Race of a lifetime in Italy keeps busy Modesto teacher on his toes
Apr 19, 2012 (The Modesto Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
His is a story befitting the Nike swoosh stitched on his U.S. running gear. His is a life in perpetual motion.
There's Jon Olsen -- husband to Denise, father of two and, as he proudly points out in a dad-and-me photo above his desk, newly minted baseball coach.
"We had one game last night," he says, "and another tonight."
Then there's Jon Olsen -- teacher, speaker and after-school mentor to Modesto teens.
"My schedule can be a little draining," he adds, slipping on North Face running shoes and a Teens Run Modesto T-shirt.
But when the spotlight turns to ultrarunning and his place among its kings, the conversation invariably hangs on one question:
Dude, when do you train?
"You just do," the wiry 37-year-old says, giving off a sarcastic giggle, wishing the answer were that funny.
But it's not.
You. Just. Do.
The answer is exhausting, even for an athlete with Energizer Bunny stamina. Between work, volunteering and the demands of raising a 4- and 6-year-old, Olsen, one of the country's top long-distance runners and a two-time Modesto Marathon champion, doesn't get much free time to train.
"Your life changes when you have kids," he says. "You have to make time ... for everything. For baseball practices and work. For family and the activities they do."
His sacrifice has been rewarded. The algebra teacher at Prescott Senior Elementary who once kicked footballs at the University of Texas, El Paso, has funneled those competitive juices into ultrarunning.
There are mementos all around his classroom. Articles tacked to a bulletin board. A framed picture of him climbing a sun-scorched trail. And an autographed portrait of astronaut Jose Hernandez, thanking Olsen for his work in the running community.
Olsen stands at the forefront of his discipline, toeing the line with racing's biggest names. He's a national talent, as witnessed by his latest endeavor. Olsen is one of six ultrarunners selected to represent the United States at the IAU 100-kilometer World Championships in Italy on Sunday.
"For most people, it's about endurance and who can endure the most pain," says Charles Wickersham, 39, a regular pacer and training partner. "In Jon's case, his is about speed and enduring the pain. He's one of the rare individuals that can run faster than most marathoners at 100-mile pace. I'm not kidding you."
Olsen's running career has mirrored his race-day strategy: He's come a long way in a very, very short time.
He was raised a football player and rounded out his collegiate career as a scholarship kicker at UTEP. At 30, with football firmly in his past, he fell into running. And in lock-step with success.
A two-time winner of the Modesto Marathon, Olsen narrowly missed a third title March 18. He was edged by Utah's Clyde Behunin, who left it all -- including his lunch -- near the M Street finish line to edge a hard-charging Olsen.
Nevertheless, Olsen's finishing time -- 2 hours, 33 minutes, 1 second -- was a personal record.
Olsen is also keeper of one of the fastest 100-mile times in U.S. history (13:14:44, in the 2012 Rocky Road Endurance Run) and he'll run a 24-hour challenge in Ohio and The Western States Endurance Run, a grueling 100-mile race from Squaw Valley to Auburn, for an eighth time in June.
All of this, though, follows a 100-kilometer (62-mile) spin around Italy.
Italy, you say?
Olsen hasn't had much time to think about Italy -- not when life continues to intersect.
"My (students) are really excited for me," says Olsen, who launched himself onto the U.S. World Cup radar last April at the Ruth Anderson 100-kilometer race near Lake Merritt with a 7:12:35 effort.
"All I'm thinking about is that at 3 o'clock, I've got to go get my son or be getting something out for dinner. I've got a checklist of things in my head.
"Once I get on the plane, I think it'll set in."
Until then, he keeps a rigid schedule, sacrificing sleep -- and an occasional lunch period -- to train.
He averages a little more than 100 miles per week, and he'll log most of those before you turn over in bed. By the time his family zombie-walks to the breakfast table, he's already switched modes, slipping work pants over his running shorts.
"They know I run because they wake up and see me in my running clothes. But they don't know how fast."
His wife, Denise, does.
She is his loudest cheerleader, if only because she realizes that Jon, on the dark side of his 30s and with more salt than pepper in his hair, has somehow tapped the Fountain of Youth.
He's actually getting faster and stronger as he gets older, and there are those within his circle who believe he'll push the pace in Italy.
"Jon, you don't know if you'll get another chance or another year like this," Denise told him. "You have to milk it."
Says Olsen, between pulls on his water bottle: "I don't want to pass up this opportunity."
And if that means he trains in the middle of the night or turns circles around the track at lunch to keep the rest of his busy life on time, well ...
You just do.
James Burns is regional sports content editor of The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.
___ (c)2012 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.) Visit The Modesto Bee (Modesto,
Calif.) at www.modbee.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
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