Chase Parnell

Ultra Runner - Writer

Tim Olson’s 2017 Transgrancanaria performance: a return from the dead

tim olson screenshot

Photo: Curiosity – TNF

I’ve heard some complaints about how there is very little in-depth analysis of elite ultra running. If you were to google the Chicago Cubs or a specific Wimbledon match, you are sure to find hundreds of quality articles by career sports writers who know their stuff.
 

This is my attempt to go a little deeper. It starts with Tim Olson’s 10th place finish at the 2017 running of Transgrancanaria. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that HE IS BACK. This was arguably his best result since the 2014 North Face San Francisco 50 miler where he also finished 10th against a very deep field.

We all know about Tim Olson and his ultra running woes. He shot on to the scene with unimaginable back-to-back Western States 100 wins in 2012 and 2013. But we also know of his equally infamous meteoric fall from competitive racing. He has been very vocal about his struggles but has always maintained that he is on the mend and heading in the right direction. He has remained a public figure – racing often, putting on his Adventure Mindful Retreats, and being a prime example of how to juggle professional ultra running with being a husband and dad.

We like to group people. I’ll admit that I’ve grouped Geoff Roes and Tim Olson together as the two greatest examples of overzealous professionals who get carried away and bury themselves. I still stand behind that claim because I think that’s exactly what Tim did. I don’t think there is any question about what put the final nail in the coffin. Take a look at his 2013 racing schedule:

tim's 2013

That’s obscene. And I don’t think Tim would disagree. But the question must be asked … can you really blame him? He was on top of the world. How are we supposed to really know our limits until we cross them?

You hate to be the guinea pig, but when you listen to young runners coming up now, just 4-5 years later, every single one of them talks about not wanting to over-race and about how they want to wait to build up to 100 milers. They are saying that because of Tim Olson and Geoff Roes and to a certain extent Krupicka, Wolfe, Krar, and Skaggs. But this article isn’t supposed to be about overtraining syndrome, adrenal fatigue, running addiction or any of that.

This is about a come-back and whether or not we are going to have the first real example of someone returning from the dead.

Tim Olson’s 2017 running of Transgrancanaria may have been just that – and hopefully a premonition of what’s to come. While 10th place may not seem all that extraordinary, Olson took down some absolute studs. The race was stacked. He beat Antoine Guillon (2015 winner of Diagonale des Fous), he beat Fabien Antolinos (2015 5th place at UTMB), Fritjof Fagerlund (2016 2nd place at Ultrasavan 90k),  and Gerard Morales (2015 2nd place at the Buff Epic Trail Race) to name a few. These guys are legit European ultra runners that would all be big names here if they lived in the United States. And perhaps more importantly, these guys finished the race and all finished in the top 25. They weren’t DNF’s … Olson outran then.

Photo: @SalomonRunning

Like I said, it’s been a long time since Olson has taken down the caliber of athletes he did at Transgrancanaria. He was only 61 minutes from the win on a technical 77.7 mile course with 26,000 feet of climbing. That time-gap is nothing. Also, apparently Olson had a few mishaps – according to iRunFar’s Bryon Powell, he missed a turn in Tejada. [I reached out to Tim to get more specifics on this and will update this post with details if given.]

**UPDATE: I heard back from Tim who had this to say: “I missed an aid station (it was behind a gas station and the signs were blocked by vehicles; the marking continued down the road so that’s the way I went) which didn’t add any time but I didn’t have food and water for a long time and I basically quit racing as I thought I’d be disqualified. By the time I got to the next aid station I thought I’d be done but they told me I wasn’t disqualified and should continue on. The whole ordeal made my race a challenge (I think it cost me 20-30 minutes). I feel I could have done much better but I’m happy with how the year started and I hope to continue in a positive directory.”**

Regardless of any missed turns, he finished 10th and was within striking range of the win on a beast of a course. People should recognize the weight of his finish and those who are fans of his should be encouraged. Only time will tell if Tim is really back.

His race schedule looks smart and strong.

tim's 2017 schedule

Penyagolosa Trail 115k  in Spain is up next. It is a new addition to the Ultra-Trail World Tour so again the field will be extremely competitive. You can’t accuse Tim of trying to cherry pick a win!

At roughly 71 miles and 18k vert, the race should be a little faster than Transgrancanaria. I like Tim’s chances on a tough course like Penyagolosa – it requires climbing/descending skills but also some speed. He won Western States twice, which is a total runners course after all. Here’s the video trailer:

We’ll see what happens! I know I’m excited to see how Tim progresses in 2017. As a guy with a young kid myself, I can’t help but root for the pros that are juggling life in all its multi-faceted goodness: running trail and wiping butts. Respect.

Check out Tim Olson’s website and his Adventure Mindful retreats.





 

6 Comments

  1. Great article, Chase. As you mention, I wish there was more of this type of analysis in our sport’s coverage, and so I decided to provide a counterargument.

    I agree that Tim’s performance at Transgrancanaria was by far his best in years and bodes well for 2017, but it is still a long way off from where he was in 2013–14. (Is 77 minutes off the win—roughly eight miles—really “striking distance”?)

    At the same time, I think there are two reasons that Tim won’t be a consistent podium threat in 2017.

    First, the quality of competition has continued to improve exponentially. Even if Tim regains his amazing form of four years ago, which may well have been a once-in-a-lifetime peak, he is going to be contending against a much deeper and faster field of runners. He could have an amazing day and still finish outside the top-3 at most these races. Heck, 2015 UROY & 2016 OT marathon qualifier, David Laney, just finished 6th at Chuckanut this past weekend!

    Second, will his body ever be able to fully recover from 2013? And has he let it? Only Tim can definitively answer those questions, but he has mentioned still struggling with fatigue issues. Plus, he’s returned to the training that got him to the top (i.e. long, hard days in the mountains—https://www.strava.com/athletes/8958144), which might return him to the podium, but might also lead to erratic performances and deep fatigue. Who knows, such is the razor’s edge of top-level training.

    Now that I’ve written this up, I feel incredibly critical of Tim, which certainly isn’t my intention. I admire him as an athlete and a person, and I hope he smashes it this year. No matter his results, one thing is for certain: Tim is doing what he loves.

    • Hey Rich, thanks for the comment. I would have replied sooner but I’m en route to the UK and it’s been tough to connect. I believe the time gap was 61 minutes to the winner Pau Cappel. For a 125k race, in my opinion, that type of gap is very small…just knowing how quickly things can change late in a long race. Also see my update above in the article. Tim said that when he missed the aid station, the whole ordeal took 20-30 minutes and it sounds like this was not his fault. Let’s say 20 minutes to be on the safe side. That’s 41 minutes behind the winner who probably had a flawless day. 40 minutes can be made up on one big climb and perhaps better efficiency in aid stations. Although he was 10th … I think more than being in a position to win, he was just strong and solid and didn’t fade. That speaks volumes to me.

      Second, while I do agree that the quality of competition has improved a lot, I think the majority of that improvement has taken place over races shorter than 100 miles. Olson is a 100 miler runner and still has the course record at Western States despite the influx of talent. Nobody has taken down his time…although I think Walmsley will…but not this year because of the snow.

      100 miles is still the great equalizer. Max King won Chuckanut this last weekend with an insane time, but his Leadville 2016 was a rough one. Andrew Miller, who is a pure mountain runner, took Western and Schlarb/Kilian took Hardrock. I think Olson is of that vein of runner. The exception in 2016 was probably the Nike crew at UTMB where the fast guys crushed.

      Who knows what 2017 will bring. I think if Tim keeps doing what he’s doing, listens to his coach, and stays patient like he said, he’ll get another big win. Remember what Hal did at Hardrock a few years after his back to back Western wins. Wouldn’t that be insane if Olson did something similar. Maybe at Diagonale de Fous!

      We’ll see…thanks again for the informative comment.

      Cheers, Chase

  2. Tim was one of my hero that got me into trail running. Im a husband and a father with 8-5 desk job. Juggling between work and life with ultra training isn’t fun, there’s no ‘recovery’ after your long run.

    All this ‘too fast too young’ elites might regret their decision later. Tim is strong, he’ll get there. Look at Jeff Browning, how old is he again?

    • Yus, 45 years old! I think there is definitely something to be said for slowly building up towards the hard 100 milers during the course of a runner’s career. Browning is absolutely crushing. He’s been running ultras for 15 years but his mainstream success didn’t really take off until he hit his late 30’s. Experience and mental toughness can take you a long way in this sport. Best of luck in your training despite the obstacles!

  3. Krupicka commonly gets lumped in with Skaggs, Roes, and Olson but his exit from the sport was caused by hard injuries, including a broken leg (two years recovery), a nagging on again/off again shin stress fracture (4 years), and recently a IT band issue. One could claim that all of these were caused by too many miles and that could be true but he’s never had the months of deep fatigue and dizziness that Geoff Roes so painfully described that started the whole overtraining syndrome/adrenal fatigue awareness. It’s convenient to mention Krupicka when the topic of OTS comes up, and it’s easy because of his legendary 200 mile weeks, but it’s not accurate and somewhat unfair.

    • Hi Pete, you are right. I mentioned Krupicka more as a general cautionary tale as opposed to specifically OTS. Krupicka is more an example of the degradation that can occur as a result of an unbridled passion for running and logging huge weeks. I am a huge fan of his and really probably respect what he is doing now more than anything he did while running competitively.

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