The Legend of Olive Oil Joe

AJWs TaproomI first met Joe Uhan last spring after the American River 50 in California. We were hanging out at Matt Keyes’ house in Auburn and chatting about the race. Joe had come down from Oregon with Craig Thornley, Meghan Arbogast, and couple other runners and ran a great race finishing 10th (8th man) in a solid time of 6:39. He was entered in the 2011 Western States and was eager to strut his stuff against the big boys in the sport.

Curiously, he decided to do something unusual in his preparation for AR50. Due to a forecast for cooler-than-normal temperatures, he decided to rub olive oil all over his exposed skin prior to the race. When asked, incredulously, by Thornley why he did that, he said simply, “For warmth.” This particular episode not only impelled the Oregonians to dub him “Olive Oil Joe” but fellow Eugenian Lewis Taylor to also produce a video commemorating Joe’s unusual methods. It was published during Michigan Bluff Training Camp Week on Conduct the Juices.

Fast-forward five weeks to the middle of May when I receive a frantic email from Joe explaining that he has been injured since AR50, has not run a step in a month, and is now worried he will not get to the Western States starting line. The reason he is getting in touch, he says, “I heard from Thornley that back in 2006 you got injured a month before the race and still managed to get top-10.” That was, well, sort of true, so I gave OOJ a bit of advice and wished him the best. He also told me that he was freaking out because he had shelled out about $5,000 to get his crew to the race and he didn’t want to let them down. More on that later…

Anyway, OOJ got healthy enough to make the trip down to a portion of the Michigan Bluff Training Camp and then, two weeks before the race, made another trip down to The Course to run/hike as much of it as possible. Truly, the guy was doing everything possible to get himself ready for race day.

Oh yeah, and about that $5,000 crew: the night before WS, I walked into the Squaw Valley Lodge and the entire lobby was packed with people. I’m talking 20 people all with clipboards taking notes. In the middle of the group was Olive Oil Joe, dispensing information about the race and giving his crew instructions like a seasoned veteran. It was impressive and I must say, not since Jim King has Western States seen a crew leave that kind of carbon footprint! I think he spent every penny of that $5,000.

As for Joe’s 2011 WS race, given all the issues going into it, he did quite well. In the end, he finished 40th in a time of just over 20 hours and, from what I could tell, was officially hooked. This past fall, he traveled down to Auburn from Oregon to run with local boy Jacob Rydman. They ran from the Start in Squaw Valley all the way to Michigan Bluff just for fun and so they could see the “real” Western States Course. How could you not like a guy who does that?

And that brings us to this past weekend’s Bandera 100k race. I noticed on Facebook about 10 days before the race a post by Olive Oil Joe in which he somewhat disdainfully commented on the race seedings. He was, to the surprise of many, seeded somewhere below the top-10 and, as far as I could tell, thinking he’d do better than that. Then, in the days leading up to the race, all eyes were focused on Olson, Clark, Mackey, Bowman, James, etc… with little to no mention of Olive Oil Joe. I can only imagine what was going on in his head.

Joe Uhan 2012 Bandera 100k

Olive Oil Joe midrace at Bandera '12. Photo: Bryon Powell

Race day comes and, if you were following along with Bryon’s outstanding coverage, you know that with a mile to go, after 61 miles of lurking in the shadows, Olive Oil Joe burst past Dylan Bowman and finished a strong third, nabbing the only available male Western States spot up for grabs. (Timothy Olson and Dave Mackey finished first and second, but they are already in WS due to their 2011 top-10 finishes.)

So what, you may be asking, is the moral of the story? What, exactly, is the Legend of Olive Oil Joe? Well, from my perspective, this goes back to a column I wrote a couple weeks ago about training the mind. I am not sure if Joe read that article, but if he did, he certainly got the point. On Saturday, he ran with his head and his heart. The guy wanted the spot badly; the ultramarathon prognosticators were thinking otherwise; at least ten guys were gunning for the spot and they all were fit, fast, and ready. Something had to give and on that day, in that place, Olive Oil Joe performed and punched his Golden Ticket.

To me, that is the stuff of legend.

Joe Uhan 2012 Bandera 100k finish

Joe Uhan earning his ticket to Western States 2012! Photo: Bryon Powell

Bottoms Up!

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
Ninkasi Believer Double Red AleThis week’s beer is Believer Double Red Ale from Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene, OR.

I first had this beer out of a growler Scott Wolfe hand-delivered to me during the 2009 Michigan Bluff Training Camp. Tart, slightly hoppy, and refreshing. This is a Red Ale that makes you feel like summer is just around the corner.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Do you have any stories, photos, or videos to add to the Legend of Olive Oil Joe?
  • If you followed Bandera last weekend, did you find the battle for a Montrail Ultra Cup spot in the Western States 100 compelling?

There are 23 comments

  1. Bartman

    Great story Andy. If you can read this and not feel like heading out the door for a long one then you better check your vitals. Thanks for sharing and best of luck to OOJ at WS this summer.

  2. Tim Smith

    I was a bit overjoyed when I saw Joe sprinting to the finish in 3rd after getting no mention on people's race predictions. Hope it adds more credibility to the fact that odds in ultras…just aren't credible (but fun I suppose?).

    I did feel a little bad for Dylan though, who ran a great race and just made a simple mistake at the end.

  3. Tony Mollica

    Great article Andy! As an Italian I definitely have to root for a guy with the nickname of Olive Oil Joe!

    Congratulations Olive Oil Joe on your third place Bandera finish and earning your WS spot! Way cool!

  4. olga

    Seeing 3 guys within 90 seconds of each other at mile 57, none fresh neither broken apart was exciting, so, of course, we gave each of them props to kill it – and competitor ahead/behind:) In the last 5, it who has the most guts, indeed, when it comes to a race within a 62M race. Gave us lots of speculation to go through. Thanks for that!

    Speaking of olive oil, while keeping warm, doesn't it also block the pores and makes for pour sweat evaporation, what supposedly is not good when running at high level? From my memory, Nikki Kimball had to wipe off all her sunscreen at WS100 back in 2004 (or 2005? whenever her first win was there), because her skin couldn't "breathe" and she was overheating. Although olive oil might be better absorbed by body and thus soon after applying not influence the rate of perspiration, I am kind of curious how did it work for Joe at that AR50 (besides getting top 10).

    1. OOJ


      Thanks for the support out at Last Chance, hope I wasn't too much of a tornado blowing through there!

      Regarding the Olive Oil: because it's a pure fat, it breathes very well, in the least allowing moisture to leave the skin while still insulating. At AR it was great in those first few hours, as it was 33F and dark, and stayed cool. Moreover, as that's a "marathon-type" opening course, it keeps you warm and loose at the faster speeds. My use of it at WS was more "ceremonial", though I was uncertain of how cool it'd be in the high country before 7AM (next year I likely won't use it).

      But for any cold races, it is money, as it is a strong barrier for cold, as well as wind and rain. A race where the Extra Virgin would've been crucial is this year's Run Rabbit Run – that would've saved the race of many, I think! :)

  5. OOJ

    Great stuff, AJW! I'm honored!

    Per the Olive Oil: credit goes to one of my earliest and greatest mentors in running, my former collegiate cc coach – and current elite marathon guru – Sean Hartnett ( He taught us about slathering on the Extra Virgin stuff before cold, Midwestern cc races.

    Besides Sean, I've been blessed with incredible mentors in the past year, including Craig Thornley, Meghan Arbogast and AJW himself (who, combined, have enough belt buckles to pave a driveway). They've taught me the most about becoming an "Expert Survivor", but I still have a lot to learn!

    Thanks again and see you in Squaw in a few month. AND excellent beer choice! A classic Eugene brew. I'll have one tonight!


  6. Keith W

    "Oh yeah, and about that $5,000 crew: the night before WS, I walked into the Squaw Valley Lodge and the entire lobby was packed with people. I’m talking 20 people all with clipboards taking notes."

    Great article but I wonder why Joe thought he needed to bring a crew and pacers to an event with fully stocked aid stations and drop bag service?

    I hope that the day will come when races get rid of all that crap and runners will just rely on themselves and their training to run a fast time.

    1. Bryon Powell

      I can't speak for Joe, but one can want to include crew for many reasons without "needing" to do so. Personally, I've included friends and family members, in part, so they could experience the events and feel involved. At the same time, I certainly enjoyed their moral support, assistance in quicker aid stations, and assistance in problem solving. The allowance for crews shouldn't detract from your or anyone else's running of the event. Go enjoy YOUR race and whatever you want to make of it. I hope everyone else does so, as well.


      1. Chris Gaggia

        I agree with Bryon about crews. I had a crew of one at AC and it made a big difference.

        On the other hand, some crews are large, loud, and forgetful that other runners are on the course too, and maybe not having the same feel good fest that their runner is…I think this is when it becomes a matter of how tuned in your crew is to the fact that other runners are having a day of it as well.

        I don't know if it's ego, necessity, or insecurity that dictates the size of one's crew. I don't even care, as long as the actions of those crews don't detract from anyone else's experience at the event. I've seen it go both ways. Maybe even three different ways.

        Chris G

  7. Mackey

    Joe ran an awesome race at Bandera. Having raced against him at AR 50 and other events, I know first hand compared to his prior efforts he ran out of his gourd at Bandera to get that slot from Dylan. He ran smart for most of the race, managed the heat better than most guys, fueled and electrolyted..that saved him alot of time. When Dylan crept up on me the last hill 5K before the Bandera finish, I had work real hard, and didn't even know OOJ was there. He must have been running the exact same pace as me, which was fast for those last clicks. Hats off to his effort and running brains.

    (Aside: a topic for irunfar is the MUC slots.. it should go 3 deep past those who have already been admitted to WS; Tim and I stole 2 slots at Bandera, which also happened at Waldo with me and Sharman)

    1. Anonymous

      I think the 3 slot gig should go after Tim and Dave. But I think this allows the RD's at WS to use the "special consideration" option later? just a thought.

  8. Trail Clown

    I'm going to try this olive oil method. And I think I will stop using gel-packs and start bringing plain cooked pasta in my fuel belt – when I get hungry on the trail I will just grab a bunch of pasta from my belt, put it against my arms to get some olive oil on it, sprinkle some S-caps on it for seasoning, and then I am good to go. Perfect mid-race meal, good way to get "real" calories in the system :)

  9. Ethan

    I'm going to second Dave's motion to extend the MUC slots for these races. I haven't heard anything regarding the original purpose of limiting automatic WS entries to the top 3 overall, but presumably this is a holdover from a bygone era in which the elite field at the MUC races was only a few racers deep. Clearly, this has changed (as evidenced by the fact that a guy no one picker for the top 10 finished 3rd at high-profile race, to highlight just one example). For the sake of competition at both the MUC races and at States, it seems like it would make sense to hand out two sorts per MUC race, regardless of how many guys or gals with a slot already reserved finish ahead of you. Obviously, I also agree that this would be a good discussion for a future iRF article…

  10. OOJ

    This discussion would make a good "Tap Room" topic.

    You've got two different things going on at the MUC races:

    1. Guys trying to win the cup (and "the cheese" that goes with it).

    2. Guys trying to get into WS.

    Sooner or later, most (if not all) races will only provide 1 (or less) WS qual because of "repeat-offender" guys racking up MUC points. Look at Sonoma:

    Stacked! Is it inconceivable that Mackey, Clark, Olson go in the top 3 (and maybe "OOJ" slathers on an extra layer for 4th?). Now there's zero spots.

    Not sure how this could or will be rectified. However, I feel a guy like Dylan is more deserving for a "special consideration" that Chris Downie: Dylan finished 12 minutes behind 1st at the 100K distance. Chris was 76 minutes back from 1st.

    Notably: these aren't WS' spots to give away, they're Montrail's. A little birdie told me that those remaining spots are freely awarded by Montrail, as they're the "title sponsor". As such, any pleas might have to go through them.

  11. DJ

    Great article! Having gotten my States bib in 2011 at Bandera I can attest to how hard that was now that I look back in retrospect. Joe is a great guy and I wish him much continued success in his future races! Run Strong Joe!

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