Less than a month ago, a small group of folks from Montana were giving notice of a guy named Seth Swanson ahead of the Western States 100. Few heeded their warning. Seth finished second.
This week that same crowd is shouting out about Jim Walmsley, a 24-year-old former Air Force Academy runner, who’ll be running just his second ultra at the 2014 Speedgoat 50k on Saturday. In the following interview, Jim talks about his collegiate running background, why he’s transitioned so quickly to the trails, and where he thinks his strengths will lie on Saturday.
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Jim Walmsley Pre-2014 Speedgoat 50k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jim Walmsley before the 2014 Speedgoat 50k. How are you doing, Jim?
Jim Walmsley: Doing pretty good.
iRunFar: What brings you to Speedgoat?
Walmsley: Competition, good prize purse, and new distances. I’m excited for it.
iRunFar: This will be your first go at an ultramarathon?
Walmsley: I’ve done one 50k so far and it went pretty well.
iRunFar: Which one was that?
Walmsley: I did the Old Gabe 50k.
iRunFar: Up in Montana?
Walmsley: Yes, about a month ago. That one was pretty fun and I ran pretty relaxed and I took my time at the aid stations and it still ended up going pretty well.
iRunFar: You still set the course record there, right?
iRunFar: There are some good runners up in Montana.
Walmsley: There have been some pretty quick runners that have run it. That and probably the Don’t Fence Me In races have been kind of encouraging.
iRunFar: Is the longer distance there 30k?
Walmsley: Yes, 30k.
iRunFar: You won that this year?
iRunFar: Rob Krar still has the fastest time there, but you have the second fastest.
Walmsley: Yes, I found out it was about a mile further than it really was, so I thought I was on a great pace but then the last two miles just kept going. It kind of got me with that. I kind of thought I’d be closer to two hours if it was more towards the 30k, but it ended up being a little further. I’ll keep that in mind.
iRunFar: Lesson learned in trail races.
Walmsley: I’ll keep that in mind next year.
iRunFar: You sort of gauge yourself at the aid stations—how close are they? This one is probably… I don’t know how hard Old Gabe is, but…
Walmsley: It’s got similar amount of climbing, but it’s got four peaks instead of two. Overall climbing is the same, but as far as long climbs, it’s not in the same ballpark.
iRunFar: How long did Old Gabe take you?
iRunFar: It could be a rough estimate…
Walmsley: I’m hoping to at least be in the five’s, but we’ll see where it goes.
iRunFar: How old are you?
Walmsley: I’m 24.
iRunFar: You’re just two years out of the Air Force Academy.
iRunFar: You’ve run competitively for a long time, but you ran for the Air Force?
iRunFar: Did you run three seasons for them?
Walmsley: I ran all four years in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track. I didn’t find a lot of luck in cross country even though that was probably my strong suit coming out of high school. I guess maybe I struggled with the longer distances ironically. But I did alright on the track and kind of shotgunned it my senior year and did a whole range of events.
iRunFar: From the mile to…?
Walmsley: Indoor season I did the mile and I anchored the DMR for our school. I ran a 4:04 in the open mile and the full mile.
iRunFar: That was indoors?
Walmsley: Yes. And then a 4:01 for the last anchor leg of the DMR (1600 meters). Outdoors, I did everything from 5k to 10k and the first steeple my senior year. That was fun.
iRunFar: You ended up running some—I don’t know if it was during or after college—but you ended up running a pretty good steeple, right?
Walmsley: It was all in college, yeah. So I did my first one at Drake and broke nine minutes on my first one. My second one was at conference, and I won conference. Then my third one was at NCAA regionals and I think I ended up running 8:51 and qualified for nationals. In the semis, I ran 8:41. The finals were two days later, but that one just felt like a gorilla was on my back. So I didn’t do as fast of a time there as I would have liked. It’s alright, it was a good experience and I finally made it to nationals.
iRunFar: So obviously you have strength. You’re not just fast, as the 4:04 would indicate, but you have some of that based on…
Walmsley: Yeah, I was in really good shape senior year. My hurdling technique wasn’t that great. It was more of a fartlek, but I never fell in a race either, so that always helps.
iRunFar: Especially those big…
Walmsley: Yeah, the water pits and stuff, I didn’t take a tumble luckily (knock on wood).
iRunFar: So what drew you to the trails. Obviously you had success. The normal progression would be to try the 5k, 10k road scene or continue on with track.
Walmsley: Yeah, the normal progression would be probably going to the road scene a bit, but training out of Great Falls and Black Eagle, I find I’m running a lot more by myself. I don’t do as many workouts and let along track work outs to keep the leg speed up. Trail races and even road races are a lot easier because they spread out a lot more and it’s a lot more fighting against the clock as opposed to tactical and championship style racing.
iRunFar: This is a long race. Over the past couple years, tactics do kind of play out. There are some racers who are stronger on the climbs or on the descents. What do you think your strengths will be out there on Saturday?
Walmsley: I think it’s definitely the climbing, but at the same time, this is a little higher altitude than I’ve been living right now. Being in college at 7,200 feet, I know what altitude does, but I know even more so what it does to people coming up to altitude which is never fun. Now I’m in those shoes. We’ll see. I think with the longer distance it’s all about staying within your comfort zone but also keeping people within reach.
iRunFar: You’ve been living up in Montana and it’s kind of a more insular scene up there just because the distance involved. There was some great competition at Don’t Fence Me In this year. How did that go for your first sort of real competitive trail race?
Walmsley: It was the furthest race I’d done at the time. I think besides Don’t Fence Me In 30k and Old Gabe 50k, I’ve only done half marathons. I’ve never done a marathon. I like saying that, though. That one was just kind of staying within myself the first climb. But the first climb I found myself relaxing and ended up just kind of pulling away from people, from the main pack and going right past the leader, the early leader at the very top. I know in general trail and ultra guys are really aggressive and good at running downhill, so I knew they’d be coming on the downhill. But for the most part, I ended up getting a little bit of a lead and it was just stay comfortable and be ready if they do catch you. They didn’t come back in the race later luckily.
iRunFar: You mentioned that you’ve run some half marathons including this past weekend where you ran 1:09?
Walmsley: Yes, it was mid-1:09’s, so it wasn’t a great race or not really super fit for a half. It was alright. Based off of the elite field, it was more just racing the competition. There was one guy that was just definitely in better shape. I was happy to hold onto second place pretty well.
iRunFar: This is your first really competitive trail ultra. Is there anybody you’re excited to race this weekend?
Walmsley: There are a lot of big names that I’m not familiar with. I’m not as familiar with the ultra scene. A lot of it is just learning and taking it in. It’s a really fun community to hopefully be more a part of after this race and maybe make some friends. For the most part, you’ve got to respect anyone who’s been doing it for awhile. They’re all kind of my gauge of where I should be at in the race as well. If I’m way ahead of them at mile two, I’m probably doing something wrong.
iRunFar: Do you think you can reel yourself in if you find yourself in that spot?
Walmsley: Hopefully I don’t, but if I do, I do realize it. No, I don’t think I plan on passing anyone early. Hopefully I’ll just stay behind and hopefully that’s comfortable. If it’s not comfortable, hopefully I’ll just get into my own race.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there and have fun.
Walmsley: Thank you very much.
iRunFar: Bonus question: Montana guys—all you out there, trail runners, made some good calls about Seth Swanson and have pointed out Jim before this race. I want to ask, Jim, what’s your favorite part of living in Montana?
Walmsley: I love the access to all sorts of mountains and trails. You can drive everywhere and everybody is into the trails in the summer, so it’s really great.