Nick Olson is always looking for a challenge.
While a lot of local runners consider the 26.2-mile Grandma’s Marathon the ultimate challenge, Olson has set his sights on greater distances — a few 50- and 100-mile races as well as a 100K.
His latest challenge took him to the Bigfoot 200, a 206.5-mile race through the Cascade Mountains of Washington. The Bigfoot is considered the third largest 200-mile race in the world.
“I was just looking for a run greater than 100 miles, just looking for the next big thing,” said Olson, owner of the Anderson & Hammack Construction Company (301 Tower Ave.). “I wanted to test myself to see how far I could go. A lot of people, including myself, thought 200 miles was impossible. It’s not, it’s just a matter of training and mindset.”
Of the 160 runners registered, only 104 finished. And out of the 121 men who signed up, Olson finished 59th.
“This is definitely the hardest thing I have ever done,” Olson said. “Up to mile 150 it was pretty good, but that’s when my blisters starting kicking in and I had a little bit of a muscle thing going on in the lower leg.
“I thought I would have finished better, but my injury slowed me up quite a bit. Plus, I was just being ignorant. If I would have done some things differently I think I would have done a little better. That’s why I want to go back.”
Olson, who is originally from Fergus Falls, Minn., and has lived in Superior for 15 years, said the Bigfoot 200 is a bit like races at Lutsen Mountain, but on a grander scale, like running uphill for 4 miles then down for 4 miles.
“It was similar (to Lutsen) in the up-and-down per mile,” Olson said. “But the ups were longer ups and with greater inclines. That was the same about going down.”
Because of the steep terrain on most of the courses, runners use Trekking poles.
“That’s the first race I used those in,” Olson said. “They help shift the balance and come in handy on that sort of terrain.”
Runners in the Bigfoot 200 were given 105 hours (four days and nine hours) to finish the race, which began on Aug. 9. The race is continuous and the clock does not stop — even for breaks.
“There were 14 aid stations along the race, and six of those provided sleeping arrangements, which included a pad or cot that you could use for an amount of time,” Olson said.
The first night was the most memorable one for Olson.
“It hailed, there was thunder and lightning, and when you're on top of a mountain, it was a little bit nefarious,” Olson said. “Because there was no shelter, there was nothing you could do, so you just had to keep on going.”
Olson, who got to lie down for an hour on the first night but did not sleep, managed to sleep for a couple of hours the next two nights.
“But even that wasn’t enough, I was getting a little dazed and confused,” Olson said.
Olson had plenty of support from his family, including his wife, Robyn; daughter, Hattie, 8; parents, Kevin and Barb Olson; and cousin, Shelley Olson, who were waiting for him at each aid station.
The Bigfoot 200 is the first in a series of three races along with the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run, and Moab (Utah) 240 Endurance Run. There are approximately 20 people doing all three this year.
“I’m going to run the Tahoe race in September, and my ultimate goal in the future is to run all three races in the series in the same year,” Olson said.
After completing the Tahoe 200, Olson plans on running in the Arrowhead (Ice Box) 135 in the first week of February. The race begins in International Falls and proceeds along snowmobile trails to Tower, Minn.
Now that Olson has become hooked on running ultramarathons, he’s turning into one of the sport's biggest promoters.
“I put the Bigfoot 200 sticker on my truck because I want people to ask me about it,” Olson said. “I’m always looking for people to run with. I got into this through a buddy and I encourage anybody to try it. Anybody can do it.”
Olson suggests those interested should contact the Northern Minnesota Track Club, which holds races Wednesday nights throughout most of the year.
“The NMTC is a good place to start,” Olson said. “They do a lot of stuff locally, and are always looking for new members.”
A few of the longer races in the area include the Voyageur 50-miler (from Carlton to Duluth Zoo and back); Voyager half (from the Duluth Zoo to Carlton); and the Spring 50K and 25K races in Lusten.
NOTE: More information on the Northern Minnesota Track Club may be found at http://nmtc.run.