Jim Walmsley, 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Champion, Interview

Jim Walmsley had nothing to lose and everything to gain out of going big and winning the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, and that’s exactly what he did. In this interview, Jim talks about how this year’s race played out differently from his 2016 Lake Sonoma effort, his comfort level with pushing hard in shorter-distance ultras, and how he plans to spend the next couple months building up to his third shot at the Western States 100.

For more on how the race played out, read our 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile results article.

Jim Walmsley, 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Champion, Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar and I’m with Jim Walmsley. He’s the champion of the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Not only the champion, but the new course record holder. Again.

Jim Walmsley: Yeah, it was a good day.

iRunFar: #itwasagoodday

Walmsley: It was a really good day for the group, so that’s probably what makes it most special. Last time it was special because Tim Frerikswas in second. This year, we did it again with Jared Hazenand I think Eric Senseman, of our group, had the race of the day. He asked after the race if I thought he was going to get a golden ticket and I said, “I literally didn’t.”

iRunFar: You told him that?

Walmsley: Yeah, he already knows. He came through big and got a good time. It was really cool.

iRunFar: He not only ran a good time, but he ran a smart race, too. Not that you saw it.

Walmsley: I saw him at the turnaround. He was in fourth there, and I was just “no way.” I thought, “it’s going to be worse if he has a spot and cracks and falls apart.” But I guess he stole some of my salt tabs and that was really the key. I didn’t use my own salt tabs, but he scavenged from my crew.

iRunFar: So that was the secret to his success today?

Walmsley: Purely.

iRunFar: It was a good day for your running crew, the Flagstaff crew.

Walmsley: Yeah, Coconino Cowboys coming through. We got five guys in [the Western States Endurance Runin June]. A new Flagstaff lady, Taylor Nowlin, I guess she’s moving out to Flag. She’s in Colorado, but they were telling me after the race that she’s going to be a new Flagan. So that’ll be great. We need more, well, we have several lady crushers in Flag. They need to either race or stay healthy. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing more ladies from Flagstaff. Like Taylor, she’ll be a good addition.

iRunFar: Yeah, she had a great day.

Walmsley: She finished second.

iRunFar: Let’s talk about your day. You have a golden ticket already. Did you run this for a new course record, or did you do it as a training run?

Walmsley: Yeah, you run Lake Sonoma because I think it’s the most competitive – Transvulcaniais probably in there, too – for around the 50-mile distance in the first five or six months of the year. Lake Sonoma is a big one. I was joking that running this race is a “power move.” You hope that it goes well and today was a bit of a statement that I’m getting fit.

I don’t think that the volume in training has been there yet. It’s been a lot of listening to my body, and training runs when I want to have a big, fast or strong day have been happening. That gave me a lot of confidence. Seeing other guys this year in our group this year have success, when you know what they’re doing [for training] that gives you confidence. You kind of know when you’re in good shape and it’s about executing on race day. In ultras a lot can go wrong.

iRunFar: Even in 50 miles a lot can go wrong.

Walmsley: Yeah. I think Dylan Bowmanwas posting a video at the point where there’s 200 yards to go. You just cross a road. It’s not complicated at all. I tried to make a left down the road. I took a couple steps that way and they’re like “whoa, whoa, whoa – you go the other way.” I was like, “thanks, guys.” The course was very well marked, so that was just me.

iRunFar: A lot can go wrong with 50 miles.

Walmsley: Today not much went wrong.

iRunFar: Today at each checkpoint that we saw you, you were steadily moving up on your splits from last year. You were coming in 2 minutes over the first 12 miles and another couple minutes by mile 25. Did it feel like that to you? How was it?

Walmsley: I think when I ran in 2016 at six hours… I didn’t study my splits before the race this year. I kind of wanted to go in not knowing. I think I had a ballpark idea for Warm Springs and I knew I came in a little hot through there. Other than that, I had no idea. I wanted it to be a lot of effort-based feeling, so I could take advantage of the course when I was feeling good. A lot of that is on the downhills here. I knew in 2016 there were two areas where I felt I could improve. One was the beginning. I was running a little tactically early on and decided to break [from the lead group] around 10 miles. So I knew my Warm Springs split could be a little quicker.

Then, I was suffering real bad at the end of that race and there was some walking on the uphills. I’ve been doing more vertical the last year in my training, so I wanted to see what a fast start would feel like later in the race. It hurt a lot and that was not an easy way to do it, but there was no walking today. I felt strong. It hurt, but it felt strong. I think that’s all you can ask for in an ultra. I don’t know how much time I made up in the second half. I guess that finishing [the final stretch] I didn’t make up much time, but I have no idea.

iRunFar: I think you gained a teensy bit on your record from 12 miles to go.

Walmsley: I know the halfway split I came through way faster. I knew I had time to go. I didn’t walk but I would say that there probably wasn’t the best effort the last three miles. I knew that ten-minute miles would get me the record no problem, in the 5:50 range. I was, “oh, that’ll be fine.” I think that under 5:50 could’ve happened but it was warming up. It’s not hot, but in the sun it’s warm. The course is mostly shaded and I luckily got to skip the a lot of the warm part of the day. There are runners who are out there who will have it a little bit harder.

iRunFar: There are people out there still going around the lake.

Walmsley: They’re warriors out there for sure.

iRunFar: You’ve got a couple months now before Western States. What is your world going to look like, training-wise?

Walmsley: I was debating Zegama. I really want to do Zegama. I think I would do well there. But I was planning out the training block after this race. Looking at it, it’s too greedy. Zegama’s too competitive – it needs its own block and its own taper. It just wouldn’t work with States, it would compromise States. Zegama’s not going to happen this year. So then that goes to… I just want to hold up at altitude, I want to focus on heat running, I want to do some longer training runs. I don’t know if once per week can happen but more frequently than I’ve previously done.

iRunFar: How long are we talking?

Walmsley: Long, slow. I have rim-to-rim-to-rim training runs in mind [41-46 miles, depending on the route]. That could totally get axed after the first one.

iRunFar: That sounds brutal!

Walmsley: I mean, it’s going to be: load up with food, try to eat a lot of calories per hour during the runs, try to work bloated, don’t avoid the middle of the day. In the summer, sometimes the middle of the day is the least crowded, which is awesome because then you can just zoom. I just want to run consistently on some sort of long, hot run. I’m trying to enjoy the sufferfest. I think that will help with embracing that mentality for 100-milers a bit. Last year’s experience with the three 100-milers that I tried, all of them had very, very low moments, but it was a great year of learning. It was humbling. I think I’m going to be a lot better for it. I’m excited.

iRunFar: I think you have a lot of new tools in your toolbox.

Walmsley: Yeah, but you still have to use the tools. You might have them, but if you don’t learn and go “this is when you use this tool” then it doesn’t really matter. There’s totally things that I need to learn to adjust better in races when it’s that long, and avoid finding myself in that low spot.

I think really good things can happen in a 100-miler. Yeah, this is the year to get it done at 100 miles. I’ve got States and then the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc again. I like that turnaround. After States, I’ll probably post up in a tent out in Silverton again. I really liked that training block. Before States I think Flagstaff’s really the best place to be between training in the heat and the canyon and the altitude and friends and good beer. We’ve got a killer group.

iRunFar: You guys can’t train each other into the ground now.

Walmsley: We’ll see. Now on the group runs there’s got to be a little bit of a truce not to train each other into the ground, to avoid that. Or say, “hey,” at the start of the run and let the guys know what you want to do instead of suckering them into long, fast runs and just burying them. Cody Reed’sgot a little different training block because he’s going to be at Transvulcania. Everyone else should be on the same page going into Western States. We’ll make some plans.

Plus there’s François D’Haeneand Andrew Miller, those guys are awesome. The men’s field is stacked. There’s really good guys getting golden tickets this year. There are good international guys and there are good guys who got in through the draw. This is maybe the hardest year yet to try it. But if things click… I feel confident if things click, but sometimes they don’t. I think this year, though, one of our things is going to be learning to grind through it. My main goal this year is not to drop. Sufferfest! Whatever, though, it’s Western States and it’s going to be awesome.

iRunFar: Well, congratulations on your win here today. It’s probably a good indicator for Western States.

Walmsley: Yeah, faster than 2016, and I was running well at Western States that year, so it’ll be great.

iRunFar: Have fun in your home away from home in the Grand Canyon for the next couple of months.

Walmsley: Yeah, I get there a couple of times per week, so I like it.

iRunFar: Congrats.

Walmsley: Thanks so much.

Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Managing Editor, the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,' and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

There are 4 comments

  1. Mark T

    Congrats on a blazin’ performance out there. A W at Western and UTMB would be sick! Sounds like you may have the 100 dialed in.. Stay healthy, happy and have a great rest of the year!

  2. Rennur

    So happy to hear of your win, Jim! You make following this sport so exciting as you push and redefine the limits of what ultrarunners can do…not just in setting a new course record, but also in heading up the fresh way that you Coconino Cowboys race individually, while also supporting each other as a group. Super excited to see you, your teammates, and the larger ultrarunning community when you all take off at Western States!!

    And thanks iRunFar for Twitter coverage…it’s great to follow along and get a glimpse of the race from afar!

  3. Tropical John

    Hard to fully describe just how phenomenal Walmsley’s course record time is. 5:51:16 on a course with 10,500 feet of vert.

    Consider the other elite men over the years: Alex Varner 3x, Sage Canaday 3x, Rob Krar 2x, Max King 2x, Jared Hazen 3x, Timmy Olson 2x, Dakota Jones 2x, Hal Koerner 4x, Zach Miller, Tim Freriks, Dylan Bowman, et al – and nobody else has run within 18 minutes of this time. Meaning Walmsley would have beaten them all by more than 2.5 miles!

  4. Stephen patterson

    Great interview, awesome race! If I can give advice to someone who is vastly more talented than I, it would be to pull back on running any seriously competitive races this year before WS and UTMB. Continue your slow paced long training runs while eating various options and challenging your stomach during runs in the heat, keep the overall weekly mileage down a bit; (a break from Strava may not hurt), and rest, rest, rest!! haha, as if you didn’t already know all of that! A win at both is doable, focus on just that!

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