Timothy Olson burst onto the international ultrarunning scene with his sixth place at last year’s Western States 100. In the following interview, find out what’s led him to race so often since then, whether he’s fresh enough to race this year’s Western States, what exactly it is about the 100-mile distance that he finds so appealing, and how he deals with the lows that inevitably come during a 100 miler.
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Timothy Olson Pre-2012 Western States Interview
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Timothy Olson of Team Pearl Izumi. How are you doing today, Tim?
Timothy Olson: Good.
iRF: You were sixth here last year and you’ve really improved. You’ve done a ton of racing and have some solid wins. Have you changed things in the year since Western States or is it just cumulative time training?
Olson: Yes. I definitely have done a lot more racing this year. You get into ultrarunning and it gets exciting and you just want to see all these different places. Some of them are pretty close to my home, so I had to travel and check them out. Definitely a little more racing this year than last year, but I’m just loving it and excited about finally getting to the 100 mile distance. I’ve been doing all these 50’s, so I’m looking forward to getting to the 100 miles.
iRF: Is that your favorite distance these days?
Olson: Yeah, there’s just something about the 100-mile distance that I really love and feel drawn to. I like to just see where it takes me.
iRF: Where has it taken you in the past?
Olson: Deep. That’s why I like the 100-mile distance. With 50 miles, you’re definitely struggling, but you don’t have as many lows and you get done and, “Oh, I had a little bit left there. Maybe I should have pushed more.” Whereas with the 100-mile distance, once you’re done with that you’re spent. “That’s as far as I could go today.” I’m really excited just to run with a talented field and to just be pushed to the best I could possibly do.
iRF: I don’t know if everyone really realizes that every one of the elites, the ones I’ve talked to, 100 miles has a low every single race if not multiple lows. How do you approach it? Do you just know it’s going to pass or do you work through it somehow? What’s your approach?
Olson: Yes. I guess, going in, just knowing they’re going to come, and then just being as mentally prepared as you possibly can. I’ve been blessed that I seem to come out of them, but a lot of people, you know, it’s hard coming out of that and keeping your mind straight. I’ve been able to get to that low and just not give up. I have that internal fight and I try to overcome it. It’s such a positive feeling to be so low and to get over that. It’s funny how you can be so drained and then all of a sudden you get this little spark and it’s, “Okay, I’m running again. I feel good.” So you just pray those are going to come sooner than later.
iRF: One thing that seems to fuel you is competition. You’ve definitely been drawn to the Montrail Ultra Cup this past year to see a lot of competition. How has your Montrail Ultra Cup season played out? Have you ever had doubts about doing it?
Olson: Well, just the races that were chosen were great. I was really happy that [the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile] was added, because that was the first 50-mile race I did and loved it. Tropical John [Medinger] does an amazing job there and puts on a good, fun time. It’s only a few hours from my house, about five hours or something like that. So it’s fun to go do that and have a little wine tasting afterwards. It’s just a fun event. So with the Montrail Cup, I did a few of those races last year, not really thinking about the cup at all, and I took third. “Oh, $1000! That’s cool! Might as well do a couple others and see if I can pay a couple bills off.”
iRF: Yeah, $5000 isn’t a bad reward.
Olson: Yeah, I can’t complain about that if it happens.
iRF: That also meant you did race a ton this spring. While you were racing a ton this spring, you were battling some injury.
Olson: Yeah, I definitely had some foot problems, especially towards the end there. I had some plantar fasciitis which had really been bugging me. I’ve been dealing with that for quite awhile. I’ve finally overcome that and it feels good to have my foot back in order. I probably, definitely over-raced a little bit too much. I definitely don’t think you should do three 50 milers in four weeks. I wouldn’t recommend it. But I think it made me strong to know what I’m going to feel like towards the end of 100 miles. I had time at the end of that to recoup and get some more training; so I feel as ready as I possibly could.
Olson: Yeah, I’m ready to go.
iRF: By Ice Age (50 mile) you were probably a little…
Olson: I was a little drained there, and it was flat. I really like climbing mountains. I feel like that’s a strength for me. I was just really tired from racing there. It’s hard to get in that mindset every week. I really enjoy going for a run every day; it’s truly something I feel passionate about. The races bring out another aspect of running; it’s a fun way to hang out with some friends.
iRF: This year there’s a lot of aspects that have changed (at Western States). There’s no snow, where there was a ton of snow last year. It’s back on the real course which is more time in the high country. It’s going to be cool if not cold on race day. What are your thoughts?
Olson: You know, you’ve got to play with what’s given to you. The bottom line is I’m just going to go play in the woods for a few hours and just go have fun. I’ve been following the weather patterns a little bit. Every day you go on Facebook and someone has a new post, “Oh, it’s going to be raining. Oh, it’s going to be snowing. Oh, it’s going to be 100 degrees.” So whatever is out there, you’ve got to be prepared for. I’m excited to run the traditional course and see a few things I didn’t get to check out last year. I won’t be slipping around in as much snow, so that will be nice for the legs. It will be the real course for which I’m excited.
iRF: So one of the things that’s exciting about this year is the women’s race. It is stacked!
Olson: It is stacked. Yeah, I’m excited. I wish I could be watching it. I wish I could have my smartphone with me so I could be checking that out. I’m sure I’ll hear some updates. It’s going to be fun to see what they do and, with the weather, see how close they can get to Ann’s record.
iRF: Any thoughts on what the podium might look at the end of the day?
Olson: No. There are so many talented runners out there. A lot of people are definitely saying Ellie [Greenwood] or Lizzy [Hawker] going for it. They’re super strong runners and awesome people, so I hope the best for them. There are always the dark horses out there, and if they have a great day, they could surprise them. I’m excited to see what the whole field does.
iRF: Well, we’re excited to see how you do out there this weekend, so best of luck to you.
Olson: Thank you very much.