Earlier this year, off the back of a stunning run at Lake Sonoma, Jim Walmsley said he was going to go to Western States, his first 100, and not only win it but potentially set a new course record. It was quite the statement and of course it turned heads. What followed was one of those golden days on the trail when Jim looked to float over the course. With every step he creeped under the old Western States course record. A new record looked almost certain until disaster struck…
I caught up with Jim just a week after the 2016 Western States and delved into his mind about maybe one of the most memorable runs of the year.
IAN: I’m joined by Jim Walmsley after an incredible, memorable, inspiring, heart-wrenching, everything Western States. How do you feel Jim? Do you feel good?
Jim Walmsley: Right now? or during the race?
IAN: No, now that you’ve had an opportunity to recover.
Jim Walmsley: Now is going good. I started shuffling again. I called just my shuffle recovery. It’s what I try doing until my legs start coming back to me a little bit, I have started that process things are good. Yes.
IAN: Yes. Okay, before Western States, a lot of people particularly over in Europe and in the UK won’t have really known who you are. You were definitely a dark horse. People in the sport like myself who look at names and follow trends were looking at you. In all honesty some of the claims that you made prior to Western States, were very bold.
I love it when somebody comes into a race and they say, “You know what, I’m going to go hard, I’m going to go for the course record and that’s it.” And deep down you think brilliant, absolutely brilliant I hope he does it. But the reality is, he’s possibly going to crash and burn. Up until about 92 miles it looked like you were just going to make probably one of the most memorable Western States ever. First of all, what gave you the confidence to be so bold with your predictions?
Jim Walmsley: First and foremost, it was my training; it had been going so well. I did a big 50-mile race in April and I ended up getting a course record at Lake Sonoma 50 mile. A lot of big guys have run that in the past. Basically, I felt like I’d only built off of that. As far as confidence wise I knew I was more fit than I ever have been at least in my ultra-career.
I could feel in my training runs that faster paces were feeling more comfortable. I thought I would surrounded myself with a good team to go on a Western States and go knock that out. I guess the other thing with it being my first hundred, it’s one of those things that everybody has got to make that jump from whether it be 50 mile or 100K up to a 100-mile distance. That’s the next benchmark of distance up. I mean, everybody’s got to do it, some people do great with it, some people don’t but I think my journey had been ready to make that jump.
IAN: If we look back at your results and really from my perspective looking at your results they only really go back one year. Back to say May 2015 where you ran Don’t Fence Me In Trail 30K, and then you did Speedgoat, and then you won JFK, 3rd at Moab, 5th at Lake Sonoma, 1st at Black Out Night Run 13K, then Flagstaff Extreme Pine.
There’s a whole list of other races but for me when I was looking at the race there was a couple of significant results. JFK 50 miler you won that in 2014, 2015 Bandera 100K and then of course that Lake Sonoma run in April. You look and you think, “Wow. This guy is fast.” But like you’ve just said, fast at 50 miles and then coming to the 100-mile distance is a big difference. How did you prepare yourself physically for the unknown?
Jim Walmsley: I start knocking out the most miles I’ve ever tried before Lake Sonoma, I did my first 140 mile weeks not sure what that is in kilometres.
IAN: It’s a long way, 200+K.
Jim Walmsley: Okay. Yes. It’s 200K thereabout, and then from Lake Sonoma up to Western States my big training block ended up being back-to-back 140 mile weeks, followed by 120 and a 100, and then I went into my taper for two weeks. The first 120-mile week I did all in single runs. Probably the point where I knew I was feeling really good was when I was climbing and running really good at the Grand Canyon. I have a loop I do in Grand Canyon. I go down Bradenton it’s about seven to nine miles of mostly downhill and then you come back up South Kaibab, it’s about a seven mile up hill and then you finish on a four-mile flat kind of finish so it’s about a 21-mile loop.
That went really well, but then the next day I did a big workout on or just by Pace in Arizona. That was 30 mile run with 8,000 feet of vert up and down. That was huge back-to-back days, even at the end of that week I still did a long run with a bunch of the marathoners in town. I think this one might have been the one that I ran with Andrew Lemoncello, he’s a Scottish guy that lives in Flagstaff. I think we came through in like 2:01 for 20 miles but we went out in the first half and maybe like 65 mins. We were really cooking on the second half, kind of finish that big long run that week end was super huge. That was one of the main things too is that long run in my training it has just became comfortable to start running those 20 miles in about 2 hours. Things were really clicking.
IAN: I mean 120, 140 mile weeks that is huge. How do you maximize your recovery from those types of training sessions? Is that something that you’ve built upon year-on-year or have you just suddenly pushed the envelope and find that you can adapt to it?
Jim Walmsley: In high school I ran 90 miles a week for the last two years, I was a big mileage kid when I was young. But then I look around even less than that in college. I had won 1500 oriented coach. It’s been the first time where I felt comfortable to try to add on more miles and experiment with that. The only main thing I really did to try to help out with recovery, I started trying to take just calories and proteins stuff right immediately after races. I just have a little recovery shake after a run. That’s all I really added in after Lake Sonoma for the most part it’s just kind of being a bit lucky of staying healthy because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.
IAN: The recovery side of things seem to be working well. Is there anything else that you did in terms of nutrition? Anything that you’ve found out that works well for you or if you are just eating the normal healthy balanced diet?
Jim Walmsley: I mean, that is the only thing that I have changed recently. The other thing is I don’t eat meat but it’s not dietary reasons, it’s just a whole bunch of reasons of why I don’t necessarily want to support a lot of those bigger companies in the industry here in the US. I don’t eat meat for good and for bad but I don’t worry about making up that protein deficit. A lot of people think that I need to make it up somehow. I just eat whatever, I mean I do eat a lot! I eat a ton of junk food. I kind of joke that the amount of junk food I do eat and processed sugar actually gives me just a super rock solid stomach on race day. I’m taking a bunch of gels and a bunch of processed sugar on race day and I eat a lot of that pretty regularly. It almost helps me with having a more solid stomach on race day.
IAN: Okay, you’re very much booking the trends of the moment of low GI and low sugar and going paleo. You’re old school?
Jim Walmsley: Yes, I guess I am?
IAN: Okay, let’s talk about the race, Western States. You were very bold with your pre-race predictions and that puts a big target on your back. I don’t think I’m wrong in saying this, but I think a lot of the favourites for the race, respected the fact that you said what you were going to do. You did sort of say that you would try and take it easy early on. That didn’t really seem to happen. Sage Canaday and David Laney and yourself were pushing right from the start. Did you feel comfortable with that?
Jim Walmsley: Yes. I did feel comfortable with it. I was probably 30 something place at the first climb. I was trying to just slow down, walk and almost even stop a lot on the first climb out of Squaw Valley, to try to basically get some of the other favourites to get rolling and kind of run their own race. I mean I could see them and they were looking back a lot.
It was just one of those things where I felt it was almost pointless to slow down more and more and more, because I was either going to run their race, or my game plan would be to try to go off a feel and start running some splits. Those splits that we initially had started with the course record splits. Can’t understand how those felt, if they felt easy, if they felt hard and kind of base things off the feel from that.
IAN: Yes. I mean, it’s unusual in ultra-running for somebody to come into a race with an idea of splits with a real intention of breaking the record. Course records tend to come because it just turns out to be one of those days, when everything clicks and everything aligns and then course records happen.
You’re almost bringing into this marathon running perspective we’re it’s easier and more consistent to run the minute mile pace, because the terrain is more uniform, more predictable, whereas here, Western States. You’ve got elevation, you’ve got trail, you’ve got heat, you’ve got so many variables, but yet you seem to be very well planned and very well controlled that’s quite unusual.
Jim Walmsley: Well, how I did it was… I’ve never ran a marathon, but it’s a little different than just splits. Between each aid station I had average pace that I needed to hit, for that section. It was very course dependent and terrain dependent. I figured things were at least close enough, when you’re going four mile splits.
If you’re going up a hill, it’s okay to lose some time on that. That’s how I based it off, then it kind of ended up being where I was just able to taking chunks and chunk off of those average splits that I already had.
IAN: Now, the other thing that you seem to be taking in your stride and I loved the retro shirt look…. The heat! You’d obviously come into this race acclimatized to the heat. Was that something that you’d really concentrated on?
Jim Walmsley: I’m originally from Phoenix Arizona. I live in Flagstaff, which is about two and a half miles north. I have lived in flagstaff for the last year. But before that, I lived in Colorado, California and Montana. A little cooler, but as far as heat, I know I can handle it. I know I can run really well in it. But the main question was whether I can handle running in the heat all day, during the middle of the day. WSER was going to be the first big test. Being from Phoenix there’s a lot of people that have their little tricks and tips to stay a little bit cooler on their arms. I kind of pick up on those, just kind of keeping your wrists cool, always staying wet. I wore a hat and sunglasses the whole time.
Jim Walmsley: I think both of those contribute to a perception that it’s a little cooler. I try to keep my shoulders covered with the crop top shirt I had, rather than going on with singlet with skinnier shoulder bands. The shirt in general was kind of it held water better, the holes helped ventilation and then, it also helped with sun protection. Yes. You’re just trying to find different elements of what’s making you hotter and trying to mitigate those, and then always staying wet. If you see a creek lie down in the creek, it’s worth that time.
IAN: Yes. You went out to WSER for a running camp, is that correct?
Jim Walmsley: Yes, it is.
IAN: Was that a double edged sword? Or it was an opportunity to be on a training camp, an opportunity to go and heat acclimatise and also to get some training in?
Jim Walmsley: It was really nice weather, as opposed to anything uncomfortable. I wasn’t getting out on the actual Western States trails. It was more run in the Tahoe Rim Trail and a couple trails more in the Flume trail and stuff, but I hadn’t really spent time like that out in Tahoe. It’s just this wonderful beautiful place that was really awesome to do for sure.
I really enjoyed working with John Fitzgerald and Stan Myers, now at the mountain post running camp. The initial debate was whether I go back to Flagstaff for two weeks and then come back, or whether I stay out there… I had a couple friends that were supposed to do the Broken Arrow race in between those two weeks, and they ended up both dropping out, or scratching and not doing it.
But, I had made plans to just stay out there and kind of stuck with trying to stay out there. After that, I think next year I would really like to stay in Flagstaff, stay where I can get some bigger climbing consistently, because I just know that all the different runs where I live. I can just really dial it in on what I want to focus on most.
IAN: Yes, I see the logic in being in Flagstaff and then it’s easy to go down to Phoenix. I guess.
Jim Walmsley: Yes. Phoenix or if you want to get in a big running day the Tetons. I like heat training in the canyon because it gets pretty high and then also it has a similar reflection of the heat down there off of the rocks. The rocks really release a lot of heat out of them and make it feel a lot hotter than what it might– the ambient temperature might be.
IAN: Yes. Let’s go back to the race. By the time you got to half way, you had around about 20 minutes under the course record. Everybody was getting super excited and of course it was that 50:50 scenario. Is this going to be the most incredible run? Or at any point is he going to blow up and it certainly didn’t look like you were going to blow up? You were keeping yourself cool, like you said you put in plenty of water on yourself. You were submerging yourself in the rivers and water whenever you possibly could. You did almost end up going for a bit of a long swim… Do you want to just touch on what happened there? I mean, that was what, mile 70 something?
Jim Walmsley: It was mile 78, 79. I heard that Rob Crow last year swam across and that was the fastest most efficient way to cross the river. I started holding on to the rope and paddling with one arm and then, before I knew it, I gave it a couple swim strokes to get across. And then, before I knew it like I looked the rope was right there on my left and then it was 7 to 8 feet away and I couldn’t reach it. It became basically me against the river. You have this life vest on which is great that keeps your float but at the same time, it’s a big old kite in the current and it really pulls you downstream.
I think actually Rob totally ran passed the life vest which might help swimming if he did swim. I’ll definitely keep my hand on the rope next year. I basically started to get swept downstream. Eventually, I had to try to basically figure out how I can get some floating on some rocks.
Then there was that boat that came out and they posted a video online. I guess that boat wasn’t part of the race at all. It was a spectator and they weren’t supposed to be down there. They had different separate safety boats that they weren’t worried about it in this situation. But at the same time, people’s reactions were dramatic at the time. But probably the biggest thing from that is the one bottle… I had two bottles when I got in the river and I filled one at the aid station on the bank before the river and that’s the one that ended up floating off down the river. I didn’t have any water going up from the river up to Green Gate which is only a 1.8 mile climb out but it’s really exposed in the sun and then it is a steep climb and just not having something to drink there, was a little rough and I just took my time… I think that’s the one split that I did lose I think a minute or two.
IAN: Yes. I was going to say, I think probably by the time you were in America River you had to run about 30, 32 minutes under the course record. By the time you got a Green Gate you’d probably given away about five or six minutes but I guess that was with the swim as well.
Jim Walmsley: Yes, part of us just maintaining composure. You just need to maintain composure and make sure that you don’t over exert if something like that does happen. It’s all just relaxing, take your time it’s not a big deal. I think at that point course record starts really playing more and more of a factor and almost working out where I have time.
IAN: Was your plan to have that big buffer of say 30 minutes or 20 minutes? Whatever it might have been so that you could slow down… because you anticipated slowing down, because one of the things that I always think of in these scenarios is you actually only need to beat the old record by one second. You don’t need 30 minutes. Where you just having an amazing day?
Jim Walmsley: No. I don’t think any of that was pre-planned at all. If you told me that I was going to be even 20 minutes up on the course record at any time. I think I would have had a laugh… that would be a pretty good day. I remember seeing my crew ready to the station and just going like I’m trying to slow down but I’m trying to run comfortable and this is just comfortable… I know I’m running too fast based on time and stuff but at the same time I feel like I’m running easy and I’m running comfortable. I was just trying to go with that.
IAN: I remember speaking to Ian Sharman when he had that amazing run on Rocky Racoon, Timmy Olson re Western States, Rob Krar re Western States, Kilian Jornet with this countless records. I’ve often said there is one day for every runner where everything aligns and it becomes the perfect run. Sharman has gone back to the Rocky Racoon and never found the same day and the same form that he had when he did that blistering 100-mile time. I just wonder for you, was this that day? Was this that time when everything was aligned apart from the 92-mile void of going off course? We’ll come into that. But do you think now looking back that it was just the most incredible day?
Jim Walmsley: It definitely was an incredible day. Whether I’m going to be able to replicate this next year or in the future, I’m not sure? I think I have to approach it as why shouldn’t I be able to? But that was one of the first things of reflecting on the race is just, I don’t know if I’ll ever have… because so many little things have to go right. In nutrition, your stomach there is so many just unknown valuables. I didn’t step and twist an ankle or anything. I don’t know if I will ever have as good of a chance as that to break the course record again.
At the same time, I was able to take away a lot of experience, a lot of tips from the course. I know I’m going to be planning to go out there probably for a week earlier in the year to very much scout the course and make sure I’m getting everything on detail right about what I want to do for 2017. I think I can meticulously attack it next year. It will be interesting. I don’t know about trying to get another half hour up on the record though…
IAN: [laughs] I mean, sometimes you can’t plan these things. I think the thing is you went into this race saying that you’re going for the course record. The fact that you got 30 minutes under the course record is significant and it shows that your form, shows your ability is there. You said sometimes you can’t account for certain things that happen on race day… so tell us about the disaster.
Tell us about going off course and I know obviously you didn’t realize that you’d gone off course, otherwise you’d have turned around pretty damn quickly. But what was the point where you realized, “Shit, I’ve gone the wrong way.” Then was it panic, distress? What happened?
Jim Walmsley: It was probably three and a half miles after Bar Aid station that I really had the sinking feeling that I missed the turn. I ended up probably going on another three-quarter of a mile to the actual highway because at that point I could see it. I could see a hill and I’m on such an obvious dirt road at the time. I was like maybe this section is just much less marked than most the other course but things started to not make sense and that sinking feeling started getting in my stomach. I think it started with missing this turn off – it’s this huge wide like 20 to 25-foot dirt road that two cars can totally pass on and then you go up this little tiny trail to the left. I was told it was about three miles past the aid station. In reality, I think it was about two and a quarter or two and a half. That’s about three to four minutes’ difference, probably closer to four minutes’ difference?
I just wasn’t looking for the left at that moment! I remember seeing three miles and going, “Crap, the turn should be right here”. Then after that I’m like, “All right. I haven’t seen a flag in a little while”. I thought, I’m going to give it another half mile and just look for flags. I wasn’t seeing any flags, at that point that was the three-and-a-half-mile mark of “oh crap, this might not be good”. But at the same time I was able to see were the road I was on connects with the high way that I’m supposed to get to. I was just like trust it, hopefully it works out, it might not, but hopefully it works out. I wasn’t able to convince myself to turn around yet. It’s a really hard thing to do when you’re having that day.
I think when I got to the road and I stop and I look down the road. There’s a bunch of cars parked on that road that you can see as you’re approaching it too. There’s a ton of cars up here maybe there is an aid station? But I think it’s a recreation area where a bunch of just random cars parked. Yes. It was when I really popped out on the road that I just had this demoralizing feeling of I had missed something. I wouldn’t tell you what the trail was marked when I went passed it, because obviously I didn’t see it. Initially, people were saying that flags might have gotten pulled, from what I’ve heard flags weren’t pulled. The 2nd and 3rd runner made the turn…?
Jim Walmsley: Both of them made the turn with the same flagging that was there… but I missed the turn. But at the same time I’ve also seen heard other things… some guy posted that he remarked it? He was running back to Brown Bar Aid Station. He saw Andrew Miller and he knew that it was going to be Andrew Miller’s day, sort of thing. It was one of those things that chronologically doesn’t make tons of sense. It was really odd; I just don’t know… All I can say is that I had my head down and was just trying to crank away. I think I was still running under nine minute miles at that point. I was moving really well. Yes, I can’t explain why I missed that turn necessarily other than; I don’t think I was looking for it yet.
IAN: When you back tracked and when back to the turn point you obviously would have seen the marking of the direction you should have gone. Was the marking good then when you managed to re-navigate yourself back?
Jim Walmsley: Yes. They re-flagged everything and they made it extremely obvious and well-marked by the time I got back there and saw it for the first time.
IAN: Right. Is that because they knew you had gone off-course?
Jim Walmsley: Yes. They just exaggerated the left hand turn a lot more because I ended up going of course. Basically, everyone else had it very, very, well marked by the time they hit that.
IAN: Right. By the time you got back to that point, how much time had you lost?
Jim Walmsley: I don’t know… probably one of my biggest regrets about it is I really felt the competitive side of me really quit when I came out on Highway 49. I wished I had more fire and hunger in me. I wish I had hit highway 49 and just turned around, and said, “I’m not letting this ruining my day”, I wish I had attacked it a lot more. The information I had at the time was that I was only 12 minutes up. I was only 15 minutes under course record. In reality I was still about 25 to 30 minutes up on the course record, almost a full hour ahead of second place. Hearing that now – that part really sucks of just how missed informed I was. Having everybody… or should I say, thinking that everybody was so close, and then knowing that I went off the trail by a mile and a half or two miles.
That really crushed me, just crushed my spirits. My reality at the time was, I’m not winning, I’m not getting a course record, this whole sinking feeling. I just need to take a break really quick, try to get your composure again and refocus. At that point I was just not doing good. I was out of calories completely, it just became a negative, I thought I’m going to just walk it back to the next aid station. Between some of the medical staff, and the two photographers that found me on highway 49, I’m actually friends with them. They just encouraged me to start walking back. At the time I’m not a hundred percent sure I would have made that decision by myself. But in retrospect I’m really glad I did. As far as competing for top three or top 10. It just wasn’t what I was hoping for at the time.
IAN: It’s interesting, I can’t imagine the frustration.
Jim Walmsley: It was just wasn’t important to me of how things were going, how things went. Yes. I ended up winning two of the golden races, or golden ticket races, to get in the Western States. To race in the Western States is not a big — I don’t view it as a big deal, obviously it is. I feel very capable of racing back in next year. Top 10 in that stuff just — It was more.
IAN: You wanted to win?
Jim Walmsley: I definitely wanted to win.
IAN: Yes. You wanted to win.
Jim Walmsley: Those spirits were crushed.
IAN: Yes. Once the win wasn’t there I guess it was a case of second is not good enough, third is not good enough…
Jim Walmsley: A little bit, but I don’t know, I was in the lead for so long it’s just… I guess maybe at the time second, third wasn’t enough, but I don’t know, it become just making it more manageable, or whatever… I don’t know?
IAN: I had to look at your river splits. It seems as though from that point where you started to back track that you hardly run a step. I was looking at it and I was trying analyse it. Of course, you’ve gone in many ways explaining to what your thought process was. It’s easy for me for me from the outside looking in and thinking why didn’t you just run and chase down? You had that 30-minute buffer, or maybe 25 minutes’ buffer.
Jim Walmsley: Yes. The information I had was 15 minutes.
IAN: Was it just mentally so demoralizing for you that you just couldn’t get yourself back onto your game, or was it other factors? Yes, mentally you’ve been crushed, but also you were lacking the energy. Maybe you had burned yourself out a little bit? I’m just trying to get an insight into the mind of what it was like at that point.
Jim Walmsley: Yes. I would say mentally I was crushed. But then between taking a little bit of a break and mentally not focussed, somewhere I was just not wanting it any more. My muscles and body started really wanting to be done. Just the walking and trying to jog after that was extremely difficult. After that moment and realizing that everything slipped away. Yes. I definitely did bonk after that. I think if that didn’t happen I absolutely don’t think I would have bonked. But it’s one of those things… I think the mental thing had to happen first, and then my body soon followed that… it was just extremely hard to rally.
When I got back to my crew and stuff, they could see I was just completely demoralized. They were totally okay with just walking it in with me. That just became my game plan. At that point it became about the silver buckle more than anything. Not being out there for the longest period time it just became just one step at a time, and we’ll just get to the finish and we’ll take those positives.
IAN: You got the buckle, and that’s super important.
Jim Walmsley: I think this also goes back to in retrospect of ”Now I think about the race”. That is one of my bigger regrets of it. I wish I did react better mentally, and then I did go and actually try to still race again. I do regret that a bit.
IAN: What I’m interested in here is the duality of you as a person, because I think pre-race a rookie 100-mile runner saying, “I’m going to go to Western States and I’m going to go for the course record.” Of course people in the community look and think, “Who’s this guy? Gees, who’s he to say this?” But then what I’ve witnessed afterwards, and what I’m witnessing now in this interview is an incredible humility, an incredible respect, there’s no bitterness. You’re not actually bitter, you’re not questioning course marking. You’re questioning you not noticing the course marking, but you’re not blaming anybody. You’re only blaming yourself I think that’s absolutely fantastic.
I think that would really warm you to the audience. Have you thought in depth about that process of how you’ve handled pre-race and post-race?
Jim Walmsley: Well, I totally get how pre-race it rubs people the wrong way, but just pre-race and post-race I feel like I’m honest guy and I’ll tell you my goals and what I think I can do pretty blatantly. Pre-race too I would also say it’s a mental approach of trying to convince myself that I can do it. It’s also mental tricks with myself of, “I can do this.” Saying that out loud, saying that publicly does set up for a lot of scrutiny, but at the same time I think that goes so far as far as mentally how you’re going to be in the race and making you tougher to stick to that.
Post-race, I would like to think that I’m just being me and being honest. I don’t think getting bitter about things is going to make anything better or positive. At the end of the day, it was an amazing run. It was an amazing experience. It was a great adventure. I finished my first hundred. There are so many positives to still take away from that day. As an athlete, I think two things are important as well, one, short term memory loss. You get to forget about it and move on as far as bad things that happen like that especially in running. That’s part of our sport. I think most people can relate to making a wrong turn at one time or another.
IAN: For sure. They just don’t make it 92 miles into Western States when looking to set the course record. [laughs]
Jim Walmsley: It’s pretty tough when that happens for sure, yes. The other thing too about being a more competitive athlete is I think you have to focus and build off of the positives rather than beat yourself up about the negatives. I don’t think it’s beneficial for you to dwell on the mistakes. I think it’s beneficial to say, “Look, you did this really well.” One of the biggest things that I am extremely happy about that I think I can take forward into a lot more races is just how well I did in that heat. I think I surprised myself a little bit with that. It was almost 30 degrees warmer than 2012 when Tim Olsen ran his course record.
Yes, little things like that are huge just building off of those and it’s all a process. It’s a learning process, but it’s something that I want to make a career. Yes, it’s going to building off of this to hopefully running even better next year.
IAN: The next question is you had 93 miles of really good running where you were functioning the way that you wanted to in your first hundred-mile race. It was a complete learning curve, and it was an incredible learning curve. You were almost… it was almost a textbook run. Is there anything that you’ve learned that will improve your running for next year? Other than a recce of the course and making sure you know where to turn is. But physically, if you’ve done 120, 140 mile weeks, you can’t really add anymore volume? Will there be more speed work? How will you reflect on this and improve, or maybe you don’t need to improve, what you just need is another repeat performance like this year?
Jim Walmsley: Yes, you’re spot on with that. The biggest thing is going to be able to try to at least replicate what I was able to do in my training next year. With those 140 mile weeks, one of the weeks was 22,500 feet of vert. One thing personally, I think I can do a bit more consistently is getting out to that Grand Canyon and run in it maybe twice a week instead of just once a week. It’s huge to be able to do those long, long down hills. I know it’s something I’m very interested in. I’ve done it once, and it completely punted me on this day. We called it double tapping South Kaibab. South Kaibab is the steepest trail in the Grand Canyon, and basically FKTs go through South Kaibab because it’s just shorter, but it’s steeper.
My friend and I we went down it, up it, and then one more time down it, and up it. It ended up being over 11,000-foot vert day in less than 30 miles. It was just a massive, massive day. I think that was much earlier in the year, but I think focusing days like that. You can only train as hard as you can recover, and it’s a lot about mitigating stress in other parts to your life so that you can recover better on the running stress. Yes, I think a really important part of this year was that I was able to do longer tempo runs that I haven’t been doing since I’ve gotten into ultras in the last 2 years.
I am doing these long runs with a lot of the marathoners in town. If some of these guys they’re like, “Hey, I got this workout today, anybody want to hop in?” I just say like, “Yes, I’ll do that with you.” They’re not planned workouts, but hopping in with guys that are doing sessions works out. That’s been really beneficial as well in getting that foot speed going. That’s where like I’m running these splits and I’m trying to slow down, but look I’m efficient and I don’t feel like I’m over exerting. I think that’s how those things happen. It’s just foot speed wise, I was so prepared almost where things were just butter smooth and I was able to chip away at it a couple of minutes you’d split.
IAN: It was an incredible run, and it was an inspiring run. You have the Ultra community just sitting there aghast at the performance. The question is now, where do you go from here? Obviously a priority will be getting qualification for Western States next year. I quite like the way that you said that’s not really an issue. That’s that confidence side of you that I really like. You’ll prepare yourself, you’ll choose your race, you’ll get your slot, and I’m convinced you will be at Western States next year. Now, with this run, people have got an eye on you. I’m sure races are sending you some invites to attend their races. Where do you go from here? What’s lined up for the rest of 2016?
Jim Walmsley: Well, I was just really hoping that I would nail a hundred miles out of a hundred miles, or 100.2 out of 100.2 miles at Western States, because one of the biggest things is I do want to travel on. I do want to take opportunities to do all these great races across the world but the way that things went this year and my own personality and just realizing what I can do at Western States, 2017 is totally going to be about… at least giving it one more shot of having that perfect day. Maybe things fall apart again and I need to step back and maybe I’ll revisit it in a couple of years but it’s going to definitely build towards that. Right now, I’m trying to stay pretty disciplined and not put on too many races on my plate.
It’s extremely easy to do that. I don’t want to fall into the trap that a great deal of runners fall into. No matter what happens, because sometimes its injury, sometimes it’s over-training syndrome, but people are stereo-typing that all the elites are getting into this over-training syndrome. I don’t think that’s quite accurate. I think if you do look at the marathon world, their training is so much harder for so much longer.
You just don’t see that topic come up in that side of the sport. This year though, I kind of have a little bit of a gap right now, what I’m going to be racing. I’m taking advantage of it. I’m taking some really good down time. I’m going to try to get little things that had been bothering me for the last six months fixed and be hopefully healthy.
I’m going to try holding out until JFK to do another big race, but at the same time my plan for this year is to try to do a really big block of training in the fall and try to pull out a JFK North Face San Francisco Double. They are two weeks apart, they’re both 50 Milers which JFK being first in November and then the North Face 50 in San Francisco being the first weekend in December. I would like to try doing that double and seeing how that goes.
IAN: Okay, big difference in prize money between those two races.
Jim Walmsley: Yes. Yes, a little bit.
IAN: You’re not tempted by the Run Rabbit Run 100 for the prize money?
Jim Walmsley: I definitely am. I’ve been talking to the race director and it was even something on my radar before this. Run Rabbit Run this year though hinders that block of training and this is the biggest reason not to do it this year… I guess what I’m saying is I want to do the double, I want to try to win both.
To get in the fitness required to be competitive and to recover so fast and then to run again, you’re talking a couple months of big mileage, hard running training to get ready for JFK where it’s not going to dig you in that big of a hole that it takes weeks and weeks to get out of that sort of thing but I want to be able to recover quick and then be able to race in two weeks.
That’s the biggest reason not to do Run Rabbit Run. The other thing I guess is what’s maybe keeping me from falling down that slippery slope is I’m kind of hoping a contract works out soon but we’ll see.
IAN: How’s that process going? I’m assuming that with you saying that there’s been some interest.
Jim Walmsley: Yes. Things are really positive. There’s definitely interest which more than that I ended up getting an agent because when I’m contacting these companies, it’s more in ultra-world. It’s kind of a weird thing because athletes are a lot of times trying to contact companies to ask for sponsorship, ask for this and that. A lot of times what I found out is I’m getting connected with the wrong people or people too low on the totem pole to really make decisions.
They’re like, “Look, we just have to wait until the end of the year” sort of thing. I ended up getting an agent after the race. The best part about that is that he’s able to work with people much higher up that if they want a contract done, they’ll get a contract done now instead of waiting until the end of the year when most people are renewing their contracts and stuff.
IAN: Well, it’s an exciting time. Certainly, the ultra-community is going to be very interested to see what happens over the coming months and year right up to Western States 2017. I just want to thank you so much for giving us an hour of your time and talking in depth about what has been quite an inspirational Western States.
Post Western States, Jim went on to set a Rim-to-Rim record in the Grand Canyon and a Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim record, smashing the previous record set by Rob Krar to a new level of 5:55:20 – 26-minutes faster than Krar’s 6:21:47. As Jim eluded to in my interview, his main objective for the end of the season was the ‘double’ at JFK50 and San Francisco 50. Just last weekend, the first race took place. Jim ran the JFK50 and smashed the old course record setting a new time of 5:21:28. The stars are aligning for Jim Walmsley, San Francisco and a potential huge pay day awaits… Is Jim Walmsley the next big thing in the ultra world?