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I would like to have:
(circle one of the following options)
a. A Classic Spring Break—a time of relaxation, fun in the sun, and hours spent on the couch resting from so much leisure.
b. A Karsten Olsen Spring Break—a 100-mile run down a two-lane highway in less than 30 hours.
If you circled choice “a.” and you’re perusing the Internet for fun spring break ideas, please be very, very careful what you Google. While this warning applies to a myriad of search keywords, the two I highly recommend not entering if you truly desire a relaxing spring break are “David Goggins” and “Human Machine.” If you do, you may be led to select choice “b.” and find that you have entered yourself into an ultra-marathon.
It appears that junior Karsten Olsen did not get the memo. At the Thanksgiving dinner table last year, he announced to his family and friends that he was going to run a 100-mile race during the upcoming spring break. “My parents were very supportive. Then I started to do a couple crazy things, like run a 60-mile stretch while at home during winter break, and I could see they got a little worried,” Olsen recalls. Worry is a very understandable response. Junior Brie Mayer remembers her reaction when Olsen first spilled the beans. “I’m pretty sure I just laughed because I thought he was kidding. I had never even heard of a 100-mile race before. I couldn’t imagine why someone would want to run for that long. I also thought, though, that out of all my friends, Karsten would be the one person who’d be able to do it.”
And so he did. Olsen selected an ultra-marathon with a pleasant name, “The Graveyard 100,” and was evidently pulled in by the race website’s inviting tagline: “More than 1000 ships are recorded to have sunk along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Will the graveyard sink you? Sign up now!” While the rest of us were on our way to choice “a,” Olsen and his pit crew – his parents, his sister, freshmen Karina Olsen, and his girlfriend, Mayer, set off for Outer Banks, North Carolina.
At the wee hour of 4 a.m., Olsen’s dad dropped him off at the park where he would begin the race. “I was really impressed with how calm he was,” Mayer remembers. “He had accepted what he was about to do and was ready for the challenge. I, on the other hand, was all nerves. I couldn’t really fall back asleep after Karsten and his dad left for the start of the race. It was so exciting – probably because I was not the one running 100 miles.”
The air was crisp and the mood intense, and, while snacking on a “Clif Block” (a kind of large, souped-up gummy bear), Karsten stretched and did his metaphysical work. I asked him how he prepared food-wise both before and during the race. He replied, “I took a spiritual approach to dieting. You have to know where your true energy is coming from. I did know I needed to eat a lot during the race, but I just didn’t give much thought to it. For the most part, I ate peanut butter sandwiches and Snickers bars.” Karina also recalls her dad dipping banana pieces in salt and feeding them to her brother at some point along the race route. That’s a snack I wouldn’t recommend unless you’re running long distances.
Olsen began “The Graveyard 100” at 5:20 a.m., running along a stretch of highway completely surrounded by ocean that Karina described as “the longest road of your life.” He finished his first 20 miles by 8 a.m. with his entire pit crew in tow and cruised into one of the water stops positioned along the route. After a few more food and water stops, night began to fall, and Karina, in good spirits, joined Karsten. As she ran, she thought, “how awesome it is to be here in this moment with my brother.”
After quite some time running in the enveloping darkness, however, the mood began to drop. At this point, Karsten had run over 65 miles. Karina recalls, “In the daytime, the scenery changes around you, giving an indication that you’ve travelled somewhere; that you’ve covered some ground. In the nighttime, you’re literally running in the middle of ‘Nowheresville.’ You can’t see the ocean because the trees are blocking it, and the stretch of trees goes on for miles and miles without breaking. It feels like you’re jogging in place … I’ve never seen my brother so exhausted in my life. I just wanted to be like, ‘You can stop.’” Karsten quietly assured her he was fine, and that was that.
As he continued to run on this dark stretch with his sister, he ceased calculating the distance between water breaks and began metaphysically blocking any thoughts of quitting. He reached the food stop, crawled into the car, and instantly fell asleep for a brief 50 minutes. When Olsen woke to continue the run, he remembers getting out of the car and thinking that he needed to “mentally, rather than physically, get up, and leave mortal mind behind.”
He would need to call on this angel message as he began the hardest stretch of his race: ten to 15 miles of steady, uphill road. It was now 2:15 a.m. and Mayer was right there with him. Mrs. Olsen, after feeling distressed at seeing her son in such an exhausted state, immediately found a sense of peace and “realized that Karsten was going to finish this race.” Olsen and Mayer, referred to by the pit crew as “Grandpa Karsten and Grandma Brie” in regards to their humorous and fatigued walking style, ran and then power-walked the last five miles of road to the next water station. They arrived at 4 a.m. Naturally, Mr. Olsen took this down time to update his Facebook page with a status that read, “You know we’re getting near the end if I can pace Karsten!” Hey, at times like that, you’ve got to keep the mood light! Both his parents, along with Mayer, alternated running with Karsten until he reached a small town near the end of the race. The pit crew reassembled in the car, excitedly yelling to him that he had less than 15 miles left to go, lifting his spirits and giving him the motivation to pick up the pace. He ran the last 12 miles at an 18 minute per mile pace.
At 10 a.m., 27 hours and 52 minutes after his first step, Olsen defeated the “Graveyard 100,” crossing the finish line with a smile and his “Grandpa Karsten” swag. Upon finishing the race, Olsen went to sit alone in the car for a moment, and a wave of emotion and disbelief overtook him. Mrs. Olsen then came over to him and “affirm[ed] that it’s a natural thing to accomplish such a selfless journey, and that he didn’t have to be so amazed by it.”
Looking back, Karsten reflects that he never could have finished the race without his ever-supportive family and friends. “It was the first really, really hard thing I’ve ever done. I have never felt so close to God and to my family.” After the race, his family carried him up the stairs to their hotel room. Karina and Mayer remember seeing Karsten’s feet twitching beneath the blanket as he slept. Later, Olsen’s dad asked him, “Who’d a thought you’d ever finish this?” Olsen answered, “God did.”