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Meet Timothy Olson: Ultrarunner, Family Man and Mindful-Running Practitioner

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On April 26, 2017, Tim Olson cruised down the finishing chute of Spain’s Penyagalosa 116K in first place, his four- and one-year-old sons in tow. It was a typical scene for Olson, who takes his young family with him as he travels to races all over the world.

Five years ago, Olson sprinted onto the scene with a course record at the Western States 100 (his time of 14:46:44 still stands). Now 34, and on the other side of a battle with overtraining and repetitive injury, Olson continues to race strong, with a renewed emphasis on mindfulness and meditation.

How do you pull off traveling the world with your family, and what’s most rewarding about it?

Magic! I’m very blessed to travel to these incredible places with my family. My wife Krista is a skilled planner and she makes traveling possible. It’s not always easy; there are plenty of meltdowns. But I couldn’t think of a more fun and adventurous way to share this life with the ones I love. Witnessing the wonder and amazement in my boys’ eyes as we all learn and discover new places makes the challenging moments worth it, and reaffirms that this is precisely where we should be right now—embracing and living life to the utmost amidst the chaos and beauty of family travel.

My home is whenever and wherever I’m with my family. Even if we are tired, jet-lagged or cranky, all the adventures are worth it. We don’t know exactly how long we’ll continue this traveling lifestyle, but we are making the most of it right now.

What was your proudest moment of the 2017 racing season?

Each year is filled with so many events and special moments. I had a great time training for and racing Transgrancanaria in the Canary Islands, and then having my best race of the year at Penyagolosa Trails in Castellón Spain. I met a lot of amazing people and my family had a really great time soaking up the warm coastal weather and yummy Spanish cuisine.

What’s next for you?

I’m in the middle of planning for next year right now. I haven’t figured out the whole of 2018 yet, but I’m stoked for another amazing year of training hard, racing, exploring with my family and continuing our Run Mindful retreats. I am hoping to get back to Gran Canaria to train and race again this winter, with Transgrancanaria being my first race of 2018. Then I’ll possibly race Madeira Ultra Trail, and, if things go well, come back to Chamonix and give Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc another go. It will be a great year!

What tips can you offer for those who are new to mindfulness and meditation?

Meditation is a practice, so there is no need to judge yourself or listen to the thoughts that say “You’re doing it wrong,” or “This is a waste of time.” Just be still and follow your breath. Try it for one minute, sitting or lying down. Be curious of your breath and see how you feel. Try it for two minutes the next day. If meditation is hard to fit into your life, try attaching it to something you do every day. Brush your teeth, then breathe and meditate; this can be a great way to start or end your day.

What tips can you offer for runners looking to incorporate mindfulness and meditation to their daily run?

I like to meditate before a run or even during the first 10 minutes of my warm up. I pay special attention to the rise and fall of my breath; I tap into all my senses and become uber-aware of my surroundings and how my body is feeling in that moment. Avoid dwelling on results or harboring any expectations for your meditation.

One misconception is that mediation will eliminate thoughts or bad feelings. This is not true. The practice of mediation allows you to be at ease with thoughts or feelings—to witness them pass by like clouds in the sky. Each time you realize a thought or feeling arise, acknowledge it and then come back to your breath without judgment. Remember: it’s a practice, just like exercise. Not every time needs to be perfect. Stay consistent, be compassionate to yourself and keep it light and fun.

What do you hope to pass on to the next generation of trail runners, and your own children?

I believe leading by example is a crucial step to show the next generation how to treat their bodies, minds and environment with reverence. When we open up our awareness to our impact on the world, we make better choices and collectively take steps to nurture and heal our environment.

How can music enhance mindfulness and meditation?

Hearing is one of my favorite senses. While the trails provide many natural sounds to kiss our eardrums, I enjoy music and rhythms to enhance the present moment. A favorite artist of mine, Cornflower, has a song called Ocean Water, which I enjoy before a run or race to get me connected to my breath and my heart beating to a good rhythm. Bon Iver gives out some good chill vibes as well. Whatever makes you—and the trail—come alive.

If you could run with any band or singer, who would it be and why?

I’d like to go on a run with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes from 2010, the whole crew. They jam out. We could get funky on the trails. It would be a good time.

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