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RRP #78: Ultrarunner Timothy Olson on The Spiritual Road to Athletic Supremacy

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I had to put my dog down the other day. I want to tell you about it. It might seem unrelated to introducing today’s podcast guest, but it’s not. So bear with me.

Bodhi was a great dog. Indeed, a prince. But over the last several months, cancer took the upper hand. Tumors filled his left lung until it shut down, diseased cells metastasizing at a horrible pace until the poor guy could barely lift his head, let alone stand up. Stalwart, Bodhi hid his pain well. But it was there; unmistakable and unrelenting. I felt helpless.  

It’s the humane thing to do. You did the right thing.

The words of the kind veterinarian who handled the Kevorkian end of this pyrrhic victory to cease my dog’s suffering.

I gently cradled his head and locked my eyes with his as the needle sank deep beneath his fur. What followed were my tears as the fragile life force dwindled from his limp body until his beautiful soul had vanished altogether. All the while, my only thought: this doesn’t feel like the right thing. In fact, it all feels terribly, horribly wrong.

Bodhi is gone.

It happens. The heartache that accompanies the short lifespan of man’s best friend is the very nature of this relationship. I signed up for it and I accept it. In truth, our golden retriever had a great 12 years with our family – a time we will always cherish and for which I am forever grateful. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.  In truth, it sucks.

Bodhi is short for Bodhisattva – the ancient Sanskrit word for enlightened being. One who is motivated by great compassion. A more apt name for this dog does not, could not, exist.

Rich Roll Podcast - Bodhi 640x360

I guess the point is, as incredibly trite as this may sound – and it is nothing if not trite – life is short. Life is precious. Life is fleeting. And if one lives life motivated by fear and locked into habits that lead to regression, safety and misery, the precipitous end to that life will be nothing if not a lament to regret and remorse –for the authentic life of the higher self left unlived.

We live in our flawed memories of the past. And are experts at projecting outcomes and fantasies onto a future that simply does not (and unlikely will ever) exist. What we rarely do is live in the now. Present in the moment. Experiencing gratitude for the immediacy of what is happening right in front of our very eyes on a second-to-second basis.

Why is this so hard for us humans?

The answer to this question brings me to today’s guest.

Timothy Olson.

A man who understands and appreciates what it means to fully embrace the present. To live his life in the throes of gratitude. Yes, he runs. Faster, further and wider than most anyone else on Earth. But it’s this aforementioned spiritual perspective and journey that defines what this guy — at his core — is truly all about.

For the uninitiated, Timothy is an insanely accomplished world reknown ultrarunner. Aside from Kílian Jornet (who we can almost write off as otherworldly), you could make the argument that Timothy is one of the greatest — if not the greatest — ultrarunners on the planet right now.

After pulling himself out of a drug-fueled descent into the dark abyss — a journey that left him lost in life, depressed, desperate, incarcerated and on probation — Timothy found not just solace but an entirely new life through running. A path that unfolded a fundamental personal spirituality emanating from hours alone exploring nature on two feet. A journey that led to discovering the transformative power of gratitude. To touching and unlocking a deeper, more meaningful part of himself.  And to eclipsing the void beyond the limits of his preconceived physical, mental and emotional capabilities.

Despite an ultra-running career that began just 5 years ago in 2009, it didn’t take long before he was racking up big wins in big-time races. But everything blew wide open in 2012 when Timothy didn’t just cross the finish line first at the Western States 100 trail race — one of the most prestigious 100-mile ultra-running races on the planet — he destroyed the field, crushing the previous course record by a full 20 minutes.  Imagine running 100 miles on steep elevation trails in thin high altitude air in just 14 hours and 46 minutes.

No one hit wonder, Timothy returned to the WS 100 in 2013 and won it again decisively. 

This July, Timothy’s eyes are firmly set on the Hardrock 100 – a 100-mile trail run that entails 34,000 feet of climbing, 68,000 feet of total elevation change at an average elevation of 11,000 feet.  This is what we call hardcore.

To be sure, what Timothy has accomplished and will no doubt continue to accomplish on the trail is nothing short of remarkable, particularly in light of where he was in life just a few short years ago. But quite honestly, I am less interested in his victories and athleticism than I am in what got him there. I am convinced that the essential ingredient in Timothy’s success equation is his unique perspective on life. His soul surfer approach to sport. 

Timothy is a guy who knows real pain.  Someone who has lived in the pitch black prison with no means for escape. Somehow, and against all odds, he found the keys to freedom and emerged on the other side not just intact, but whole. A man driven to continuously find, explore and embrace the love and the light in what he’s doing, a living ambassador of his favorite social media hashtag: #neverstopexploring.

Living close to nature. Minimally and with priorities straight. At peace. On the trail. As a husband. A dad. A man.  A complete, authentic, actualized man currently in the full force of his talent and power. A man questing the fringes of his own personal enlightenment, motivated by great compassion.

One bodhisattva in my life moves on.  Another enters.  And I am grateful for both.

This is the cycle and what makes life beautiful. So breathe it in. Appreciate it with all of who you are. Embrace the gratitude. Find the moment. Take the risk. Leap into the void. And make it everything. In this you will find the beauty of who you are.

I told you I’d bring it around.

I hope you enjoy the conversation.

SHOW NOTES

Timothy Olson Website: http://www.timothyallenolson.com/

Timothy Olson on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TimothyOlsonRun

Timothy Olson on Twitter: @timmyolson_run

Timothy Olson on Instagram: @timothyallenolson

Rogue Valley Runners: http://roguevalleyrunners.com/

Hardrock 100: http://hardrock100.com/

Run or Die, by Kílian Jornet

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Timothy Olson on Rich Roll Podcast 640x360

  • Len

    Looking forward to this one, Rich. – Len

  • Kevin Boyle

    Rich – Thanks for sharing your story about Bodhi. My wife and I had a cat named Bodie for 12 years. His life ended tragically in a mistake which my hands caused (I’ll spare you the sad story). My 4 year old son was born that next week. I always felt that Bodie’s soul left this plane so that Carson’s could enter. It’s amazing how these pets intertwine their souls into our lives. Now we have a dog who is just incredible, but I know his life with us will someday come to an end. I guess it’s just like everything in life; We just have to love them while we have them.
    p.s. I can’t wait to listen to this episode!

  • Rick

    So sorry to hear about Bodhi. I’m going through the same thing right now with my dog. They gave her 3 months to a year… she’s on her 4th month.

    Life is indeed short, we’re cherishing everyday with her.

  • James Brusseau

    Great show. What a wonderful guy Timothy is. I appreciated his somewhat striped down approach to everything (exercise/training/life). Rich I’m a new listener, read your book. I’m 6 months vegan and discovering your approaches to diet and fitness have been helpful in my journey. Thank you. And the music for your show kicks butt. If your step son did it, and I believe he’s a pretty young guy, the music has a very laid-back maturity to it: really cool. All the best!

  • Gabriel contreras

    Timothy’s approach to running and life is inspiring. I try to be present and grateful for every run I do. It’s about what is between the ears that keeps us from this, and with your show Rich you help us all keep focus. Thanks. More ultra runners please. Oh yeh, NO HOKAS, i run in sandals on trails only!

  • richroll66

    Thanks for all the great feedback and so happy everyone enjoyed this one. Tim is a special guy. Big shoutout of thanks to everyone – today we exceeded 2 MILLION DOWNLOADS!! It took about a year to hit 1M, only 5 months to hit the second million. So great to see the audience growing and it’s all because of you guys – this is for you. Promise to keep the episodes coming and getting better and better at this to bring you the best. Peace + Plants, Rich

  • Chris Johnson

    Awesome interview Rich, with two of the coolest, most inspirational people that I’ve heard. Fantastic and THANK YOU! I wrote this piece while listening to both of you share on this podcast.

    ======

    I am at a crossroads in my life. Maybe I’ve already chosen a path, it sort of feels like it, but I’m not sure. Ready to commit. Commit to being healthy. 100%. Commit to myself, my family and my path. No more wavering. For me exercise is the best addiction there is. It makes me feel better than anything else. It is love and with it I can love myself and return that love to my wife, my family and my friends.

    For me running is a journey. A journey in finding myself and being present. Recently I found myself working on running form and being completely present in the moment with my body, sensing what is going on inside and outside. It has dramatically improved my form from being a heel striker to landing on my midfoot, standing upright and tall, breathing from the belly, not overstriding, and enjoying the journey. When I am running and find myself in the zone, the perceived exertion level goes down, the enjoyment level goes through the roof. What I mean by “the zone” is being completely present in the moment and immersed in my surroundings. Finding the zone is a journey. It doesn’t always happen on runs, but when it does things flow.

    My mission: To be present in the moment, to be calm, to breathe. To enjoy life. Listen to what life is telling you. Be open and receptive. Flow. Be patient yet persistent. Experiment and find out what works for me.Have faith and follow your passions. Live life to the fullest. Trust and Follow my heart.

    Flow

    • jason

      I’m glad you are no longer a heel striker. I find heel striking repulsive.

    • jason

      Great post. Totally agree on the zen attitude.

  • Ted Waters

    Thank you Rich & Timothy. I listened to this last night whilst planting out 100′s of beetroot seedlings on our organic smallholding, in the dark, under the stars. Peace and plants truly summed it up! Thank you for your unending work to find the best most inspiring people, to keep reminding us of the beauty, simplicity and gratitude for this amazing life. You draw out their stories and their essence so perfectly. So sorry to hear about your beautiful dog. We are lucky these souls come along to share the party, for however long. Nice one Tyler for all your sound work on the podcasts! We are loving it. With love from Somerset UK. (I may have already posted a similar comment…not sure where it went!)