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:
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.
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.
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.