In Jim Walmsley’s fourth trip to the Western States 100 start line, he does so as the defending champ and course record holder. In the following interview, Jim talks about how Western States has become part of his annual pattern, how he’ll balance running for a fast time versus running to win, how fast he thinks he’s capable of going, and who he thinks will be his biggest challenge out there.
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jim Walmsley before the 2019 Western States 100. How are you, Jim?
Jim Walmsley: Doing good. Good to see you again.
iRunFar: Likewise. You are back at the Western States start to race for the fourth time. Does this feel like old habit now?
Walmsley: Yeah, it kind of feels like a year of repetition. I find myself getting back into the swing of things with summer. It’s Western States and then Silverton[, Colorado]. Now I think we’re tacking Europe trips on after that. Yeah, it’s fun. It’s cool to get back into this part of the routine of racing.
iRunFar: And with so many years of coming here behind you, you kind of have the routine of packing up and planning and driving and all that.
Walmsley: Yeah, I think this year is probably the most packing and pre-race nutritional planning I’ve done in terms of just knocking it out before I leave. But then it’s just another year of Western States and another different scenario with weather and snow conditions and everything. Yeah, there’s always something changing.
iRunFar: Let’s jump right into that. It’s going to be a really cool year–on the Western States scale–and there’s going to be some snow. In chatting with you after your 50-mile world record, you were like, “I’m just going to go out and win it, just run a conservative race.”
Walmsley: That’s easier said than done.
iRunFar: Yes! Now are you chomping at the bit with such fast conditions?
Walmsley: I don’t know. For a while the forecast was saying it would be in the low 80s [Fahrenheit]. Now it’s more like mid-80s. Seeing low 80s makes you go like, “Oh man.” But even just thinking about it more and more, and knowing there will be a little bit of snow, I don’t think it’ll affect it too much. Still, whether it’s the hottest year ever or the coolest year ever, you gotta take what the course gives you–kind of feel the ebbs and flows as you go. I think that’s where I’ve gotten caught: Forcing things. Mistakes happen and that’s not good, and that can cost the big picture. It’s just keeping the big picture in mind with not forcing my own mistakes. Yeah, I’m still hopeful that I can have my best day. I think I can clip time off of last year, so… [shrugs]
iRunFar: Yeah, because last year wasn’t a record-high year, but it was hot.
Walmsley: It was hot, but last year went really, really well. Odds are things may not go that well, but if things are more favorable, then where does it stack up? Yeah, it’ll be interesting.
iRunFar: So, in terms of self-induced errors at Western States… there’s snow in the high country. Are you going to try to clip off particular splits, or are you going to try to take it as it comes out there?
Walmsley: It’s tricky. Some of the more ‘free time’ on splits is early, but with that said, I think I paid back 2017 snow in the high country a lot. Just falling on the snow a couple times takes a lot out of you. Running at a good clip and then all of a sudden you hit a soft spot on the snow and you punch through and then pulling yourself out of the snow. It all adds up to a cumulative effect. If you can just minimize the effort level in the snow, I think the time will be what it is. It goes with trusting the temperature, that there’ll be opportunity later.
iRunFar: Speaking of talking about being efficient in the snow, what shoes are you going to wear? That can make a difference up there.
Walmsley: Yeah, I’ve been doing most of my training in the Mafate and the Speedgoat. I’ve been thinking about it and I’ll probably start in the Speedgoat, a little bit of a prototype version of it that’ll be kind of fun. But I’m really confident with the grip in that shoe. I like it. I think it’s really predictable. But I’ll have both shoes on hand. I typically change a couple times.
iRunFar: You do? Okay.
Walmsley: I really like the start of not just new shoes, but dry socks. Sometimes that can just be what restarts you at an aid station and gets you going again.
iRunFar: Even if it’s not a huge physical advantage in terms of having fresh foam or whatever. Psychologically, it’s a refresh?
Walmsley: It feels good on your feet. Yeah, and then maybe it slows down an aid station a little bit, which might be what you need at the time, too.
iRunFar: Now, if you go into an aid station knowing that you’re going to change your shoes and socks, do you first quickly grab a little food? How do you structure an aid-station stop like that? Do you approach it any differently?
Walmsley: That’s a good question. I don’t think about it too much. Usually I have what I’m picking up pretty simplified. There’s not too much going on, I’m not eating much solid food out there at this race. This is also a race that, I think, is kind of at the edge of ‘getting away without solid foods.’ I think just a couple hours longer and you’d just start to get too hungry. I think last year I had some melon and stuff.
iRunFar: But you weren’t having sandwiches…
Walmsley: No, it’s generally a little too warm for me to get that much down.
iRunFar: Gotcha’. So, obviously you were in great fitness when you ran 50 miles a couple months ago. How has training gone since then?
Walmsley: It’s been really good. It was an eight-week stretch in between, which gives me time to recover, do a short training block, and then get in some rest. Things have been kind of stacked closer to the race, but it’s gone good. I’ve got my volume up pretty well, though probably not as high as years in the past.
iRunFar: Do you feel okay with that?
Walmsley: Yeah, I think so because I think I’ve got so many really good blocks that aren’t just massive. But so many really good blocks and really good results set right now in a row that there’s a consistency that gives me a lot of confidence.
iRunFar: You feel pretty fresh?
Walmsley: Yeah, yeah. I’m pretty confident that I’m not overtrained. I’m coming in at a good spot, which generally will help me feel good and show up on race day. When I really do go for the big blocks, sometimes I show up a bit flat. Then race day all of a sudden isn’t clicking the same way as I think it should or something. So, yeah, I think I’m in a good spot for this year.
iRunFar: Nice! Now, obviously it’s no surprise for you to come into this as the favorite to win. You’re the defending champion. Who do you think is most likely to challenge you out there for the win?
Walmsley: I think this year’s fun because it’s pretty dynamic. There’s really good guys coming in with their debuts but then you’ve got–for the first time in a while–two returning champions on the men’s side with Ryan Sandes. I train the most and run the most with Jared Hazen, so I know he’s going to be there. I probably look at him as–and this is no disrespect to the other guys–but I think he’s the next guy to worry about. He’s just in really good shape right now.
iRunFar: Do you think he’s capable of sub-15 hours?
Walmsley: Yeah, yeah. I mean, his JFK 50 Mile and Lake Sonoma 50 Mile times were really great and before that you almost looked at him as a longer, grindier kind of guy. He’s clicking some really awesome 50-mile races. I see what he’s doing day in, day out and, yeah, he’s tough as hell. I think this course and the 100-mile distance is really good for him.
But then you’ve got guys with some really great upside that come in with some faster speed. Then you have eight of the top-10 guys coming back. There’s all sorts of diversity and there will be a lot of different strategies all in the same day. Yeah, it’ll be a bit interesting being in my shoes because it’s not playing chess with just one person. It’s probably managing a couple different chess games as we’re going, along with my own chess game with the course.
iRunFar: In that chess game with the course–if you had the perfect game, could you hit 14:30?
Walmsley: Oh yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have hit–I’m the only person to hit 14:30 and I can say that this year. But could I hit 14:20? Could I hit 14:10? Could I hit 14:00? It’s just like, how greedy do you get? Then you’re really talking about aggressive, early splits because you can’t leave time on the table. You really have to minimize time through aid stations or skipping aid stations and taking that risk. Yeah, at what point are you willing to risk so much that it’s just suicidal?
iRunFar: Does it change the perspective on that, since you have the current course record? You’re just besting yourself?
Walmsley: Yeah, maybe. If I find myself getting away but off-pace, it’s like, “Well, okay, take things how they are.” There’s not as much pressure to pull anything else off. In the recent decade plus, some guys have found a way to win Western States twice or more here. That seems like it would be the next step. Not necessarily the time. But, yeah, running my best race on the course, I think will set me up to do really well.
iRunFar: Do you think you’ll enjoy any of your time out there?
Walmsley: I always do. For sure. I think 2016 was my first time here where I was actually like, “Man, I was running over 10 hours just by myself.” It was one of the most boring things that I’ve ever done. Now, I’m really looking forward to it: 10, 12, or say 14 hours by myself and in my head. The people I see are the people on course and coming and going through the aid stations. But, for the most part, I’m really comfortable with just setting the pace by myself being out there. Then again, I might not be out there by myself a lot of this year. Yeah, I don’t know. The way things are right now, I think whether I’m in the front or not, I’ll still have a bit of an impact on pace-setting a bit, and how people react.
iRunFar: Right on. Well, good luck out there and enjoy.
Walmsley: Thanks. I appreciate it.
The second article in a two-part series about the hip-hinge position for efficient running.