Can ultrarunner Timothy Olson beat the Pacific Crest Trail speed record? He is trying right now


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It was only day two of Timothy Olson’s attempt to break the speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail, and one of the ultrarunning sponsors was in trouble.

On Wednesday afternoon, Olson, 34, was somewhere in the arid desert hills about 70 miles north of the Mexican border, jogging alone in the scorching midday heat. A blocked road had prevented his support team, traveling by car and motorhome, from reaching him with essential supplies.

Lacking water, Olson began to feel the first effects of dehydration. He texted his team, a small group that includes his wife, Krista, and parents, and launched what his stepfather called a “near-rescue mission.” At a crossroads in front of Olson, three men loaded backpacks with gallons of water, energy products and snacks and sabotaged him 15 miles downstream to meet him.

“He was moving very slowly,” said Bob Loomis, Olson’s 64-year-old stepfather, who is also an accomplished endurance athlete. But after taking in water, electrolytes, and food, Olson “fired right away” and kept pushing north.

These are the types of moments Olson will face as he attempts to lay off the entire 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail in under 52 days. This is the record for an accompanied trek, established in 2016 by a Belgian dentist named Karel Sabbe. To break it, Olson will need to average about 52 miles a day – the equivalent of consecutive marathons – for 50 consecutive days, through a gauntlet of ruthless wilderness and unpredictable weather.

Hikers typically spend 6 months hiking the trail, but the few speed hikers who broke the record in the past decade have reduced that time to less than 2 months.

Olson could not be reached for this article but Krista spoke about the challenges ahead.

“He is undertaking the greatest feat of endurance he has ever attempted to achieve,” she said.

If there’s one person who’s up to it, maybe it’s Olson, whose speed and talent helped usher in the modern era of highly competitive ultramarathons. Ten years ago, he set course records in some of the world’s greatest races, including the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile high-altitude race that stretches from the Lake Tahoe Basin to the west to Auburn.

Olson has since become a leading figure in the sport and is known within the community for his environmentally conscious worldview and predilection for daily meditation. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with Krista, who regularly teams up for him on his races, and their two young children.

But the 100 mile races that Olson is used to are milk races compared to the massive PCT.

“It’s a new ball game for me,” Olson said in a recent episode of The Fastest Known podcast. “When you are given an opportunity like this in life, you take it and go for it. “

From its southern terminus at the Mexican border, the PCT begins in the silty desert then ascends with the Sierra and through the dense forests of Oregon before peaking in the Washington Cascade Range and ending at the Canadian border.

“It’s really a marathon, not a sprint, at an extreme level that people aren’t used to,” said Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy, who set a fastest known time of 53 days on the PCT in 2014. .

A key for Olson will be pain management, said McConaughy, who overcame excruciating Achilles tendonitis on his hike. “It’s a constant balance between, am I healthy enough to continue and how can I lessen these injuries while doing a 16 hour day? “


Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy on the Pacific Crest Trail on his record hike in 2014.

Courtesy of Joe McConaughy

Saving the record is less about a quick run and more about pursuing a “relentless forward movement” at all times, said Buzz Burrell, co-founder of, the official record keeper for ultra-endurance. which hosts the podcast. Hikers should proceed as soon as they wake up until after sunset.

“Speed ​​isn’t that important,” Burrell said. “The equation is: how many minutes per day are you moving forward? “

Speed ​​hikers in search of records are efficient and minimal – just subsisting on the same simple foods for months, loading themselves with pain, and sometimes sleeping in the dirt. They wear little and go full steam ahead at the first light of day.

“These people don’t go camping,” Burrell said. “You don’t stop walking until it’s too dark to see, then you lay down under your poncho and sleep.”

This is where Olson’s strategy diverges from those that came before him. Supported hikers like McConaughy and Sabbe rely on crews to help feed and care for them throughout their journey. Olson’s crew are his family, plus his trainer and a cook. Most nights he arrives at an RV camp where his in-laws, two young sons and his wife, who is seven months pregnant, are waiting for him. But other nights, on more distant sections of track, especially in the High Sierra, Olson will be alone.

Ultrarunner Timothy Olson, left, at camp with his wife, Krista, and trainer Jason Koop on his hike on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Ultrarunner Timothy Olson, left, at camp with his wife, Krista, and trainer Jason Koop on his hike on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Keith Ladzinski / Adidas

“It’s really important to us that our children enrich the adventure in our lives,” said Krista.

But she recognized that the family might distract Olson at a time when he needs to focus on the track.

“We are his biggest inspiration and encouragement, but also the biggest challenge,” said Krista. “We bring a lot of beautiful chaos to the project. “

Olson couldn’t have picked a better year to break the record. The mountainous sections of the PCT in California are typically mired in slippery ice, slush, and swollen streams. But this year’s alarming snowpack means drier terrain and more than likely a smoother hike.

“It’s installed,” Burrell said. “He can do that. But it’s gonna be tough. “

Gregory Thomas is the editor of the lifestyle & outdoor column of the Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @GregRThomas

Olson’s race is being followed all the time at

For thoughtful updates on his experience, follow him on Instagram: @timothyallenolson.

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