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Olin Berger ’03 Ultramarathon Runner, U.S. Trail Team Champion

Olin Berger ’03 Ultramarathon Runner, U.S. Trail Team Champion

For some runners, the distance of a traditional marathon—26.2 miles—is just not long enough. They prefer the ultramarathon, which is any race that exceeds the 26.2 mile distance. Olin Berger ’03 tackles footraces that are 50 miles and more. To date, his longest race has been 100 miles “in one go”—the Cascade Crest Endurance Run over the pass to Eastern Washington.

Last year, Olin competed as a member of the U.S. Trail Team in the 2018 Trail World Championships in Penyagolosa/Castellón, Spain, against 48 other countries. He joined the U.S. team of six women and six men to run the 50-mile, point-to-point course that went from sea level in the city of Castellón to the elevation of Sant Joan de Penyagolosa Mountain. The course, predominantly uphill, climbed to a maximum height of 1500 meters above sea level. The top three U.S. finishers scored for the team in each gender division.

“I scored for the men’s team,” says Olin, who finished third. “I ran a good race.”

Olin, completing the Chukanut 50k in Bellingham, Washington

Integrity and Commitment

Olin grew up playing soccer, and in Upper School at Northwest, it became apparent he was suited for endurance running. “At the end of those games I was still running up and down the field,” recalls Olin. “I was on one of the first track teams at Northwest and a light bulb went off – oh this is what I am good at.”

Olin praises Humanities teacher Jeff Blair, the school’s soccer coach at the time, for providing a role model for athletic discipline and good sportsmanship.

“Jeff was always fully committed—he had high expectations for everyone,” recalls Olin. “He was not only out there running, he was out there ahead of you. Jeff taught us that it was not only about how you play the game but how you conduct yourself off the field. The integrity should always be there, even if it is unstated. It is never purely about the game itself.”

Finding a Work-life Balance

On the academic front, Olin attended college at the University of Washington, earning a BA in Comparative History of Ideas, and then proceeded on to graduate school at Columbia University, earning his MPA in Environmental Studies in the Sustainability Management Program. His passion for sustainability led him to do a fellowship with the Environmental Defense Fund, and he spent a summer in Chicago participating in an energy efficiency project. It was there that he came to the conclusion he was not the right fit for the day-to-day work in the field.

“All day was spent with my head in spreadsheets, analyzing light bulbs,” recounts Olin. “It was a lot of very technical analysis.”

Instead, Olin returned to Seattle and is now applying his environmental values to his work at Seattle’s Central Co-op, a community-owned natural foods cooperative dedicated to sustainable practices and strong relationships with Washington farmers and artisans.

Olin (front right) with members of the U.S. Trail Team in the 2018 Trail World Championships in Spain.

Supporting Sustainability Values

As a front-end manager, Olin supports the co-op’s philosophy and twelve principles that guide its operation, including caring for ecosystems, respecting animal and human habitats, sponsoring The Capitol Hill Solar Project, a community-driven effort that promotes a socially equitable, environmentally resilient and culturally vibrant neighborhood, and reducing both energy consumption and water use.

“I like the work,” says Olin. “And I appreciate the people and the values.”

Working at the co-op has allowed Olin the flexibility to continue his love of running, which has taken him around the world to Scotland, England, and recently, to Chamonix, France. Though he is naturally good at endurance running, Olin readily admits he did not start out winning ultramarathons. On the contrary, it took failure and persistence.

“A college friend talked me into running the Whidbey Island Marathon in 2010— which I botched,” admits Olin, laughing. “Next, in 2011, I entered a 50K, put on by Seattle Running Club, which I also botched. But by then, I was hooked.”

Embracing Process

Now Olin’s training schedule has him running, on average, 80-90 miles per week. Currently, he is getting over a hamstring injury, not uncommon in long distance runners, which means he spends 12-15 hours per week in rehab. He is not daunted by his injury or by the fact that he is no longer in his twenties.

“I have goals I’d like to achieve—I started working with a coach two years ago and he stresses embracing the process over the goals. If you don’t enjoy the process, it is just a grueling activity. A goal I have is to appreciate the entirety of the process.”

In that vein, Olin says he never regrets a run.

“Each run is an opportunity to be the person I’d like to be. ‘I ran today’ creates a baseline for self-worth; everything else can rest on that,” Olin says. After a short pause, he adds, definitively, “I don’t think I’ve run my best race yet.”

Olin pauses on a trail run in Mt. St. Helens National Park, 2018.