If there’s a line separating work and play in Tim Olson’s life, it’s hard to find.
The 27-year-old Ashland massage therapist uses his knowledge of the human body to help him run faster and longer, and to recover quickly after grueling runs.
On Aug. 21, his run lasted 9 hours, 25 minutes and 4 seconds. That’s the time it took Olson to win the prestigious “Where’s Waldo” 100-kilometer — 62-mile — ultramarathon in the Cascade Mountains east of Eugene. It was the second-fastest time ever recorded on that course.
Olson’s rise in the world of ultrarunning has been swift. He ran his first ultramarathon just over a year ago and has recorded top 10 finishes in all five ultra races he’s run, including a second place at the Siskiyou Out Back race last month at Mount Ashland. Where’s Waldo is his first win.
Olson takes a methodical and holistic approaching to his running and his work.
“I started running longer and studying massage at the same time. I’d actually go running with note cards. I’d memorize the muscle groups and feel them in my body as I run “… I translate that into the athlete’s body and how to help those muscle groups recover and heal from injuries,” Olson explains.
Olson and his wife, Krista, moved to Ashland from Amherst, Wis., two years ago, where Tim had lived most of his life. He had been coaching high school track and cross-country, in addition to managing a fitness center.
Within a few days of the move, he discovered the local trail system and the shoe store, Rogue Valley Runners, where he met a pack of top ultramarathoners.
“I heard them talk about this ultra-distance stuff and kind of chuckled at them. As weekends progressed, they kept inviting me to these progressively longer runs. I thought they were trying to kill me the whole way,” Olson recalls.
It wasn’t long before the runs felt easier and he incorporated them into his personal philosophy.
“It kind of grew into my own passion, and I started training, going out for long runs in nature. I enjoyed it, the connection to Earth and the energy I feel as I go for a run: let the hair down and just run for hours,” says Olson.
With his shoulder-length hair, goatee, chiseled physique and relaxed demeanor, Olson could easily blend in with a crowd of casual surfers. His intense blue eyes and precise manner of speaking, however, make it clear that here is a guy whose inner life is anything but casual.
“I want to take care of the body and help inform people about physical fitness and how it’s beneficial to their well-being and life. Physical activity is good for the body but also preventive medicine to heal from different things, to feel loose and enjoy life. Massage was a really beneficial thing,” Olson explains.
Olson has built a reminder of his philosophy into his body, one more permanent than the benefits of the 100-plus miles he runs every week.
A tattoo of a long-haired runner, drawn in a petroglyph motif, adorns the outside of his left ankle. Wrapped around his left calf is a tree, roots tickling his ankle and foot.
“The roots keep me grounded on the earth in massage and running. Every step you take in running, you’ve got to be sure of where you’re stepping “… it’s every step that’s so important for running, and life in general. You want to be conscious of the steps you take.”
Diet is another key ingredient for injury-free running, Olson says.
“One of my hugest things for recovery is eating organically, as naturally as possible, so my muscles have the right nutrients to recover as fast as possible,” Olson says.
Daily stretching also keeps the body healthy, especially after a race.
“I take a few moments throughout the day and work on them (the sore muscles), to get the nutrients and blood flowing through there to help clear out the lactic acid and metabolic waste so they will heal quickly,” Olson says.
Not surprisingly, many of Olson’s massage clients are runners. His practice, which he runs out of his home studio on 7th Street in Ashland, includes deep tissue, sports massage and myofascial release. All are beneficial for injury recovery, he says.
He often takes his practice on the road, volunteering his massage work at local races.
The current focus of Olson’s racing season is the Pine-2-Palm 100-miler, a grueling run through the mountains from Williams to Ashland, on Sept. 18. This race will be his first at that distance. His recent efforts have been buildups for this race, albeit fast ones.
For 2011, he’ll have his chance to toe the line with the world’s best 100-mile runners at the Western States Endurance Run. His recent victory at Where’s Waldo guaranteed him a spot to Western States, one that most runners must win through a lottery.
At the moment, Olson is not thinking about his next race.
“A huge key in life, why I love to run and massage, is to bring me into the present moment. There’s nothing beside the present moment,” says Olson. “When you’re aware of what’s going on and you’re not concerned with the past or the future, you’re just in that moment, and you’re able to do amazing things.”
Like win a 62-mile race.
Daniel Newberry is a runner and freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.