I’m hiking dow the zig-zag path on the cliff face down to Tazacorte beach on La Palma, when I hear the light, fast steps of a seasoned mountain runner behind me. As the figure glides by it turns out to be no other than Timothy Olson, finishing up another glorious run up the mountain on the Transvulcania course. We had arranged to meet later that evening for a chat but there is no time like the present, as they say. So we grabbed a couple of chairs outside a beach-side bar, ordered a couple of freshly squeezed orange juices and got talking about all the latest with Timmy O…
So Timothy, Transvulcania, La Palma. What do you think so far?
This island is just beautiful and I have got to explore a lot of it now- I did the last 45km of the course on the second day I was here, then a few other runs around here and then I travelled to Virgen de El Pino and ran up the zig-zag cobblestones up to the course on the GR131 at La Hilera and then I ran both ways, a little bit, on that section. Then yesterday I went to Fuencaliente and ran down to the start- then I ran up to a few kilometres past El Pilar and then back down. So I have seen a lot of the course.
So you’ve got to experience the long downhill from the top at Roques de los Muchachos too, what did you make of that section?
It was good! I was really nervous because thats when my knee has been bothering me this past while and I did that section, probably stupidly, two days after I landed here..but I didn’t have any problems with it. It was a bit of gamble but I felt really good and got used to the whole downhill part of the course and the knee feels good.
The field is, to put it lightly, stacked. How do you envision the race panning out Tim?
It’s going to be a fast race! I feel like there will be a few people that take off way too fast…
Ha, yeah like always! So I hope to just settle in the top ten or something like that and try and play it cool for a while. The start is so sandy that it will be really tough moving and I think you could sap your legs really easily if you go out too hard- and to do that in the first 10km os an 83km race isn’t smart. So I am hoping to get through that and keep pawing the climbs. I love climbing…this is like the dream place for me- there is so much vertical! I probably should be tapering but I still had to go up today- I just love all the climbing!
It’s technical too- it’s probably one of the most technical courses I have been on but it’s not that technical. It’s just the footing is different every section- it goes from the different kinds of sands to loose lava rocks to fixed lava rocks, then some road and pine needle trails in the forest, so there is just so much variety…
So compared to your home trails in Oregon, it must feel like a different world here?
Yeah completely different. Besides the middle section, from around El Pilar to La Hilera, which is kinda like our trails back home. That section will have to be run hard- its pretty buff with not a lot of technical on it and not very steep. So that will be a section where it will feel a little bit like home…
Back home I do a lot of vertical- a lot of climbing and hiking and stuff- I search out the hardest trails I can find but this place? This place just has them everywhere so I don’t even have to look around here which is wonderful!
That section we were just talking about- from El Pilar to the point where the trails cross at La Hilera- so you reckon that will be a key part of the race?
Yeah it will have to be run fast. A lot of times there is a lull in the middle of a race- you started out real hard, you’re preparing for, for me anyway, higher altitude and the technical sections and the big downhill so that flatter part of the course is where I need to make sure I stay with people or even gain on people if I’m back a little ways- catch up if I need to.
So do you see the ‘usual suspects’ out front?
Yeah, I think Tony (Anton Krupicka) and Kilian will still play just a tiny bit safe. I think Sage (Canaday) and Cameron (Clayton) are gonna go out hard- they are just going to fly from the start. They are ready to go, they’re exited. There are other people too of course, people I don’t even know, that will be ready to push it right from the gun too. In my mind I see those guys getting a little bit ahead of me and I just need to try to keep them within a minute or two and then attack when I am feeling right. If I can be real close to them it will be a really satisfying race- before this trip I had to take a couple of weeks off because of my knee so I was a little nervous about what my fitness would be like. Now I’ve just had a 100+ mile (160+ Km) week with 30,000+ feet (approx 10,000+ meters) of vert, so it’s just been a ridiculous week of running so I feel back, I feel confident and in good shape- I didn’t have that consistency all the way through like I did before but also that little bit of rest may mean I am a little bit more prepared for a really hard run.
Your last race, the Tarawera 100 in NZ, was a good race for you too though right? It seems like you used the same kind of tactics there too- you held back and then attacked Sage late-on?
Yeah- although I held back too much there so I need to balance what the right amount of holding back is.. but I would love to do that here too- that would be ideal tactics- to be a little bit behind and then to get to that last 30k of the race and just lay it all out there! The body is dead, you know? It’s worn out so just let the heart take over and give it everything I have! I am really excited about that last climb (the 5km, 500 meter climb from the beach at Tazacorte up to the finish at Los Llanos) just because I know I am not as fast or savvy on technical terrain as, say, Kilian or Cameron and Tony. I know that if we are anywhere close on that terrain that they will gap me a little bit but I feel like I can have a really good last climb and that I like the longer distance and feel strong those last 5 or 10k. So if I can make it down without tripping I would like to reel them in as much as I can on that last push!
I can’t wait to see how it pans out Tim. So this is your first time in Europe right?
Yeah first time in Europe! I am loving it. The people have been amazing- the Transvulcania people have been so welcoming. Then Frosty has been here too, showing me around because she was here last year for a while. She knows it all! She has been driving me around, showing me the trails so that has been really great. We are staying really close to the trails only a couple of kilometres to the beach too so its been incredible.
The after Transvulcania, are you heading home? What’s the plans?
Yeah, Western States! So I will go home after this race..
So you were not tempted to run Zegama?
I would have loved too but I don’t have enough time out here and I need to get back to my family. I would love to run them at some point- I would love to do as much as the European Skyraces races as possible in France, Spain, Italy, those races look amazing.
‘Talking about SkyRaces, Skyrunning seems to have really caught the imagination of a lot of people in the States too these last couple of years. What’s your view of that Tim?
Yeah, really. I think a lot of people are getting into the mountains and want the experiences. Of course there are a lot of wonderful races in the States- ones that I still really want to do but mountain and trail running is really all about the spirit of it and being technical and being in a place like this. Where you look up and you see that big rise and you want to just run up it and back down or around it. In the States, like I said there are really good races, but the trails sometimes do a lot of switchbacks and are more buffed out and it can be hard to get permits to the tops of really big climbs. There is a difference with the overall atmosphere here too- the whole town, the whole island, is excited. I am stopped for pictures. No one in the States knows who I am, besides the little community of ultra runners, but here I walk down the street and people want pictures with me.
Does it feel good!?
It’s nice. It’s welcoming- I was totally shocked that people would know who I am! I figured they know who Frosty is ’cause she has been here but to have even a little bit of a reputation here is nice. It’s kinda overwhelming that the race is so big here. I mean, you walk around and everyone knows about the Transvulcania race. I’ve even hung out with the President two times already! We went on a tour yesterday together, I just can’t imagine that he has time to just hang out me- that blows my mind!
Haha, so do have a little itinerary for each night? Like- Monday, dinner with the president..?
Ha, no I think that was all that was organised but we get emails all the time with things that we might want to do! But now the media-brigade begins- Bryon (Powell) will be here soon and Marcus from Ultra168- so everybody wants to do interviews. It’s cool though, we are staying at the same place so its great. It’s fun to spend time with the runners, even some of the runners from the States I usually only see for a bit but we don’t hang out as much so having this time here to hang out and get to know people has been really, really nice.
You didn’t bring the any of the Oregon crew with you though?
No, nobody came with me this time! Although after this I think a lot more people will want to be coming out here- it’s just a really good spot. I love how low-key and small the island feels though, it’s not overwhelming and there are not too many shops. It’s not city-like at all which I really appreciate in a race.
Yeah, you mentioned when we talked before that you maybe plan on coming back and do some running and travelling with the family in tow?
Yeah right, so next year- I have been trying to talk to a few people about- but I would love to stay here over a month and I’d like to do this race again- I will se how this experience goes first but this a place I would really like to hang out. I mean, there are so many trails around this island and I have the opportunity with The North Face to put together projects so I think one of the projects I want to do is- I have been trying to piece to it together- but there is 160+ kilometres of the GR130 trail here that goes right around the coast and I think I would like to do that next year either before or after Transvulcania. Try to do it in one swing and see what The North Face would like to do with it.
You know having this opportunity to travel the world and run is like a dream come true and people from TNF are asking me ‘What expeditions would you like to do?!’
So they are like ‘Tim, where do you wanna go!?
Yeah, there like ‘Tell us what you want to do!?’ So I could go and name some things that other people have done or things that I have read about- I would have no problem doing, say, Corsica or like what Jezz Bragg did in NZ, the Te Araroa Trail Expedition. They would be awesome but it would be fun to find something that someone hasn’t done and this whole island is beautiful and I would love to see very part of it. To see it by foot is my ideal way of doing it too. There is something about the energy of this place that is very special. This island was just meant to be, there is a lot of stuff going on under the Earth and not every spot is going to rise up and become an island and I think this place really wanted to manifest itself and give this energy to people who love the Earth, respect the Earth. People who don’t want to trash it like other people have done to other beautiful places. I wanna come back and live here for a while next year- I can’t see anything wrong with that! I have already talked to my wife and she is game for it too so that is a definite goal for next year.
That energy that you talk about Tim, it really is almost tangible here don’t you think?
Oh yeah. As soon as I touched my feet on the ground I have felt really connected to this place. I haven’t felt that in a lot of races but some races I have just felt really connected to the environment- it doesn’t happen right away but this place, I was magnetised to it straight away. The first day I got here I climbed up the end climb on the course and was just mesmerised- I could feel the energy of the rocks and the connection right away. So no matter how the race turns out- if I am 50th, 1st or 10th- it doesn’t really matter, I feel really satisfied with this trip already and the race will just be the icing. It’s cool to share it with so many people too. To celebrate this lifestyle that we love, to be outside playing in nature with this many people, 1500 people running. I have never been in race that big and people are travelling here just to cheer us on! I can’t even imagine what the ambience will be like!
You talked about an injury earlier but you work as a massage therapist too Tim right? That must give you a better understanding of your own body as well?
Yeah, before anytime I talk with my clients I always tell them that I am the test dummy- you know I go out there and just beat myself up like crazy, get all kinds of little niggles and injuries and then I try to figure out whats going on. When I do get injured I know that I am not connected with my body, not the big injuries where you tear or rip something, but the little ones that are fixable and preventable are ones that when they creep up I know that I am not connected properly. So when I am giving massage I feel like I understand the body more and when I am running I can feel what is working- what is firing and what’s not. So, I feel, massage has been huge with my progression in the sport- when I started running ultras is also the same time I started going to study massage in Ashland. So they went parallel – I memorised all the muscles and bones in the body as I went for my longest runs ever. So they both grew together and I am very passionate about both of them.
That’s really cool- sounds like there is a real symbiosis there where one thing benefits the other?
Yeah. I think I have lost a little bit of that these past few months because we have a son and my wife is full-time and I have really taken a step back on my massage work. So I haven’t been as present in the body and as connected as I normally am. But as I learn to balance more, with the family-life and running, I feel like I connect to that more in different ways. Having a kid is wild- it’s such a great way to learn patience and to learn many things, he has been my greatest teacher.
But I guess it’s also getting to the stage where you can realistically become a ‘career trail-runner’?
Yeah, even in the few years that I have been doing it, it has grown so much. It has been my intention to do that- of course I want to keep up the massage too- but as an athlete your body can only go for so long and I want to see where I can take this. That’s why I hope to be building a solid relationship with The North Face where as I continue to race and help the brand out, that we really form a solid relationship. I want to keep being an ambassador and spokesperson for them as I grow older and get to move on to different things besides just racing. I just want people to get outside and feel the nature and being with The North Face gives me that platform to do that.
So you have just recently joined up with The North Face how did that come about Tim?
A little bit of luck! I think they were interested in me over the last few years but I was with another team.
So you heard some rumours, little whispers and that!?
You know the running community is so small, we talk! I, of course, have good friends who are with The North Face and I think I went to Hal at one point and said ‘It would be fun to be on the same team with you, do you think they would want me on the team!?’ He was like ‘Yeah, I think they have been interested the last couple of years’..
That must be great to hear!?
Yeah, to know that they even knew about me! I haven’t been in the race scene long so it was very flattering to hear. So then I got talking with the person involved with the team and we talked about how it would work. One thing they really brought to my attention is that they wanted a relationship and not just ‘Here is some money, now go run for us!’ They wanted my opinions, to work together and make quality gear..
Yeah, so you are involved with the design process too?
Yeah, well I have just started with them in january so I’m trying not to be too pushy! You know, it’s The North Face, they have it dialled in for years but there is lots of things I have my own opinions on- I really think the lighter, more efficient, quality products are what we need out in the mountains. Each extra gram you are carrying is taking away energy so I am hoping to give a lot of feedback and to create products with them. I told the North Face from the beginning that I want to be as real as possible with the products. When I am telling someone that ‘Hey, this is what I wear’ I wanna it be what I really wear and not just telling people things I don’t believe in. That’s what I am doing with The North Face.
So have you talked about a new shoe with them?
Yeah we have, when I get back I am supposed to be sitting down with the designers before Western States and help design a shoe that I want to run in- so I am really excited to be working on prototypes and connecting with the R&D teams there. It’s going to take time of course but we are going to get prototypes and test them out- that’s why they like athletes that do so many miles because we don’t do a 100 miles on a shoe in a few months, we do it in a week. So they get the feedback really quick. I have Transvulcania, Western States and UTMB as my main races this year so they are good races to test the gear too.
Yeah so Western States, you are going back as the champ, how does that feel?
The competition keeps getting better, you know every race is just ridiculous now. You can’t go to a race and think you can just wing one and pull off a win, you need to have your game spot-on. It’s great, it’s making all of us really work hard, pushing each other and seeing what’s possible. We are definitely going past the boundaries of what we thought was possible. we will se what happens this weekend with Transvulcania.
New course record maybe?
Dakota’s record is amazing for this course. It’s incredible how he put that down there but I am not going to say it’s not impossible to break.
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