Running To Mindfulness: Interview with Timothy Olson

When the vast majority of people think about running for any amount of time longer than 10 minutes, it’s usually not with great enthusiasm. Timothy Olson, the founder of Run Mindful Retreatsis a decorated ultra distance runner for The North Face. Ultra distance running include marathons of distances up to 100 miles (approximately 160 kilometres) that are completed in a single, constant attempt. Timothy enjoys running for long distances, especially through the mountains and other nature settings. He finds peace through a meditative, mindful practice he uses while on his runs. His mindful retreats attempt to teach others how to be mindful during their running to become connected with the environment and themselves. He creates a balance in his life by being mindful and he hopes he can share his experience and practices with others. Below is an excerpt of the conversation I had with Timothy.  
When did you start running? 
Timothy Olson: I started running as a young kid growing up in Wisconsin surrounded by cornfields and potato fields. I ran in high school and quit running in college. Transitioned out of some trying years in my twenties. Rediscovered myself, started running and eating healthy.
I fell in love with the natural world and have been discovering it on my own feet running and sharing this bliss with friends and family ever since.
What were your earliest inspirations for starting?
T.O.: My dad inspired me to run as he ran some in high school. I was super passionate about basketball and running was a good way to be in shape for that.
Once I moved to Oregon the curiosity to discover myself, connecting to nature and the ability to check out new areas and environments was my inspiration.

How did you progress your way to ultra distance running? 
T.O.: After my wife and I were married in Wisconsin, we moved to Ashland, Oregon. The trails and friends I met in Ashland propelled my running in many ways. I was going through massage school and I enjoyed working with athletes (being a high school running coach prior to massage school). I memorized my muscles and their actions and used running as a tool to facilitate my massage skills and technique.
The more I ran on the trails the more I fell in love with it, after that I witness friends doing amazing things with running and the curiosity to see how I would react mentally, emotionally and physically really intrigued me. Ashland is one of best places to train and the trails really taught me a lot.
Where is/was your favourite place to run?
T.O.: My own backyard in Boulder, CO. I absolutely love it here. I’ve traveled and have ran in many beautiful places that will always be in my heart, but running my home trails is a magical experience and I’m grateful every time I run up to Green Mountain or Bear Peak and I’m just in awe of how blessed I am.

For a full mindmap behind this article with articles, videos, and documents see #ultrarunning

Can you recall your first ultra distance run? Describe your feelings towards starting something like that.
T.O.: Over a few drinks Hal Koerner and Ian Torrence talked me into doing this 30+ mile out and back along the Rouge River in Southern Oregon. I decide to join and was both destroyed and fell in love with the activity of long distance trail running. I’ve never bonked so bad, I was under trained, under nourished, hungover and just a mess but I enjoyed it all. The last miles were humbling, I didn’t have enough food or water (I didn’t know any better to bring them), I was seeing tunnel vision and eventually deteriorated to stumbling and laying down trying to see straight. I don’t know who it was but someone handed me a Clif bar, I ate it and stumbled my way to the finish. Once I returned, ate some food, drank a beer I was able to laugh about the whole experience and eventually was sold on the idea of doing an official ultra run.
You try to live a mindful lifestyle, could you explain what that is for you and how you do it?
Sure, it’s simply living each moment wholeheartedly, presently, consciously and genuinely right now.
T.O.: Surrendering to each moment and accepting it non-judgmentally as if I chose it. I practice mindfulness with sitting mediation, moving mediation and breath awareness. I apply this while running and at work but in each moment as I am a father, husband, teacher and member of society. Basically I take the stillness I feel through the practice and apply it to every situation that arises in life, with open-hearted awareness.
From your website I gather that the environment plays a large role in your running/lifestyle. What is it about running in nature, up mountains or in forests, that connects you to the environment?
T.O.: I call it being earthed; there is just something so primal, so vital to touch and connect with the earth. The earth gives and gives, we need to give back and start a living and thriving relationship with the natural world.
Touching the ground through running and hiking, I feel this connection, this synergistic energy that connects us with the whole. Connecting with nature, I’m one with the earth and all its beings. It’s humbling but also connects me with a deep and unwavering strength. We’re supposed to be connected with nature, but sometimes with technology and all the advancement of modern age we forget where we come from and where we are going to end up, the earth.
You organize retreats, called Run Mindful Retreats, what is your goal for these retreats and for the people who take part?
T.O.: Run Mindful connects people and builds community around authentic and conscious living. The retreats facilitate a place where people can come together, connect to each other and the earth through trail running, healthy eating and an introduction to mindfulness through sitting and movement meditation.
Our aim through the retreat is to connect you with the present moment through breath and body awareness while we witness our thoughts, sensations and emotions arise without judgment so our hearts, bodies and minds can accept and appreciate each new moment.
Are there any specific environmental issues or causes that you are passionate about?
Basically thee above, I care for the earth and how we treat it and its inhabitants. I also care about the blossoming of human consciousness; the more humans connect with their true being, living open-hearted and aware in each previous moment, the world will be a better place.






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