Timothy Olson has been tremendously successful the past two years, with a pair of wins at the Western States 100 as crowning achievements. This week, he’ll test himself against new competitors on new terrain at The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. In the following interview, Timothy talks about his training between Western States and UTMB, how he prepares himself specifically for 100-mile races, what he focused on in getting ready for UTMB, and what shoes he’ll be racing in at this year’s UTMB.
(Ps. The interview was conducted on Timothy’s 30th birthday – check out the final minute of the interview for some celebrating.)
[Editor’s Note: Here’s our full 2013 TNF UTMB men’s race preview.]
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Timothy Olson Pre-2013 TNF UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Timothy Olson before the 2013 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). How are you doing, Timothy?
Timothy Olson: Good. Good. Thanks for having me.
iRF: My pleasure. How long have you been here in Europe? You’re traveling these days?
Olson: Yeah, we’ve been here for a couple weeks now. Travels have led us to Europe. We’ve been spending lots of good time here. We got to see Annecy here for the first couple days which is just a couple hours south. Beautiful time hanging out there. Then we’ve been hanging out here. I ran half the course. We got here, dropped our stuff off at The North Face store because we didn’t have a place to stay yet. We took the bus to Courmayeur and then we ran two days around all the way back to Chamonix. We did Courmayeur to Chamonix.
iRF: By ‘we’ you mean you and Krista?
Olson: Me and my wife, yeah. It was awesome. It was a good date going around. I didn’t do as much hard running. I’d go off for a little bit just to kind of throw in a good tempo run, but otherwise, I was working on hiking and really connecting with the land here. When you come to do a race in a place you’ve never been, you just want to really feel grounded and really feel like this is home. That’s what I like to do with hundreds and any race and any place I visit. I like to just feel like that’s where I want to be and excited to check it all out. That’s all I’ve been doing—just living and breathing this mountain and enjoying it.
iRF: Was your first hundred Pine to Palm?
Olson: It was.
iRF: So you were living in Ashland and were very connected to that. You had experience at Western States before you ran that.
Olson: Yes, I did. I did crewing and pacing there. So every hundred that I’ve done, I’ve had some sort of connection to it and was familiar with it. I think that’s a good way to do a hundred.
iRF: Aside from the familiarity with it, do you find there’s almost an extra investment in it from spending the extra time there? You did that with Run Rabbit Run.
Olson: I went almost a month early. Yeah, I think thatm for me, that’s what I need to do for those. I love to do it. The hundred isn’t just a race. I like where Hardrock calls it a run because yeah, you can call it a race, but it’s just you going for a hard run in the mountains and trying not to get beat up too bad. The more you can connect with that land and feel it, the better chances you have of surviving the trip around.
iRF: You say it’s not a race, but on Friday afternoon, you’re going to see the Chamonix to Les Houches 8k. People will run 28 minutes.
Olson: Yeah, I’ll probably run in 100th place or something. I don’t know. Yeah, there’s a lot of excitement around this race which makes the ambiance awesome. I’m excited to be a part of that. I came here to see that as well. It’s a race where there are 2000-plus runners, so that’s awesome. That start is going to be fast and I’m going to hopefully try not to get too sucked into it.
iRF: You’re going to, rather than absorb that energy early, you’re going to…
Olson: Save it. I will absorb it and save it for later.
iRF: Somewhere like Champex-Lac?
Olson: Yes, when the lights turn back on.
iRF: That will be a fairly similar plan to what Tony (Krupicka) has shared. How do you actually do that on race day? That’s not just applicable to you. I’ve run this race and you go through Saint-Gervais and Les Contamines and there are thousands of people there screaming. In that moment, how do you not go out of that aid station an extra minute per mile faster?
Olson: That’s a great question because I know that I can say that I’m going to be chill, but when people are screaming and cow bells are going and just the excitement of it all, I’m going to want to push it. I think that’s just another side where you get to the hard parts in races and you have to be mentally and emotionally strong. You need to use that same mindset at the beginning of races because if you let yourself get too excited and you bust off there and you’re completely trashed half way through a race, your race is done. So you really need to just pull back and be smart. We’ll see what I do.
iRF: Do you think that will be part of the European advantage? We talked about Les Contamines and Saint-Gervais, but you’re going to be going up the first couple climbs and there are going to be people lining it. It’s not something you’re used to. You’re not in the Granite Chief Wilderness at Western States. There will be 5,000 people on the climbs.
Olson: Yeah, on the first climb (Western States), I was the second or third person up this year. I will not be the second or third person on the climb here. I think that’s good knowing going in. I’m going to be okay with whatever place I am and know that there is plenty of race to go.
iRF: Obviously one thing about this race that’s a little different is that the aid stations are different. In the U.S., you kind of know what to expect in terms of support, food, availability. How much are you going to rely on what’s there with the European fare? How much are you going to carry?
Olson: Well, I’ve got this handy pack that I’ll be wearing that has plenty of extra room. I try to pack as minimally as possible and not carry much. Otherwise I’ll have a lot more gels on me than I would for any other race. I’ll have enough gels on me for 50 miles probably from the start. As I go through the rest of the race, I might use a little bit of food, a little soda, and I’m really just going to carry as much as I can at the beginning. Once we get to Courmayeur, I think there’s a better chance of seeing my crew at spots to pick up things I need or if things are going bad, I can assess what’s happening.
iRF: This might be the first race where you have the option of using trekking poles. Are you using them?
Olson: No, I like to use my own legs—human-powered.
iRF: Well, that would be human-powered.
Olson: I guess. I don’t like the poles. I like to do it myself.
iRF: This is really just… I mean, at Western States and some of the races in the United States, it’s beautiful, but here you’re in the shadow of Mont Blanc for the better part of the day. Do you find a different inspiration in that?
Olson: Yeah, that’s why I’m here—to be around this mountain and take it all in. You hear so much about this place and these mountains and I’ve really taken that in and am excited just to be feeling that energy throughout the whole race. I’ll definitely be calling on the mountain to push me along and hopefully not beat me up too badly.
iRF: You’ve had some really good races for awhile. March with Tarawera; Transvulcania you ran well; obviously Western States where you got another win there. How many times can you keep going that well in any given year?
Olson: Good question. I try to save… I think I’m decent at saving my energy for the races that I want to invest and reach into the soul and go out. Western States for the last couple years has been the race I’m gearing up for. When I knew that I was coming to UTMB this year, this has been one I’ve dreamed about for years and just one I really wanted to go with. Some of those races I’ve just pulled back a little bit and I think I’ve rested well. Everything is feeling pretty healthy. I’m ready to give it a good shot again. I think that’s just… you’ve just got to come in with that mindset. That’s what I do is run. I do it all year around. I take breaks when I need to. I just try to listen to my body as best I can and for the most part I listen well. When I don’t, then I’m injured and I take a break.
iRF: You’re not injured right now.
iRF: And you’re feeling good.
iRF: You sort of had a tricky period, timing-wise. Western States was at the very end of June. You had Speedgoat 50k in the middle though I don’t think that was a focus race for you. What was your training like? Did you get any focused periods in there? Are you sort of cruising off your spring fitness?
Olson: Basically, I’m definitely going off that fitness. I did Western States and just felt really good. It’s fast and you’re doing some more leg turnover there. I was doing that prior. But even before the beginning of this year, it’s been a lot of vertical which has been kind of a key to my training. I think that translates well to the 100 milers even if it’s a little flatter like Western just because your legs are strong and you can dig deep when you need to. Post-Western, I took it easy for a week or so and then slowly increased my mileage back up. I did a lot more hiking. I did some stroller runs where I pushed Tristan in a stroller all the way up to Mt. Ashland.
iRF: That is some good strength work.
Olson: Yeah. I did some backpacking up there. So I did a lot of that. I never pushed it too much. Normally, before Western, I was doing higher mileage, whereas I was staying the last few weeks around 100 miles and going more on vertical and time on my feet. Even when I got here, I tried not to burn myself out. I went for some good long days but they were more mellow. I spent eight to nine hours on the hill/day with my wife, but it wasn’t as intense as I normally would have trained. It’s just lots of good time on my legs, strengthening them. I felt stronger as I was doing that. We’ll see how that translates to racing. This race, I need to be prepared for lots of hiking. It’s relentless the whole way. There will be a big climb and then you crash down and kill the quads and then you go back up. It just keeps doing that all the way to the end.
iRF: Have you really done a race of any distance that has that real hiking aspect?
Olson: No, I haven’t.
iRF: How do you think your hiking is?
Olson: I think it’s legit, yeah. We’ll see. I think it’s probably definitely something I could work on. I have that mental focus. You hike with intention. Each step is just focused on the next step in front of you. I’ll be giving it my all on each one of those steps. We’ll see if they add up to a good run.
iRF: Best of luck having a good run out there this weekend and have fun out there.
Olson: Right on. Thank you.
iRF: One quick bonus question for you, Tim. You will be running in a custom pair of The North Face shoes this weekend. What do they look like? What are they composed of?
Olson: It’s a shoe that is coming out that’s called the Ultra Trail. I think it’s coming out next year. I’ve been working over the last couple of months with the main shoe guy there at The North Face-U.S. and we’ve been kind of tinkering with it a little bit a couple of things that I wanted adjusted—a little more cushion in the forefoot to drop the heel-toe height and a few other things just to make it customized and feel ready to go for a 100 miles. When you have a shoe, you want it to last and feel comfortable and not beat you up. I’m really digging it. I’ve been using it the last few weeks running in it, and I’m excited to try it for a 100 miles. I’m excited to see what we produced.
iRF: Cool, I’m looking forward to checking it out.