Darkest Before the Dawn: Timothy Olson Interviewed
2013 has proved to be something of a vintage year for Timothy Olson; he signed to The North Face, travelled to Europe for the first time to race Transvulcania and defended his Western States crown – and it’s still only early-July. If the old adage about paying your dues is to be believed, than Tim deserves all the good that is coming his way. I chatted at length with Tim recently about growing up in rural Wisconsin, the dark years and his crazy journey to the pinnacle of ultrarunning.
iRunFar: So Tim, you grew up in Wisconsin right?
Timothy Olson: Yeah, I grew up in farm country in Wisconsin. I lived right across the street from a potato and cornfield, so it was very rural. I grew up in a very small town of 1,000 people…
iRF: Cool. What’s the name of the town?
Olson: It’s called Amherst… I grew up there and my mom was a stay-at-home mom – bringing us up and taking care of the house and my Dad worked and owned a little mom and pop hardware store that his parents started. It’s been around for 55 years and my Dad still works there today. So that’s how I grew up – I grew up working at the hardware store and learning how to work with my hands a lot, either gardening or building and fixing things. It was definitely a good upbringing and I learned a lot… I own a house now and through the years of working there I learned a lot about taking care of a house and fixing all the little things that need to be done.
iRF: Oh, it’s pretty handy to be able to do all that stuff yourself…
Olson: Oh yeah, we definitely bought a fixer-up house, so I’ve spent many days and hours working on the house and it’s paid off pretty nicely. I’ve always enjoyed working hard for what I get and using my hands and willpower to make things happen.
iRF: So growing up in that kind of rural environment, Tim, it must have been pretty cool for a kid with lots of places to explore and adventures to find?
Olson: Yeah, for sure. When I got older it was not the place I wanted to live, but growing up it was perfect. We lived in the country and when I started running, I ran around my house and the fields… I was able to explore and use my imagination from a very young age. I remember a lot of times building little forts in our backyard – I have a younger brother who is five years younger than me and he would just kind of follow me around and do whatever I wanted! So we would build forts together and just hang out, we bonded well and have a good relationship… I don’t get to see him as much now, but it was definitely great having a younger brother to grow up with there.
iRF: So were you into sports then, too, Tim?
Olson: Yeah, I’ve always been into sports. It’s kinda funny now thinking back on it, but back when I was younger I first started liking the different sports that my Dad liked and I dabbled in baseball, football and basketball. My Dad really liked basketball and we’d play outside a lot in the evenings when he was done with work and that was my first passion in sports.
When I was getting older I stayed out all night playing basketball and, like now when I think of ultrarunning, I was very dedicated to it. It started my desire to want to play sports for life, I never thought that I would be a professional runner, but I definitely remember having dreams of playing basketball and wanting to be a professional basketball player. It’s very cold during the winters in Wisconsin, but I would chip away the ice on the driveway so I could play basketball and I remember many days of perfecting dribbling and free throws and jump shots and things like that… I’d be outside and my hands would be completely numb from the cold, but I wanted to be the best I could. I think that has progressed onward to running now, too.
iRF: That’s a dedication that I’m sure a lot of your ultrarunning peers will recognize! So who were your basketball idols?
Olson: Yeah, well my father was a huge inspiration – he would play basketball with friends on a Wednesday night and I would go watch him play. As I grew older I was always small, I’m not too short, I’m 5’9”, but when I was younger I took a little time to mature and I was very short…so I really looked up to two athletes that really inspired me in basketball – Pete Maravich, they called him ‘Pistol Pete’, and Muggsy Bogues. So, ‘Pistol Pete’ was an old-time basketball player and Muggsy Bogues was more in the 90s. I used to watch a video of ‘Pistol Pete’ playing – they called him that because he was so fast dribbling and passing. I watched that video of him a lot and tried to mirror my basketball abilities to what he did – I really worked on no-look passes and being very intuitive in my play, not second-guessing my choices and just making those really sharp passes that went through peoples legs and behind my back. [laughs]
iRF: Wow, sounds like some fancy stuff Tim…
Olson: [laughs] Yeah, I loved basketball and when I was younger I had a lot of people telling me I was too short to play basketball and that I was not going to make it. I guess in everything I do I kind of felt like the underdog and it made me want to work harder in everything I did. I used that as motivation growing up and just had that willpower to prove people wrong.
iRF: So how long did the passion for basketball last then?
Olson: It was right up to… definitely middle school and the start of high school, basketball was everything. I watched games all the time, practiced all the time and I used to do this jump program – which I think actually helped my legs now in running – called plyometrics, which would just make my legs so strong. I was short, but I could jump 30-something inch vertical and I could grab the ring. I could nearly dunk a basketball by the time I got to high school. [laughs]
iRF: Cool, we will have to start calling you ‘Air Olson’…
Olson: [laughs] I’ve definitely lost my vertical jump through running! In high school I still played basketball, but I started to get more and more into running. With basketball, I put a lot of pressure on myself and got really nervous before games and had a lot of anxiety because I just wanted to do well. No one from my family put any pressure on me, I just put it on myself. So I started running more through high school – running track and cross-country because one of my basketball coaches said that it was a good way to stay in shape in the off season. So I was like, ‘oh, I’ll try it out,’ and then I ended up making my best friends, friends I still have today, on the cross-country team. Cross country was something that I loved and it shaped my life because we were a very eclectic bunch of kids, kinda nerdy and definitely not the popular kids. You know, living in a small community, in a country-type town – running was not looked upon as a cool thing! Football was the thing that all the cool kids did and I didn’t have a desire to play football; I wanted to do cross country.
iRF: So what was it about cross country that really appealed to you, back when you first started?
Olson: I think it was just being outside. I loved basketball but during the seasons and all the camps we were always inside. Cross country was this time when you ran through snow, ran through mud, ran through rain. I guess I just really appreciated, without really knowing, like now I am so connected with nature when I’m running, but then I didn’t really realize why I liked it, but I really loved being outside in nature and the unique conditions that the Wisconsin weather brings. I also loved the camaraderie of my friends on the team, we really had a good time together – we’d enjoy runs and we just had very unique, funny friendships, it’s hard to explain…
iRF: Like a little gang of buddies? Almost like a band-of-brothers type group, finishing each other sentences and goofing off?
Olson: Yeah. My best friend, Jordon, we just connected so well through that. We were like brothers – we’d finish each others sentences, we’d go thrift-shopping… we’ve always loved going into Goodwill and just finding the weirdest things! We’d find random tapes, songs that people didn’t really like… like MMMBop. It was just so dorky, so terrible; but we found a tape of it in Goodwill and decided that it would be our theme song for high school cross country. [laughs] So I played it before and after every event… at first people just hated it, they would be yelling at me to turn it off and then by the end of the season everybody loved it and the whole bus would be singing this song, this terrible Hanson’s MMMBop song! That just explains the kind of uniqueness that we were… we were weird and we liked being weird. [laughs]
iRF: Ha ha, sounds like fun. So were you guys any good running wise?
Olson: We were Division 3, so for Division 3 we were in the top in our state and Jordon and I got really good at it. Junior and senior year I was top twenty in the state or so and a lot of the local meets I would win or take second or third. Jordon would sometimes beat me, but we were really close. We worked well together because it was nice running with a teammate. We ended up having a really solid team of runners – that was the fun part, we were just these dorky kids and the football team was all the cool kids, but they lost every single game! I’m pretty sure the couple of years we were doing well, the football team was really terrible and no one even cared that we were doing good! I kind of liked that, it’s like ultrarunning – it’s grassroots and not everyone cares about it, but the people that do care and are really into it are just a fun group of people.
iRF: Nice, so that was the start of your running career really, those fun days…
Olson: Yeah, basically. That was the start…
iRF: You’ve talked before about getting into a little trouble and losing your way for a while. When did that start Tim, was it straight after high school?
Olson: Yeah, I guess growing up my family was very Christian and very strict and I obeyed them and went along with it because I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. I had a great time growing up and they’re great parents, but I didn’t agree with it all. So when I was done with high school I was going to go to college and my parents wanted me to go this Christian college. So I went for the first semester and I did not want to be there. I rebelled a lot and that’s were I started to get really lost…
iRF: …and what age were you then Tim?
Olson: I was 18…
iRF: …and what was it about the Christian college that made you want to rebel? Was it just the strictness of it all?
Olson: I was just tired of being told what to do and tired of trying to please people. I wanted to discover life for myself, I wanted to be free. I started smoking pot and drinking, that’s kinda the normal rebelling thing to do, but I knew people that were really into hardcore drugs and they were the people that I started doing things with…
iRF: So you started hanging out with those people?
Olson: Yeah, I guess when I quit the Christian college – I did a semester and said, ‘I do not want to do that,’ and so I dropped out of school and got really rebellious. I was hanging with the wrong people, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and I was not making the smartest choices.
iRF: I guess it’s easy to do at that age too, it’s easy to lose your way…
Olson: Yeah, growing up in high school, I always wanted to please people so much and I was anxious and unsure of myself. So when I started going out on my own and making my own choices, I was still trying to please people. So I was trying to fit in with these new friends that I made, there was some really nice people, but they were just into things that I probably shouldn’t have dived into…
iRF: And had you stopped running during these times, too?
Olson: Yeah, I stopped running, stopped taking care of my body. I was really hurt inside. I got arrested in that time, as well…
iRF: Was that to do with drugs too?
Olson: Yeah, I was arrested with drugs… I didn’t do the normal rebellious things of smoking and drinking, I decided to get into all the drugs. I was with people that were really big drug dealers and I got into that lifestyle with them…
iRF: So do you think it was a case of trying to impress them, too?
Olson: I was trying to impress them, I was trying to impress my girlfriend at the time… I was trying to be gangster and trying to be cool… and I’m not cool or gangster!
iRF: Well, you’re pretty cool Tim, but you’re definitely not gangster!..
Olson: [laughs] No, and I just wasn’t sure of myself and I was trying to figure out who I wanted to be – I took many wrong decisions there. I was so beat up and hurt inside that I became even more rebellious instead of turning my life around once I was arrested, I’d hit rock bottom and that should’ve turned me around, but I kept going further into it and just really hated my life and myself.
iRF: So how long are we talking here Tim; between 18 and what age; how long did it go on for?
Olson: Probably three or four years. While my arrest was going through the court system, I was definitely trying to numb my mind and numb myself from the pain that I was causing myself, family and friends. I wasn’t living the way I wanted to and I really felt lost about that. I was really depressed a lot of the time and when I wasn’t depressed I was on drugs.
Once you get into drugs of those magnitude, you get really sucked in and it’s hard to get out – those are your friends and you don’t want to tell them that their life sucks and you’re connected with all these drug dealers that you don’t want to cross, otherwise bad things could happen to you. I didn’t know how to get out of it and through that process I was watching friends and people that I knew, doing the same things as me, being arrested and sent to prison.
I was just in jail for a day and then out on probation, I didn’t have to serve time. Prison and jail are two different things and I had friends going to prison, friends committing suicide and overdosing. I was watching peoples’ lives blow-up and I realized that this is not the person I wanted to be or the life I wanted to live. There was different moments, eye-opening ones, where I watched peoples lives go down the drain where I started to turn my life around. Like I said before (in Tim’s previous iRunFar post), once I was sitting in my shower sobbing and saying, ‘what am I doing?’ wanting to change my life and screaming out to the universe.
There were some big moments there that I decided to change from trying to be hardcore and impress people. I stopped using hardcore drugs and got back together with some friends from high school that were into running and being outside going camping. I’ve learn much from living, I happened to screw up a lot before I figured myself out. I needed to suffer and fail to understand grace, to be a better person and to love unconditionally. For me, I couldn’t find peace until I experienced despair. I appreciate every experience I have and each one makes me stronger and a better person for the experience. I hope to inspire others so they don’t have to experience as much pain and heartache.
iRF: So those hardcore people that you hung out with Tim, did you just try and make a clean break with them and not see them anymore?
Olson: Yeah, basically. I had to cut myself off from the people I was hanging out with, the parties I was going to and the drugs, violence and stuff that I was associated with. I kind of went cold-turkey style and made sure that I left graciously – I didn’t get anyone into trouble, didn’t get the shit beat out of me. I had some encounters with people that were not happy that I wanted to get out, but they knew I was making the right choice.
iRF: So do you remember the point when you started getting a buzz out of running again, not just running but the healthier lifestyle that you had with your new group of buddies?
Olson: Yeah it was probably 2006. So 2002 to 2006 were the rough years, then around 2006 is when I really made a conscious effort to take care of my body, hang out with people that enjoyed nature. These people, and my brother, really helped me through some hard times. I’m glad that I have family and friends that accepted me when I got out of the bad situation. It was around then that I started running more, too. I started running to pass the drug tests when I was on probation – I wanted to clear out my body of the bad stuff. I realized that running the next time felt so good after each run and that led to running a few times a week. Then that led to running nearly every day after about a year. During this time I went back to college, too. I eventually passed college…
iRF: So what were you studying?
Olson: Business and Accounting [laughs]… yeah, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do and I thought that everybody can use business at some point! I was basically just trying to get a degree and get done with that. I also started coaching cross country and track at my local high school.
iRF: That sounds like it was a big stepping stone for you getting your life back on track, right?
Olson: Definitely. I’m very grateful that the school let me work with the kids. Growing up in that small town, the different coaches weren’t making running fun – although the coach I had was great. I witnessed the kids not really enjoying it and instead of going for a run they would go to a friend’s house and play video games and eat food. So I really wanted to turn that around and I got into the program and started running with the kids and tried to think of games to make it fun. It sparked this fire in me, it was like they were teaching me as much as I was teaching them – I learned to have fun with running and I was back in my dorky ways.
iRF: And had you traveled much outside your home state Tim?
Olson: No, not at all. We had some vacations with my family, but the three times I had travelled in my life at the point were once to the Philippines when I was twelve, to pick up my sister who’s adopted from there. That was crazy to see a third-world country and the poverty, but it was awesome that my parents adopted my sister. I actually have two sisters adopted from there – one when I was 12, Hannah, and, then Grace, when I was 15 or 16.
Then the other two times were to the Grand Canyon when I was younger and to Mexico, both of those were mission trips for our church. It helped me to get to see some places, but they were based around going and spreading Christianity, which I wasn’t thrilled about. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Christian roots – I feel like I’m a better person for the different values that my parents have taught me, but it felt a little forced upon me sometimes. It’s not the parents’ fault for their kids. They do everything in their power, but sometimes we mess up. My parents are loving, maybe a tad overprotective, but at their roots they just really care for their children and want the best for their lives. But as far as traveling goes I didn’t get out of Wisconsin too much at all.
iRF: So that lack of travel when you were younger must have made your road trip after you coached the cross country team an even more amazing experience; it must have been quite the feeling to just hit the road with your dog?
Olson: Oh yeah, I was in a really good place at that time in my life. I was really happy with what I was doing, I had just coached the team at the state track meet and the day after I went on my road trip. It was just me and my little dog, we lived in our car and headed west with no plans. I had a map of all the different disc-golfing courses in the US and I would just go from one to another playing disc golf!
My only plan was heading out west – I went to the Grand Canyon and I hiked/ran to the bottom and stayed at the Bright Angel campground and explored the canyon bottom the next day and then went back up. I was paying for camping at the Grand Canyon and I couldn’t bring my dog down so I was only there for two days. [laughs] Then I kept heading west and stopped at different places along the way – it was the freest I have ever felt in my life. Just driving down the highway blasting music with my dog by my side without a care where I was going.
iRF: So you were running a lot too during the trip, Tim?
Olson: Yeah, that was the other goal. Everywhere I stopped I went for a run. One of the freest place I stopped was in the Poudre Canyons in Fort Collins, Colorado. I stayed there and was just running through the foothills of the mountains there and went to a Ziggy Marley concert at this outdoor amphitheater. I was there for a week – no phone, just living free. I was just a ‘runner’ back then, I would just run 5 or 10k – I had no clue that there was a sport called ultrarunning at that time, I didn’t know about the sport of mountain running. I just used to run in the mountains and see elk and stuff and think it was the coolest thing in the world, but I was so unaware that there was different running besides college cross country and the Olympic track distances. Those different landscapes really opened my mind, I felt humbled by how beautiful it was.
iRF: That trip sounds like it’s had a big influence on your life and, in a way, shaped you to being the person, and runner, you today?
Olson: Oh yeah. I think that road trip was where I actually found out who the real me is. Not the me trying to please people and be someone that I’m not, I finally got to be real and true to myself. It was the first time I realized what I thought in my heart was my truth, before I would go along with what my family or friends thought. I was making all my own choices, was living healthy and doing what I loved – being in nature.
iRF: Was it hard to go back to Wisconsin after such an eye-opening journey?
Olson: It was hard to go back, but I kept that vagabond lifestyle going. [laughs] I was waiting around for cross-country season to start again, so I worked at my Dad’s hardware store for a bit. I also did different odd jobs. I worked on houses: painting, changing windows. That’s how I met my wife, actually.
It was a month after I had come back and I was coaching cross country again. I had a half a day before cross-country practice and I was blacktopping the hardware store driveway. I went to the coffee shop that was two blocks down from my house to get coffee and there was this girl behind the counter. I lived a very frugal lifestyle at that time, so I wouldn’t waste money on anything really – I lived off of whatever I could possibly get! I would go and pick through my parents pantry sometimes and get cheap food from wherever I could. So I never went to this coffee shop. When I went in, my now-wife Krista was working there. She had just finished with college in San Diego and her parents have a little cottage in the middle of nowhere, close to Amherst. So she came to live there by herself – she called it her hermitage! She was just reading books and living off the grid. She also worked a bit at this little coffee shop. So I came in there that day and we saw each other and instantly fell in love. It was definitely weird and I have never had that feeling with anyone before. I saw her and knew instantly that she was special and that I wanted to ask her out. So when I was there we were talking, I was trying to be all suave and thinking I was going to ask her out. [laughs] There was a huge line behind us, so I chickened out…there was too much pressure! It was my town, too, so everybody knew me, and I was trying to put the moves on this girl at the coffee shop. [laughs] The last thing she said to me was that it was her last day of working there…
iRF: Ah, she was giving you some good hints there Tim…
Olson: [laughs] Yeah, she was giving me some hints! So I went and finished the driveway and then came back there for lunch. I don’t know what I was thinking because I was looking really scrubby, but I walked behind the counter where she was making our sandwiches. I told her, ‘I know I’m a mess, but I clean up well!’ and asked her if she wanted to go to my friend’s jazz concert that night. So she said ‘yes’ and we spent the whole night talking and getting to know each other. After that we didn’t spend a day apart from each other for months. That’s how our life started.
iRF: Wow, that’s a cool story. So where does Ashland, Oregon, your home now, fit in with all this then?
Olson: Yeah, so we moved in together and I was trying to be a little bit more respectable so I got an accounting job, sitting behind a desk. I don’t know if I made it even two months through that job, I just hated it. So I broke free outta there and decided I never wanted to work a desk job again. Then I started to work at a 24-hour fitness center coaching cross-country – I did that while we went through a horrible, typical Wisconsin winter. One night we were freezing in our crappy little apartment and we looked at each other and were like, “Let’s move the heck out of Wisconsin and go find someplace warm!” So we basically packed our car with most of our things and traveled west – we went to California. We looked at Northern California and found some really cool places – Sebastapol was a town there that we really liked and were thinking about living in. Then a friend of Krista’s who lived in Eugene, Oregon told us to come up and visit her. She said we should stop at Ashland, she was there once and said that was our vibe, so we said, “Let’s check it out!”
iRF: So you had never ever been there before that, Tim?
Olson: No, I had never been to Oregon in my whole life. So we rolled in later in the evening and stopped at Hotsprings in Ashland, really close to downtown and camped out for the night and soaked in the hot springs. The next morning we went and checked out Ashland and went for a run. There are all these trails around Lithia Park and Lithia Creek and we fell in love with the town instantly. It was kinda like our relationship, we were like, “This is the place we want to be.” So we stayed there for a couple weeks exploring and we went and visited our friend in Eugene, but we came back to Ashland, put all of our things in a storage unit, and went back to Wisconsin. We got married back there, said goodbye to our families, packed the rest of our stuff, and never looked back. We actually decided when we left that we were gonna drive the whole 36 hours to get to Ashland. We made it almost there, but we were at the point we both couldn’t see! So we stopped and slept at a gas station for a couple of hours and then got back on the road and made it to Ashland.
iRF: Wow, that’s some magnetic pull right there. When did all this take place Tim?
Olson: Oh yeah, for sure. That was 2008.
iRF: So you move there and I guess that is when you start really running the trails, right? How did you get involved with whole ‘Ashland Crew’ of ultrarunners?
Olson: Yeah, so we settled in and found a place to live. Neither of us had jobs, but I was talking to guy who was our landlord – he was a construction worker so I told him that I had worked at the hardware store my whole life. He then brought me on the construction team and that how we started paying the bills. Of course, we also started to get into running more. Krista and I went into Rogue Valley Runners, Hal Koerner’s running store, and then Krista and I went on one of the group runs. After that they invited us to a Halloween party and within the first month, I guess that’s when I first heard about ultrarunning. I was hanging out with these 100-mile runners and I thought they were completely insane, just bonkers! I thought they were nuts…
iRF: Haha, so how did it feel getting in with those freaks!?
Olson: I think I realized that, “Yeah I’m not running as far as them yet, but I’m definitely a unique individual!” It kinda connected me back to my cross-country roots, back into high school. I found friends that I loved running with – unfortunately, maybe, for me, they happened to be Hal Koerner, Ian Torrence, Jen Shelton, Eric and Kyle Skaggs and Tony Krupicka!
iRF: Come on! That’s not a bad crew to get in with…
Olson: [laughs] No, it’s not a bad crew at all! So they would invite me on runs and they just brutalised me! I would get back from a run, back to our living room and I remember just putting some fruit and some nuts by the floor beside me and trying to eat some things randomly while trying to gain some consciousness back after such long runs. [laughs] They weren’t even so long – I remember that was after running 12-15 mile mountain runs. So, for whatever reason, I just got totally into it.
I was going to massage school and that was a huge part of me wanting to run. I was trying to figure out my body and how it was all connected. Even before, when I was in Wisconsin working at the fitness center, I was trying to help people recover from injuries and I just really cared about people and wanted to help people. So I realized I didn’t want to work a desk job, but wanted to do something that impacted the world, and I wanted to show people that I cared about them and could listen. So that’s how I came across massage school, and when that happened I was like, “Wow!”
You know, once I decided to turn my life around I have had things, call it karma or whatever, but I’ve had things happen that are really good for me. So I started to get into massage and a more natural lifestyle – healing my body through activity and eating the right food and just being in nature. So then working with massage I started helping other runners – I wanted to use my holistic approach on everybody, but more and more people that came to me were runners and triathletes. So once I had my license I started working with the college cross-country athletes, too…
iRF: It sounds like everything fell into place there. So you got your massage license and you are hanging out with a group of incredible ultrarunners, but they must have seen something in you, seen some spark or talent if they were asking you out for runs. What do you think that was?
Olson: I don’t know – I think I’ve always had an internal fire. I’ve always wanted to do the best in what I do, so when I did massage or when I ran I didn’t want to be just ok at it. So that pushes me and inspires me to work really hard at the things I am really passionate about. The mountains around here really inspired me to get out and explore them everyday and to explore my body. So I got invited to run my first ever 50k race – The Fat Ass 50k along the Rogue River here in Ashland – I did that on a whim, I had never run that far. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done! I felt so terrible, I was seeing things, I was having tunnel vision and I had to just lay down next to a rock for a while. Someone came by and gave me a Clif Bar, which turned me around so I could actually get there. [laughs] For some reason, like everything in my life, I was inspired to overcome that feeling and do better the next time.
iRF: So was there a moment that you remember when something clicked or when you thought that, “Hey, I’m good at this! I can do well in this ultra running scene!” Any moments that stand out?
Olson: I guess I ran a 50k and took, like third or fourth or something like that. I was like, “That was fun!”, but I still didn’t really realize that I could be good. I just thought it was fun and I worked hard for it. I was concentrating more on massage at that point. So then I saw Hal win Western States, in 2009, for the second time. I had been there pacing someone that DNFed, so I had witnessed that and I was inspired so much by Hal. I was like, “I wanna go and do that!” Then I paced Ian Torrence at the Tahoe Rim Trail in the same year and I watched him suffer so much but persevere through it, so that also inspired me to want to try a 100 miler at some point. So I signed up for the inaugural year of Pine to Palm 100 miler way at the beginning of 2010 and I was like, “I’m going to do a 100 miler and I need to prepare!” So I also signed up for White River 50 Mile and Waldo 100k and then just through training for all that I just daydreamed through my runs – I had such a good time running.
It was this eye-opening time in my life of just being inspired by the mountains and also really going within myself and learning to be present in everything I did. When I ran, I could feel everything that was going on and it made me excited about how well I felt and how much I improved. I had these visions in my mind where it was like, “Wow, maybe I could run a 100-mile race and maybe I could win it.” I remember feeling these emotions going through me and feeling so alive. I was so in love with running that I was having goose bumps – so in the moment, so free. The first thought was, “Maybe I could do a 100 miles, let’s start there,” then I started running those races I mentioned – I ran White River and I did Waldo and it went really well…
iRF: That’s a bit of an understatement! You won the Waldo 100k and then you won the Pine to Palm 100 miler, what was it, a month later?!
Olson: Yeah, it was month later! Waldo was this crazy time where I ran up to the first peak and I came down real hard and I was in the lead. I looked behind me and there was no one behind me, I was like, “What the heck am I doing winning a race!? It was only a month earlier when I had run White River and it was Tony and Dakota [Jones] that had destroyed that race… I think I beat Scott Jurek there and I finished in just over seven hours. Hal and Ian told me that seven hours was a really good time at that race, so I had confidence more and more in my running. So when I ended up at the lead in Waldo, of course I was a little scared, but I just went for it! I ran through an aid station, Krista was there helping me, and when I came through she was so stoked! We were both freaking out that I was in the lead… [laughs] so I decided to just keep on running and the person that was behind never caught me. I was running scared for most of the race, but it was a really good feeling to put all the work into it and to keep growing in the things that I love to do. So I was really excited going into my first 100 miler, thinking that I might be able to finish. I didn’t put it in my mind that I could win it – it’s fun to win races, but it’s more like a journey into myself. Taking myself to my limits and being worked to my core, that’s what I feel the most running 100s. When I am completely ripped-up, it’s in those instances that I think of different struggles I’ve had in my life, I think of the people that support me and love me. I don’t run with anger or fear or a competitive desire to win – I run with a passion to be at peace, to be free and to just put everything out there.
iRF: So do you still look on 100 mile races as a spiritual journey even now that you have won a few, has the feeling changed since you have become more experienced?
Olson: Yeah, 100-mile races are these epic spirit journeys. It just dives you into the depths of who you are and what you care about. I love the finesse of running, too. Running over mountains and getting into that zone of just pure bliss. Your feet hopping over rocks and from boulder to boulder – it turns into this art form that is just so beautiful when done in the present moment. That’s where I want to be and that’s why I run long distances, rather than sprinting on a track or running a marathon. 50ks, 50 miles and 100ks are fun and you have to work hard, but there is something special about 100-mile races and that’s why I want to continue to pursue those.