Jim Walmsley Post-2016 Western States 100 Interview
They say that life can be lived in a single day, and Jim Walmsley’s 2016 Western States 100 is perhaps an expression of this sentiment. After leading the race at breakneck, course-record pace, he not only went for a bigger swim than planned when crossing the American River at mile 78, but he then went off course and out of competitive contention just before mile 93. In this interview, Jim talks about his race strategy, how he felt good despite running well ahead of course-record pace for most of the race, what happened at the river, what happened when he went off course, and what it felt like to become a finisher of a 100-mile race under the circumstances in which he did.
For more on the race, read our 2016 Western States 100 results article.
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Jim Walmsley Post-2016 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Do you want to do it? Go for it.
Jim Walmsley: I’m Jim Walmsley here with Meghan Hicks from iRunFar.
iRunFar: And Jim, you’re a finisher of the Western States Endurance Run.
Walmsley: Yes, I survived it for sure.
iRunFar: You have a buckle.
Walmsley: It may be coming. I’m supposed to have a buckle coming.
iRunFar: You earned a buckle.
Walmsley: I definitely earned it, yes.
iRunFar: Okay, Jim. In the week before the race people said either you were going to create fireworks of a course record or fireworks of a man dying trying. How did it turn out for you?
Walmsley: I think a little of both for sure. It felt good. I think overall looking at it, I think I could have gotten it yesterday, but it wasn’t in the cards.
iRunFar: There’s so much to talk about, but I want to go back to early on. You said in some pre-race interviews that you were going to go for the course record, but you were going to try to take it easy early on. Did you do that? Do you feel like you did that?
Walmsley: No. It just kind of worked out that way. I really wanted some of the… Sage [Canaday] and [David] Laney—and a lot of the Europeans didn’t end up racing—a lot of the real big favorites, I wish they got away. I think I could have run smarter and maybe more conservatively and ran more of a traditional race and harder after Foresthill. But it kind of turned into… I would slow down to give them more room and they would slow down more. So I was feeling that tension and pulling and reaction to what I was doing even though I was well behind. Going up Escarpment, you can see down a really long way, so I could see them all looking back. It was a little pointless. Another thing we talked about was just trying to hit splits. That was kind of the beginning of taking off more or less. I was trying to hit the splits which were much more closer to right on course record pace, but it was just coming really easy. The fitness was showing through, and a lot of the training I’d been doing was really paying off. I felt comfortable going faster splits for sure.
iRunFar: Was there at all nervousness because you’re half way through the race and you’re 20 minutes up on the course record which means you’re running a half-a-minute-per-mile up on record pace. Was there a sense of nervousness going through your body saying, Mmmmm, maybe a little too much?
Walmsley: No, I felt like I was managing the heat really, really well.
iRunFar: You had a crop top.
Walmsley: I had a crop top with all the holes cut in it. I did a prototype shirt before this and did a couple of test runs in it. It worked great during that. Practicing just staying wet is the biggest thing. I was doing a really good job at stopping at deep enough creeks and lying down. Then just my heat training going into this—I got in some really solid days in Phoenix. Phoenix made yesterday’s heat feel like a joke. I think next year I’ll probably give heat training even more… I came out really early this year to help out with Mountain Pulse Running Camp, and that was a super awesome experience, but I think overall it would have been best to stay at elevation in Flagstaff and go down to Phoenix more often. That’s what Andrew [Miller] did, and it worked great for him. It’s such a perfect bubble in Flagstaff, and then with my parents living in Phoenix, for me to get everything dialed for this race… I might come out next year and do the training camp run. Seeing the whole course would be very important. I definitely learned that the hard way this year.
iRunFar: Was there any point yesterday where it actually felt hot to you? Going down the river at all?
Walmsley: Coming out of the river was pretty exposed. It was warm, but then I filled up one bottle. I had two bottles at that point because I just needed that for 1.8 miles. That bottle floated off. I feel bad that I left something out there. Hopefully someone found it. So I didn’t have anything going out of that climb at all. That was a little warm section, but it was fine. I had to take some time to regroup from the little mishap at the river anyway. It didn’t feel like it zapped me much, but you’ve got to stay level headed in those moments, and in the grand scheme of things, not a big deal.
iRunFar: You got an extra minute or two in the water to cool off?
Walmsley: Yeah, it was a good thing. Yeah, there are positives about it.
iRunFar: Slight adrenaline rush?
Walmsley: Yeah, I think I was trying to stay low in the water to get my core really soaked—that was a goal. But then I tried swimming a bit and with the life vest on, it really took me down with the current much more than I thought. Then it turned into, Alright, I’m swimming directly into the current just to not go further, but I kind of saw a spot where I could maybe plant my feet. Then I realized I could stand up, and I felt kind of silly.
iRunFar: There might be a viral video of a little boy screaming in the shallow end of a pool who then realizes he can stand up.
iRunFar: Many people have seen the video at this point, but basically you go into the American River crossing. It’s a roped crossing with lots of volunteers. You’re required to put on a PFD. You go in, the water ends up being fairly deep, and you float away. This is what happened.
Walmsley: More or less. I think I should have held onto the rope with one hand and done strokes with the other hand. I think I tried to make a little more time up by doing strokes with both hands. By doing that, the current was strong, and I definitely got pushed too far away. Well, the rope is out of reach and it looks like we’re going to try to swim it, and the water is flowing there for sure.
iRunFar: So, at the river you were about 32 minutes up on course record pace. You gave up four, five, or six minutes in Green Gate—probably a few minutes to those shenanigans. Then you gave up a few more minutes on the course record between there and Auburn Lakes Trails. Were you having a low patch there or what was going on? This is before you went off course.
Walmsley: Around Auburn Lakes, I thought I was moving really well again. I felt really good. There were a couple people hidden in the forest there cheering. It was awesome.
iRunFar: Little gnomes in the forest?
Walmsley: Yeah, the people and the spectators out there were so uplifting for sure. That was one of the uplifting moments. I thought I was moving decently. Yeah, you calculate those splits, and I can give up time. I don’t have to push it that hard. The goal isn’t to break the course record by an hour. You can get it by 10 seconds, and you get the course record. It kind of turns into that. Not many people knew how in real time when I got to aid stations how much I was up. I didn’t learn that at all. I didn’t know where second place was. Last I heard Sage was still several minutes under course record. Someone’s close to the course record. I hadn’t heard that he’d kind of hit his own rough patch. Just thinking that someone is flirting with course record and then going off course, it was just kind of devastating that way. Yeah, I don’t know. I guess I’m getting off topic.
iRunFar: No, it’s all good. Let’s talk about that moment where you went off course. Lay out for people who are unfamiliar with that stretch of trail exactly what happened. You’re running on a road…
Walmsley: You’re running on a very clear marked road, and essentially you’re looking—I didn’t know, but—essentially you’re looking for kind of what seemed like a goat trail that starts going up. I think I’d been told that it was right about three miles out. I think it was much shorter than that from the aid station, so I don’t think I was preparing to look for it yet. Then I would say it wasn’t blatantly obvious. It was probably very well marked. I’m not blaming. I think I was in the zone. I was running well. I had my head down. Around three miles where I thought I’d see it, I was already well past the cave there. Well, I should be seeing it, and I’m not seeing it. I’m like, Well, maybe they assume that it’s so obvious… and I knew that eventually it met up with the highway. Then there are all sorts of cars that park there for recreation. I’m like, Maybe… I don’t know. I basically popped out there and realized that it was not good. Everybody is hurting at that point. I think, if I made the turn… you start to get hungrier as you get closer. I think I definitely would have gotten the course record by maybe five minutes. I think I would have kept losing time. I didn’t need to gain time. With Brian Morrison running this year, that’s in the back of my head. You don’t have to push it that hard. I think if I knew someone, even if the course record started slipping, I still had so much more time. Winning, ultimately, was number one. Then course record, I wanted to have a chance. That was definitely within reach. Then things happened and goals changed, and there are still so many positives to pull away. Ultimately, in ultrarunning, this was a super awesome experience.
iRunFar: You said in one of your pre-race interviews with iRunFar, you said, “My goal is the course record. My goal is to win. My goal is to finish.” You got the finish.
Walmsley: Yeah. I still am walking away with hardware and an accomplishment for sure. I just thought mind-wise, how I need to prepare mentally, is, I’ll deal with the other goals given that time and if something does happen. Until then, I’m going to worry about my top goals and still chasing those. I thought I really stuck to that and also held up my side of the deal. Stuff did go wrong, and I was tested that way and was broken that way—mentally, very much broken at that point—and I stilled followed the game plan and got to the finish line and got to Auburn.
iRunFar: Last question for you. You’ve already said as we’ve been talking, “Next year.” Do you think definitely next year you do want to come back?
Walmsley: I do want to come back. It’s one of those things where hopefully they still have qualifying races, but maybe I can get a course record at one of the other races next year which is kind of cool. I feel confident racing in it. I think 50 miles and 100k feel comfortable right now. This race is only going to give me more experience to do better in those races as well. Yeah, we’ll see. Black Canyon might be the spot because I haven’t ran that course, it’s gorgeous, it’s in Arizona, and it’s home turf. I literally can sleep in my own bed before the race. That might be the one.
iRunFar: Congratulations. You won some hearts, you broke some hearts, and then you won some hearts again yesterday. Hopefully you won your own heart.
Walmsley: Thank you. Yeah, it was a roller coaster. Yeah, I learned so much about myself. That’s the process we are all really in it for.
iRunFar: Congratulations. Enjoy that buckle.
Walmsley: Thank you. Thank you. I will for sure.
iRunFar: I got two minutes bonus question. Sounds like you’ve got a call from somebody today.
Walmsley: Yeah, I got a call from Scott Jurek, or James called Scott Jurek, one of the two, but they know each other. I got to talk to Scott for the first time. It’s kind of funny because I’ve always heard, “You look like a young Scott Jurek,” and even back to Lake Sonoma last year I wore a crop top. I definitely didn’t know at the time when I picked out what I was going to wear for Lake Sonoma that that was total retro Scott Jurek 2001 look. Yeah, it is, but I felt like I independently came up with that. I told him, “It’s functional. I like the breeze.” For this, I went for sun coverage on the shoulders. I went with breathability in the crop top and then more ventilation and cooling effect with the holes. That was kind of on my secret weapon coming into the race—I know this shirt keeps me cool. That was a total functioning thing. The hat with the sunglasses I think is bringing your own shade with you. I think that helps a lot. Keeping your eyes with dark shade and then keeping in the shade with the hat is very important as well.
iRunFar: Well, pretty cool to get a call from the legendary Scott Jurek.
Walmsley: Oh, yeah, and he was… it’s an extremely humbling call to get. You talk about ultrarunning legends, it definitely doesn’t get bigger than that. He’s the man. Hopefully…
iRunFar: Like the President calling a soldier after battle.
Walmsley: Yeah, you did good. It was extremely heartfelt and means a lot. Yeah, really awesome for sure.
iRunFar: Congrats again.
Walmsley: Thank you.