American ultrarunner Jon Olsen sets 100-mile record in Ottawa

Jon Olsen runs 100 mile record in Ottawa
Jon Olsen runs 100 mile record in Ottawa
Ultrarunner Jon Olsen before he started the Transcendence 24-Hour Ultra in Ottawa, hoping to break the North American 100-mile record. Photo: Jon Olsen

Ultrarunner Jon Olsen came to Ottawa with one goal in mind: to run 402 laps of the Louis Riel indoor track in under 12 hours.

The 39-year-old from California appeared at the Self-Transcendence 24-Hour event last Saturday hoping to break the North American 100 mile record. Canadian Andy Jones set the record on a road course back in 1989 in 12:12:19.

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Earlier this year, Olsen won the 24-hour world championships in the Netherlands. He then took some time off, nursing an injury. In preparation for the 100-mile effort, he hit the roads and ran a 1:18 half-marathon in order to “wake up [his] fast-twitch muscles.”

Olsen said in his race recap for that his main concerns were the temperature inside the Louis Riel dome and his three planned bathroom breaks during the 12-hour stretch. “No air conditioning or heating would be used during the event,” Olsen said. “With 70-plus runners on the track for the warmest part of the day, a 77-degree Fahrenheit (25 celsius) high outside, a soccer birthday party, and an adult soccer game on the infield, it heated up noticeably during the day.”

To remedy his second concern, the location of the restrooms, Olsen had to get creative.

In order to break the record, he would have to run 4:30 kilometres – including any stoppages – meaning he couldn’t waste time leaving the facility to access the only bathrooms in the area. Olsen instead had to set up a make-shift outhouse on the side of the track, constructed out of crash matts and a bucket, in order to stay on target.

After settling into a brisk pace (the equivalent of a 3:10 marathon), Olsen entertained the idea of doing the entire day-long race in an attempt to also take down the 24-hour American record. But reality set in at around 100K, which he split in 7:28. “This was uncharted territory for me,” Olsen admitted. “I wasn’t used to having to work so hard for so long. I wondered if it was even possible to run 7:15 [mile] splits the rest of the way.”

With the track lined with supporters, including his wife, Olsen ended up running a sub-3:10 final 42.2K and shattered the North American record in a time of 11:59:28. “It is amazing what the sight of the finish line can do,” Olsen said. “All of the sudden, my legs didn’t ache, my stride became longer, and each breath became effortless.”