After a ridiculously successful 2016 of racing and adventuring, Jim Walmsley is a favorite going into the 2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon. In this interview, Jim talks about his winter of recovering from 2016 and the training block that preceded this race, how the men’s race will ideally go for him both in numbers and strategy, and what it’s like being a fan favorite in a place as far away from home as New Zealand.
To see who else is running, read our Tarawera preview. You can also follow our live coverage of Tarawera starting at 6 a.m. local time this Saturday, February 11, which is 10 a.m. MST on Friday in the U.S.
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Jim Walmsley Pre-2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and we’re here in Rotorua, New Zealand. It’s the day before the 2017 Tarawera Marathon. I’m with the USA’s Jim Walmsley. I had to wait a really long time to interview you.
Jim Walmsley: Yeah, a little bit.
iRunFar: Did you think you were going to be this popular in the South Pacific?
Walmsley: Um, I’ve gotten a few messages. I don’t know. It’s all new and changing and whatever. You’ve got to embrace it.
iRunFar: I think you’re the subject of 92 selfies that are going to be on Facebook in about 12 seconds.
Walmsley: Yeah, I don’t have to post many pictures because they already get posted.
iRunFar: There is a ton of speculation about you at this race, and I just want you to lay it out. What are you going to do? What are you going to run? What kind of pace are we going to see from you tomorrow?
Walmsley: I think it’s going to be an honest pace. I think that’s what I can guarantee. Other than that, you’ve kind of got to feel out how the other runners are going to react to what you do and also feel out comparison-wise where everybody’s fitness is and see where you can possibly exploit it. You’re racing a lot of people I don’t know as much about. You’ve kind of got to feel out the field a little bit, but to do that, I think you need it a little honest. Ideally, I’d like to string people out.
iRunFar: That would be good for you.
Walmsley: Yes, if I can break up everybody, that would be great. Overall… fast.
iRunFar: Do you legitimately think that whatever pace you go out on, other people are going to go with you because I’ve heard a lot of people say, “We’re just going to let him go?”
Walmsley: I’m okay with that, too. That’s fine. With training and my own training blocks I’ve put in and how those have gone and then my feedback off of that, I still run within my own comfort zone, and I have nutrition planned for this which I haven’t made up until middle of last year when I started doing nutrition plans for stuff.
iRunFar: Thinking about what you should put in your body.
Walmsley: Actually planning out what I’m going to grab and where and not just winging it as much. I’ve got that all dialed for the race. Generally, that works out to being… there’s no bonk as long as you’re eating what you’re supposed to eat. I don’t plan on coming back. If I go to the front… I always think, if you go to the front, do something at the front, and be ready to the run to the finish line. If you go to the front and you’re making too big of a move, then you’re not doing it right. If you’re doing it right and doing it how you want to race, you should be able to run pretty fluid all the way to the finish line. So, if that’s two miles in, it’s two miles in. I’ll keep a sustainable pace. If that’s 30-40 miles in, then that’s okay, too. When you go and decide to go clicking your own splits, they need to be maintainable.
iRunFar: You ran part of the course yesterday from about 22k to 40k. Can you give us a synthesis of what you think of what you saw?
Walmsley: It’s a bit of up and down. I didn’t see many rocks on the island yet. It’s pretty smooth, but you can kind of see where water has kind of rutted out some of the course. That would be the most technical aspect of it. For the most part, it’s runnable. There weren’t any parts that were steep steep, so very runnable. Yeah, you’ve just kind of got to average it out. It’s all effort based.
iRunFar: The island of New Zealand, is this your second time racing trail ultra races abroad?
Walmsley: Second time doing trails, third time doing an ultra.
iRunFar: Ah, you went to that race in China, didn’t you?
iRunFar: What do you think of the whole international racing extravaganza that comes along with something like this?
Walmsley: This one is probably a bit bigger being part of Ultra-Trail World Tour. There are more fan runners and people traveling to this race especially with this race being a destination race with the people of New Zealand. It’s fun. It worries me in the fact of nutrition. In the States, I feel very in control with how I can plan crewing and everything. Here, at least everybody speaks English, or I think English sometimes, but yeah, I think I’ve got nutrition dialed to where it feels like I have it set up how I want it to be. As long as I’m hungry and I keep eating, it should go good, and I should be able to run a really consistent, fast race. Fast is all comparative. When I’m out there, I don’t feel like it’s fast or I’m pushing, but comparatively it’s fast. It’s still comfortable to me.
iRunFar: I’ve been watching people watch you this morning. You seem really popular with the South Pacific and Southeast Asia crowd. I think you’re probably going to feel a lot of that when you’re out there on the course tomorrow from fans and also as you pass the 62k race, you’re going to be making your way through. Does that boost you? Are you going to be tuning that out because you’re going to be so focused on what’s going on? Where is that going to take you?
Walmsley: I try to follow my own stuff. If they catch me in the middle of a climb, I probably won’t say much. On descents, if it’s a steep descent, I’ve got to watch my own footwork. But I’m out there, I’m a fan of the sport, too, and I like saying, “Hi.” It’s entertaining for the race. You’re still out there for seven hours. Yeah, it’s nice to see people and to be able to say, “Hi.” Otherwise it’s a lonely day.
iRunFar: The last we saw you race was the JFK 50 at the end of November. You tried to turn it around and race TNF 50, but that didn’t quite work out. A lot of people who watch this will be followers of you on Strava, so they’ve seen your training in numbers. Can you talk about what you’ve been doing the last couple months training-wise and bouncing back after JFK?
Walmsley: For JFK I got in a good solid four or five weeks straight after straight after the Grand Canyon which…
[Biting ants interruption]
Walmsley: I tried to turn things around from the Grand Canyon really quick only because I wanted to be ready for JFK this year. It was completely miserable.
iRunFar: Which part was miserable?
Walmsley: Going straight back into training. Yeah, because I think I had a half week down after the canyon and then right up to 120 miles per week and about five weeks of that.
iRunFar: Miserable physically?
Walmsley: Yeah, physically. Every day it was really, really hard to get out the door for a run for two weeks. Then, I felt things kind of catch up. Then another week of 120, the confidence was there and it was like, Alright, Jim. Things are going to be fine. I feel the body turning around. But there’s a total lag and total just mind over matter sort of thing where you’ve just got to kick your butt out the door. Then, JFK went awesome. I don’t think I nailed it perfectly, but it was pretty close and pretty good. I got in a lot of up-tempo runs to prepare for that which I think transferred over really well. Then, the plan was to go straight into recovery and bounce back for The North Face, but I think I had some bursitis in my heel and my knee that I was really worried about where if I were to try to race on it, it probably could have held up, but where does that put me at for starting 2017? I think it would have started me in too much of a hole. Then, I realized even the week of The North Face, I started planning backward from Tarawera race date and just going, Oh, I need to start kind of gradually building again basically the week of The North Face. It just didn’t fit well. My body wasn’t ready, and I had to listen to it. I think it would have been a mistake. It could have worked out, but it might not have worked out. Then, I think it’s just a matter of time, I’ll get to race those guys, and I’ll get to race The North Face. It’s about being a little more patient and picking it a little more wisely.
iRunFar: It looks like from your training you were kind of trying to mix in bulk volume and long tempo efforts.
Walmsley: For this run—then we get into deciding not to do The North Face and then building up. January was just an awesome, awesome month of training. Basically, I got in a five-week block of 120 to 140 miles per week, almost all single runs. Then, the up-tempo runs, we were doing a little bit of that before JFK. I started feeling more comfortable again for this training block. I hope that continues. I’d like to get more sharper workouts in and more up-tempo stuff, because I think it’s really an x-factor in ultrarunning right now. It just transfers to your efficiency in running on everything. It’s been huge.
iRunFar: Are you doing anything faster than tempo effort at this point for stride maintenance or anything?
Walmsley: Yes, I do interval stuff. I think I did one track workout two or three weeks ago for this. I got on the indoor track…
iRunFar: Oh, yeah?
Walmsley: At NAU [Northern Arizona University], I went in the dome—it’s just a great place to do a workout especially when it’s single digits outside and snow on the ground. It went great. The fastest laps I did… I think I got 800s down to 2:19. A little bit, but track standards… I think the Bowerman Track Club was on the track at the same time, and they were doing 300s and they were just darting past me. I was like, “Don’t mind me. I’m just an ultrarunner here.”
iRunFar: “See ya! See ya! See ya!”
Walmsley: But, then, I ran… I’m the same age as Chris Derrick and Ryan Hill that were on the track, too, and it’s just like… in their world, it’s like, “Hi, I’m Jim.” I’m THAT guy. I even went on a recruiting trip with Chris Derrick, and I never expect him to remember who I am, but he’s just a really smart guy. He knows me a little bit, I guess. It’s always like, that’s me and my track world. I look up to a lot of those guys. They were just totally darting past me doing 37-second 300s looking just butter smooth. Yeah, that’s alright. Those legs aren’t there anymore.
iRunFar: I want to ask you one more training-related question. It looks like you bounce around at different altitudes—being up in Flagstaff and, then, going down in altitude to Phoenix. Is there any intention to that, or are you visiting family or chasing weather?
Walmsley: In January, it was mostly following weather and following routes. We had a good amount of snow in Flagstaff. It hasn’t been bitterly cold, but a good amount of snow. Even the Grand Canyon is fun to run this time of year, because down at the bottom it’s still really nice. We’ve been getting some of the other Coconino Cowboys ready for Black Canyon, so big things coming from Tim Freriks and Cody Reed, especially Tim. My bet is he’s going to get the course record at Black Canyon in a week or so. Cody looks like he’s rolling better since I left. He’s doing good. We’ve all done a lot of mileage on the Black Canyon Trail. We’ve got another guy, Makai Clemons, that is hopefully going to do the 60k, as well. He’ll run a bit with Cody probably.
iRunFar: Last question back to this race again. Tomorrow you’re going to race Jonas Buud who is the defending Tarawera champion. You’ve also seen him before. The two of you raced together at the [IAU] World 100ks.
Walmsley: Jogged together.
iRunFar: Is he at all going to influence your race tomorrow—the fact that you’ve seen him run before, the fact that you know his style?
Walmsley: I think he’s patient, so that goes to if I can get him running by himself, that would be ideal. Other than that, not really. I kind of expect him to not react to what I’m doing. He’s just going to run his thing. I’m not in the same fitness, race, or anything I was in 2015. I’ve learned a lot in ultrarunning since then. I was coming off of a really big injury block off of that. Apples and oranges—it doesn’t mean anything to me.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you out there.
iRunFar: We’ll see you in the morning.
Walmsley: Yeah, thanks. Appreciate it.
iRunFar: Bonus question. Do you make a split chart?
Walmsley: I have a split chart, but it’s not necessarily my splits. I like doing aid-station-to-aid-station splits. It’s similar to what I did for States. I really like it. JFK’s is further splits, but its more or less it gives me a feedback and where I’m at and how much time I’m making up or losing. Generally, when things go well, I’m making up time, but yeah, I’ve got a split chart. It’s based off of Jonas Buud’s last year’s race. I think looking at the history of the race, they change the course a lot. Dylan [Bowman] and Sage [Canaday]’s times I don’t think are as relevant. I think some of the splits I could go look at what they ran, but I’m racing Jonas. I guess last year the weather wasn’t as nice as this year, so it will be faster for that reason if he does well in the heat. I expect to be well ahead of the splits I have. It’s a feedback for me for sure and also for my crew that they need to expect to be somewhere in this ballpark. That’s important as well.
iRunFar: So Jonas’s splits sped up?
Walmsley: Yeah, I think if you ask him, he knows he’s going to have to run faster than that for sure.
iRunFar: Awesome. Good luck.