Timothy Allen Olson’s adventure from druggy to two-time winner and current record holder of the Western States 100 Mile Race (one of the most grueling endurance sports competitions in the world) is one of the most remarkable journeys in sports today.
Olson didn’t only emerge from the darkness as a prodigious runner, he started movements called Run Mindful and Adventure Mindful with workshops in Boulder, Colorado and Malibu, California. His weeklong workshops involve local organic food, running and meditating—they provide an opportunity to slow down and go offline or reach the next level in fitness.
Olson’s philosophy hinges on being the best father, partner and runner possible by combining meditation, diet and running unimaginable distances. Now, as one of the most successful long distance runners on earth, Olson is all about balance, which he says makes him stronger and more productive in all areas of life.
He spoke with Paste Health from his home in Boulder about juggling family, health and his running career, while adventuring to the best running destinations on earth and competing at an elite level with the whole family in tow. Along with his wife Krista and their children, Olson works to bring a message of mindfulness and adventure to the world, while at the same time winning some of the world’s most difficult running races.
I know from other interviews with you that you turned your focus to running as a way to emerge from a dark place in your life. When did running became more than an escape and turn into your lifestyle?
Timothy Olson Probably 2010 or 2011, after moving to Oregon to go to massage school. I was opened up to moralistic living and meditation, and how I can transform and heal my body through eating good whole foods. Through sitting meditation I was able to understand my body more, which is when I saw how beneficial opening my mind was. Instead of wanting to escape the world I created or trying to numb the pain from different fears and different things that had gone on in my life, I transformed those fears into taking care of myself. That’s when I started running a lot more and using running as a way to connect with nature and to be more mindful in the present moment.
When did mindfulness and presence become integrated into your running practice?
TO I think it was from the beginning. Running was always part of my life but it wasn’t really until 2011 when I really got into it and meditation became an almost daily activity. I started meditating in 2009 and it was slow progress. So maybe I wouldn’t meditate every day but then I would use running more as my meditation. I think that’s fine. It’s a form of meditation for me and I think it’s a really great way to connect with myself and the present moment. But in 2011 I really started to feel the benefits of meditation—I felt more grounded, I felt more present and more mindful throughout the day because of sitting meditation practice.
What advice do you have for people who work 9-5, and don’t have the time or motivation to go out running, let alone sit still for 15 or 20 minutes and meditate? How can someone get started with a simple mindfulness practice?
TO Everybody can find 10 minutes in their day to be still, but then finding an hour plus to exercise, especially with family and everything—that’s extremely hard. I think the more you practice meditation, the more you realize how productive you can become with your time. Maybe you just got done with a big meeting, a phone call at work, an email, whatever, and you take just one minute to breath and focus on the present moment. If you can fit in a few of those breathing sessions throughout the day—little bitty meditations—I think you’ll notice the benefits of it. And those benefits will help me carve out more time for health in the future.
How does meditation fit in with family?
TO Sometimes when I’m meditating I will actually think about a few people and they will be part of my intention for my meditation that day. So I’m breathing and I’m thinking, “OK, if I do this meditation it’s going to benefit my wife and children. I will be more present so that when I do play with my children I will play with them completely and be really aware of them and what they’re going through.” When you take time to meditate and be present, the benefits extend into future tasks and other parts of your life.