featured-fitnessIssue 10

Jon Olsen Keeps On Running

When it comes to success stories, Stanislaus County has had more than its fair share. From movie stars and star directors to legendary athletes, our county has racked up plenty of cause to brag about our native sons and daughters over the last century. But when you think of inspirational local figures in the world of sport, there are few locals more impressive than Jon Olsen.

For those who follow the running world, Jon Olsen is a true legend. A 39-year-old ultramarathoner who regularly tackles runs of 50 miles and more, Olsen has shattered national and world records during his career. Throughout all of his record-breaking achievements, Olsen maintains a resolute determination and positive attitude. Beyond his sheer athletic prowess, it is perhaps his unshakeable motivation to continue running, to push on through fatigue and cross the finish line, that most impresses amateur and professional runners worldwide. An active advocate for his sport and his community, he is always happy to offer advice on running and discuss the powerful drive that spurs him ever onward.

After a year of astounding victories— which included his 24-hour world championship win and his breaking of the American 100-mile record as the first runner from the United States to run 100 miles in under 12 hours—Jon Olsen has come to what he describes as a “crossroads.”

Prior to his well-publicized achievements a year ago, he was dealing with nagging injuries and had to undergo surgeries as a result of the extremes to which he had pushed his body. “You get used to running in pain,” Jon explained. “When you have to train each day, and each step hurts, it really makes you question.” While Olsen estimates that he still has many years left to compete, he also points out that he has a young family, and being active in their lives takes precedence over his athletic endeavors. Nevertheless, he cites his children as a major motivator to continue running: “As my kids get older, one of my motivations is to be that positive athletic role model for my kids. Part of me wants to be in this sport so that my kids are motivated by it and inspired by it.”

Among his other motivations, Jon Olsen identifies a sense of patriotism and loyalty to his home. “A lot of it is based on wanting to continue to compete for the national team. Right now that’s my main drive, to continue representing the United States.” And a bit closer to home, he is also driven by a desire to represent Modesto, where he has been a middle school teacher at Prescott Junior High School for many years. “Part of me wants to continue doing it to shine a light on Modesto, to represent the city in the best way possible.” Indeed, among the world-class events in which he has competed, Jon cites his performance in the Modesto Marathon, running more than 26 miles in 2 hours and 27 minutes, as one of his biggest milestones and proudest moments.

Jon recognizes that he has achieved a certain degree of fame in his hometown, and he appreciates it with humility. “I guess I’m kind of a cult celebrity in Modesto, whether it’s justified or not. I think that part of what inspires people is greatness. The last few years, I’ve been able to do things that even I didn’t think I could do, push my body to achieve something.” And it is this striving, the very act of trying, that in the end drives Jon Olsen to run. Alongside every other motivator—or perhaps underlying them—he finds the desire to compete impelling him toward the finish line. “I don’t run for any other reasons than to challenge myself and to compete. Anything I’ve ever done, I’ve always have that eye of the tiger focus and given it 110%. If I’m not training or competing, I’m planning my next event.”

Despite injury and the ever-present obligations of life and family, Jon Olsen runs on.

As of now, Olsen is running toward a 24-hour world championship tentatively scheduled to take place at Soochow University, Taiwan, in December. Three weeks later, he plans to run into the New Year by completing a 48-hour race with his family in Phoenix, Arizona, at an event called “Across the Years” that
takes runners from December 2014 into January 2015.

Looking ahead, Jon Olsen offers this advice to his children and to current and future generations of runners: “For runners, whether new or experienced, I think running should be a lifelong habit. Running is something we can do from a kid to 60 or 70 years old. It’s just something you have to have fun with. Whether with a group or with your kids, I think running provides so many positive things for people. When I run, I know I’m a happier person, a more clearheaded person. It can be such a positive things in people’s lives.”

Keep up with Jon Olsen on Twitter at

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