Modesto ultramarathoner jets to Holland for a 24-hour race

jsilva@modbee.comMay 6, 2013 

— Modesto ultramarathoner Jon Olsen has plenty on his mind this week. There's a long flight to Europe, meeting up with new teammates and the preparation for his 24-hour world championship race Saturday.

But Olsen has taken on an added role: team leader.

Olsen, 38, left Monday night for the Netherlands, where he will compete in the International Association of Ultrarunners 24-Hour World Championships.

It's an event for a chosen few across the world with the stamina, resilience and mental toughness to even consider it. Imagine running six marathons — back to back to back. That's what these elite runners will do.

As the most experienced and accomplished member of the U.S. men's team, Olsen has added the responsibility of encouraging his teammates and setting an example for them to follow.

"I've raced against a few of the guys," he said, "but I don't know many of them.

"I've always been kind of a rah-rah guy, so I'm taking that on myself. My goal is to run as well as possible so that we have a good team finish. We have a very team-oriented group."

The event is a race where runners compete to see how far they can go in 24 hours.

Competitors run a 1.4-mile loop from noon Saturday until noon Sunday. Their distance is calculated by a timing chip.

Each team is composed of six runners, and each team's top three distances are combined for the team score. Because of injuries, the U.S. men's team will be one runner down, and that puts added pressure on Olsen.

"I feel a little like the weight of the world is on my shoulders," said Olsen, a math teacher at Prescott Junior High School in Modesto.

He has been dealing with a nagging injury to his right hip. He underwent an MRI on Monday before he left; it showed some fluid in the joint but no stress fracture. Olsen thinks anti-inflammatory medicine should help.

"This race means too much to me, my team and those around me," he said. "I was telling anyone who would listen that this was going to be the toughest race of my life because I was planning to run to empty, and I still plan on doing that."

Olsen is a two-time winner of the Modesto Marathon and a veteran of the Western States, a 100-mile endurance trail run that goes from Lake Tahoe to Auburn. Last year, he competed in the IAU 100-Kilometer World Championships in Italy, where he helped lead the U.S. men to a silver medal.

Olsen said his 24-hour team is good enough to compete for a top-three finish. Japan, Germany, Italy and Russia are the team's main competitors.

The individual winner of the race likely will cover more than 170 miles, said Olsen, whose personal best is 158 miles.

"If we're going to medal, somebody's going to have to go 160 (miles)," Olsen said. "The (U.S.) team has a couple guys that have a shot at a podium finish.

"I'm really looking forward to it. This is my run of the year."

Curious questions

So, how hard is it to run for 24 straight hours?

"It's an acquired taste," Olsen said. "I have people ask me, 'Is it a relay?' or 'Do you get to take a nap?' "

The answer, in both cases, is "no."

Running for 24 hours has its challenges, to say the least. There's the night aspect and whatever the weather may bring. And runners must eat, drink and avoid stopping, or their muscles will shut down.

"It's hard picking up your feet at some point," Olsen said. "When I'm fatigued, I'll take 10-second walk breaks."

The key?

"You find your happy place," Ol-sen said.

During the race, Olsen will eat and drink on the run, stopping only for a change of shoes after 10 to 12 hours.

And after about 20 hours … "That's when the race really starts," he said. "A lot can happen in those last few hours."

Follow Jon Olsen on Twitter: @olsen_jon

Race updates are available on Twitter: @iaunews.

The IAU website is www.iau-ultramarathon.org.

Reach Jim Silva at jsilva@modbee.com or (209) 578-2279.


AT A GLANCE

WHAT: IAU 24-Hour World Championships

WHEN: Saturday

WHERE: Steenbergen, the Netherlands

WHO: More than 300 athletes from more than 30 countries compete.

LOCAL CONNECTION: Modesto's Jon Olsen is on the U.S. team. He's hoping to run more than 160 miles during 24 hours. That's a pace of about 8 minutes, 30 seconds per mile.

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