My Path to Contentment: From Addict to Awakened Ultrarunner

“Just be,” I told myself as I struggled to run the last miles of the Lake Sonoma 50 miler last week. When you give it your all, it’s hard to feel comfortable the whole time. Being out of your comfort zone and being ok with that is an important part of running ultras. It’s fairly easy to feel comfortable and want to keep that state all the time. To do great things, you need to step out of your comfort zone and be vulnerable.

I’ve spent many years not being content with who I am and struggling to love my self and just be. We all have insecurities and it’s hard to let yourself be completely free when those negative thoughts creep into your conscience. Bryon Powell asked me in an interview preceding my ass whooping from Dakota, “what has made me be a strong ultrarunner?” So on my run today I went into myself and really thought about what makes me tic.

Timothy Olson 2012 Lake Sonoma 50

Racing the Lake Sonoma 50. Photo courtesy of Drymax.

I’ve never been a super strong runner or an amazing athlete. Anything I’ve accomplished in life took lots of hard work and dedication. The same goes with ultrarunning. I think my PR in high school for a cross-country 5k was around 16 minutes. I’m not the most talented, but I like pushing myself, too see what I am capable of.

After high school I entered a very confusing time in my life and struggled with who I was, what I wanted to be and just loving my self. I was very insecure which led to many poor decisions. After not partying at all in high school I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Trying to “fit in,” although being a pretty shy/insecure individual, I was trying to be more outgoing with the help of “party favors.”

It was pretty easy for me to enjoy this “new me” and become rather addicted to the alcohol and various drugs that helped me achieve this freedom of not caring what others thought of me. This fake confidence led to many poor decisions that wrecked my body and also ended me up in jail (drug conviction, 10 years ago). Even with a wake up call of being thrown in jail, I was too addicted and could not stop these overindulgences. Over the next few years of torturing my body I missed out on many worthwhile activities and friendships. I didn’t run college cross country or track. I dropped out of college for a while and really hated myself for what I became. I was not happy; I lived in a pretty depressed state besides the times when I was high. I knew things needed to change, but how?

So after a few years of being on probation, being reminded continually I was a criminal and dipping into a downward spiral of depression and self hate, I basically wanted my life to end. I remember a moment when I was alone taking a shower, trying to sober up and just sobbing hysterically. I wanted to die, but still deep-deep inside there was this internal battle that would not let me give in. I felt like I needed to prove the world wrong, and myself. I had this moment of satori/awakening when I decide to stop being weak and to start living!

Timothy Olson Fort Collins road trip

In Fort Collins after my awakening.

Running was my lifesaver. I first started back running to detox, clean out my body and pass that fun, pee in a cup, drug test. I ran to forget, I ran for peace, I ran because it was all I could do and it healed me. Running helped me to look inside myself, forgive myself, trust myself and learn from my past. Running let out all sorts of emotions; I found myself crying, laughing, screaming and puking through this road of recovery.

It didn’t just change overnight, but there were significant times when life became clearer and I wanted to live again. I started running daily and after sobering up and staying clean for a while I started to coach cross country and track at my local high school where I grew up. This was life changing. I came to help these kids out and encourage them to make good life decisions. It ended up being a huge blessing for me. I made running fun for them and in return, my love of running kept growing and growing. I entered my first local 5k and I just started running (Forest Gump style). It was mostly just around back roads and cornfields of Wisconsin, but it felt freeing and was a lot better for my body then cruising around, blaring music way too loud and probably ingesting maybe just a little too much acid.

I finally graduated from college and had nothing holding me back, so the day after coaching track season was done I took off on a road trip. Just my dog and me, we hit the open road, living in our car, on our way to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, I would run on any beautiful trails I could find. I spent some really fun times in the foothills of Fort Collins, Colorado, slept under the stars by the Maze Canyons in Utah and ran down and stayed the night at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I still didn’t know ultrarunning existed, but I was already falling in love with these beautiful Western landscapes and knew this is where I wanted to end up.

Timothy Olson Canyon Lands Maze Utah

In the Maze.

I came back from my trip out West, finally content with who I was and feeling a deep connection between my soul and the beauty of nature. A few months later I met my beautiful wife Krista. It was her last day working at a downtown coffee shop in my hometown and when I saw her I knew I wanted to ask her out. We went on a date that night and to make the story short, eventually fell in love and knew we had found our other half. Her and my now father in-law, with whom I ran my first marathon, are quite into running, so I fit right in. Krista and I would go for runs together, which turned into our lifestyle that we celebrate daily. I love to run alone, but also with my wife, friends and, down the road, I will love running with my son!

Krista and Timothy Olson

Me with Krista.

To return back to the question by Bryon, What has sparked my recent success in the ultra world? After years of not knowing who I was and destroying my body I knew I wanted more with my life than just sitting on a couch destroying brain cells and watching my body decay away. I witnessed friends spiral into deep addictions, destroying their lives, ending up in prison, committing suicide, overdosing and losing their sanity. This awakening sparked something inside that made me want to live and enjoy life to the utmost. I’ve been in pretty low, dark places, but through this I have acquired a new found strength. Through adversity, I feel I have a lion-heart that is strong, fearless and will not give up. I do the best I can every day and my hope is to inspire and bring joy to everyone I meet.

We all have a past and have probably screwed up a time or more. You can let those moments cripple you, give up and stop living OR you can resurrect, strive to live each day deeply and happily in peace. I’ve learned that our minds and hearts are just as powerful as our quads and hamstrings. Believe in yourself, believe in love, believe in the positive, believe in the impossible, don’t ever give up, and the next thing you know you might just find yourself running a 100 miles!

Timothy Olson 2011 TNF 50

Me after the 2011 TNF 50. Photo: Brett Rivers

There are 115 comments

  1. Fernando N. Baeza


    Thats respectable, so respectable! Nicely written! That last paragraph was definately inspiring! I had no idea, thank you for sharing… Fernando

  2. Perry

    Powerful story – heard an Avett Brothers song last night while running – "The Perfect Space" – kept running through my mind as I read this article. Thank you.

  3. ultrarunnergirl

    Reading this makes me want to cheer for Timothy! So glad you made it out of the bad place you were in and found ultrarunning. We all have our demons and for me, experiencing the highs and lows of an ultra make me feel more alive than anything else. Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. Dan

    Tim, thank you so much for sharing your story. I have been struggling with hitting a wall with my running, it becoming more about times and distances than the joy I had being out in nature. Your story reminds me that those of us who do this are the lucky ones. Very inspiring stuff.

  5. Mike W


    Wow, man. Thank you so much for sharing this. That takes guts and we've all benefitted from it. Love Like Fernando and others, that last paragraph really got me. You're son is fortunate to have you as his father.

    – Mike

  6. Bill


    God bless you and thanx for being so vulnerable and sharing your story with the world!

    May you continue to succeed in ultrarunning and life as you have so already.

  7. David T.

    There are so many who, even though they are not abusing substances, are still: "just sitting on a couch destroying brain cells and watching my[their]

    body[ies] decay away."

    Your story provides hope. Thanks so much for sharing.

    David T.

  8. David


    I can relate to your story on many levels. We should chat sometime (412) 802-5252. Also, congratulations on the upcoming edition to the family!



  9. olga

    Absolutely awesome. I know of many ultrarunners whom had found savings in this sport, a replacement of sorts, a cleansing experience…My own son is going through stage of peeing in a cup and living on probation and parole after serving, and as his awakening slowly happening he keeps saying he wants to be like me. He may not run, but he knows and aware my saying to him every day: life is an ultrarun, all it matters is one foot in front of another in a general forward direction. Great life, Tim.

  10. Ian Scott

    Thank you for sharing a bit of your history, very powerful and encouraging. I love that the ultra community is so down to earth and willing to talk to anyone, very rare to find these days.

    Best of luck to you and Krista on your journey through parenthood.


  11. Seamus Foy

    Great piece! I definitely have a similar story, but I'm not even close to where you are. I notice, however, that the more I run the better my life is when I'm not running. Best part: I'm getting much better. I'm about to attempt my first 50M in 9 days. Reading this is getting me amped!

    Bryon, I also have to say that iRunFar just keeps getting better. The gear reviews and race reports are awesome, but the many guest columns are enlightening. Great stuff from many of the elite: Dakota Jones, Geoff Roes, a great piece by Joe Grant, Uhan's articles on injury, AJW, and others I am forgetting. Now we get this fascinating piece from Tim Olson. These articles contain so much fascinating insight into ultramarathons and beyond, revealing much about the human body and mind. I hope there will be more of these!

    Also, ultrarunners are exponentially more likely to be great writers than the general public. Coincidence…?

  12. Jess Mullen

    Thanks Tim! I have been down that same road and had my awakening 11 years and hope to never forget where I came from and to always cherish this wonderful life. We met once at Waldo… last year or the year before and you seemed like such a nice, content, peaceful person – cheers to you :)

  13. Tom Caughlan


    Great story. As a teen therapist I'm always trying to steer kids into the outdoors and finding something special for themselves. I will use your story for inspiration for them.

    Thanks for sharing it.

  14. David

    Thanks for sharing your story, hopefully others can learn from it. And for your information, 16 mins for 5K is pretty darn good for a high schooler! ;-)

  15. Gingeezy

    This hits very deep for me Tim, thanks for sharing and it is good to know some other people out there have similar backgrounds. I am so "lucky" in a sense to have come out unscathed, but in the end luck has nothing to do with it. I made a conscious decision to change and live life to the fullest. very good write up my friend.

  16. CJ

    Awesome post Tim! Very inspiring indeed. Your line…

    "This awakening sparked something inside that made me want to live and enjoy life to the utmost"…

    reminds me of the words of Jesus when he says in John 10:10…

    "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

    Keep running strong! I look forward to meeting you in person one day

  17. Lisa Bliss

    Thanks for sharing your story, Tim. I dig your honesty. Like some others here, I too can relate. May you continue to spread joy around you.

  18. Richard Dodd

    Thanks for sharing, Timothy – I have a very similar story involving alcoholism. The disease kept me from running a step for 3-1/2 years; but I returned to run a 3:03 marathon last Fall past the age of 52. Keep on inspiring!

    Here's my similar story.

  19. Linda Quirk

    Absolutely well written and heartfelt piece. This is the reason why Runwell was founded, in the hopes that we can help someone else find themselves & get a second chance at life. Thank you for sharing your personal thoughts and feelings. This article, if it helps even one person to take the next step, is so worth it. You are amazing and may you continue to Runwell.

  20. Debbie Loomis

    We are proud of you Tim! It takes a lot of inner strength and courage to share your story. Your story will help others who are facing similar problems! Good Luck this weekend!

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