Timothy Olson is one distance runner bringing a fresh perspective to The North Face’s Never Stop Exploring Tour, an annual nationwide speaker series launching this month. In a revamped format, this year’s tour will mix film and live narration from some of the top adventure athletes and filmmakers in the world.
In one upcoming Never Stop Exploring film, “Ultra Anthem,” a camera crew will capture Olson and other elite runners training up to 30 hours a week for the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (or the UTMB), one of Europe's hardest ultramarathons where runners cover more than 100 miles in the Alps. “It’s a full-time job [training for the race], especially if you take the time to get bodywork, stretch, and do strength training,” Olson says. “I get in around 100-plus miles of running and 20,000 to 30,000 feet of vertical gain in per week [so he runs up hills totaling at least 20,000 vertical feet per week].”
The film, just one of several in the tour, will take viewers through the pre-race build-up, along the historic mountain route, to the grueling finish line. “It’s a really, really hard race, with lots of climbing that is relentless and unforgiving, but you still need to be able to run it fast and in typically harsh weather,” Olson says. "Compared to every race in the U.S. besides Hardrock [100-mile running race in Silverton, Colorado], it’s the most demanding and difficult.”
<iframe frameborder=”0″ width=”480″ height=”270″ src=”//www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/x1ypl6p” allowfullscreen></iframe><br /><a href=”http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1ypl6p_teaser-ultra-trail-du-mont-blanc-2014_sport” target=”_blank”>Teaser Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® 2014</a> <i>by <a href=”http://www.dailymotion.com/UltraTrailMontBlanc” target=”_blank”>UltraTrailMontBlanc</a></i>
But for Olson, journeys like these have always meant more than the outcome. "There are unlimited places to explore, and it's fun to encourage people to get outside and discover the natural world right in front of them," he says of the inspiring Never Stop Exploring Tour.
We caught up with Olson to see how he continues to find the joy in running--and share it with others. Turns out, he’s got plenty to say and a lot of advice that, if heeded, will make all of us happier, whether we’re trail runners or not.
Running helped you overcome an addiction. How?
In my downward spiral with drugs and alcohol I was depressed and did not like myself. Running helped me get past those feelings of regret and judgment toward myself. I learned out on the trails to love myself, to stop worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. While running I’m free and just enjoying the here and now. Taking that awareness to every moment in my day-to-day life has been huge. Now I’m “free within” all the time; running facilitated this and continues to.
Walk us through a "typical" training week.
Much of my life is not typical. We rented our house [in Ashland, Oregon] out over a year ago and have been traveling the U.S., Europe, Argentina, and the Canary Islands, running races and enjoying life. In a somewhat typical week of training I try to average around 100-plus miles and 20,000 to 30,000 feet in vertical gain. I love the steep stuff and reaching tops of mountains all over the world. When we stay in one place for longer than a week, I try to find a good climb that is steep and technical and run up and down as much as possible. Every other day I try to go really hard and the opposite days I balance with a shorter run or hike with my wife and son using a stroller or a pack.
How do you create a healthy mix of life, family, and sport?
It's a balancing act, but one we've all enjoyed together trying to find what works the best. We all love running and being in the mountains and playing in nature. One of us normally goes for our run during our son's afternoon nap; then some days we all go for a run together in our BOB stroller or go for a good hike with him in a pack. We stop to have picnics and to play so he doesn't have to be in the pack or stroller for too long. We love spending time together, but my family is also very sweet and allows me to have time for big mountain days. Then I come back and hang with them and play around the house or go find a fun park to play at. We also love cooking together and going to farmers markets to get fresh, local produce.
What was the grittiest moment you’ve experienced in a trail running race?
Coming back from the dead at Hardrock 100 this year was one of my hardest moments, accepting that my day wasn't going as planned, but making the best of the situation. I wanted to quit, but persevering through really hard moments made the finish that much sweeter.
You believe in "living in the moment." How has that helped your running and how do you remind yourself to do this each day?
I try to make time each day to sit down, calm my mind, and mediate, concentrating on my breath and trying to connect to the silence within. I also take time in the middle of each run, normally once I reach the top of a mountain, to breathe and take a moment to be present and connect with nature. This helps my running in many ways. First of all, this helps with my overall enjoyment. I'm able to just enjoy nature and the subtle things around that make a daily run so great. Being in the moment reminds me to be grateful for each moment and that each one can be spectacular if you accept each situation like you choose it. Concentrating on each step makes you aware, decreasing your chance of injury and allowing you to move solid and strong throughout your run.
How has following a holistic lifestyle and eating healthy impacted your running performance?
Being conscious of what I put in my body helps it to continue to work properly each day. It allows me to recover faster and have the right fuel to put in continuous big days in the mountains and stay healthy. I try to incorporate as many fresh vegetables in my diet and eat grass-fed meat and pasture-raised poultry and eggs to fuel my running.
What are some of your favorite go-to training meals and snacks?
I love having a green smoothie with kale and organic fruit after my runs. I also like to make kale chips with my dehydrator for a good snack while traveling or watching a movie. I normally have an EPIC bar every day for some good grass-fed meat after a run or for a little picnic up on the mountain. My favorite is their bison/bacon/cranberry--it's incredible. Pre big run days, I normally make some chicken and sweet potatoes that are smothered and sautéed in coconut oil. This meal seams to settle well and gives me the energy I need before a big day. I normally start each morning with some Pocketfuel nut-butter. I'll either have that or eggs for breakfast.
What's one race every athlete should add to life's bucket list?
I like the 100s [races over 100 miles], so Hardrock is simply incredible with so many amazing people involved with the run, and the mountains are so wild, remote, and go on forever. It's hard to get in the lottery [to secure an entry to the race], but if you do it’s worth it. Also UTMB [ The North Face's Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc]. Mount Blanc is breathtaking and the tour around it doesn't disappoint. Two of my favorite places to run are the Alps in France, Switzerland, and Italy, and the San Juans in Colorado.
What are you most looking forward to in your running career?
Continuing to see new places while doing what I'm passionate about: running. Every day I'm blessed to get outside and enjoy my life. My intent is to stay healthy and continue to get outside.
If you were to pass along to your son the most poignant thing trail running has taught you about life, what would it be?
Remain present. Don't look to the future for life to "get better." Enjoy this moment right now and live it to the utmost.
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