Jim Walmsley, 2021 Western States 100 Champion, Interview

It was a three-peat win for Jim Walmsley at the 2021 Western States 100. In this interview, Jim talks about his level of confidence on the starting line, what gear he used to adapt to the day’s hot weather, how his body fared over those 100 miles, and if he’s happy with his third win of this race.

Be sure to read our results article for the full race story and for links to other post-race interviews.

Jim Walmsley, 2021 Western States 100 Champion, Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, I’m with Jim Walmsley, the three-time Western States 100 champion. We’re at the finish line of the 2021 edition. How are you feeling?

Jim Walmsley: I’m doing good today. I wasn’t doing so hot. Well I was doing okay after the finish and then I was kind of falling apart in doping control, the little bullpen. And things got worse before they got better but doing good today. How are you? Are you holding up?

iRunFar: Yeah, I’m fine, three hours of sleep.

Walmsley: I mean everyone else has a marathon out there to end the heat was rough so everyone’s out there experiencing it, spectating or running. There should be more ice for spectators.

iRunFar: Yeah, I think media and spectators should take up the ice vest situation like the runners are.

Walmsley: Yeah, you should, for sure.

iRunFar: All right, I want to ask you frankly; what did you think of your chances going into this race?

Walmsley: It’s hard to say, I didn’t do any real tests before the race and I kind of say, I usually know where I’m at, what I can do. This one I just, it was more of trusting the process and trusting what I did do and just being ready for a hard day. As far as winning it, I thought I could win but usually have done something where I’m like, if I have a good day I’m going to win. I mean 50/50 with that of like, sometimes I leave the race in training because of that. So I almost knew in some ways that it was going to be a good day.

iRunFar: I feel like for you there was maybe two things; there was, were you fit enough to stay at the front of the race and then, was your leg going to stay together?

Walmsley: Yeah, the leg, didn’t know. Not going to run differently expecting it to do anything. It has been good for two-plus weeks now, which is just insane. I can’t believe the miraculous timing of it, kind of quitting a bit. But I feel it a little bit today but I think the next block will be conducive toward doing okay and I think it should be totally fine for UTMB. And the training for it. Yeah, I think we’re getting through it.

iRunFar: You’ve now seen this race four different times, is that right?

Walmsley: Five.

iRunFar: Five, five different times.

Walmsley: I made it to the track four different times.

iRunFar: Amazing. You’ve seen it in all its climates, you’ve seen kind of a cool year, now you’ve seen a proper year of heat. What did you think of conditions this year?

Walmsley: Well the high country was awesome. The high country, I saw some snow, from afar but there’s no snow on the high country, not that… They did a really good job of just kicking rocks out of the way because I think usually it’s melting so quick you can’t even get to it even if it is dry. But people have been running on it and kicking rocks on it, you can tell. So I kind of figured that was going to be the case. I don’t think I’ve seen the high country in this good of shape.

So knowing that, the tough decision is like, well do you want to run and race in the pack and that sounds really nice but I had Hayden [Hawks] with me through almost 50k, which was really nice. Take your mind off a lot of stuff, he’s pulling turns out the front and we’re having a really good time so that was a cool mix for me. But I kind of, basically made a decision that I wanted to put in good splits early and there are a lot of really smart, strong guys that have potential to come on late and just mow it down. I mean, really good, smart guys.

iRunFar: And you wanted a gap?

Walmsley: Yeah, if they’re going to give me a head start, I will work with it and then in addition I thought, it’s like, if they’re going to close the gap they’ve got to do it in the heat of the day in the hot part of the canyon that we experience. There were times too, I’m struggling in the heat just like everyone else, around Green Gate, through those five-mile splits on Auburn Lake Trails and Quarry Road’s tough times but at the same time it’s like yeah, if someone comes and mows me down it like, that’s insane, good job. I don’t know the splits but I also knew at Foresthill, maybe someone would have to do a minute and a half, two minutes per mile faster than me. And if they are moving that fast, I can’t get in the way of that.

But then by Pointed Rocks I finally heard I had at least 80 minutes, I hadn’t been eating well probably since Michigan Bluff. It had been on and off but especially after Green Gate, it was really difficult to get anything sugary but I was able to really eat cantaloupe and watermelon good at the aid stations. And then some water tasted pretty good. So at Pointed Rocks I was finally able to sit in a chair, get sponges on the legs, take a deep breath and I’m like, if I’ve got a lead I’m going to cash in on a couple minutes of that right now, reset, we need to get to the finish and can’t fall apart with that and I drank a whole bottle of Coke. Pretty much had enough sugar at that point for the rest of the way.

iRunFar: I think that was one of the things that our reporters observed in you was that you were taking the aid stations much more intentionally, taking a few minutes extra in each of them than previous years.

Walmsley: Yeah, well in 2019 we saw a pretty different top 10 and I think a lot of people got away with things that I’m like, in my opinion and experience it’s going to bite you on a hot year and it’s just, I’ve been bitten on hot years, in 2017. I mean 2016 was fair and I still kind of fell apart so even on a cool year like 2019, not skipping it, no way. You just don’t know, once the heat hits you it’s done, not done but you’re really rallying that that point so yeah, I didn’t skip things in 2019 and maybe I left some minutes out there on that but I think it was the right call and it makes me better on hot years like this year.

iRunFar: People love to watch your gear, shoe change situation. What was the crucial gear, shoes, socks, the hat situation must be discussed.

Walmsley: So I wore Speedgoat Evos again.

iRunFar: A couple pairs.

Walmsley: I wore my first pair for 80 miles, they’re pretty soaked at that point and your feet get kind of used to the shape of that shoe. And so I just switched to a fresh pair of Speedgoat Evo, with a dry pair of socks, which doesn’t stay dry very long but even the new shoes, I find at that point kind of help. I was back in another pair of Speedgoat Evos.

iRunFar: And which socks did you use yesterday?

Walmsley: I use Drymax, the Extra Protection Hyper Thin. And I’ve used those pretty much since, I think I helped collaborate a little bit with that and I wear that basically for all the most important days. I use other socks and training in and around the house and stuff, cycling especially, a little more style factor. But for race day, on the important days like 100k in January I was in Drymax, same sock, I like the grey color. Maybe a little higher. Yes good, it doesn’t hold a lot of water in it, keeps my feet from blistering much. So the biggest things about race day stuff was I went with a bucket hat.

iRunFar: Yeah, talk about the bucket hat.

Walmsley: We got them as athletes from Hoka and I think most people were laughing at them, people take pictures with them like, how silly is this? I mean François d’Haene has worn the hat, a couple people of worn the hat. I don’t know if Ryan Sandes wore it.

iRunFar: I feel like it’s an underrated hat.

Walmsley: I mean if you see the spectators, everybody’s got round hats.

iRunFar: Why can’t runners wear them, right?

Walmsley: I mean we’re not going that fast that wind, aerodynamics really comes into play so that was not a factor but then I was doing my testing in Phoenix last week during their little heat wave, over 115, 117, 118 degrees, just jogging around town in the middle of the heat just going like, this is going to work, this is crazy, I don’t have the sun on the back of my neck. So the plan was to use it during the middle of the day during the hotter parts so I started with my good tried-and-true hat that needs some Patagonia Worn Wear fixing on the top, I don’t wear it for training anymore, I’ve caught my head on too many branches and there’s a big hole on top.

iRunFar: Tall-guy problems.

Walmsley: Yeah. But now I’ve discovered the bucket hat and I really like that. Did a couple, had my crew to a couple T-shirt swaps where they can just pull of fresh cold T-shirt out of a bucket and that’s really nice because you just can’t get at that wet with sponges or anything else like that so bringing out just a fresh T-shirt out of the bottom of a basically ice bucket is really nice. I started doing that in either 18 or 19. And then what I finally discovered this year because they were doing contactless spraying instead of sponges that aid stations and I think that caught a lot of runners off guard, caught me off guard at least and it was probably very clear and announced because everything is very well communicated in this race so I probably just wasn’t paying attention, probably was in a prerace email, should have read it.

But nonetheless, had to kind of adjust to that on the fly and what happened was I was having volunteers just pour ice down the front of my shirt. Because the way I roll my ice bandanna, it’s like once I have ice in there, once it’s melted it’s really difficult to get ice back in it. But I wear a Naked belt around my waist that kind of pinches my shirt so it holds the ice in my shirt, doesn’t just fall out. So I was leaving aid stations every five miles with this big belly of shsh, shsh, shsh—ice, on my stomach. And it was just the thing I made up on the fly and I was like, this is great.

iRunFar: This works.

Walmsley: It was one of the best-case scenarios. A couple of times I forgot to get that and I noticed it right away, going out on five-mile stretches there at the end, big differences when I left with a belly full of ice in my shirt and not. And the belt holds it really tight and I had everything in my pockets, yeah I would say the bucket hat and the ice down the shirt were the two game saving moves.

iRunFar: Awesome. You had a proper swim across the river this year, no downstream swims and no floats…

Walmsley: Well it was the third time I’ve used the rope to cross the river. And then with the one swim in 2016, which is illegal to do now.

iRunFar: It’s in the books because of you.

Walmsley: Yeah, and I think 2018 I got a boat ride from Chris Thornley, the Squirrel’s Nut Butter guy, he’s always on the river and I saw him there and said hi but this time I consciously took a few minutes to just wait in the creek, to get floated on my back a little bit and just kind of submerge my head a little bit and close my eyes and it was probably the most peaceful, best part of the day and I was really looking forward to the river crossing. I mean probably before Foresthill and then the Cal streets were really difficult this year, just really, you do a training run on it or something, you overlook the uphills on it and during race day, given the point in the race, the sun just blaring down, the temperatures, there’s really hard pitches on it so yeah, the river was really enjoyable.

iRunFar: Are you happy with how the day went, are you happy with your Western States experience?

Walmsley: Yeah, I mean I couldn’t have asked for a better day. It was a really difficult day, this one was probably—I had to work the hardest for this one. Maybe it was my least good day, maybe in the fact that I think the best days just come so well and I really had to work for this and I suffered late to bring it home. It’s really rewarding, it’s family here at Western States now, I say it’s a hometown race for me in Auburn so it’s special, it hits different here. It’s hard not to be here in June. So yeah, it’s special, I’m very happy with it.

iRunFar: For me, it has been fun to watch you over the years to grow so comfortable in the skin of Western States. You just look like you’re at home on the track, at home talking to people here now.

Walmsley: Yeah it becomes normalized but you get more used to the interviews, the attention, the pictures, all this. Not quite my personality but at races I cope with it a lot better. It used to be a lot more stressful so it helps to be able to handle that more smooth and not let it get to you. I bring probably a bigger team and crew that help me with little things and got social-media stuff, a couple people working on that for me so I don’t have to do that, which stresses me out, and then Jess [Brazeau] takes care of so much outside of it and runs everyone else, yeah it’s getting easier actually.

iRunFar: Is there more that you seek here, do you think there will be a Jim Walmsley at Western States in the future?

Walmsley: I don’t know, you look up the ladder, I guess I would literally join three people with Tim Twietmeyer and Scott Jurek with four, a fourth cougar. Where as of right now I think it’s Jim King, don’t think Tom Johnson, I might be one of four or five guys, males. Ann Trason is in another universe even compared to Scott, it’s just ridiculous. But on the men’s side, I’ll compare that way and so the next might be up four or five, it’s a lot, it’s hard. It’s hard to keep it fresh and being as excited so we’ll see. I think right now, I wouldn’t be excited to do it again tomorrow however it very easily grows on me, very easily grows on everyone in the sport and such a great piece to be part of.

I think it crossed my mind, I forgot to tell DBo [Dylan Bowman] this but I meant to offer an exchange, you run next year and I’ll stay in the booth. Maybe just as an easy out to switch it, no I don’t know. I would say I’m less likely to give up my spot right away, next race because of just the uncertainty of what will happen and having it being a little trickier process to get back in the race this year and just really lucky and thankful that Hoka One One stepped up as a presenting sponsor and just more and more, my passions and goals with the sport aligning with Hoka as a partner and I’m really fortunate for that and yeah, I think there’s going to be a lot more with that with Wahoo coming on board with me and I couldn’t be more thankful for the support I have from my sponsors.

iRunFar: I think that’s a good way to end this. Congratulations to you.

Walmsley: Thanks so much Meghan.

iRunFar: Your third victory of the Western States 100. I hope you enjoy a little feet-up time before you turn to your next training block.

Walmsley: Yeah, I think sometimes I turn the page quickly. Yeah, I’ll probably just enjoy a few beers for a little while.

iRunFar: Okay, see you in Silverton, Colorado then.

Walmsley: Can’t wait to get out to Silverton, it’s another one of those home away from homes and I feel very comfortable there. It’s an amazing place.

iRunFar: Thirty degrees Fahrenheit cooler, 9,000 feet higher.

Walmsley: I’m so over summer.

iRunFar: Let’s go to the mountains.

Meghan Hicks

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