It’s hard to catch up with Olga King, on the trail or in life. When we first spoke on the University of Texas campus where she works as a research scientist, she spoke directly to the point in her Russian accent, “I have only five minutes.” She had to get back to the lab. Then she had some massage clients, and a knitting business, and a blog to write, and then she was flying to Oregon the next week to go run in the mountains. And that’s not including her various local trail running activities and serving at aid stations for races, not to mention her life as a mother and wife.
She just keeps going, and she’s tough, persisting through all sorts of challenges. “When it’s time to do a job, she buckles down and does a great job, which speaks for her running as well,” says Henry Hobbs, a respected fixture on the Austin trail running scene, founder of the new Austin Trail Funners running group, and longtime friend of Olga. “Sheer determination, mental tenacity, and personal courage have allowed her to accomplish amazing things in running and life. A lot of what has made her successful as a runner, and in her personal life, lies in both her mental and physical prowess.”
“She is tough, and that reputation is unrivaled,” adds Cris Strong, member of the Hill Country Trail Runners group and another runner-friend of Olga. “She is known for running with broken toes, blisters, in lightning storms and other difficult situations.”
Olga recalls just a couple of her favorite on-the-trail challenges: “I’ve run a 100-miler on a stress fracture, and faced a mountain lion at mile 93 of a 100 – those are just icing on the cake,” she says. “But in the last 15 years of daily addiction to trail running, trail experiences simply are some of the best things that have happened to me.”
Indeed, much of her life has been about enduring through struggles. She grew up in the former Soviet Union, in Belarus, a far cry from her present life in Austin. Life was not easy. She started her first job at the age of 10. But even as a child, she found comfort in escaping to the trails.
“I had always been keen to nature and trails, having found my first escape into the woods at the age of three,” she remembers. “It was heavily wooded in Belarus, and going hiking, playing in the forest, picking mushrooms, skiing – that was my kind of childhood. I was one of those who walked to school a mile through the woods. As I grew up, I turned to backpacking trips as my expression of active lifestyle. I ran some in high school and in medical school, and at the age of 30 picked up running. A year later I combined activities and started running trails, jumping into ultra-running rather quickly.”
She came to the U.S. from Russia in 1993, and quickly set to working hard in all she did, from medical work to running, and everything in between. One of those in-between activities was volunteering in the aid station at races, which is a big thing she’s known for in the Austin running scene. And it’s a function that highlights both her toughness and her caring spirit.
“She is a wonderful, caring woman, and she’s all about tough love,” says Erik Stanley , pro trail runner, and founder of the Trail Roots running program in Austin. “She has such a full life history, and I think she wants to see people succeed, because she knows the growth that can happen when you push yourself.”
“Don’t expect pampering in her aid station,” says Cris Strong. “She has pushed me out of aid stations, saying, ‘Get going, this is a race!’ But you will also see her endearing qualities shine. Although she approaches initially with her toughness, when you get to know her, her care, character and integrity show through. She is cut-to-the-chase, but sincere. I always have the image of her and her bouncy pigtails, and her arms waving around giving demands, but it’s all because she cares.”
Henry Hobbs agrees: “Olga has a good reputation of providing tough love at races, because she is all about helping people achieve. She’ll say, ‘Why are you still sitting here?’ in a kind way but with enough force that people respect her. She gets people’s attention, and she gets people going. She’ll yell, ‘Go, Go, Go!’ and people like that. I can’t wait for Olga to kick me out again. People thank her for pushing them. They think, ‘She really cares about me, even if she’s kicking me out of sitting position.’ She wants everyone to achieve what they set out to do.”
Her blog’s title, Run More Talk Less, says it best. Just keep going, and you can keep achieving. And in addition to her accomplishments in life in general, her running accomplishments attest to the value of her strong work ethic.
“I’ve won a few 50Ks and 50-milers, but in general, I am a long distance trail runner, more of an endurance versus fast-twitch muscle one. The distance I excelled at was 100-mile mountain trail races. I won my first 100-miler in North Carolina, where I beat Jenn Shelton, in what is still my PR of 18:46. I set the course record in the San Diego 100-miler in 2005 with the win. I won the Top-10 female at the prestigious Western States 100-miler also in 2005. I finished the Colorado-based crazy Hardrock 100. I placed Third at Bighorn 100, Second at Bear 100, and had a total of 20 finishes of 100-mile trail races.” Yeah, she’s a real ultra-runner.
“Running allows me to deal with a lot of issues in life, think things through, and keep in shape,” says Olga. “As long as I can be moving somewhere, I’m happy. Her advice to runners, and people in general is that, “Stagnating in life is like death. Keep developing skills, whether in running, or in any other aspects of life. Never stop moving forward.”