Third time’s a charm for Jim Walmsley at the 2018 Western States 100? In this interview, a part of the iRunFar Live at Western States show, Jim talks about what he’s learned from his two previous unsuccessful attempts at Western States, how he’s totally retooled his nutrition and shoe/sock combination to eliminate previous problems, and how he’s strategically approaching this year’s race.
Jim Walmsley Pre-2018 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar—Dylan Bowman: Good morning worldwide ultra fans! It’s day two of iRunFar Live in Olympic Valley, California. We’re here at the Coffee Bar in Squaw Village, with a live studio audience.
iRunFar—Meghan Hicks: Let’s get some noise!
[Audience cheers off-screen]
iRunFar—Bowman: This is so cool for me. I feel like everybody’s here to see Meghan and me.
iRunFar—Hicks: No, I’m pretty sure you’re here to see the guy in between us. If you don’t know, this is Dylan Bowman [viewer’s left] and I’m Meghan Hicks [viewer’s right]. We’re here hosting our live shows here in Olympic Valley and our pre-race interviews. It’s a great pleasure for you to join us, both here live and online.
iRunFar—Bowman: We’re brought to you by Drymax, a longtime sponsor of our good friend Jim Walmsley here. We’re also sponsored by Buff and Jaybird Sport, so thank you to the sponsors who support iRunFar.
iRunFar—Hicks: We also want to say thank you to the Coffeebar. That’s where we are filming, right here in Olympic Valley.
iRunFar—Hicks: They’ve got some great food and drink specials, including an afternoon happy hour for those of you who either aren’t racing, or are racing and could use with taking a little pressure off. We’ve also got the iRunFar store back there–we’ve got socks, Buffs, t-shirts, we’ve even got free stickers. For those of you that are watching online, we’ve got an online store. You can shop while you watch. The website is iRunFar.com/store. There’s brand-new stuff there as of yesterday morning.
iRunFar—Bowman: Now for the fun stuff! The man who needs no introduction, Mr. Jim Walmsley. This is your third year in a row here. You’ve had a couple of difficult, disappointing performances. I think, to state the obvious, you’ve been one of the most talented and most accomplished ultrarunners in the world the last couple of years. You have a couple of UltraRunner of the Year awards to show for it, and an ITRA (International Trail Running Association) ranking for it. You’ve had some struggles here at this race. So, generally speaking, I think the world wants to know how you feel coming into the race. How do you feel compared to the last couple of years? Do you feel any more potential to get it done here and race to your potential?
Jim Walmsley: I feel really prepared for this race. I think training has gone really well overall. I’m relatively healthy before the race, so I’m really excited about that. I think I have the little things really dialed in more now than ever. I worked really closely with Clif to get a completely new nutrition plan for me going forward in this race.
I’ve got my socks and shoes completely squared away so I’m really excited about that. I have a lot of confidence about getting my feet wet. I think having that confidence equates to being able to concentrate on your ability to notice the heat, get in the water, not be afraid to get your feet wet, get more wet at aid stations. In the past I think I’ve been more hesitant to get my feet wet. I was trying to keep them dry. So that’s a big step forward for me, I think.
As far as experience, I haven’t done as much recon on the course before this one because I feel really competent. I know the course, I know what’s coming. I’ve done a lot of running specifically in the Grand Canyon on the North Kaibab Trail. It’s good practice, when you’re running along, to just hop in the river or creek. Hop in, hop out. Hop in, hop out. That’s been really beneficial. It really gets you in that mindset where if you’re really hot, you jump in that creek, count to ten, get going again. So that’s been really good. I’ve been doing that with all the other guys: Eric Senseman, Tim Freriks, Jared Hazen, Cody Reed. It’s been nice. And I think they’ve picked up that kind of cue of, “I need to get into whatever puddle is available.”
As far as pressure goes, I felt a lot of pressure last year, I would say. Basically, last year didn’t go well. I didn’t get it done. I made my own problems and made my own mistakes. I think with how last year went, there’s way less pressure this year. It’s not like pressure is added. It’s like, I can screw up my own race, or other people, or weather, all sorts of stuff. This race has proven to be tricky for me, so we’ll see.
iRunFar—Hicks: I want to ask you about another 100-mile race you did in 2017. You finished fifth at the UTMB. That race for you seemed to have some highs in the beginning, some lows in the middle, and then you put yourself back together and ran really hard to chase for the finish. You were able to really hammer. What were the takeaways? What did you learn? Did you build confidence in 100 miles? What came out of that experience?
Walmsley: Probably the biggest thing is the way I was able to figure something out in the race. Exactly what I figured out… I don’t know. I tried different things and came back around. I was able to get my legs back. [Turns to Dylan Bowman] You were right there in the mix of it right there with me. You got to go by me and I think you were on the same descent as Xavier Thévenard and Pau Capell. I got all three of you guys in the same descent.
iRunFar—Bowman: Going like 4:30 pace at mile 85…
Walmsley: Then I get to the bottom and I’m like, “Phew, I’m tired again.” So it wasn’t like completely a comeback. But it was getting that confidence and having that situation where you find yourself in a low point and know that sometimes it does come back. I’ve also been in other situations, like Western States last year, where the more I reflect on it, the more I can agree with myself that it wasn’t coming back. I just found myself in a really deep hole last year. I was throwing up for the next 12 hours after the race. I had already dropped and was trying to do things right–I was staying in air conditioning. I just got to a rough point last year, and I’m not going to do that this year.
iRunFar—Bowman: If staying out of the hole is the goal for this year… one of the things that I think everyone admires about you is your desire to put on a show when you’re out racing, to make it exciting for people to watch. A lot of the times it results in you breaking course records and having these transcendent performances. At 100 miles, as we’ve discussed, it has kind of backfired–at least a little bit. Will that sort of shift your strategy in terms of the execution of the race? Can we expect you to sprint up the mountain like you usually do?
Walmsley: I do want to give it a fair effort going out. I think maybe last year was a couple minutes too fast [laughs] to the top of the Escarpment. I made up, over the year before, about 20 minutes into the race. At mile 4, I was about 20 minutes ahead of the previous year and then my next two splits were quick. So all of a sudden, with the high-country conditions like last year, I find myself somewhere I didn’t really expect to be–on a competitive course-record pace. And then we’re onto the snow, “Well, let’s go see…” It warmed up early, and even though I am heat acclimated because of where I’m from and where I live now, I can still find myself in trouble in the heat. It doesn’t make you Superman in the heat.
iRunFar—Hicks: What does the idea of wanting to give it a fair effort while staying out of the hole, what does that literally mean in this case?
Walmsley: I don’t want to walk the whole hill up to start out. I think giving a fair effort puts me a couple minutes a couple of miles into the race of where I want to be split-wise. So, I would expect my first split to be a couple of minutes quick, but really that would be running the right pace from the top to Red Star Ridge. I would expect the first one to be maybe a little quick but then I have pretty conservative splits. It’s interesting with the dynamics of the other racers this year, specifically François D’haene. If you look at his strengths, it kind of sucks [audience laughs]. His strengths are in the beginning of the course, I think. There’s a lot more pressure, in general, on him–is he going to play to his strengths and run well in the beginning and try to get away a bit by the time it’s runnable? Because you look at Florian Neuschwander from Germany, Kris Brown, Tim Freriks, myself, obviously, Cody Reed and Eric Senseman–we’ll just throw the whole crew in there–we’ve got some good running legs, even comparatively to François. It’s not a 25-hour race.
iRunFar—Hicks: How many hours of a race is it going to be, Jim? [audience laughs]
Walmsley: We’ll call it a 15-hour race [laughs]. We have weather to consider, too. It’s going to be a really hot year. It’s always a really hot year but this year specifically it’s going to be up there. But there’s been low-15-hour runs by really good runners in the past in similar conditions.
iRunFar—Bowman: I see it similar to 2013, the second year that Timothy Olson won. He ran it in, I think, 15:15 that year. I think that’s a solid, fair time.
Walmsley: You also have Rob Krar that year who ran similar splits. I’ve gone back and looked at a lot of that.
iRunFar—Bowman: Just talking about your preparation–this year you raced a little bit less. You ran a couple shorter races and the only ultra you’ve done is Lake Sonoma 50 Mile where you obviously destroyed it again.
Walmsley: Carerra Alto Sil is technically also an ultra. It’s like 44k [laughs].
iRunFar—Bowman: So you’ve done a couple of ultras. But to me it seems like a really intelligent approach. Was that intentional? Did you intentionally race a little bit less?
Walmsley: I wanted to race Transvulcania in February, but I had an injury over winter so that delayed everything and just pushed everything back. I more or less skipped that training block and used it as a bit of rehab time. I think it’s made for some more hiccups than usual in my training blocks. Once I can get going pretty smoothly, it seems like I can run pretty injury-free. I think with taking the time off, things aren’t as hardened as usual. In this block there was one week where I wanted to hold my mileage at 150 miles per week and 30,000 feet or so of climbing.
[Audience and interviewers chuckle in awe]
On my last run I just started climbing up hill and it ended up being a mile into forcing it on an 18- or 19-mile day. I ended up getting a bit of a quad strain and basically the next week was off. Then it was like, “ I can’t just hop straight back to 150 miles.” But I did take a risk and went straight back to 110 miles for the week. Basically, with that working out and then being able to hit a couple more weeks, I think everything was “green lights go.” It’s back on track.
iRunFar—Hicks: I think that’s it for us. I think you’ve got a whole room and a whole world out there rooting for you. Third time’s a charm, Jim Walmsley.
Walmsley: People have been super supportive this year. Just like the last two years, but this year especially. It seems like I’ve got a lot of people in my corner. I’m really appreciative of that.
iRunFar—Bowman: How about a round of applause for Jim Walmsley [audience applauds]. Put on a show for us this weekend.
Walmsley: I’ll try. Hopefully it will be a good ending.