While everyone knew that Timothy Olson was having a strong season and that he was a contender for the win at the 2012 Western States 100, it’s unlikely that anyone was thinking that he’d break 15 hours en route to a new course record. Of course, that’s exactly what he did in running 14:46:44 on a course considered significantly slower than either of the courses used for the previous two course records. In the following interview, hear all about his race as well as what he thinks of it all.
[Ps. Earlier this year, Timothy shared his personal story My Path for Commitment: From Addict to Awakened Ultrarunner on iRunFar.]
Timothy Olson, 2012 Western States 100 Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Timothy Olson, the 2012 Western States 100 champion and the Western States course record holder.
Timothy Olson: Thank you, sir.
iRF: Man, how does that feel?
Olson: It feels really good. I’m still kind of in disbelief and letting it soak in. It’s really exciting. I had a lot of fun out there.
iRF: You seem like a really chill guy. How much of the balance was being relaxed yesterday and patient, but you were also very focused. How did you manage that line?
Olson: I’ve been focused on this race for a while. You get a little nervous when you focus on something that much. You get to thinking, “Oh, am I thinking too much about this? Am I going to put too much effort into this and it’s going to go bad and be disappointed?” But I just felt really grounded and ready for the day to come and kind of take what it gave me. I started early on in the race just kind of hanging top five or so and just relaxed. It was just so cold up top; I think that kind of took a lot out of us. It was sleeting on us. I just didn’t expect it. I was glad I had enough clothes and some arm warmers to keep me warm. I had a little rough patch up on top and I was kind of worried about losing the couple of front people. They had maybe a minute or so; I didn’t know at the time. Dylan [Bowman] and Mike Wolfe were out there. I knew they were getting in the lead, and I was a little nervous if I lost them. But I just kept confident and stayed patient. I thought patience was a really good thing to feel for a 100-mile race. You go out at mile 20 hard; it’s not going to be good.
iRF: Do you think it was almost advantageous in those early miles to not be right with the leaders because there’s less pressure?
Olson: Yeah, it helped me run my own race, which for 100 miles, you need to not let the whole thing get in your mind. You need to relax and take care of yourself, and that’s what I was doing the whole first half of the race was taking care of myself and trying to listen to my body and see what I needed.
iRF: When did you go from being patient and sitting back to, “It’s time?”
Olson: The canyons—my climbing legs were feeling solid all day. That was the time where I felt I could push it. I was gaining on people pretty easily and it wasn’t a huge effort. It was, “Wow, this is working well for me today.” I’d let them get a little bit ahead on those downhills in the canyons and then catch back up as we were hiking and running up that. I guess I got to the top of Michigan Bluff there and was feeling good, and that’s kind of where I decided to push it a little bit more.
iRF: So you opened up a little bit of a lead at that point?
Olson: Just barely. I passed them just at the top there of Michigan Bluff. They were still hiking and I was running, so this was a good moment to take off and get a little space. I felt really good then and then Ryan Sandes caught me down the road after Foresthill. He came past me around Dardanelles and he cruised passed me and put on a good gap. I was a little nervous. “Wow, that was impressive, how am I going to stay with him?” Hal [Koerner] kind of pushed me along, my pacer, telling me to keep breathing and keep going. I saw him again and once I saw him, I knew I was doing good on the climbs. So I was waiting for the climbs and I’d catch him up there and then just kept him in my sights. Then, I took off before the river crossing, and I knew I had a little bit of a gap right there and was like, “This is everything I’ve got right now.” So I just went hard from there on.
iRF: Did it feel like you were running the fastest ever Cal Street?
Olson: No. Well, we were moving. I didn’t think I could run that hard. Hundred milers are just such a crazy thing. You never think you can run that hard at mild 70 or 80, and for some reason your body can respond. You just have those intentions and just believe in yourself.
iRF: You were running hard enough that you dropped a pacer at one point.
Olson: Yeah, a buddy of mine… he was making sure I was okay and he fell a couple of times. You know, it’s rocky in sections. It’s not a terribly technical course, but some of those things catch your feet. I’m glad he’s okay. I picked up Hal at Highway 49 again.
iRF: How is it having Hal out there? He’s a two-time champion, and he’s run the race a whole lot more than that.
Olson: You can’t ask for a better pacer than that. He’s just a good friend, and that’s always encouraging just to have someone that’s got your back and that you’ve run with before. He’s also someone who’s a phenomenal athlete and he knows this course front and back. He was able to tell me, “This is a climb, Tim; you know you can push it up and crest it and keep going.” It’s just nice to have someone with that knowledge.
iRF: What was the balance between guidance and cracking the whip and goofy Hal that was at Highway 49?
Olson: It was a funny moment when me and Ryan were suffering there and Hal and the other pacer, they’re good buddies, were joking around a lot. It was nice not thinking about the race for awhile letting me and Ryan just do our thing and let them joke around. He brings such a great balance of humor, telling me when to go, reminding me to breathe, and “Have you Gu’d it in awhile?” I’d be like, “Oh yeah, I should probably put some calories in my stomach.” So I’d crack one open.
iRF: So he’s a multi-disciplinarian.
Olson: Yeah, he did a phenomenal job. I couldn’t ask for a better pacer.
iRF: So you’re in the boat first, you go across in a separate boat which is probably a surprise. What was in your mind when you got in?
Olson: I didn’t know we were having a boat. I thought I was going to pull myself across that, and I thought, “Well, that will be interesting.” What service here at Western States! They boat us across and I didn’t see anyone behind me. That shocked me because I knew he was close. But getting across that and knowing I had that couple minute gap… I loved that climb last year and knew I would this year, as well, and was going to give it everything I had. I pushed it hard up there and it was nice having just a few minutes. It just gives you a few seconds where if you’re having a lull, you can take a moment to regroup.
iRF: So you’re coming up, you’re in the lead, you can’t see Ryan, you have 20 miles to go. How much is it—are you still racing Ryan, are you running your own race, and when did you think about the record at all?
Olson: I didn’t think about the record. I wasn’t looking at my watch. I knew I was putting down fast miles. At the time it was, “I need to get to the finish, and I need to take care of myself at that moment.” That was my thinking until Hal told me, “You know, you can do this.” At Highway 49 was where I realized, “Oh, okay, I don’t care that much, but I might as well give it all I have.” You know, it hurt just as much running slow as it did as hard as I could, so I just kind of let it all go.
iRF: Before the race on Friday, you were mentioning the charm and the allure of the 100 miles. You had a little down time early; did you have any bad patches later in the race that you had to come out of?
Olson: I think I took care of myself really well, so I never had any super low patches. There were times when I was feeling really tired and kind of close to something that was really rough and I just stepped back and let the others take a little bit of a lead and took care of myself for a minute and focused on my running. I just ran smart. I felt very positive in my thinking the whole time and never really thought… well in the 100-mile distance you think, “I’m never going to do this again.” That’s a common thought. I didn’t have that as much in this race. I felt… it just felt good. I just rode the highs and lows well and just tried to be patient.
iRF: It’s one thing to place sixth at Western States or to win some competitive but smaller 50 milers, but how does it feel to be a part of history? Can you place that?
Olson: I don’t know. It really hasn’t sunk in. I still can’t believe when I look at that time… that was really fast. I’m looking forward to these next few days of letting it sink in and just letting this moment be. It’s just so awesome to be part of this event and have something go so well. Yeah… just so much fun. I had a great time. I have really loving family and crew that were here to help me out. Having my wife here to give me a smile and a kiss along the way… and we have our little boy coming. So that was my driving force through all the race—I want to make my son proud. I want to try to be the best dad I can, and I wanted to just give it my all that day. I thought of him and my wife a lot in the running, and it’s one thing that really pushes me.
iRF: Well, one last question before I let you enjoy the moment. You wore new shoes yesterday.
Olson: Yeah, a new shoe that’s coming from Pearl Izumi. The line is called Project E-motion (Efficient Motion). The Trail N-1 is what I ran in. It’s a nice minimal shoe with minimal drop on it that lets your foot just ride through. You don’t have any of that slapping, just a nice forefoot plant and it propels you forward. I just feel like it’s a light, efficient, and explosive shoe. It felt great yesterday. I like to have that nice proprioception where I can still feel what’s going on underneath but just enough protection that you can still bomb down a hill. And for 100 miles, I want a little more under that shoe. It did well; my feet have recovered well. It’s nice when the feet work and you can walk around the next day.
iRF: And you don’t have to think about your shoes.
Olson: Yes, so I’m excited about more things to come from Pearl Izumi and the rest of the line.
iRF: What’s the name of this shoe and the approximate weight and drop?
Olson: It’s the Trail N-1 (N = Neutral) and it’s their most minimal foam midsole that they’re using for that trail shoe. It’s actually got a 1mm offset but as you push off it goes to 4-4.5mm. It’s a little over 9 ounces.
iRF: Well, congratulations again, and thank you so much!