said, ‘I miss seeing people race in the park. Can you come to the coast of Georgia?’ So we started a race down there just so he could be involved.”
And that captures Green’s approach to ultra running. Simply put, it’s for everyone. No questions asked.
Just as Green motivated the park ranger to run long distances, he had someone inspire him.
“The spark was a mentor in ultra running who taught me how to run ultras,” Green says. “When I ran my first race, it was something that spoke to me. Ultra running spoke to me as deeply as skateboarding. I finished the race and no one gave a shit. They truly didn't. There was no one at the finish line, the winners had already finished. How can something I love suck so bad and make me feel lonely as shit? That was the spur.”
Green reflected back to when he created skateboard contests as a youth. He incorporated 13 rules to follow so everyone would feel they belonged.
“I took those rules, applied them to my race and lived by them,” he recalls. “I wanted to make everyone feel like they belong. The skateboard contests were a huge hit. People loved them and they came from all over. There was no sponsors. It's just us, people having fun and coming together. That's what I built the Yeti races about.”
While being inclusive is more common now in ultra races, it was nearly non-existent when Green came on the scene.
“Part of my race directing was being a safe place for everyone,” he says. “That might seem like a typical message now, but that was not the case 12 years ago. I still have all these hate emails from 12 years ago in a folder. I look at them sometimes and it drives me forward.”
Green is serious about the 13 rules. He’s even turned down $20,000 checks to remain sponsor-free.
“That's OK because I think it has to be a grassroots effort all the time and a place for everyone,” he rationalizes. “If you show up and Bank of America is on the back of your shirt, they don't have shit to do with ultra running. Whole Foods Market in the city, they don't have anything to do with ultra trail running. I just chose not to have sponsors and I live by that rule.”
Another rule: Be welcome to everyone regardless of ability. “At one of those contests, the best skater didn't win. It was a person who learned to drop in one that day.”
Even as the sport grows in popularity, Green is unyielding in his commitments.
“I just want to continue those rules as long as I can,” he says. “As ultra running grows, there is a ton of pressure to bend and mold yourself to something else. I'm just not willing to do it. I like to have a place for all. My cell phone number is at the bottom of every email. Just like everyone knew where I lived when I put on skateboard contests. I want people that need to reach out for help to be able to reach out for help.”
Inclusivity and ultra running
Even as ultra running has grown, it is still largely dominated by white males at start lines. Change can be slow as was evident when Riley Brady, a nonbinary athlete, recently won a Golden Ticket to Western States when they finished second at Javelina Jundred.
Eventually Brady was awarded the Golden Ticket but not after some confusion at the finish line and debate on social media.
While there is growing support for inclusivity in the sport, it is not yet widespread.
“When I put on a race I aim to create a safe atmosphere for everyone,” Green says. “I'm everyone's biggest cheerleader and fan. I'm their biggest fan out there from first to last. I think that's my role. In some races, the purpose is for you not to finish and that's awesome too. But I come to my role as to be this place that people have traveled to, they spent money to, their family, friends come with them. I'm there to support them and make them create the best memory they can. When they're leaving this earth, I hope that it's one of those gems that roll through their eyes before they go back into darkness.”
Yeti Trail events have a non-binary division and the overall winners in that category receive awards, same as for male and female athletes. “I think Javelina led ... they did it right.”
Looking toward the future, Green sees inclusivity expanding.
“Some of the changes that we're going to see are going to be phenomenal,” he predicts. “More inclusivity. I think it's just going to be awesome. Like I said, I don't want to steal someone's story because they're a race director and I think they post the videos online and I think that it was awesome and I think we'll see a lot of races, events going that way.”
Emerging from the pandemic
Given the impact of the pandemic on races and society itself, Green’s openness is refreshing.
“I always try to create the most memorable, fun experience you can have to lighten these days.”
The onset of the pandemic ushered in a tough time for race directors. Races were postponed, rescheduled, and sometimes moved again. Some race directors, including Green, allowed runners to roll over their entries to another year.
“COVID had a pretty big profound effect on every ultra race company,” he says. “The community, the Yeti Trail Runners, they really rallied around us.”
Green created 12 days of Yeti, an event where 5,000 participants do 12 days of “my weird life in December,” he explains. “It was awesome. People really rallied around us in a time when we needed to stay afloat. The community that we had been nurturing all along in returned nurtured us.”
‘The happiness came back’
And sometimes that support was a private one-on-one.
“During COVID, I stayed on the phone with people so much and people were put into a very depressed state and were reaching out for help,” he recalls. “It was a dark fucking time and it was hard. I'm not a psychologist. But I definitely want to be the number people call and to get help for them and help them or just talk to them, just be a friend to people.”
While Green eschews positivity, the pandemic took its toll.
He recalls walking around with his head down, carrying a perceived burden and struggling with his own mental wellness.
“It was tough, but we made it through, thanks to the Yeti Army; they really helped us push through,” he says. “I love racing. I love volunteering. I love running. I love race directing. These are my passions and when I'm not able to do that, I also was just fucking so in the dirt. It was a hard time. Finally, this year I felt like I just saw so many big smiles return to people and it returned to my face. The happiness came back.”
Green’s races have fully returned and sell the 300 or so spots within five minutes. He’s back in his element and could not be happier.
“This year every race just felt so good,” he recalls. “Our Savannah race, it just felt like a family and we were back together and we could hug and look at each other and it felt so good. The whole year has been awesome.”
Green also prioritizes the environment and sustainability. Recently, the Yeti 100 only ended up with 14 bags of trash. His races are cupless but he also looks for other opportunities.
Among them: getting crews to consolidate. Some runners now have up to five crew members.
“The majority of trash you probably find in 100-mile races aren't necessarily from the event but from the crews,” he points out. “That's what the next step is. How do we get across to the crews that we're trying to be sustainable? If they have five people in a car, crewing one person, it's a lot. The next step in educating crew on how to be more sustainable.”
It’s a challenge for race directors across the country.
“Any big 100-miler, I guarantee it, they probably are thinking the same — how do we cut down on crew trash and impact on the environment?” he says. “Like parking on forest service roads. How do we approach that? That will be a good step in reducing the impact from ultra running in the future. You'll see a lot more literature come out and a lot of smart things next year about how to reduce crew trash.”
Green also looks to traditional swag for improvements.
“When we talk about sustainability, I think all of us next year need to take a step forward and instead of there just being a metal, maybe that metal does something else. Maybe it's a bottle opener or maybe it's something other than something that goes in a drawer. We start finding needs.”
Sticking to his roots
Green’s approach to inclusivity is simple.
“It means that the race is open and available to everyone and that means everyone,” he emphasizes. “However you come to the race, ultra running should be there for you and you should be able to compete.”
That’s nothing new for Green. The concept is among the original 13 when he was coordinating skateboarding events. Still, he has received complaints over the years.
“Their complaints early on were about trans (athletes) competing,” he says. “I remember this one email in particular and it just made me sad and they were like, ‘Now, I have to tell my daughter that a man beat me out of third place at your race.’ That made me sad. I would always write back the motto I've always known my life: Ultra running is for everybody and there's no asterisk there. Period.”
Name: Jason Green
Hometown: Bristol, Va.
Number of years running: 13
How many miles a week do you typically run: 30
Point of pride: “Alpine summits that mix mountain running and alpine skills.”
Favorite race distance: 50 miles!
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Dr pepper
Favorite piece of gear: Salomon adv 12 pack
Who inspires you: Patrick Reagan
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Outkast, “So fresh, so clean.”
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: “It's going to hurt the same if you run or walk. So you might as well run so you can get done faster.”
Where can other runners connect or follow you: