It’s been over a day since Jim Walmsley finished and I’m still trying to think of how best to describe his race. Wow, just wow.
It was another record breaker, by a huge margin. Ignoring what could have been at the Western States Endurance Run, this was probably Walmsley’s best race in what has been the best year of ultra racing in recent memory.
Already a two-time winner at the JFK 50 Mile, Walmsley, formerly of the Air Force, had nothing to chase this year but the presidential record books. He ran alone at the front and smashed Max King’s 2012 course record. Walmsley’s 5:21:29 cut a whopping 13 minutes from King’s former best of 5:34:59–a record that was already highly regarded. Keep in mind that until 2011, no one had run better than 5:46 on this course. And in that year, David Riddle’s 5:40 course record was awarded Ultra Performance of the Year honors. Walmsley was 19 minutes better than the 2011 Ultra Performance of the Year. Walmsley averaged 6:25 per mile on the part-trail, part-road course.
Afterwards, race director Mike Spinnler told Andy Mason of the local Herald-Mail Media, “All the previous JFK record holders, including me–we are all just boys in comparison to what Jim Walmsley just did.”
Walmsley’s year now included nine wins in 10 starts, six course records, and two giant FKTs in the Grand Canyon.
He’s got one race left though and it’s a big one. The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships is in two weeks in San Francisco, and it will pay $10,000 to its winner. Walmsley will face a more competitive field than he has all year, and he’ll do it on short rest.
Overshadowed by Walmsley’s run, the next three men also ran under six hours for the storied course, now in its 54th year. Anthony Kunkel atoned for a drop at the recent Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile with a second-place 5:52. If not for recent illness, Kunkel told the Herald-Mail that he likely would have tried to match Walmsley for as long as he could.
Mike Owen was third in 5:56, and Iron Mike Wardian was fourth in 5:58. Though known for his frequent racing, Wardian’s recent streak of the Marine Corps Marathon, the New York Marathon, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon, and now JFK is exceptional. He’s been on point in each race, and included a Grand Canyon double crossing somewhere in there too.
As with much of the rest of the men’s race, the women’s race too was largely overshadowed by Walmsley. Though it wasn’t a course record, women’s winner Leah Frost was outstanding. Her 6:23 finish time was the race’s third fastest ever, trailing only marks by Ellie Greenwood and Emily Harrison. A 2:42 marathoner, Frost was making her 50-mile debut. She led throughout.
Caroline Boller, doubling back from a 16th-place finish at last week’s IAU 50k World Championships on the other side of the world, was second in 6:32. It was a new master’s course record, bettering Meghan Arbogast’s 2011 result, 6:35:16.
Third-place Megan DiGregorio ran 7:02.
Ian Torrence’s 200th Ultra
Though not on the podium, Ian Torrence’s 200th ultra finish was another noteworthy storyline. Having grown up nearby, Torrence said that JFK will always be his home course. He has finished JFK 22 times in 23 starts. Included in that run are two runner-up finishes and this year’s 7:17 result.
It was no coincidence that he earmarked JFK for his 200th finish–it was also his first ultra finish way back in 1994. Torrence’s high-water year was 2000 when he finished 17 ultras, winning nine. In 1999 he ran 16 ultras, winning 12.
He shrugs off the notion of another 100 finishes, “I doubt I can quit ultras, but I think I will be very selective in my choices from here on out. They are not getting easier.”
Torrence was also quick to point to Rob Apple. Believed to be the record holder for most ultra finishes, Apple’s Ultrasignup page presently lists results from 514 races.
With nearly 7,600 entrants, Iowa’s Living History Farms Off-Road Race is the country’s largest cross-country race. The roughly seven-mile race includes creek crossings, hay bales, and farm animals. Men’s winner Charlie Paul ran 40:39, and women’s winner Kaci Lickteig was over two minutes in front at 48:36. Full results.
Timothy Olson won the Thailand Ultramarathon, a 100k race through the jungle. Full results (when available).
On his way to San Francisco, Miguel Heras won the K42 Adventure Marathon in Argentina, finishing in 3:26. Veronica Ramirez won the women’s race in 4:24. Full results.
The Dead Horse Ultra in Moab, Utah had 50 mile, 50k, and 30k race distances. In the long course, Jeason Murphy and Melissa Beaury were victors in 6:58 and 8:16, respectively. Gordon Gianniny and Rachel Downey won the 50k in 3:35 and 4:11. And in the short course, it was Toby Lefere and Shawnie Mulligan on top in 1:57 and 2:13. Full results.
Runners from some 32 countries will take part in the men’s race. Not included in that group (for women, as well) is the Russian federation, presumably still blocked from IAAF International Competitions following suspension last year in response to a large-scale doping scandal. Still, seven of last year’s top-10 finishers are expected to return including defending champion Jonas Buud. He led Sweden to team gold a year ago, but the five-man South African entry looks to be an overwhelming favorite. I guess we’ll see if Comrades Marathon success translates to this flat 10 x 10k course and its frequent turns. Keep in mind too that last year’s race might not be the best predictor of success this year–man-of-the-moment Walmsley was just 28th at this race in 2015. Also, Team Japan is looking strong, bringing four runners–three team members score–who have recent 100k PRs at 6:40 and faster. That’s some depth there!
The top U.S. finisher last year was Joe Binder, and he too is included in this year’s group.
A slightly smaller group–26 countries, with generally fewer runners on each team–make up the women’s field. 2015 champ Camille Herron (U.S.) is a late scratch with injury, leaving the women’s race wide open. With Herron absent, the U.S. still returns two members of last year’s gold medal-winning team, and is the team favorite. Team Japan should also contend for gold, as they bring four runners with recent PRs under 7:52. Sweden has a three-woman team who’ve all performed well in at least one of the last two editions of this event. With three team members scoring, however, they need strong performances from each of them to contend as a team.
Contenders from the international group include:
The U.S. team includes:
A video interview (with transcript) with Sébastien Spehler and Thibaut Garrivier after their first and third-place finishes, respectively, at the…