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Tim Olson: Progression needs adversity

by @garyfallsover
Friday 4th September 2015

Interview: In June Run247 columnist Gary Dalton travelled to Italy for The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail where he joined Tim Olson's support team. Here is his interview with The North Face athlete:


You know those times when you know you’ve mislaid something but for the life of you, you can’t remember where you last saw it? Well my interview with Tim Olson after Lavaredo this year was a bit like that. I knew I’d recorded it, I knew I’d downloaded it, but for the life of me I could not remember what part of the ether that resides inside my laptop it resided.

There were false starts, snippets of mislaid trails, when I thought I’d found it, but it all came to nothing. Then, suddenly, there it was. I’d found it under a filename I can’t possibly repeat online. You know when you put all your naughty files in a folder named something innocuous like ‘receipts’ or ‘tax returns’? Well this was the running equivalent of that.

So here it is! Having spent the last couple of days in and around Tim Olson, a day after he dropped at Lavaredo , Imanaged to sit down with him for a chat and I got to ask some of the questions I was given by you guys via my SM platforms. I deliberately didn’t want to ask him about his race as I felt that I’d probably get a fairly canned answer while he was still processing what had happened, so I kept it pretty light.

I had not really known what to expect from The North Face (TNF) athletes I’d be spending time with during my time at the Lavaredo race (HERE), but without exception they were warm, welcoming and engaging and shared a love for running that was incredibly infectious. No a hint of the prima donna elite that I had been led to believe existed.

Question Gary Dalton (GD): Tim, thanks for talking to me so soon after your race ended, if you don’t mind we’re not going to talk about the race, having spent some time with you I think I know how you felt and what happened and I don’t think it’s quite the right time to talk about it and bring it up.

Answer Tim Olson (TO): Thanks man, I appreciate that.

Question GD: Your history of going off the rails in your younger life is well known, if you could go back now, what advice would you give yourself?

Answer TO: I would have told myself to be more assured of what I believed and to listen to myself more. A lot of the time I looked to others and it led to a lot of anxiety and trying to please other people. I got lost and decided to go down another path. It was me trying to find myself. My way was a little drastic and a little excessive, but it was what I needed to go into myself and find myself. Sometimes you have to get incredibly lost before you can find out who you are. Stay positive, read lots, get lots of opinions, but test it out for yourself.

Question GD: Ultra running seems to attract people who’ve gone through tough times, either through depression or substance abuse. Why do you think that is?

Answer TO: Funny question. I think runners share it more, some many people hide it, sit at home and don’t talk about it. Rrunners are more open about it and try to take care of themselves and share it with this great community and find in that process other people who are the same. I don’t think it’s this community of damaged ultra runners, it’s just this group of people who’ve decided to get together and do something about it and get better by going out there and enjoying nature, enjoying life and making their recovery happen.

Question GD: Is it an act of recovery?

Answer TO: Yeah, I think so

Question GD: What’s your favourite cake? Your diet is quite obviously massively important to you, you’ve been a proponent of clean living. Your SM feeds are full of healthy living tips and recipes, but on the other hand there’s this ‘in’ joke that the reason we do these huge runs is that it enables us to enjoy a conscience free cake. So what’s your post run indulgence?

Answer TO: Well my favourite cake is coconut bliss ice cream. I indulge in sugary things after a big run, my diet is chosen because it makes me feel really good and I like to keep it balanced, gluten and wheat products tie me up in knots and I end up in the bushes a lot so taking out gluten has helped that so much. I enjoy a glass of wine but the Italian gluten free pizza I had after the race was one of the best things ever. I find it’s easier to just have that kind of food around the house and I bring it to races because sometimes it’s not that easy to find Kale chips. Make it into a lifestyle and not something that’s torture. Learn to cook things the way you like them, try different things, find farmers' markets or grow your own. Food tastes so much better when you’ve grown it yourself.

Question GD: Your passion for it is quite obvious, it’s not just something you need to do for your job but something you really believe in.

Answer TO: Food is very important to me, I’ve seen it change mine and my wifes life so much, it’s just such an easy choice to make.

Question GD: What changes did you have to make to your life when you became a professional runner? Is it now just a job? A chore sometimes?

Answer TO: I never feel it’s a chore, I do have moments where I feel like it’s a job, but in a good way. Like how many teachers told you ‘Find what you’re good at, what’s your passion and do that for a living!’

Most people go to work, pay their bills and then outside of that have their adventures. But my adventures are my job. If I have a bad race I feel I haven’t done my job, but then I think that’s all I can give. With social media part of my job is putting myself out there and it is a responsibility to put the bad and the good out there. It’s a learning experience. Learning to be ok with being frustrated, being angry with not having a good race and learning to accept that. I could get all pissy with it but I just try to come back to myself, breathe and understand what was going on in my body and emotionally and I come around and feel better about it.

I need to keep learning about my body and understanding it and every day is a new day and I’m a different person every day. I just need to keep in the present moment. When I have setbacks I just notice them and watch the feelings they bring up and realise that one bad race doesn’t mean I’ll always have bad races. After bad races I get to come back to my family and hug my wife and kids and will I even think about a bad race? Not at all, I’ll move on and be aware of it but that’ll be in the past.

Question GD: How do you balance the running part of your job with the commitments of  being a sponsored runner for The North Face. You don’t seem to enjoy the part of the job where demands are made of you outside of running, the media interviews and such like

Answer TO: I used to enjoy it more, but after a thousand of interviews, you’ve answered all the questions and sometimes I’m a little overwhelmed with all the attention. I didn’t mean to do this, ( the running personality part of the job) it’s part of it and I need to accept that and it’s a great responsibility sharing myself with other people.

I sometimes need to remind myself that other’s might find inspiration in the interviews and though I’ve answered the questions before it might be the first time others have heard the answers, so I need to answer them like they’ve never been asked before.

Question GD: It’s an interesting irony that ultra runners tend to be quite quiet people but now wherever you go people want a piece of you.

Answer TO:  It’s an insular activity, I love running with my friends but I like time by myself too and then I have to put myself out there a lot more. I chose this too, it’s not like I’ve shied away from putting myself out there, it was a lot of work to get where I am and it’s a great thing and I enjoy it. Some times I need to remind myself when I do feel overwhelmed at people wanting to know about me.

Question GD: The social media aspect of ultra running is huge now. With social media we now have an access we never had before. We can ask questions and get thousands of answers back in minutes, whereas before we could only really learn by trial and error and by the experiences of friends and teammates. Do you think the access to answers is an issue now?

Answer TO:  It’s got it’s good an bad. For running and climbing there are lots of Youtube videos out there that show great techniques and that’s great, there’s great information to help people learn.

What we need to remember is that we’re all individuals and we need to learn what works for us. I learn that all the time. I check out SM and see what’s Killian doing, but that doesn’t necessarily work for me. I experience these things in my own way and I don’t need to try and be someone else, something I’m not. I can only be myself and just learn every day and learn what’s best for me and by failing. I love to fail, I do that and I learn and then I find my limits. I don’t see failure as bad, it’s just part of it, I just rise up and try to be better the next day

Question GD: Leon Lutz wrote a piece for irunfar entitled ‘Why do you have to run so much ?’ (HERE) It struck a huge chord with people. How do you introduce your kids to running and how do you pass the lessons you’ve learned on to your kids?

Answer TO: Leading by example is the best I can say. My dad is a very quiet person and just by watching my dad I learned so much, how to be a loving husband and father, to be a hard worker when life doesn’t work out for you, but you need to provide. He worked really hard, loved really hard and that inspired me.

I have to be the best person for myself and pass that on. Spending extra time preparing meals, doing yoga, going for runs allow me to be present for my family. I take Tristan all over the world, we go camping and hiking and we share the things I love.

We go running but running is just the vehicle to explore nature and I enjoy moving quickly through nature. It makes me feel alive. Our bodies are made to move and be free and I follow that drive within me and for me, I’m really called to be in nature and I share that with my son. To encourage that, I try to make the hikes fun, we look for certain animals, like a scavenger hunt, where we make a list and he tries to find the things on the list and we make it fun.

Question GD: What is the weirdest rumour you’ve ever heard about yourself?

Answer TO:  I put so much stuff out there about the drugs and the alcohol that there’s not too much that can be said about me. If I see an article or an interview I’ve done I don’t really read the comments, so I guess there’s stuff out there but I don’t really hear it. There’s been drug allegations about Western States, after setting the course record, saying 'oh yeah he had to be doping', but there’s nothing you can really say to that. I haven’t done anything illegal in running but there’s always going to be rumours like that. People just like to talk and gossip, but I just keep living my life and doing what I feel is right and I run hard, train hard and sometimes I get success and sometimes I don’t.

Question GD: You’ve talked about the Tor des Geants and hopefully doing a Nolans attempt next year, is that where you see yourself going? Longer stuff with maybe some FKT’s? Maybe some exploration adventure type projects?

Answer TO: I have no idea where life is going to take me. I enjoy the community of racing and being part of it, but I don’t enjoy the competition part of it as much and all the hoopla around races. It’s what helps me make a living and I have to be part of it. I see my running progressing to where I’m not doing huge projects so much. I know I have maybe five or six more years where I’m being competitive racing, so maybe I have one or two projects a year where it’s more going off into nature and testing myself and my limits.

I like Noland because it’s a huge challenge. I didn’t grow up in the mountains and I don’t do well in high altitude, but I love learning more about my body and I want to progress in life and what I experience and I find progression needs adversity and needs challenges. I try to set myself up for failure and I try to overcome that and learn for it. I’d like to try Nolans next year. Will I succeed? Probably not!

I need to learn to listen to my body better and recover better and I haven’t done that in the past, pushing my bosy to the limits was really difficult and it’s very stressful and hard to recover from, especially when you’re doing so well in running, you just thing lets keep going to keep the momentum and you want to follow that and you don’t listen to your body as you should and you don’t recover properly. I need to be patient with it, I see someone training hard, setting a course record and doing well in a race and the ego loves that. My life is now about trying to kill the ego so that’s not my focus. I fend doing things that bring peace to be helps slow down my life so it’s not about impressing anyone or pumping up the ego.

Question GD:  When are you coming to the UK? Anything you’d like to do? Any of the big rounds?

Answer TO: I don’t have any plans right now, I’d love to at some point. The rounds are some thing that I’ve read about, more so I don’t know the UK as I haven’t been there. I haven’t experienced it yet, I need to get there. There’s always been something else that’s taken my time, will it be next year? I don’t think so.  I’d like to do one of the rounds, but I don’t know when it’ll happen. I don’t know, I’d like to do Nolans next year but I’d love to get there some day.

Question GD:  That’s pretty much all from me, thanks for taking the time out to chat, especially after your race ended the way it did. Appreciate your time Tim.

Answer TO: I feel bad that I haven’t that I haven’t been to the UK yet, I will get there. There seems to be a different place every week that I need to see. I love to travel, but my body hates to travel. Maybe once or twice a year I’ll get away, but I think with a new kid on the way, I need to appreciate what’s outside my back door and explore that a little bit more.

To find out more about Tim check out his website: www.timothyallenolson.com


About The Author

Gary Dalton

Gary Dalton is a rugby loving, crime fighting, white Irish Muslim ultra runner. Despite all this he's not a complete eejit. 

Gary is originally from the west of Ireland and can't actually remember when he moved to London - he blames a heavy diet of being tackled by prop forwards and potatoes for the memory loss. He hates going out for runs, canals and borderline hypothermia and loves ice cream and going out for runs. 


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