Endurance Athlete Living with Ankylosing Spondylitis Continues 3000 Mile Journey Benefitting Spondylitis Association of America

Facing injury and wildfires, Helgi Olafson pushes onward, adapting to new challenges

The Original Plan

Diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) at 19, Helgi Olafson has spent his adult life combating his degenerative auto-immune arthritis by staying active. In 2018, Olafson completed the Triple Crown of 200 mile ultramarathons by finishing the Bigfoot 200 near Mount Saint Helens, the Tahoe 200 around Lake Tahoe, and the Moab 240 in Moab, UT, all within a two month span. Olafson planned to attempt his second Triple Crown of 200 mile ultramarathons beginning August 13, 2021, but found a way to add to the challenge as a fundraiser for the Spondylitis Association of America.

Rather than simply competing in each event, he would link them all on foot. After completing the Bigfoot 200, Olafson planned to run on the Pacific Crest Trail to Tahoe, attempting a Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Oregon section. He would race in Tahoe and then set out along the American Discovery Trail, where he would attempt another FKT before continuing to the Moab 240. His journey would conclude at the finish line. The route would be 2855 miles with 366,000 feet of vertical gain in total.

The Unplanned

Olafson fell on his final tuneup run 6 days before the Bigfoot 200, sustaining injuries that required stitches in his left arm and left him with an
undiagnosed hairline fracture in his left foot. Olafson raced the Bigfoot 200, pushing through the pain while the fracture worsened, shearing
tendons along the way. After the race, Olafson sought the advice of medical professionals who diagnosed the fracture via X-ray and advised him to rest his foot for at least 6 weeks. Olafson turned the bad news into a new plan. Rather than run, we would cycle in order to reduce the impact on his injury, still not giving up on his goal to cover the distance under human power.

As Olafson headed south along the Oregon coast toward California, more bad news came. The Caldor fire, threatening lives and homes in Tahoe, led to the cancellation of the Tahoe 200. The Caldor and Dixie fires would now obstruct his reroute plan, forcing Olafson to double back through Bend, OR. There, he finalized plans to race a virtual Tahoe 200 in McCall, ID.

The New Plan

Just before sunset on the 24th day of his journey, Olafson made it to McCall, ID, having cycled 1150 miles from the finish of Bigfoot 200. Confident that his foot is healing and his fitness has benefitted from his time on the bike, Olafson will race the IMTUF 100 Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival this weekend in McCall. There he will complete a double loop as a virtual Tahoe 200. The course is a 100 mile loop with 22,000 ft. of vertical gain. He must complete the first loop in 36 hours and finish both within 110 hours.

Following the race, Olafson will head towards the Moab 240 under human power with hopes of inspiring other AS and arthritis patients, like
Olafson, throughout the world with his journey.