Professional ultramarathon runner and two-time Western States 100 winner Timothy Olson is ready to talk about cannabis. with a maker of CBD botanical products, becoming the most visible endurance athlete yet to publicly endorse a cannabis product.
“I’m putting my neck out,” Olson said. “It’s scary a little bit, but I really believe in this stuff. I really believe that it’s going to help people. Everyone just thinks of hemp (and) the marijuana plant as just getting high and being a stoner, and I want to turn that stigma around.”
There is no psychoactive effect to the CBD pills and pudding-like goo that Olson uses to boost his energy, recover from workouts and relax into bed at night. CBD is allowed in competition and legal to buy in most states.
Despite this, Olson said, a lingering stigma remains around cannabis-derived products.
“They’ll be some backlash from it,” Olson said. “There’ll be some people that just don’t understand and will just think I’m taking CBD to get high. Or some people who think cannabis is performance enhancing, which I don’t. But I think that will change over time.”
The pills Olson takes contain a mix of hemp-derived CBD and a long list of other botanicals, many of which he has taken for years to aid in training and recovery, he said. A bottle of 60 “Power Up” pills he takes daily costs $85.
Two things led Olson to go public, despite the risks to the significant personal brand he has amassed since catapulting onto the international scene in 2012 with the first of his back-to-back wins at Western States.
First, the World Anti Doping Agency in 2017 removed CBD from its list of banned substances, effective this year. That cleared the way for the use of CBD in ultra races.
Second, Olson met a guy. Two, actually. They are cousins Don McGlaughlin and Sean McCabe, co-founders of PurePower Botanicals out of Steamboat Springs. McCabe suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2015 and credits CBD for helping him to a full recovery. He was punched in the back of the head following a University of Alabama football game and woke up in the hospital more than a week later. He’s never quite put together what happened.
“Don’s guy who gave me CBD to help with my recovery,” McCabe said as he ran through ponderosa pines in Boulder’s Betasso Preserve on Saturday’s run. “I used it to sleep, and I think it helped my healing. I’ve discovered it’s a performance enhancer as a recovery tool, and there’s wide applicability for athletes.”
McGlaughlin burned himself out as a corporate lawyer and reached out to cousin McCabe to start the company. They launched the product today and already are on backorder, McCabe said.
PurePower is based in Steamboat and sources its hemp from Fort Collins. The company sponsors the only other two competitive pro ultra-runners who have dipped a toe into these waters: running-and-coaching couple Avery Collins and Sabrina Stanley. In contrast to Olson, Collins speaks openly about his enjoyment of THC while running, a topic that has piqued the curiosity of many media outlets.
CBD is commonly used among professionals and weekend warriors alike. And to many, it is not controversial.
“I don’t see the negative side of why anyone would really have their feathers ruffled about this,” said Adam Chase, president, American Trail Running Association. “Timmy’s with Adidas Outdoors, and using a legal product in a therapeutic manner does not put them in a negative light whatsoever in my mind.”
Yet, some pro athletes say they seek clarity from major outdoor brand sponsors on what’s OK and what’s not. One highly visible pro runner is a proponent of CBD because of her own experience with it, she said. Yet, she is hesitant to comment publicly on the issue – much less pursue a CBD sponsor – because she is uncertain how her major sponsor would react.
Others are eagerly reaching out to CBD companies seeking new avenues for sponsor revenue and product.
McCabe recognizes the power of Olson’s endorsement among the outdoors community and the nearly 100,000 people who follow his Instagram updates.
“That’s a powerful endorsement for the science, for the fact that this stuff isn’t snake oil, for the fact that it’s not THC,” McCabe said.
On Saturday, Olson led a group of professional runners and beginners alike in a creekside meditation and trail run on his go-to training trails. Adidas paid for childcare for participants, and more than a dozen Adidas runners – track, road and mountain runners – joined the group on the run.
Following the trail run, four runners surround a picnic table as McCabe pumps puddling-like goo from a small bottle onto plastic spoons. McCabe explains an experiment he did.
He took CBD daily for a month and tested to see if the trace THC might push his THC levels higher over time. The limit for a competition is 150 nanograms per milliliter. The limit for many employer drug tests is 50 ng/ml, he said.
“My reading was 14 nanograms per milliliter of THC,” McCabe said. “That was good to see.”
Here are some reactions from our community. (We’d love to read yours in the comments below!):
“For the first time in endurance sports history, we are seeing one of ultra running’s most prominent athletes take a stance and advocate the strength of CBD use. It’s a big step forward for the canna space.” Avery Collins, professional ultra runner
“It’s probably good marketing for him and the company he represents. If [CBD] is not banned or illegal, I don’t see why there would be any problem with it. If they find it is a performance enhancer, that could be another story.” Dave Mackey, professional ultra runner and adventure racer
“As the race director of the only series in the world sponsored by a CBD brand, I concur with Timmy’s sentiments about the need to further educate the masses of the very clear medical benefits of CBD for runners. Timmy is indeed taking a risk, only because so few people know the difference between CBD and THC.” “Sherpa” John LaCroix, founder, Human Potential Running Series
“I feel like I don’t have a stance, because I think it’s a dynamic issue.” Travis Macy, professional ultra runner and adventure racer and author of “The Ultra Mindset”
“I think Tim is spot on that it is a lack of education from folks who don’t get it. People have to understand that CBD/hemp oil with no THC is an approved substance – approved for use prior to ad during competition – by WADA even. There is a lot of research to be done. But for what I’ve seen – and experienced – is that CBD, both topical and tinture, is effective. I sleep better, hurt less, get less wound up, and feel more in control. Hard not to like that.” Peter Downing, co-founder, Suffer Better
Other Athletes Sponsored by Cannabis Companies
- Freestyle skier Tanner Hall (Black Rock Originals)
- Ultrarunner Avery Collins (The Farm dispensary, PurePower Botanicals)
- Ultrarunner Sabrina Stanley (PurePower Botanicals)
- Ultrarunner Tim Olson (PurePower Botanicals)
- IRONMAN world record-holder Tim Don (iKor)
- 3x IRONMAN champion Craig Alexander (iKor)
- Pro mountain biker Ryan Petry (iKor)
https://t.co/SbPD6VavZ3 The cat is out the bag @Ikorlabs helping me with my recovery the last 11.5 months, and everyday with my training load, some big fire power here for recovery 👊🏁 #trainhardraceeasy #NeverGiveUp #kona2018
— Tim Don (@trithedon) September 27, 2018