The Legend of Olive Oil Joe

AJW takes a look at the legend of Olive Oil Joe Uhan.

By on January 13, 2012 | Comments

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?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.