Jim Walmsley and Lighting the Fire – Western States 2017

Ryan looked at me and asked, “You going for sub-14?” It was a gut check moment where I realized I needed to commit to myself on what my goals were for the day. So, I said “Yeah Baby!” and Ryan pulled back and let me go.”

So, guess what, Jim Walmsley didn’t win Western States. Yes. Who’d have thought it? Well actually, I think a great deal of people thought he wouldn’t win but the pre-race Western States PR machine got rolling and before I knew it and ultra-fans around the world knew it, Jim had got the Cougar and the buckle and the race was over.

Thing was, the race hadn’t even started!

Don’t get me wrong, Jim inspired the ultra-running audience in 2016 with some great racing, stunning FKT’s and an almost fairy tale Western States. Yes, it was an almost fairy tale because as we now all know, he went of course whilst in the lead and then walked it in way off the top-10. 

It was a day of what might have been. 

I interviewed Jim post Western States and you can listen to the audio HERE and read the interview HERE. I like Jim, I like someone who really believes in their ability. Is it arrogance, yes, I think it is. But I didn’t believe then and I don’t believe now that Jim’s arrogance was designed to upset anyone – on the contrary, I think Jim desired to be liked.

Post the 2016 Western States it came as no surprise that the ball started to roll and as expected, Jim got a sponsor (Hoka One One) received invites and gained plenty of air time. It was going to happen, it’s the way the world is. However, in and amongst all this buzz, Andrew Miller, the guy who won Western States was almost forgotten. I tried to interview him but he didn’t reply… his victory was so unexpected that Salomon (who he is sponsored by) who had a photographer following the other Salomon runners had not planned to follow the young gun up front who took victory. Andrew’s victory was remarkable and yes, he was the youngest ever champ! I neglected the story as so many others did because the media and buzz was about Jim. 

Cut to 2017 and Jim was back with more great form, fast running and FKT’s. He stuck his neck out early on and said that a ’14’ at Western States was his target and that is what he’d do! 

No keeping the powder dry, no reservations, no question marks – it was clear cut, “I will run 14 -hours.”

We heard it so many times that everyone started to believe it and as the 2017 Western States approached, like I said earlier on, it almost felt that the Cougar and the buckle had been awarded.

I’ll hold my hands up, I said Jim would win but I also clearly stated that I felt that the person to beat Jim on race day was Jim. Running too fast, too hard, not respecting the conditions and not respecting the competition would be the downfall of Jim and it was.

In my opinion, Jim ran a very poorly judged race. He learnt nothing from 2016 and the mistakes made and he went and repeated them. I believe that the PR machine had snowballed so much that maybe Jim had lost perspective?

You see racing is not the same as an FKT. Racing is about being first across the line and that doesn’t need to be a fast time, it just needs to be faster than everyone else.

Everything was against Jim? 

He talked his race up with a level of transparency that the ultra-community embraced. They loved his goals and strategy. In the week before the race a film was released that delved into why Jim runs and how it was an escape from inner demons. We all love an inner-demon story and let’s face it, ultra-running is full of troubled souls. As a community, we could all relate to this story and how the redemptive powers of a long run heals us.

Video here

Jim was on a pedestal and while some would want to see him stumble and fall, the majority were rooting for him – they wanted him to have the moment that was ‘snatched’ away from him in 2016.

On analysis though, Jim losing the Western States in 2016 wasn’t because he went of course, it was because (in my opinion) he ran too fast and too hard and he blew-up. The signs were there with his swim at the Rucky Chucky, his navigation error was no doubt due to a lack of concentration with fatigue.

So, cut to 2017 with 8 of last year’s top-10 returning and some serious new competition, Jim would have to run smart to win. I said pre-race, “I personally think Jim should try and win the race and forget CR’s, especially with the snow. If he does that, I think he will win. However, the only person that is going to beat Jim in my opinion is Jim himself by racing too hard and too fast looking for that time.” 

I went on to say, “The surprises, although not surprises to trail running fans may well come from outside last year’s top-10. Ryan Sandes is back and he’s addicted after placing 2nd in 2012. I don’t think he can beat Walmsley in a toe-for-toe run but if his form and fitness is good, the podium is a possibility. For me though, Alex Nichols and Jonas Buud are the ones to potentially upset the apple cart in what is essentially a runner’s race. Both guys excel at running fast and Nichols gets the nod for handling the vert and snow.”

Listen to the pre-race chat (and post-race chat) from experienced old hands like Ian Sharman, Jeff Browning and so on. They knew it was going to be a day of grinding out a finish. Ryan Sandes has been 2nd at Western States, he knew what was in store, he’s won Leadville, won Transgrancanaria and he is known from coming from behind to take control in the latter third to clinch victory. Alex Nichols, new to the 100-mile distance but with a Run Rabbit Run victory under his belt, all these runners respected what was ahead.

Did Jim respect what was ahead?

Ryan looked at me and asked, “You going for sub-14?” It was a gut check moment where I realized I needed to commit to myself on what my goals were for the day. So, I said “Yeah Baby!” and Ryan pulled back and let me go.”

Credit @mykehphoto Instagram

Jim will be applauded for that commitment, but what was that commitment based on, was it the snow he was running on at the time that was sapping everyone’s strength and causing them to hold back? 

At the top of the escarpment he already had 7-minutes on the competition, a lead that he would extend beyond 30-minutes.

“…but then immediately you get into the high country. What ended up happening is that it was icy, rugged and lots of falling, and pretty slow. I came through the 16-mile split like one minute off the year before, but I was way more efficient in 2016.”

Quote from runnersworld.com interview here.

But all the early efforts would come back to haunt him as the heat of the canyons started to punish an already tired body. The pace Jim had decided to run would give him a course record (note I don’t say victory) but it wasn’t sustainable. He dropped at mile 78. Whereas Sandes and the competition ran smart races and let’s look at the finish times, victory came with a time of 16:19:37, Alex Nichols 2nd in 16:48:23 and Mark Hammond 16:52:57. 

Compare to 2016 when Andrew Miller won in 15:39:36 or Rob Krar’s 2015 time of 14:48:59. As Western States veteran Ian Sharman said, ‘That was the toughest Western States I have ever run.” If perspective were needed, he’s done 8 and finished in the top-10 every time.

It certainly appeared Jim had all the signs and either ignored them believing his own pre-race PR or when he fully realized it was too late…

“I really wanted to slow down and try to maintain a more comfortable, easy pace and take care of myself really well. I would try to take a little more time through aid stations to slow down that rhythm, but I was still clicking good splits. Usually that’s a good thing and nice, but it ended up being the downfall. Not being able to slow down meant I was just overheating. Around Devil’s Thumb [mile 48] things got warm. Michigan Bluff [mile 55] is a hot climb. I was pretty beat up by the time I got to the top of Michigan Bluff.”

Quote from runnersworld.com interview here.

Jim is a great runner. He will win Western States, I am sure of it. But for now, he is a great 100km ‘ish’ runner, he has the results and FKT’s to prove it. However, at the 100-mile distance, thus far, he’s yet to prove he can run the pace he wants for that final 30 or so miles. As Speedgoat Karl Meltzer always says, “The race only begins here!”

If Jim had run slower, could he have won the race? 

I am aware I am going to open myself up for some criticism here but let’s face it, EVERYONE was talking about Jim pre-Western states – post race, it’s all gone a little quiet.

I personally feel somewhat a fraud writing another article about Jim when really, I should be writing about Ryan Sandes and how he has slowly but surely persevered to win the race he has always wanted to win – it has not been an easy journey. The rise of Alex Nichols, arguably one of the most talented runners out there – he’s excelled in Europe, topped podiums in Skyrunning and now has clinched two 100-mile victories. Believe me, the USA has a potential UTMB champion in Alex as he has already laid down the platform with victories at Mont-Blanc 80km. And let’s not forget the ladies, look what happened in that race with a surprise victory from Cat Bradley and how the ‘sure’ podium potential of Magda, Kaci and Steph didn’t pan out the way we expected – Magda placed 2nd and Kaci and Steph fought the ultra-demons for a hard-fought finishes way below their pre-race expectations.

This isn’t an anti-Jim post. It’s a post to generate some debate and analysis on many aspects our sport, not only Jim’s Western States performance.

Placing a runner on a pedestal can only mean that a fall will come, is that fair to that runner? I wonder in retrospect if Jim now thinks all the pre-race PR was a good thing? I also wonder, will Jim race a different way in the future?  

We’ve seen it before with Zach Miller, Hayden Hawks and yes Tim Freriks who have, ‘Gone big or gone home!’ Tim pulled it off at Transvulcania with a stunning win, Zach and Hayden have pulled it off too but by equal measure, but they have also failed. Is the failure part just an occupational risk? You know, ‘you win some, you lose some!’

Jim is an exciting racer and Western States certainly gained some additional PR in 2017 with a fireball on the start line. But as the fireball said post-race, “Sometimes when you’re not careful trying to set off fireworks you light yourself on fire.” 

I love Jim’s style, his enthusiasm and transparency and in the weeks and months to come, Jim will do much self-analysis. He’s surrounded by supporters and they are dedicated to the cause, they don’t want him to run any other way, they want him to go big or to go home!

Jim ran beyond his limits and found his own. He laid this all out for everyone to see and in defeat he has been saluted and humbled. 

A new chapter begins.

Credits:

@mykehphoto Instagram and runnersworld.com interview here.

50 thoughts on “Jim Walmsley and Lighting the Fire – Western States 2017

    • Yes. I think it’s a learning curve for all. These moments are great and in equal measure bad. Let’s see what happens as UTMB approaches! Let’s see how the media and the runners handle Kilian v Francois v Jim v Zach and so on and so on.

  1. There seems an inner conflict in the culture. On one side, we love to wonder what these new speedsters can do. On the other side, we place perhaps an overly-precious amount of emphasis on “intelligence”, “racing smart”, “self-awareness” and a general journey towards self-actualization.

    I personally find it ironic that this perspective on ultra, that it is a kind of spiritual or heartfelt transformation is actually a limiting belief; reductive and preciousizing.

    There is nothing right or wrong with Walmsley’s race unless he says there is. If he wants to learn from it and try different approaches or alter his goals, he will.

    Let them DNF, let them blow up. If we are looking to find our limits through ultra, then surely we must work in accepting what we disagree with and realizing when our opinions are just idle energy.

  2. The only part of your article I agree with is that you should rather have written about the winner Ryan Sandes then another article about Jim blowing it. Shame on you Ian I would have expected more from you l.

  3. True words! with some of the comments made in Jim’s direction I think it’s good to remember what Gordy Ansleigh says about ultrarunning “none of us should take this stuff too seriously.” If we wanted to do that we could take epo and run marathons

    • Run fast, train hard, have fun. Racing is supposed to be fun, but ultrarunning tends to be more of the Type 2 Fun variety that comes with a lot of low moments. However the week as a whole with the crew of characters Jim surrounds himself with at Western (and at every race) was mostly Type 1 Fun and that side of Jim is the focus of the next “chapter” of the “Lighting the Fire” story.

      "Basically we are a bunch of young guys that got together and wanted to run fast, we wanted to train really hard, and we wanted to have a lot of fun doing it. We started calling our group the @coconinocowboys." @walmsley172's race didn't have the fairytale ending we'd all hoped for but that's life, and when life gets you down you make sure you're surrounded by friends and family who can lift your spirits and get you to the next start line. When it comes to running Jim has a crazy focus and intensity but outside of running he goes to great lengths to surround himself and support people that make him happy. For the next episode of #lightingthefire we decided before the race to focus our cameras on the cast of characters and cowboys that Jim has brought along for the ride to help tell his story and highlight the lighter side of who he is. Stay tuned. #runfasttrainhardhavefun #thecanyonmakescowboys #lightingthefire #runwithoutlimits #coconinocowboys @9mindasylum @trappephoto @garrett_creamer @hokaoneone @clifbar @nathansportsinc

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      • Gotta say you are just too in love with the guy Myke and not looking at the hard facts of his running. Great he runs for fun, the blast, the pleasure, the thrill… he also says he’s going to win and set records. Western a great example. He ran a bad race, ran beyond his ability, didn’t take into consideration the conditions, didn’t respect the competition and he made it 2/3rds of the way… no need to say more. But at the same time his victories and FKT’ s are incredible. He tried to make WSER a fkt – it’s not, it’s a race and the champ is the one who crosses the line first – Ryan Sandes

      • Ian – I’ve never said Jim ran a smart race, and if you don’t think what I’m writing is relevant you should stop writing about it yourself (your entire article is entirely full of the words and stories I’ve written or helped build into the film I did with Matt Trappe on Jim or messaged to you about Tim). Jim is a close friend that I’ve been traveling with to ultras for years and is also the subject of a film project I’m working on this year with Matt Trappe, so it makes sense that I’m trying to post about him and his experience at the race and dive into his personality for a wider audience. You’re a guy who may have met Jim a couple times but whose job it is to write and cover the sport as whole but you’re still prioritizing the time to write about him instead of the true winner Ryan, which doesn’t make as much sense.

      • No. And that makes me impartial which is why my thoughts are relevant and your thoughts are blinkered, personal and lacking objectivity. You are a rock solid friend to Jim without question, however, you are very much seeing one side of a story imo . That’s fine, we will not agree! But don’t keep coming back as Jim’s no1 fan. Take an anylitical look – you know what, if you and maybe one or two other ‘Cowboys’ mentioned to Jim that maybe racing a slightly different way may reap rewards, then you’d be a true friend! Let’s see how the yee ha approach goes down in Europe with some proper trails and mountains and a super stacked field. If Jim runs like he did at Western it will be an interesting night and day!

    • So let me get this straight – not having personal experience with the subject you decided to write about your “impartial” opinion based on the narrative of “the media” and hype you criticize, the social media that you read sitting over in Europe, and most heavily the information and posts from Jim’s #1 fan that you seem perfectly happy linking to and referencing for your articles?

      I totally see the other side of the story – Jim had a disastrous race at Western. He may become a legend, or he may get washed up and step aside to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a dentist (true story). But the cowboys roll how they want to roll and it will be a fun ride. Giddy up!

      • Myke, I write about many races and many runners. It’s what I do, day-in and day-out. It’s not a pre-requisite to know someone to write about them. I have just written an article on Cat Bradley but I have never met her. I have just finished an article on Ryan Sandes, someone I know personally. That’s the way it is… Jim may be a friend since 2014 but if he, you, his sponsors and whoever else talk him up, then it’s only fair that questions are asked. You, Jim or Hoka didn’t complain pre Western with all the attention – don’t complain afterwards when people discuss the epic fail – it was an epic fail! As for taking information from you, yes, I have gleamed one quote and it’s credited in the post. That’s what we do as journalists, we pool information. However, my analysis is based on someone who follows, writes and conducts interviews on this sport for many years – Walmsley is not YOUR story, no matter how much you would like it to be. Just sit back and have confidence in Jim and the Cowboys and as you say, Giddy Up! Ironically, that is a Jeff Browning catch phrase and he well and truly did Giddy Up last year with an incredible back-to-back Western and Hardrock and another incredible Western this year. Now that is a great example of humility, talent, pacing and getting the job done, a real Giddy Up runner.

    • I started into this conversation wanting to discuss the questions you initially asked (see below). My initial post, which you referenced in writing your article, is critical of Jim’s race (see below). I was not critical of you writing the post in the first place or anyone that has their opinions (see other comments below), I was just engaging in a discussion you yourself asked for which I thought I’d be more qualified to answer knowing Jim than some armchair critic who’d never met Jim. So I apologize for engaging in a discussion you yourself asked for.

      Also it’s a whole other topic for conversation that I struggle with as a photographer, but journalists and editors are getting lazy and just reporting on or copy/pasting what they see pop up on social media vs. investing in reporting properly. Maybe I made up the whole conversation that Jim had with Ryan at the start line – did you fact check it with either of them that it’s accurate, or talk to them at all when writing your articles? Or are you just trusting that everything that you’re collecting from posts on social media is true?

      Your call to question:
      This isn’t an anti-Jim post. It’s a post to generate some debate and analysis on many aspects our sport, not only Jim’s Western States performance.
      Placing a runner on a pedestal can only mean that a fall will come, is that fair to that runner? I wonder in retrospect if Jim now thinks all the pre-race PR was a good thing? I also wonder, will Jim race a different way in the future?

      Original post that you referenced and linked to:
      “Off the starting line the only person who was running with me at 20 meters was @ryansandes. He looked at me and asked “You going for sub-14?” It was a gut check moment where I realized I needed to commit to myself on what my goals were for the day. So I said “Yeah Baby!” and Ryan pulled back and let me go.” @walmsley172’s time of 39:56 up the 3.8 mile/2,400′ Escarpment climb to start the #ws100 not only bested other competitors by seven minutes but also Jim’s own Strava record by a couple minutes, which he set on a training run just up Escarpment over a week before the 2016 race. As I saw him pass me below Squaw Peak he said he was running without limits today but he wasn’t running fast, just comfortable, and wanted to make up lost time up the climb that he gave up last year starting off conservatively. However after the climb the effort on the snowy trails in the high country started to take its toll – all day Jim was trying to keep on or just behind his course record pace splits from 2016 but was doing so through much more difficult conditions. By the time he started to adjust later in the race to try and protect the lead when it became difficult to hold down calories he found himself dug into a hole that he couldn’t climb out of and ended up DNFing at mile 78. It’s easy to see after the fact and at a distance that Jim didn’t run a smart race like Ryan did. Getting a course record given the conditions which resulted in a slow year for the entire field probably wasn’t in the cards, but Jim wasn’t there to run anyone else’s race. He was there to run his own and he went for it. When you push all your chips in and bet on yourself you can win big but also lose big, and in the pursuit of greatness and things that have never been achieved before it’s better to be polarizing than neutralizing.

      • Let me be clear – your article was really interesting and inspired me to write my initial comment that let me dive into more of Jim’s story/personality and to explore some segments of the sport I hadn’t thought about before. I may disagree with some points that you made in your article and our comments may now have devolved into a less than productive back-and-forth, but I’m not critical of you writing this at all (we all know Jim ran a bad race) and appreciate the discussion.

      • I think it will. Like in the first episode the story of the race is what will structure the film, but the bigger purpose is to explore who Jim is and the motivations that drive him to compete. Working on the project with Matt we don’t want to shy away from the critical sides of Jim’s story (or else in the first episode we could have made more of a puff piece by leaving out his mistakes in Great Falls) because without the flaws the story isn’t as real. So right now is an important time to think about how Jim’s race played out, the mistakes he made, and how he’ll respond, which is why I appreciated your post (especially written by someone I think is very knowledgable on the subject). In a lot of ways Jim DNFing and the public response to his has created a more dramatic and interesting dynamic than had he just won the race. I interviewed many of the top men and various individuals involved with the sport after the race about Jim’s approach and everyone had a different opinion. Some were critical and talked about how he should have been more conservative with his strategy, but most (including Sandes and Miller) spoke positively about Jim putting his goals out there and going for them.

        In regards to UTMB, I think we’ll see a different side of Jim’s racing than we did at Western. Whatever anyone thinks of his approach his decision to race the way he did at Western in 2017 was based on his previous experience on the course in 2016 and the belief that he could run an ambitious 14 hours/a course record. Jim has never raced anything like UTMB, which will be a much different effort and experience than Western, and he hasn’t faced the level of competition that will be there. So I think we’ll see him race more conservatively/strategically after learning a lot from the experience at Western. Or not – that’s why he’s fun to watch and write about. 🙂

  4. Read your post and ended up finding myself inspired to write this. The main point – we now live in an FKT/Strava world where athletes like Jim and Kilian (who also recently failed at a widely publicized record attempt on Everest due to stomach issues) are trying to change the game, not win it.

    "That feels great." As @walmsley172 left Foresthill during #ws100 I had hope that him throwing up was just the result of drinking and standing up too fast and that he'd be able to recover, but anyone looking back at a distance can see that was the beginning of the end. A lot has been said about Jim's approach to Western this year but having traveled with Jim to a lot of races over the years I can say his mindset, approach and competitiveness for running hasn't changed with the increased attention or pressure to perform. On our first road trip in 2014 driving from Montana to Speedgoat the unknown Jim talked with confidence about how he planned to beat reigning champion @sagecanaday, who ended up schooling the undertrained and underprepared Jim who burned himself out on the first climb and ended up dealing with stomach issues and finished 26th. Like many of the younger racers getting into ultrarunning Jim's opinion about the sport is formed by his background on the track and in cross country, where runners more or less know the times they're capable of before getting on the start line. A lot more can happen in a 32-100 mile race on trail, but even when he lived in Montana he knew that if he was able to commit to training for ultras that the times he'd be capable of on a good day would bring down ultrarunning course records. We now live in an FKT and @strava world now where no one cares about who ran the fastest known time in the Grand Canyon in 2017, they care about THE fastest known time. Jim could always just go for an FKT on the Western States course but doing it within the confines and rules of the race allows for better comparison to the greats that have come before him (one of the main reasons last fall he prioritized the 55 year old JFK 50 and @maxkingor's stout record over the newer and constantly changing North Face 50 course). Jim will be the first to admit he made a lot of strategic mistakes approaching Western as a race this year but his approach to the course was more focused on what he thought he was personally and physically capable of. (Continued in comments…)

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    “That feels great.” As @walmsley172 left Forresthill during #ws100 I had hope that him throwing up was just the result of drinking and standing up too fast and that he’d be able to recover, but anyone looking back at a distance can see that was the beginning of the end.

    A lot has been said about Jim’s approach to Western this year but having traveled with Jim to a lot of races over the years I can say his mindset, approach and competitiveness for running hasn’t changed with the increased attention or pressure to perform. On our first road trip in 2014 driving from Montana to Speedgoat the unknown Jim talked with confidence about how he planned to beat reigning champion @sagecanaday, who ended up schooling the undertrained and underprepared Jim who burned himself out on the first climb and ended up dealing with stomach issues and finished 26th.

    Like many of the younger racers getting into ultrarunning Jim’s opinion about the sport is formed by his background on the track and in cross country, where runners more or less know the times they’re capable of before getting in on the start line. A lot more can happen in a 32-100 mile race on trail, but even when he lived in Montana he knew that if he was able to commit to training for ultras that the times he’d be capable of on a good day would bring down ultrarunning course records.

    We now live in an FKT and Strava world where no one cares about who ran the fastest known time in the Grand Canyon in 2017, they care about THE fastest known time. Jim could always just go for an FKT on the Western States course but doing it within the confines and rules of the race allows for better comparison to the greats that have come before him (one of the main reasons last fall he prioritized the 55 year old JFK 50 and @maxkingor’s stout record over the newer and constantly changing North Face 50 course). Jim will be the first to admit he made a lot of strategic mistakes approaching Western as a race this year but his approach to the course was more focused on what he thought he was personally and physically capable of.
    Had Western been an FKT attempt and his stomach flipped there wouldn’t be other competitors to compare his effort and strategy to. You know who else had their stomach flip during an even bigger and more publicized endurance attempt this year (but didn’t have cameras around to capture it)? @kilianjornet on Everest, who abandoned his multi-year “Summits of My Life” attempt because he suffered from stomach issues on the ascent that slowed him down and made him stop prematurely at Advanced Base Camp instead of completing his intended route to the Rombuk monestary. The response from the public, who held their breath as the time between updates became worrisome, was incredibly positive for him putting himself out there and trying to do something no one else had done before despite coming up short. But say it had been a race and another mountaineer had approached the same route conservatively and slipped by Kilian who had called it quits at Advanced Base Camp to complete the route. Technically Kilian would have been beat, but I don’t think he’d have cared or listened to any criticism about how he should have been more conservative in his attempt. Like Jim he knows what he’s capable of and is relentlessly pursuing his goals and limits. Athletes like Kilian and Jim are trying to change the game, not win it.

    • Jim hasn’t earned yet to be compared to Kilian. Not only his many accomplishments and years among the top mountain runners in the world, but Kilian has always been humble and respectful towards other runners.
      Kilian has never got in front of a mic to call out other runers to come face him, never said his training or his fitness is much better than everyone else’s, has never claimed before a race how he was going to get everyone else to run his race, never threatened that those trying to match his pace would get dropped and pay for their mistake. Etc. Etc. Etc.
      Kilian is a true ambassador for the sport who doesn’t feel the need to toot his own horn.
      Enough of this nonsense. UTMB won’t be Jim vs Kilian. Luis Alberto, Sage, Ludovic, Laney, Tollefson, Grinius, Francois, Thevenard, Miller, and several others will be key players. Kilian wouldn’t dare to dismiss any of those guys. But Jim already talks of controlling the race early and that he won’t allow a slow start.
      Walmsley has a lot of talent and speed. He should approach the race humbly and let his legs do the talking.
      After all the boasting and trash talk, I don’t understand how some people are surprised or think it’s unfair that Jim is facing some criticism. What did you expect? Had Kilian behaved with the same hubris ahead of Everest, he’d be questioned too (although Kilian did summit Everest, twice, so hardly a failure).
      Also, Jim is doing nothing game changing. He’s just faster than the guys who held the records before him. Same as it’s always been. The only new thing he’s brought so far is his boasting, and, honestly, that’s something the sport could do without.
      He’s a great athlete. Is everything else that’s being criticized. Rightfully so. I commend Ian for his write-up. Although he’s probably been too kind.

    • Myke – racing is about being the best on a day! A given day and how the individual prepares physically and mentally. That’s why they become champions. FKTs as much as like them are personal projects, PR and yes even hocum at times. A talented runner can keep waiting for the weather, the fitness, the perfect day and eventually set a fkt. But turning up on a given day, facing your peers and triumphing says so much more.
      As for Kilian and Everest – he did set a record when he had stomach issues as nobody had ever done the monastery to summit before and yes he failed on the out-and-back record. On his second run he didn’t better the time, I believe 2 have gone faster from basecamp, however he did set the record for 2 Everest summits, without oxygen and ropes in 6-days, the previous best was 7-days!
      To compare Jim running recklessly at the front of Western States to Kilian’s 5-year Summits project which culminated in Everest is far beyond my imagination I am afraid. Not taking into account his countless records, victories and yes, he’s won UTMB and Western States and is a multiple world champion… let’s not get ahead of ourselves with Jim. He shows potential for sure but he has a long way to go.

      • Hey Ian and Nelson – I agree that Jim going for an FKT at Western is not even in the same universe as Kilian. Climbing Everest twice in a week without oxygen and racing Western aren’t comparable and Jim hasn’t accomplished a fraction of what Kilian has. Your whole post though is about the commentary around the public putting people on a pedestal, how the media responds and focuses on Jim instead of the true winners, and the mentality of how hype might effect a competitor. I was using Kilian and his climb which I would argue was the only endurance attempt or event more hyped than Jim’s Western States run this year so far (pre-UTMB) to make a point about Jim’s mentality and approach to running as I know him. He’ll be the first to admit he didn’t run a smart race at Western but he did what he did and will learn and rebound from it.

      • Also it’s just easy to try and compare anything and anyone to Kilian – he’s at the top, and has the most media and history behind him to reference (my comparison for a larger audience wouldn’t be nearly as good if I chose a lesser known runner). So continuing on with the discussion of the mentality of striving to do your personal best (not comparing either’s resume, personality, or their attempts level of difficulty) – I have Jim on tape before this year’s Western States saying that even if he won last year and set a course record he’d still have gone back to go for sub-14, having learned so much about himself in the process of his first 100 and it being a goal he cares about personally. Do you think Kilian is happy with his monastery to summit time given the stomach issues he had, or did he leave Everest thinking he was capable of doing better? Technically he has the record, but as you said it’s a record only he himself has attempted because more importantly he must have found personal fulfillment in the route and pursuit. I like Kilian and Jim because they’re chasing their own goals, not everyone elses.

      • Agree to an a certain extent but it’s easy to shoot for 14 or sub if you already have won the race, Jim didn’t . He blew up and went of course which is why I said this year he should run for the win… In my opinion Jim learnt nothing last year and those around him encouraged him to run the wrong race! Even the ‘Stop Jim’ or whatever itvdaid T’ s back that. It was hyped beyond Jim’s ability on THAT day. As for Kilian, yes be knows what’s possible and what he can do but the weather, form and conditions must align – it’s no different at WSER!

      • Your own call for comments for this article, which I think I addressed:

        It’s a post to generate some debate and analysis on many aspects our sport, not only Jim’s Western States performance.

        Placing a runner on a pedestal can only mean that a fall will come, is that fair to that runner? I wonder in retrospect if Jim now thinks all the pre-race PR was a good thing? I also wonder, will Jim race a different way in the future?

      • Hype is an external force that is perceived and created by an outside audience and only effects an athlete if they let it (Jim doesn’t spend much time on social and even cut it out entirely the week of Western). If you want to suggest the hype and media attention in the small niche world of ultrarunning can be too much for a person to deal with I have no idea how athletes in the worlds of soccer/football/basketball/baseball/etc get out of bed in the morning.

        Like everyone else you have your opinions on how he should have raced, and that’s fine. I’m pretty conservative myself in my approach to almost everything, and before and during Western I’d have rather seen Jim go for the win vs. risking blowing up going for sub-14 (a win even way off of the course record would have worked out way better for the film I’m doing). But for better or worse that’s not what Jim wanted to do.

      • Nobody has contributed more to the hype surrounding Jim than Jim himself every time he gives an interview.

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  6. While there are SO many hot topics surrounding Jim’s run at Western States this year and issues to debate, I’m going to limit myself to just one.

    I personally don’t want to hear, read or watch a single piece on Walmsley that has anything to do with Western States between now and next year’s race.

    If he comes back next year and get’s a win and/or CR great for him, but until he’s actually done it he doesn’t deserve the attention. Any of the folks who contributed to the Walmsley hype machine over the past 12 months who are now on the defensive anytime someone critique’s Jim’s race day strategy – you can’t have it both ways. I think historically given the positive/uplifting community aspect of trail running, folks have been reluctant to criticize bad performances. If people like Walmsley want to “change the game” (which apparently includes running your mouth a lot about what you’ve done and what you’re going to do) then I think one of the new rules should include the freedom to openly/honestly analyze and criticize his performances. Whether you’re in the (1) Walmsley was running for the CR or the (2) Walmsley was running for the win camp, the result is the same; He epically failed at both. We can celebrate the person that is Jim Walmsley while at the same time judge his performance for what it was.

  7. Great article about the Walmsley phenomenon.

    Jim is really good at the 50 mile distance. For the 100 mile distance he obviously has some learning to do before he talks about CR again.

  8. I still find it hard to understand that Jim Walmsley did not care as much for winning the race as he did for the CR. But on the other hand – this year’s race was great to follow – the buildup, the expectations, all the videos, the race unfolding.. If we only raced smart, there wouldn’t be as many stories to tell.

    • This circles back to my original post above that Jim is kind of “FKTing” races for course records and his own goals because since the beginning of 2016 he hasn’t really faced runners who want to run at the pace he does. If you look at Jim’s resume in the last year (since Western 2016) he hasn’t lost an ultra by less than 20 minutes with his average winning margin at 40 minutes. Since he’s normally off the front early this means he’s essentially been time-trialing ultras by himself. Some races have had weak competition for sure, but the competition means less in a given year if he is getting course records. I think if you would have told him before the race Ryan was going to run 16:19 he would have still gone for a course record chasing a his personal goal. UTMB having a stacked field and being a type of race he hasn’t faced before will probably result in the most strategic race he’s run in a long time.

      Since 2016:
      1st/CR Bandera 100k (winning margin: 14:57)
      1st Red Hot 55k (winning margin: 17:35)
      1st/CR Mesquite 50k (winning margin: 30:35)
      1st/CR Lake Sonoma 50 (winning margin: 17:06)
      1st Don’t Fence Me In 30k (winning margin: 11:28)
      ******20th Western States 100 (*margin ahead at mile 85: 54:00)
      1st Bridger Ridge Run 20 miler (winning margin: 14:14)
      1st/CR Franklin Mountain 50k (winning margin: 20:34)
      1st/CR JFK 50 (winning margin: 30:39)
      1st/CR Tarawera 102k (winning margin: 47:26)
      1st/CR Carrera Alto Sil 31k (winning margin: 14:47)
      1st/CR Gorge 100k (winning margin: 1:01:41)
      ******DNF Western States 100 (*margin ahead at Forrest Hill: 53:00)

      *Western States lead splits at aid stations not based on official times because their website is down right now.

      • Myke – I get it you want to defend your friend and that’s cool, but give it a rest. You’ve said everything you can say. A lot of us just won’t agree. By the way, a quick peek at Ultrasignup (apologies if there’s something I am missing – I am sure you’ll jump all over me for that lol) indicates that Jim hasn’t done anything impressive beyond 8 hours (and almost all are around 7 hours or less). As Nelson pointed out (no wonder you didn’t reply to his post since you would have been unable to provide a cogent retort) it’s Jim running his mouth and disrespecting others in the sport that rubs people the wrong way. I defend Jim’s right to be an arrogant ass, but don’t get all defensive when he fails miserably and gets called out. In ultrarunner magazine he said “I hope every ultrarunner that wants a claim at being the best, races Western States next year” – this from a guy who hasn’t beaten anyone past 8 hours, let alone 15. I guess Sandes answered his request.

      • Hey Jeremy – thanks for adding to the discussion. I did reply to and agree with Nelson (in two comments that got nested under Ian’s comment instead of his) and I agree with every point you make.

        Multiple times in this thread and on social media I’ve acknowledged that Jim had a disastrous and poorly strategized race, he has yet to execute in 100 miles, and as a more conservative person myself would have run for the win/top 10 and not gone for a record. I don’t normally blog/comment/discuss things online like this, but I respect and appreciate Ian’s work in the sport and his writeup is literally referencing my words to form some opposing opinions. All of which are fair to have but I thought I’d expand/discuss them more by providing more information and not just let my own words stand out of context. So I’m not defending Jim’s race (it obviously went poorly), I’m just answering and expanding on the questions Ian himself proposed in his article (see above) about how Jim chooses to race. Take it for what it is though as someone that knows Jim, was part of the pre-race PR, followed him racing in 2016 & 2017, and filmed interviews with Jim and competitors like Sandes/Browning/Mocko/Elov which educate/back up my claims vs. most people speculating at a distance based on social media.

        To expand and discuss your comments of why Jim runs his mouth and openly invited other racers to Western from my own personal perspective (which I invite you to disagree with given your own information about Jim):

        Western States Board President John Medinger said after the race on iRunFar after defending his race strategy and intentions: “I will add that perhaps the one mistake Walmsley made was being candid and honest about his goals in his pre-race interviews. If you ever wonder why so many athletes are guarded and mealy-mouthed in interviews, it’s because of reactions like he received. Don’t be too surprised if next time around all you get is: I’m going to do the best I can. I hope that it’s good enough.”

        Maybe spectators he doesn’t know will feel better if Jim toned down his pre-race interviews but I don’t expect him to stop being confident in his abilities and refrain from the good-natured trash talking with his friends and fellow competitors. Jim said that in Ultrarunning/trash talks because he want’s other competitors (most of whom are his friends outside of racing) to step up and try and race and push each other to be better. Jim and Elov, who was the only person that made an attempt to stay close and race Jim up Escarpment, were trash talking each other online for months prior to Western about beating each other but spent the days before/after hanging out (Elov delightfully took the biggest cut of Jim’s hair at a BBQ after the race). People seem to forget Andrew Miller and Jim have been friends since Jim’s first ultra in 2014 (Old Gabe 50k in Montana) and from living and running together in Flagstaff. Andrew hasn’t posted anything about it and I haven’t seen anyone ask him or report on how he felt about Jim’s interview, so I won’t speculate like others have about how he might have felt. But to me being there and rereading the interview (where he’s accurately predicting how the race was going to play out if he blew up off the front) the “you’re welcome” line is a bigger picture comment directed at “five to 10 guys playing the really safe, smart card” at Western last year that benefitted from the “unsafe/dumb” competitors like Jim/Sage/Laney blowing up trying to race each other under course record pace last year (I believe Sage was also under course record pace through mile 70).

        Sandes wisely ran the best race playing the smart/safe card given the conditions this year and was victorious but based on his own post-race interview comments from various outlets raced indifferent to Jim’s race and pace. The question is will a smart/safe race strategy in 2017 keep winning races in 5-10 years if Jim keeps on rallying young speedsters to try and push the boundaries of the sport like his buddies Freriks/Reed? (BTW he trash talks with them more than anyone – they were even making fun of him while he shuffled in to DNF and get medical attention at Rucky Chucky). Had Freriks not lost a big lead over Elov/Nichols blowing up disastrously at the Black Canyon 100k (in a similar way to Jim) trying to earn a Golden Ticket this spring he would have been pushing the pace with Jim at the front of Western this year. Instead he went on to push the pace at the front of Transvulvania with Hayden Hawks. Hayden ended up bonking/puking like Jim did but Tim held on and beat a lot of smart/safe competitors there. The more that runners stop playing it safe and race each other up front the more the competitive side of the sport is going to change and progress.

        Again none of this is defending Jim’s race which ended in failure, just providing more context to how he chooses to race and where I personally see the sport going with that mentality. Racing all-in doesn’t always pay off and I personally wouldn’t race that way (only a few people can), but obviously it’s a lot of fun for people to watch and speculate about.

  9. Nice piece. From my vantage point Walmsley has become a clown show with a large audience of fanboys and girls. It will be all shits and giggles until the wheels fall off the clown car; meaning, his hubris and lack of respect for his body will led to physical and mental breakdowns. Then, the fanboys and girls will move on to the next “cowboy.” The dude needs a head check and someone — a mentor not a sycophant — to tell him the truth. Unless he grows up, this does not end well. Icarus has nothing on Walmsley at this juncture.

    • Since the start of 2016 Jim has won 8/10 of the ultras he’s raced (most course records) with his only two losses have been at Western States, the first of which was his first attempt at 100 miles when he wasn’t hyped as an unknown. The guy is in his mid-20’s and getting paid to do what he loves and travel the world and if he burns out in a couple years he has publicly stated numerous times (as Ian mentions below) he plans to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a dentist. Sounds like trying to fly close to the sun is paying off. Also if people don’t like the circus they should stop buying tickets (giving articles clicks and comments) to just yell at the clowns.

      • There’s no circus and there are no clowns. It’s called accountability — you go around running your mouth, people get to call you out on it.

        It seems Jim’s camp can’t deal with criticism.

        By the way, did Jim say ‘you’re welcome’ to Ryan Sandes after the race? Come on, Myke, you can’t say crap like that and be surprised by the response he’s got. It was pretty classless.

      • I definitely understand your point that what he is doing for the short term seems to be working out just fine, and if you don’t like it, don’t watch it. And I think that’s part of the issue. He and those who support how he’s doing things are thinking short term. They’re thinking “might as well go for it while you got it.” That is very flawed, immature and short-sighted thinking in my opinion. Yeah, he may have a good 3 year run and then back out when injury or illness set in and he is no longer able to be competitive. He may be just fine after that in the long term and do other things. Or he may be like Alberto Salazar or Geoff Roes with major medical issues stemming from really bad training when they were younger. I think it’s ok to be critical of the way he is going about his training and racing approach and take a look at those who stay in the game longer. It’s also ok to wonder what would happen if he took a more healthy and sensible approach to running ultras. Perhaps he’d be more like athletes like Matt Carpenter or Mark Allen, who trained and raced sensibly, dominated their field and lasted for many years.

      • Nelson – I was responding to Trevor’s comment using the imagery he himself brought up (circus/clowns) to make a point that anyone clicking and commenting on articles about Jim are supporting the attention and exposure he’s getting.

        I was actually there (and filming) when Jim and Ryan hung out and chatted after Ryan crossed the finish line and went in the medical tent, and Ryan asked Jim to sign his kit. Jim wrote “tip of my hat” for the effort (a similar line he used for Kaci Lickteig in a congratulatory post after Western last year), and Ryan wrote something along the lines that Jim should keep on charging and he’s a legend, and said that Jim has bigger balls than he does for chasing a goal like Sub-14 (which he has repeated in other post race interviews).

        I agree the pre-race interview wasn’t great and opens him up to criticism, but you bring up the sound bite and forget he was accurately predicting all the smart racers were going to let him go to run his own race (like Ryan and the field wisely did at the start line) with the hope he’d blow up (which he did).

        *Transcript iRunFar.com:

        Jim: I think more realistically what could happen and what would be most dangerous is if a chase pack chilled and found a good rhythm and found a good conservative pace of where if I did slip up late, they’re close enough and they’ve fed enough off of each other enough where they could… one of them could have a good day and make a break from that and close it. At some point, yes, I’m going to go out at a good pace where it’s going to be record pace from the start, and it’s going to be this and that. Someone’s going to have to close that gap. More than likely, someone’s going to have to close it by themselves.

        Jim: It’s a really, really deep men’s race. Then you also look at the tactics that people race at. It’s also a really deep field in the fact that there are a lot of racers that race patiently and smart. So when you have now five to 10 guys playing the really safe, smart card, how is that going to work out?

        iRunFar: It worked out last year.

        Walmsley: It worked out really well last year… you’re welcome. At the same time… I mean, how they’re going to differentiate between their own strategies. I think Alex Nichols isn’t getting talked about enough. He’s got to be odds-on… he’s undefeated in 100s. He’s always somehow found his dark-horse role in races, and he finishes podium every time. He’s a grinder, and he crushes. Chris Mocko has obviously been very public and has put in some great weeks. He’s put in, by single weeks, bigger weeks than any single one of mine. Elov has been out there…. Jonas Buud, Jeff Browning, throw Ian Sharman in there… How Ryan Sandes with a 15:02 PR at Western States isn’t getting more love… I mean, when you start going 10 deep and you narrow it down to 10 people, you’re leaving big names off. Top 10 is going to be a little bit trickier this year. Yeah, we’ll see.

  10. Good write-up. I don’t have an issue so much with the buildup and failure. Jim’s rise has been spectacular, as witnessed in his shorter races, FKTs and Strava training. My issue is that he seems to be yet another fast runner who comes on to the scene, shines very briefly, then crashes and burns. Instead of gradually and healthfully building endurance, improving for a number of years, focusing on a few key races every year, allowing their bodies adequate recovery and dominating over the course of time, they take shortcuts. They go hard, do a lot of anaerobic interval training, rise quickly, get ill and injured and sometimes get severe adrenal burnout after just 2-5 years. Think Roes, Skaggs, Krupicka, Wolfe, and many more. Like it or not, many people look up to and emulate their training and racing practices and end up in very bad shape. They think the injuries and burnout are ‘part of the game’ and they couldn’t be more wrong. Looking past their personalities, I think they are extremely poor representatives for endurance training and racing.

    • Walmsley has been on record and said he’d prefer to shine bright for a few years than have a long career… I’ve been saying for a long time that runners need to be sensible. Sandes is a great example of picking 1-3 key races per year.

      • Duly noted. But to me, the “shine brightly” ethos fails in two areas. First, one can shine brightly for much more than a few years with proper training, racing, nutrition, sleep, etc. Second, “shining brightly” is dismissive of the metabolic damage being done to the body and mind — even during the course of “only” 3-5 years. Lasting carnage often occurs. Ask Roes and the litany of other runners who were dismissive of the real life harm that one can do (although many still don’t know what hit them).

  11. Pingback: Episode 138 – Ryan Sandes and Hillary Allen | iancorless.com – Photography, Writing, Talk Ultra Podcast

  12. I believe in redemption and second chances but at this point future memories of Walmsley will be ‘what an asshole’ whereas memories of those such as Kilian will be ’embodiment of the ultra spirit’.

  13. I just found this gem of a write up about Jim Walmsley.
    Well written and I could not agree more.

    This Jim Walmsley hype is really fascinating. Yes he is a great 50 mile runner, no doubt about that.
    A top 100 mile racer he is not. At the UMBT he made so many mistakes and at the end he lost by 70 minutes.

    Jim is probably a really nice guy but he has no clue how long ultras work and his fan boys are even more clueless. I wish they all would shut up until Jim actually won an important 100 miler.

    • Markus. I think Jim learnt a great deal at Weatern and he applied that at UTMB. He ran a smart race, waiting for Francois and Kilian. In the end his lack of experience cost him a podium slot but let’s give credit. Top 5 at the 2017 UTMB is a great result and I definitely think that the next 100 Jim races will show a huge progression. I think Jim needs to run his own race, forget the hype that is being ‘generated’ around him and let the legs do the talking. Jim is an incredible runner. Incredible! We are going to see him blaze some future trails and I believe the 2017 UTMB will be seminal for him. I wish Jim luck. If he transfers that raw talent currently to 100km and extends it to 100 miles, we are going to see him win Western and UTMB – the question is, when?

      • Jim is a good runner and the 5th place at UMTB is great too. BUT he is not the greatest, not even close.
        He made a lot of mistakes at UMTB. You are not waiting for your competitors at an aid station, that does not make any sense. He should have used the time to move forward. I watched a couple of live videos at the aid stations and it was obvious that the other runners did a lot better job of taking care of themselves. Like to put on warm clothes or rain jackets.

        The main mistake most people make is to think that if a runner is excellent at 50 miles, he will crush all these “slow” 100 mile runners. That’s not how it works.
        Jim needs an experienced coach, train more efficient NOT more and should stay away from his fan boys who think that he can crush all these records.

        But we will see in the future.
        After seeing Krupicka, Roes and Krar, JIm might be just the next one hit wonder in the ultrarunning scene.

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