Whatcom coach part of gold-medal team

We have a gold medalist among us.

“I don’t think I went in thinking the US could take the gold…I’m still kind of processing, like my glory moment.”

Woman waist up shot
Courtney Olsen, assistant coach for Cross Country on campus at Whatcom Community College. Photo by David Loudon.

As part of Team USA competing in the 2022 IAU 100k world championships in Bernau, Germany on Aug. 27, Courtney Olsen became the first American to finish and placed fourth overall in the woman’s race, finishing eleven minutes behind the leader with a remarkable time of 7 hours, 15 minutes and 29 seconds. Team USA would have 3 runners in the top 11 to earn the gold medal.

This journey of 62 miles, while dealing with high humidity, forced the runners to pace themselves. Olsen achieved a finishing time that would etch her name into the record books as the third fastest ever for an American woman for the 100k distance.

Her motivation for running such long distances: “It’s kind of like chasing a feeling – you need more and more to feel what you once felt with less. But it’s also been a natural progression, as I get older,” she said. “I like exploring my limits, and experiencing new distances proffers that.”

Olsen is in her first year as the Cross Country teams’ assistant coach at Whatcom Community College and she is ready to use her experience to mentor student-athletes.

“Jay’s been wanting to work together for a while, and I’ve always been putting him off. What I have accomplished and learned…now I can apply [and help the runners at Whatcom] reach their goals and be their best selves in running,” she said.

Woman and man with arms over each other's shoulders
Courtney Olsen (assistant coach) hanging with Jay Sloane (head coach) on campus at Whatcom Community College. Photo by David Loudon.

Jay Sloane is the coach of the Cross Country teams at Whatcom as well as Olsen’s personal trainer for the race. Sloane explained the training regimen: “An 8-to-10-week cycle averaging over 100 miles in a week with workouts on top of that to make sure she could run the pace she needed to run.”

Olsen’s decision to start coaching has been many years in the making. Olsen started running in elementary school but did not start running professionally until the last few years. 

“I don’t really know what exactly what I’ve learned along the way that makes me ready now,” she said.

Olsen said she was a part of the US team for the 2020 IAU 6-HR virtual race in which she ran just under 53 miles in 6 hours. Based on that performance, running shoe maker Hoka reached out to offer her a sponsorship. 

Olsen ran up to 124 miles in a week to prepare for only her second time running a distance of 100k.

Woman running to train for race
Courtney Olsen training to run long distance. Photo by David Loudon.

This race was not something Olsen thought was going to be possible after dealing with plantar fasciitis. It took some time for Olsen to be able to fully trust her foot again after dealing with the pain for so long.

“It all just started to come together in this beautiful summer of 22,” Olsen said.

For Olsen, the hardest part about the preparation for the race wasn’t her training regimen.

“The thing that was most challenging was getting enough calories in because when you are training that hard, at such a volume your stomach can shut down a bit,” she said. To keep her calorie intake up to par with the amount she was burning Olsen would eat on an hourly basis.

She would cruise through the first portion of the race on pace to break the American record during the first 40 miles. Coasting through a third of the race so effortlessly, even Olsen was surprised by her performance up to this point, sitting in fifth place.

“I was just like, oh my God, I’m having a really good day, and this doesn’t happen often, and suddenly I got nauseous,” Olsen recalls.

To finish the last 22 miles, Olsen had to dig a little deeper, even passing another runner to move into 4th late in the race.

“I had to battle extreme nausea and try to ride that line between can I stay at this pace and not throw up.”

Cross country team at Whatcom Community College
Coaches Jay Sloane (far left) and Courtney Olsen (far right) with the cross country team at Whatcom Community College. Photo by David Loudon.

In her first year as assistant Cross Country coach Olsen hopes to use everything she has learned in her time as a runner to help grow this up-and-coming program at Whatcom.

“I’ve always wanted to coach, but I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could before offering anything to a person to help them in their journey in running,” Olsen said. 

She is ready to apply all her accomplishments, stories, and lessons she has learned from running all her life.

“I have these book of experiences I’ve been waiting to apply and it feels so natural.”

As a Western Washington University graduate, she still has her name in the Viking record books: sixth in the 5000 meters, 10th in the 800-meter, second for the mile, and first for the distance medley relay.

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