Jim Walmsley won and set a new course record at the 2018 Western States 100. In the following interview, Jim talks about how he used a combination of an easy early pace, dialed gear and nutrition, and the magic of the day to make history and on the ninth-hottest day in the race’s long history.
Jim Walmsley, 2018 Western States 100 Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jim Walmsley after his course-record-setting win at the 2018 Western States 100. How are you doing, Jim?
Walmsley: I’m doing pretty good. How are you?
iRunFar: I’m all right. What is your key emotional takeaway 12 hours after finishing Western States?
Walmsley: I don’t know. It’s a lot to process. It’s insane. It was just a really rewarding day yesterday, on many different levels.
iRunFar: Rewarding… Was there any sense of relief?
Walmsley: Not too much. I feel like I didn’t put as much pressure as the past two years to just go out there and crush it. Knowing that I put that pressure on me in 2016 and 2017 and then like, “Oh, you’re walking home empty-handed.” A DNF is pretty hard to take. I didn’t feel as much self-pressure this year, I think.
iRunFar: And part of that pressure is not only self-imposed, but intentionally self-imposed, if I remember correctly.
Walmsley: Yeah, 2016 was a bit. It was like a new buck on the street and maybe you’ve got to make a little bit of a name for yourself, pick fun at the guys that have done it. I kind of felt like the 2016 race slipped away and was bad luck, so maybe in 2017 I tried to force it. This year I ran some splits that were weather-dependent and slower than course-record splits.
iRunFar: Well, you knew it was going to be hot…
Walmsley: It was so hot!
iRunFar: It’s good to hear you say that! [Laughs]
Walmsley: It was supposed to be extremely hot, but it felt good.
iRunFar: Yeah, having been in the high country for tons of years, Robinson Flat didn’t feel awful in the morning.
Walmsley: Yeah, and it felt dry. So when I was getting wet [to cool down], it was drying.
iRunFar: Now what about when you were at the river and it was 106 Fahrenheit.
Walmsley: I was still doing all right. I was saying that a little bit of my Phoenician blood was showing yesterday.
iRunFar: You were born and raised in Arizona, so you’ve spent your time in the heat.
Walmsley: Growing up we didn’t know there was anything different. As a runner going to college in Colorado, I didn’t know that runners can essentially be lazy and run in the middle of the day. Because we’re getting up at 4:30 to 5:00 a.m. to go for our runs before the sun came up. So in Colorado, it was like, “Oh this sport just got even better because now we can sleep in, too.”
iRunFar: Awesome. You said you had some pretty conservative splits. Watching you, it looked like for at least 15 miles, you were doing that. While you weren’t under the course record until Robinson Flat [mile 30], you spent the miles from 15 to 30 catching up to course-record pace.
Walmsley: I think I came into Robinson… I want to say 3:32.
iRunFar: The official time at the aid station was 3:28.
Walmsley: I was taking splits as I was leaving the aid stations, so I was counting my aid-station stops.
iRunFar: Gotcha’. So you were right on there, but you had been farther off the course record earlier on.
Walmsley: Yeah, I’d been way under at that point. I kind of hit up splits… I was supposed to get to Duncan Canyon at 2:29-ish and then 3:31 and then 4:29 or something like that. That would have put me at Dusty Corners, the next crew point. Through Dusty Corners I felt like I was really conservative. I wasn’t nipping chunks at that point. Even at Dusty Corners, heading into the big canyons with Devil’s Thumb and Michigan Bluff, I think that’s what chewed me up the most last year–pushing too much and forcing it.
I think I ran just as fast as last year, but it was so much more controlled. There was no over-heating. So when I got through that and the legs were feeling good and I can run Volcano Canyon really well, I knew it was going to be like 2016 running through Foresthill: “Ethan Newberry, get your camera ready.” [Chuckles]
iRunFar: You knew you were going to be floating down that pavement.
Walmsley: Yeah, it felt pretty good.
iRunFar: I saw you last year at Michigan. I watched you in the exact same spot on the climb, and you were working.You might have been going the same pace, but there was a totally different approach.
Walmsley: Last year was different. This year was cool. There were a lot of takeaways from it that were like in 2016, when it was a bit of a magical day. In your career, you don’t always know if you can replicate that again. You can replicate good races and stuff, but that special race… yesterday felt like one of those.
iRunFar: So you’re not going to be like, “next year I’ll come back and run it in 14:10.”
Walmsley: Give me a good weather day and we’ll take a crack again.
iRunFar: Like that 82, 83 degrees [Fahrenheit] it was forecasting a couple weeks ago?
Walmsley: Looking at the weather forecast here sucks. Every time you check the forecast, it bumps up. You’re like, “That can’t be right, I gotta’ check it again.” And it bumps up. “I’m making it worse!”
iRunFar: So it did feel like a magical day. You’re not just like, “I’m unbreakable, unbeatable.”
Walmsley: Well, eventually in the race you feel that because you just feel positive momentum going forward. Now I’ve done so much homework on this race that I know the splits. I know that it’s totally possible for me to crack like that. I didn’t take anything for granted, but as I was staying positive and moving forward, I was able to say, “I know no one made time up on me on that split, I know no one made time on that split.” It probably wasn’t until Quarry Road aid station where I was actually able to calculate where I was. Then, all of a sudden, I get to Pointed Rocks–because those five-mile sections after the river are long and hot–so once I got to Pointed Rocks and the aid stations start coming, that’s when I started to get a bit hungry.
iRunFar: Was it the reverse of checking the weather? Each time you checked in on yourself were you like, Oh, this is good.
Walmsley: Yeah, it was positive. I don’t know how, but it just felt like there weren’t many low moments, or any. It felt like there was always enough energy to keep a little bit of pressure on the gas pedal. That’s usually never the case. Even at Lake Sonoma 50 Mile earlier this year, the last eight miles or so I was like, “I’d really like to be done now.” I was hitting in the 40 miles yesterday and it was like, “Alright, we got gas to play with. Sweet!” It was a cool takeaway. I don’t know how to explain it.
iRunFar: Nice. So, you’re doing that, you’re crushing the course record and then all of a sudden, you’re basically at Pointed Rocks and there’s the bears!
Walmsley: I didn’t necessarily know if I was crushing the course record. I thought I still had to really fight for it just to nip it by a couple minutes. But I guess the best way to explain it is: off of Quarry Road, where I missed the left turn in 2016, there were two people there, hands up, like, “Don’t go this way!” Which was very nice of them, I do appreciate that. But I always envisioned people like watching and being able to do a little jab-step past that turn, like “Ah, I’m just kidding.” More just as a laugh for myself. If no one was there, I would have done it just to have a joke with myself during the race: “Ha, I got it.”
Walmsley: But yeah, I made the left, and you go up the little scrambly climb and then you make a right to get back on the flowy trails there. I make the right, and just scared two little cubs right up a tree on the trail. The tree was as close to the trail as you can get. Mama bear is right there and is not going anywhere. It was reported that it took 10 minutes…
iRunFar: Yeah, the [second-hand reports] that it cost you 10 minutes. Why was it more like two or three?
Walmsley: What it feels like in that situation, when adrenaline is very high, feels very different. But it couldn’t have been more than two minutes. I would say it was at least a minute because I was yelling at it, I was trying to throw rocks in that area to at least scare the mama bear. The cubs didn’t scare me as much. I think they climbed pretty high. Eventually I think I was being aggressive enough with my voice that I think the mama bear was a bit hesitant. I was like, “Alright, I’ll just sneak past.” I’d say I was 10 to 15 feet away from it when I was staring at it, like, “Don’t come at me.” It was nice enough to let me go. We finished the job from there.
iRunFar: How did you deal with the adrenaline?
Walmsley: The closest thing I had was in the Grand Canyon, the mountain lion in the box canyons. I think I got a huge adrenaline lift from that. This time, I thought, Oh, this should give me an adrenaline lift. I even thought about it. But at that point, there’s no more adrenaline to give. I was actually fairly steady from it. I mean, you’ll hear a bear chasing you. It’s not like it can gracefully go through the forest. It wasn’t chasing me.
iRunFar: What was your favorite moment from yesterday?
Walmsley: Crossing the river! Finally doing the river, and just hanging from the rope. I had two hands at the time. I remember losing bottles down the river in 2016 and last year I didn’t get a chance to go across the river. It was a boat year and I was really looking forward to that. Chris Thornley, who is Craig Thornley’s brother and runs Squirrel’s Nut Butter, he’s in charge of the river crossing. He’s in the safety raft. We talk about it all the time in Flagstaff.
iRunFar: He made floaties for you.
Walmsley: He did. I was kind of expecting them to be there this year. I would’ve put them on if they were. He made Squirrel’s Nut Butter floaties for my arms. “Not going down this year!” Anyway, there was a point where I was asking a volunteer to poke a bottle back down in my holder, but otherwise it was really nice because with the flotation device you just hold the rope and I was floating and just walked along. It was a nice moment, take a deep breath and soak it in.
iRunFar: Two years ago you didn’t seem quite with it, not quite your normal self at the river. But this year…
Walmsley: The biggest difference between 2016 and this year was that in 2016 I started hot. Up until the river I just crushed it. But I definitely felt like I was losing momentum. Maybe I wasn’t being conservative, because I knew I had a chance to do something here, but I was definitely suffering later in the race as it went on. This year it even crossed my mind that if I went four miles off course, I had plenty of time and energy. It was just so much more controlled throughout the day and it kept building steam and momentum. This race was really special because Hoka, Drymax, and Clif Bar all worked with me with prototype stuff, so I just had gear so dialed this year.
iRunFar: I was actually going to ask you about that because we had a question in the comments of a YouTube video before the race. What were you and the other Hoka runners wearing?
Walmsley: The Mafate Evo was essentially the shoe. I essentially wore the next generation of them. They’re just super-dialed. They’re really awesome. You can get in the water, get out of the water, they just drain everything. Super great. I wore them with a new prototype sock from Drymax that’s super sweet. It’s a variant of the hyper-thin and triathlon sock. The tri sock has the PTFE [Polytetrafluoroethylene fibers] that the Max[imum] Protection [sock] does, but it’s really thin so it doesn’t soak up water. Get in the water, get out of the water and your feet aren’t just going squish, squish, squish. You’re just fine.
iRunFar: Sign me up for those.
Walmsley: Yeah, they’re super sweet. And then nutrition went great, too. That is a huge step forward because I feel like last year at Western States was the first time I had puking problems and such a distress that way. It definitely bled into the next couple races I did. Giving it time and re-attacking it from a little different angle.
iRunFar: So you had some new products that you were trying out but you also revised the angle.
Walmsley: Clif made up a new sugar blend that is different from their main hydration and I think it was getting absorbed efficiently. I didn’t feel bloated, I didn’t feel backed up. I wasn’t pushing calories like I always have in the past. Yesterday, I think it was more important to stay on top of hydration rather than calories. The trick for me was to be aware that I was taking more hydration, so while I don’t usually take salt tabs, I would take occasional salt tabs. Usually, I’m pretty fine on salt, but knowing I was drinking so much and then the day before we were talking about hyponatremia and I was like, “Yeah, I should be recognizant of that.” So I was just taking a little extra salt.
iRunFar: Before the race, did you think a 14:30 finish was possible?
Walmsley: No. Even now, that should have been impossible on the day. That’s where a little bit of the magic came in. I felt like a possessed man out there. I just kept pushing, and things just kept going. You’ve got to take advantage of those days.
iRunFar: Where might you try that in the near future? Any races planned?
Walmsley: Next is the UTMB. I have a pretty simple schedule so far. So, UTMB is next. Speedgoat 50k was an option, but it’s falling the same weekend as Hardrock 100 and I just love being part of the community at Hardrock, so I’m going to go to Silverton. Then The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships and then I’m racing Oman by UTMB. Actually, I think Dylan Bowman and Jason Schlarb to do that race, too. I mean, the goal during that time is to do TNF 50. I’ve never raced it. It’s been a goal to race it the last two years, but then two years ago I had to double back from JFK 50 Mile. I can’t run with guys like Zach Miller and Hayden Hawks with my legs feeling like that. It wouldn’t be fair to me. Last year, after Réunion [Diagonale des Fous], I was just so buried, I ended up taking time off and hitting a total reset. It was combined with a little bit of injury, but it was a good reset for me.
iRunFar: I look forward to seeing you at UTMB. Congratulations on a tremendous run yesterday. It was a historic run.
Walmsley: Thank you. I appreciate it. Thanks guys.