It began, innocently enough, as a straight distance run.
Well, not just any distance run, but an all-day run on an indoor track. That year Dave Olson logged 78 miles in 16 hours, or the window of time in which the Keene Family YMCA, where he works, is open.
The next year — in the same time span, 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., or two full work days — Olson took on the same challenge, this time completing 90 miles.
But it’s hard to keep a good endurance athlete challenged.
So now, four years after raising the 90-mile bar, the Keene resident known for making exercise fun, functional and unpredictable, has a new game plan.
On Nov. 4, the day Olson turns 37, he will take on a new test-your-limits challenge over 12 hours. He’ll be joined by two others who are among those Y members he trains — Wanda Kirker and Mark DiPietro — and their 12-hour, 37-mile and 1,617-rep circuit-like quest will serve as a fundraiser for fitness equipment.
Warning: Do not try this — The All Day Challenge — at home.
On the Y’s track, the three will each endeavor to move 37 miles and complete 1,617 combined reps of single-arm overhead presses (196), single-arm rack squats (294), and single-arm rows (392), all with kettle bells. Oh, and not to forget, 735 kettle-bell swings.
And there’s more. To toughen their otherwise pedestrian laps, the three close training amigos will carry kettle bells in each hand, alternating between farmer-carry and rack-carry techniques.
Olson has a reputation for non-conforming fitness habits. But there is a method to his activity-centric madness. He understands the science of exercise, the makeup of the body, and subscribes to the notion that any training is best — for body and mind — when it’s thought-provoking and many-sided. If an exercise does not have real-life pay off, “will a strength (enhancing) lift directly help me to lift the corner of my couch,” he asks, for example. If it’s not, then it is shunned for something that will do the job.
It’s real-life application, with a subtle twist of ante-upping, let’s-see-what-you’ve-got prodding.
When you train with Olson, “You get to roll around and act like a kid,” says Kirker, 40, a mother of three, business owner and college student. “You rely on Dave and the way he trains people, and his style is not intimidating. He talks you into doing some crazy things, but he inspires you and he has faith in us and wants us to know that we can do some of the real challenging things he does.”
Says DiPietro, bluntly, “Dave makes horribly difficult things fun to do.”
“One thing that comes through,” DiPietro added, “is that there is a real joy he has for doing this stuff, and it infects others around him. We actually start to really like doing the things that others think are crazy.”
Olson is known for crafting challenging, ongoing tests of strength and endurance and splashing them on a white board at the Y’s Health and Fitness Center. Right now, that challenge, for those so daring, is to complete 10,000 kettle bell swings in 30 days. A dozen or so people are making the attempt, including himself, Kirker and DiPietro, director of marketing and communications at Landmark College in Putney, Vt.
That quest then will end just three days before the all-day fitness challenge begins.
In their world, perhaps, that qualifies as sufficient rest.
“I enjoy the challenge aspect of it all,” Olson, a ConVal Regional graduate and one-time game store clerk, says. “To see how far I can safely push myself. I’ve never gotten hurt; it seems pointless to go that far.”
Of course, most peoples’ “far” is far from anything like Olson’s far.
Consider: For the past five years he has run the local 4 on the 4th Road Race with a 27-pound, red-white-and-blue-painted automobile tire slung over each shoulder. You’d think it’d slow him down, but not much.
Next month’s all-day test marks year No. 6 for that endeavor. Last year he began adding carry elements for the first time … well, just because.
Ultra-distance races are those that are 30 miles or more in distance. Olson rather enjoys those, the way some might prefer a Saturday 5K. Obstacle-course competitions whet his appetite, too.
He’s run the Manchester 2 Monadnock Ultramarathon twice. The grueling, 55-mile course on roads, dirt roads and trails takes runners from Manchester to Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey. Runners summit the mountain from the Pumpelly Trail and descend via the White Arrow and Parker trails. The course features 6,000-plus feet of elevation gain.
He does that without tires or kettle bells — for now.
Fitness training is hierarchal, to Olson’s view, and developing appropriate mobility has to come first. “Basic movements are more important than what you lift,” he says.
“Training with Dave can be brutally cruel,” Kirker admits, “but, honestly I enjoy it. I showed I could push myself, dig deep, and keep pushing myself. Dave knows me so well – how to eat, what to put in my body, what to do next. And amazingly, it works.”
Olson credits his “remarkably understanding” wife, Abbie, for supporting, and even participating in, his various, over-the-top indulgences. And, he adds, it was Abbie who inspired his views on sensible, practical approaches to fitness.
DiPietro, 54, recalls an instance in which he and Olson were training for a winter obstacle-course race. They trained at 5 a.m. on Drummer Hill in February, carrying cold logs through the snow, jumping into ankle-deep water where it wasn’t frozen, and anything else that served a training purpose for a competition in similar conditions.
“What’s maybe most impressive is how smart he is,” DiPietro says. “He’s always learning new techniques, gaining new information to modify training. It’s like his brain is always searching and updating.”
Olson says he just enjoys what he does, and he says people who share his passion or his fitness ideologies inspire him.
He said he enjoys playing video games. “That seems to throw people off,” Olson said.
Added DiPietro, Olson also makes the “most amazing” guacamole. “No matter what he does, he knows how to achieve results.”
Paul Miller is Development and Community Impact Director of the Keene Family YMCA.