Timothy Olson scored another international podium at the 2014 The North Face Transgrancanaria with his third-place finish. Timothy talks in this interview about how he deals with the highs and the lows of a race as long and as challenging as this one, what he thought when Ryan Sandes passed him late in the race, and how he’s feeling the day after the race.
For more on the race, you can read our 2014 TNF Transgrancanaria results article.
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Timothy Olson Post-2014 TNF Transgrancanaria Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Timothy Olson after the 2014 Transgrancanaria—where you took third!
Timothy Olson: Yeah. Good. Happy.
iRunFar: Feeling good about that?
Olson: Yeah, yeah.
iRunFar: Not the smoothest of races.
Olson: No, I had a lot of tough points in there, but in races of this caliber and gnarliness, just getting to that finish line is the most important part and the hardest part.
iRunFar: Yeah, and we talk pretty often so I want to focus on ‘struggle’ today.
iRunFar: Normally I know you like to go into that dark place and catch yourself in that cave, but a lot of the time that’s sort of the last third of the race where you know it’s coming and you fight through it. That came way early.
Olson: This was early, yes.
iRunFar: So how do you keep yourself motivated when you might not even expect it, not when you’re fighting at the very end? How do you get through that?
Olson: I came into this race trying to be really mentally focused. It’s my kind of… I learned a lot last year through difficult races, and I have a line-up pretty challenging races—to me, I think, some of the most challenging races in the world. I came here a little bit earlier more to just mentally prepare and connect with the island and have some quiet space for me. That’s really important to my racing is just really having that time to meditate and not be thinking about all of the other things in life but just really honing in on that inner peace. That’s what I try to bring to the race. And through the difficult times like that, it’s when you need it the most.
iRunFar: How do you find that yin and yang? There’s got to be that going to peace, but I sort of get the sense from you that there’s also fighting. It’s both.
Olson: Oh, yeah, yeah. It’s a mixture. The peace part is like those silent, still moments between the chaos and the animal that comes out. You need a little bit of both especially in such a long distance, you need to take that moment to go inside and feel what’s going on in your body. Because when you race like this, I start off with kind of like a plan that I’ll eat at this time or I’ll eat there, and eventually that just goes out the door. The stomach goes wrong—which my stomach went bad early on and I spent some times in the woods. But that happens and you have to learn how to deal with that and accept it. So you kind of go back and forth with that where you take a moment where you accept that things are going wrong, but how can you go inside and make that be okay. Then once you kind of get centered and you’re ready to chill and go running, then that’s when the animal needs to come out and you need to really start grunting. I love that part. That’s what I do in training sometimes is just letting that inner animal out and growl and drool and just get gnarly like the terrain. That’s what I do in sections as well.
iRunFar: Sort of thinking of a car analogy here—those still moments are trying to like get traction with a tire. If you go right into beast mode, you’re just spinning the tire and you don’t get anywhere. But if you ground yourself and really get that foundation…
Olson: That’s a great analogy. It’s basically what I do. I go back and forth the whole time just really listening to the body and when the body says, ‘go,’ and the mind is with that and you have both of those together, then you can really push it.
iRunFar: As much as you can focus on that mental aspect, there’s got to be times when you realize, ‘Shoot, I’m not getting that mental part right. I’ve been totally having a little pity party or just not paying attention.’ When you do make those realizations, do you have to just sort of accept them or do you get upset about that? Because it’s very mental for you, I think, running.
Olson: I normally laugh. I laugh at myself a lot because, I think, Ryan [Sandes] blew past me, and just having flashbacks to Western States where we were going back and forth and he caught me on Cal Street a couple years ago. I lost him, but eventually caught glimpses of him and that gave me motivation to keep rolling. This time, he passed me with such force that I was demoralized mentally. It’s just a punch to the stomach. Then I had to deal with that. Mentally, I was just gone. I was just ready to start walking it in. That’s where I… which I try to think of before the race, but you never know how you’re going to react… is being okay with whatever place it turns out to be. Yes, I was going to go after him, but I was just trying not to start walking. That’s where I just really had to accept that, take a step back, realize what can I do? I’m losing him, but I don’t want to keep losing ground, so I need to keep moving in some sort. So I had to kind of take a step back and he got away and just be okay with that. There are so many more races and so many more challenges out there. Yesterday’s run—I had a great time. Races out here… this island is incredible. It was super gnarly. Rocks were flying as we were going down these huge descents. You’re just trying to keep your balance. Rocks are flying by your head. I love it.
iRunFar: Pretty technical out there.
Olson: Yeah, for me, I think actually I was talking to even like Núria [Picas] who has run plenty of those races and she said this is one of the most technical ones she’s run. Yeah, I’m happy that I made it alive. The ankles held out; the knees held out. It was a good experience.
iRunFar: On the positive side of this mental place you go, you did make… you moved into the lead in the latter half of the race. Was it you going inside and just running strong, or do you make that self-assessment and feel good and trying to go for the win? Was it just going with the tide or is it… ?
Olson: That one I’m just waiting until I feel good. For me, I had a really good stretch where I was behind Seb [Chaigneau] and another guy, I forgot his name…
iRunFar: Yeray [Duran]?
Olson: Yes, Yeray. They were going really, really strong and I caught up to them. I was so stoked that I didn’t lose them. A lot of times in races, I lose sight of people and then they’re gone. I’m trying not to let those leaders get too far ahead. I try to run smart. I run on my plan or my approach to what I’m going to do. I think it’s smart to ease back in the beginning and kind of build that progression up. I was really happy with how my race went. I think for me, it’s early in the year and I wasn’t completely ready for this tough of a course. I learned a lot. It’s like coming to a run or race like this, you can’t be prepared. There’s just… you have to be ready for that, to not be prepared. My legs just kind of gave up on me toward the end, but I’m really happy… finally I got a podium spot in a European race. That’s huge to me.
iRunFar: You’ve been pretty close before.
Olson: Yeah, fourth too many times.
iRunFar: Where to next? Does your focus go ahead toward Hardrock?
Olson: Now it’s sort of a little step back and go relax with the family a bit. I’ve been gone way too long from them, so I’m looking forward to getting back to Tristan and Krista and hanging out. But I feel really good after the race. I got up this morning and went to the sauna in our hotel and stretched out some. The legs are feeling not too bad. Really feeling excitement and just readiness to just keep going through this year. I’ll do Transvulcania next. Again, that will be a hard workout. I’ll go hard, but Hardrock is the focus. I feel like I’m in a good spot moving forward with that. You never know how that is going to turn out. My life isn’t based all around that; there’s plenty of other good stuff in it as well.
iRunFar: You get into that [Hardrock] infrequently enough, you want to give that one a go.
Olson: That was four years in trying to get in and I’m very happy to be a part of that. Hopefully I get to be a part of the Hardrock family and get a finish out there.
iRunFar: Well, congratulations yesterday and see you around this spring.
Olson: Yeah, thank you.