Despite having finished 20th at last year, Jim Walmsley is the odds-on favorite to win this year’s Western States 100. In the following interview, Jim talks about his training leading up to Western States, how he feels being the favorite, what the toughest change has been with his increased notoriety, what of his WS100 goals is most important to him, and so much more.
You can find out more about who’s racing this weekend in our men’s and women’s previews, and follow the race with our live coverage on Saturday.
Jim Walmsley Pre-2017 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jim Walmsley before the 2017 Western States 100. How are you, Jim?
Jim Walmsley: Doing great. How are you?
iRunFar: Alright. We’ve been chatting a bunch. 2014 Speedgoat 50k just came up. Let’s walk things back three years.
Walmsley: It was three years? That’s crazy.
iRunFar: Just shy of three years ago, could you have seen this situation—your running, the media, all of this—when you were jumping into Speedgoat three years ago?
Walmsley: No, at the time I saw maybe getting out of the Air Force in May 2017, so that would have projected me a lot differently. More or less, we’ll keep it at the short answer, and that would be no, I didn’t see myself being here for sure.
iRunFar: Here you are, and you are the odds-on favorite for this weekend’s race. What does that feel like?
Walmsley: It’s odd but at the same time embracing it. That’s how I see it in my mind. Owning it, living it, enjoying it—that’s all you really can do. That stuff is not in my control. I don’t care about it. I don’t worry about it. Other than that, I’m out here to have a good time.
iRunFar: Do you think some people will try to go roll with you early in the race? Can they?
Walmsley: Sure. You’re pacing it for 100 miles; you’ve got to make it for 100 miles. At 100-mile pace, a lot of people can hang for a little bit. I think some people might go, even some people we don’t see finishing in the top 30 sort of thing. “I ran with him for so many miles.” I think the longer people try to go with me, they’re going to get dropped at some point. That’s going to leave them more in an isolated position. It think it’s going to be worse off.
iRunFar: You like the mano-y-mano situation?
Walmsley: I think dropping them 20 miles by themselves right before Robinson Flat is a great play… or Duncan Canyon. “You’re on your own, buddy. You don’t even have a chase pack.” Yeah, so that will be tough. I think more realistically what could happen and what would be most dangerous is if a chase pack chilled and found a good rhythm and found a good conservative pace of where if I did slip up late, they’re close enough and they’ve fed enough off of each other enough where they could… one of them could have a good day and make a break from that and close it. At some point, yes, I’m going to go out at a good pace where it’s going to be record pace from the start, and it’s going to be this and that. Someone’s going to have to close that gap. More than likely, someone’s going to have to close it by themselves. How long do they wait before they think they can close that by themselves and really, actually doing something with it. I’m going to bet against that, and I don’t see it happening.
iRunFar: Who do you think could hang with you the longest or most likely?
Walmsley: We talked about it. Elov [Olsson] from Sweden is totally the most impulsive. He wants to run with me for 10 miles. I also see him finding a smarter pace to run.
iRunFar: He likes to talk smack.
Walmsley: He’s a fun guy. Yeah, I like Elov. I think when you look at this field in general, we talked about odds-on favorite, but at the same time, you talk about the next 10, this is a really deep men’s race. It’s a really, really deep men’s race. Then you also look at the tactics that people race at. It’s also a really deep field in the fact that there are a lot of racers that race patiently and smart. So when you have now five to 10 guys playing the really safe, smart card, how is that going to work out?
iRunFar: It worked out last year.
Walmsley: It worked out really well last year… you’re welcome. At the same time… I mean, how they’re going to differentiate between their own strategies. I think Alex Nichols isn’t getting talked about enough. He’s got to be odds-on… he’s undefeated in 100s. He’s always somehow found his dark-horse role in races, and he finishes podium every time. He’s a grinder, and he crushes. Chris Mocko has obviously been very public and has put in some great weeks. He’s put in, by single weeks, bigger weeks than any single one of mine. Elov has been out there.
iRunFar: Then there are these really fast guys who are also really smart like Jonas Buud.
Walmsley: Jonas Buud, Jeff Browning, throw Ian Sharman in there… How Ryan Sandes with a 15:02 PR at Western States isn’t getting more love… I mean, when you start going 10 deep and you narrow it down to 10 people, you’re leaving big names off. Top 10 is going to be a little bit trickier this year. Yeah, we’ll see.
iRunFar: You have some pretty audacious goals that you’ve stated publicly—going for 14 hours. Do you have any sense to mitigate them with the… it’s going to be slushy snow. It’s going to be pretty-darn hot. You do well in the heat, but still, it could be 101 degrees [Fahrenheit]. Any thoughts on that?
Walmsley: Yeah, it’s going to be hot. If anything, that’s probably what I see as being the biggest factor. Training weekend and just generally running on snow and most of it is going to be downhill running on snow besides the Escarpment—and that one is going to be tracked up anyway—so I don’t see the snow being too big of a deal because you’re running downhill and glissading and it’s going to be pretty fast. It’s not a big deal.
iRunFar: The heat is a limiter.
Walmsley: The heat? I don’t know. I love the heat, and I’m going to crush the heat. So comparatively, head does bring the time down a bit. How far? I don’t know. But, I think personally comparing me to other racers in the heat, that gives me an astronomical advantage. I’m a really good racer in the heat. I’ve been racing in the heat heat since high school. I’ve gotten in a killer heat block for this race specifically, and I couldn’t be happier with how some of my runs have been in Phoenix. My hottest training run was 122 at the trailhead.
iRunFar: It’s not going to be that hot.
Walmsley: I think the funny thing was I actually posted, “Looking forward to the cooler weather in the canyons out at Western States.” Literally, that is the case. It’s not going to get worse than what I already know.
iRunFar: So no sense of just with the heat backing it down and really aiming for the win in particular rather than just a fast time?
Walmsley: I think more than that, I think I’m better at recognizing what’s happening and how hot it is, and staying within that comfort zone. It’s 100 miles. It’s all about the comfort zone. It’s a 100-mile race. Racing 93 miles and something happening or racing however far and popping isn’t the goal. The goal isn’t to run a fast time through Foresthill. The goal is to run the fastest time at Western States ever.
iRunFar: If you’re crushing Cal Street and all the sudden you’re like, I’m kind of shaky because of the heat, you might back off the gas a little bit?
Walmsley: A little bit. Once you get to Cal Street, I think everybody is in a hurt hole there. You’ve got to take it with a little more grain of salt that late in the race, but I don’t know. You’ve got to judge it for yourself, and you’ve got to know yourself.
iRunFar: Part of running 100s is error mitigation, and you had a couple last year—trying to make the swim, getting lost…
Walmsley: Your commentary on the video makes it worse. Being in the moment, I didn’t think it was that bad, but people were like, “Man, you almost got swept down. I thought you were almost going to die.”
iRunFar: It did not look good.
Walmsley: I actually felt okay and in control. For perspective’s sake, I was still trying to swim when the guy two feet away from me was standing. I had this thing in my mind of wanting to stay in the water and staying focused on staying cool that way. I forgot that, Oh, you’re in the kiddie pool, and you can stand up now. That was a little embarrassing. You stand up and look around and everyone is looking at you, so you pretend you’re not there and just move forward. I don’t think it was too big of a deal. I think part of the time I looked like I was struggling most, I could have stood up and walk it into the shore. It was fine.
iRunFar: You did get lost and had a pacer who was sick, and you ended up rolling with that.
Walmsley: Yeah, there were things even before that things happened. To start the day, I had a 500-calorie pack that I forgot to clip to my waist to start the race. That was part of the reason why even once I crested Escarpment and Watson’s Monument, I started running my pace to Lyon’s Ridge because I had to make up a little bit of time so I have time to eat at the aid station because I didn’t bring the food I meant to bring.
iRunFar: So what have you done ahead of this year’s race? You’ve had a year since then. What have you done to cut those out because they do have an impact on a 100-mile race?
Walmsley: The learning lesson from last year was to make redundancy in your plan. The more redundant your race plan can be and fall-back alternate plans and carrying extra calories if something doesn’t happen… This year I’ve been training with Clif Bar stuff and Clif is actually at the aid stations. There’s all sorts of stuff built into my race plan this year that is going to be more redundancies. I have three pacers instead of one, and I might even register a fourth as just another backup. There are much more redundancies built into my plan.
iRunFar: You have made some changes then to the overarching structure.
Walmsley: Yeah, because it’s just not worth having mistakes that cost you a race. Mistakes are inevitable, and they’re going to happen, but it’s more important not to let those mistakes alter or affect your overall race.
iRunFar: How has your training gone? You had a really good block last year. This year you had Tarawera and Gorge [Waterfalls], but how has your training been since then?
Walmsley: For Tarawera at the time, I thought that Tarawera was a better training block than I did for Western States last year. It wasn’t until Tarawera that I tried doing 140-mile weeks again and tough training again. Tarawera just couldn’t have gone better. It was really, really awesome. Then I’ve never done a training block like this for Western States. It’s even been extra hard. Although everything was focused on Western States, there was a lot more climbing in this block as a whole. Even for my race in Spain, Carrera Alto Sil, doing 20,000 feet per week climbing just in that block just to get ready for the next block. Then this block had in mind the next block for UTMB. Last year, I didn’t have anything on the schedule after Western States—I’ll bounce back when I bounce back. This year, I’ve got to bounce back in a certain way. You still have to play it by ear, and you have to listen, but there’s this in mind that I’ve got to do UTMB with more climbing. So there was a lot more climbing this year. I think that will make me a lot stronger in the high country. Even looking at overall all-time splits, the high country is really where I threw it down a lot last year. To think I’m a lot stronger in the high country this year is going to be good and confidence-inspiring. Yeah, I’ve never strung together three weeks of over 140 miles like these weeks and at least 27,000 feet of climbing per week.
iRunFar: Not too slow.
Walmsley: No, I still did fast runs. Some of my biggest runs this year or this training block was an 18 miler. I got to do one of my life goals of hanging with Abdi Abdirahman for a long run in Flagstaff. We did an 18-mile long run, and I think we averaged 5:47 on really rolling hills. I’m just lucky Abdi started out with us and relatively slow because most days, Abdi starts out six-flat and gone. I need a warm up a little bit. Give me a mile or two. Come on, man. Then I also did a good run on A1 Mountain loop out there.
iRunFar: So you’re overall feeling fitter than last year?
Walmsley: Yeah, then now you always kind of get a little bit of self doubts with your taper and you kind of question. I was having self doubts for days after my best run of my whole training block on A1, but you just get short-term memory loss. You worked out four days ago, and you crushed it. Dude, you’re fine. It’s just trust the process, trust the taper, trust that you’re okay. That’s the biggest thing I can totally draw off of. After Western States last year, I don’t know if I could literally do this race again. But since then, with JFK and Tarawera and Gorge, you look at again and again now, and it’s like I’ve had that magical day show up on race day when I need it. So…
iRunFar: Maybe you’ll have another one?
Walmsley: You just draw confidence off of, It will be there, and just trusting that for sure.
iRunFar: You do a lot of training. One-hundred-and-forty-mile weeks back-to-back is a lot of training. Do you do anything outside of running to keep yourself healthy?
Walmsley: I do weights with Hypo2 in town on Wednesdays. It’s been less this block because I’ve been doing so much climbing. Outside of that, a good healthy amount of going out with friends and having a beer and trying to keep the stress levels low. I say this again and again about no matter what your situation is—life and performance-wise, or whether your performance is in your running or job or family or whatever you put your efforts in—it’s all stress management. To do well in your performances, you need to stress manage everything going on. Something that’s been great this year is being able to keep the rest of life pretty chill, which allows me to take on a bit bigger training. Yeah, I’ve never done a training block like this for Western States or in my running career. It’s been pretty awesome for sure.
iRunFar: This kind of training level you’re at, how long do you see that as possible overall in terms of longevity?
Walmsley: I feel pretty healthy with it. I’ve been avoiding injuries, which is the biggest part of it. You talk about career-wise, avoiding injuries is probably the biggest thing as far as making big improvements. I feel pretty confident with my ebbs and flows with down times and hard times. Taper time is part of your down time. It’s part of what’s going to make me more fresh to do the block for UTMB after this. It’s also taking the proper time after the race. Training blocks are supposed to be hard. Training blocks scare me more than the race itself. To be prepared for the race, the training required to hurt that bad is a lot more hard work than a lot of times the race in the fact that you need to come in prepared to battle. Balancing those training blocks, I think I do really well with ebbs and flows and taking down weeks to do that.
iRunFar: Is it all planned out, or if you feel yourself getting a little flat or having a couple bad days…
Walmsley: Even this training block starting out, the first 100-mile week I was supposed to hit, I actually was shooting film and some Hoka people came out, and it was a really stressful week. I was supposed to hit 100 miles. It only ended up being 90 miles. I ended up cutting 10 miles off of it and just saying, “Screw it.” That actually ended up being the most stressful and hardest week of the entire block. It just goes to how you can manage it yourself. You need to have less stressful down weeks. If you can do that, you can handle the big blocks in between the destress. Every mountain needs a valley. It’s all got to balance out. I think that will prove to be longevity.
iRunFar: In terms of stress, and trying to manage your overall stress by hanging out with your friends, and it sounds like you do a good job of tempering your running when you need to, now this whole thing… we have four cameras and a mic and all of this…
Walmsley: This isn’t my typical iRunFar interview so far.
iRunFar: Well, we just have the one camera rolling.
Walmsley: That’s the typical one, but the surrounding parts, that’s crazy. It’s Western States weekend, you know?
iRunFar: There are so many podcasts and videos and movies coming out and Hoka meeting up with you… how do you manage what is an entirely new obligation?
Walmsley: It definitely started to become pretty hard, but something that kind of changed my mindset on it and outlook is—it’s also become the biggest difference between doing all that this year compared to last year—it’s my job. Last year I had a job. This year, running is my job. I’m really fortunate for that. Doing that part and dedicating that time, an hour podcast isn’t that bad compared to doing an eight-to-10-hour day and then going home to children. There are other competitive racers that do that every single day, five days per week. They’re competitive. It’s balancing. You need to do it. Sometimes I need a mental break from it all. I need to disconnect from the social media side of it.
iRunFar: Which you’ve done the past couple days you said?
Walmsley: Yeah, I’ve let Mike Hermsmeyer take over stuff. Sorry, I’m not responding to everybody right now. Hopefully I’ll go back and look at it, but I’ve completely logged out of everything. I think with the film that came out this week with 9Mind Asylum. The guys doing that and then the podcast with Eric Schranz, that stresses me out probably more than anything going into some of those personal times.
iRunFar: How do you deal with that? You could just be quiet about it.
Walmsley: More times than not, you’re a little bit ignorant about it, you forget about it, and you focus on more things in life. You try not to think about it as much. The more I do think about it, the more emotional I get, the more that resurfaces. Tuesday this week, it was weird. I’ve got the biggest race of my life coming up and I’m in a complete mental funk thinking about three or four years ago, That’s weird. I actually went downstairs. My parents asked me a question, and I was like, “I’ve just got to go for a walk.” I went for a walk for 20 minutes down in Phoenix that night around 10 p.m. That’s when I unplugged. I don’t want to respond to these deeper questions, these deeper really, really close friends that have reached out to me but maybe I haven’t talked to in five or even 10 years, some of the people who have reached out to me from that film. I’m sorry for not getting back, but right now, I need to focus on me. I need to focus on being happy and being stress-free and the race on Saturday and doing that. It’s stress management. That’s how I’m doing it; I’m cutting it out. I can’t worry about it. I can’t do it. I’ll pick it up when this isn’t as much. After this, I’m escaping out to Silverton where there’s no cell-phone service. It may still be awhile.
iRunFar: Heck yeah!
Walmsley: I’m going out to Hardrock for the third year in a row.
iRunFar: It will feel good. Let’s go relax in the San Juans.
Walmsley: It’s just away. We’ve got funny camping plans out there. I don’t know. It’s good.
iRunFar: Saturday. Western States. They’re not mutually exclusive, but having a goal of 14 hours, setting a course record, or winning can cut into one or the other. If you had to choose one that would mean the most…?
Walmsley: Out of any of those, I’d pick winning no matter what. If you win in 14:30… no, sorry… if you run 14:30 and you get the course record but you get beat by a 14:28, you still don’t have the course record. I’m going to say that sub-14 will accomplish everything.
iRunFar: But if you go for that, you might have to push harder and risk blowing up.
Walmsley: Yeah, so you’re not racing for top 10 by going sub-14. You’re risking on the course being marked well. You’re banking on your cognizance being there to read the course. That was basically the case last year. I’m sure the course was marked fine and cognitively, I wasn’t in the zone looking for the turn, and I blew past it. A lot has to go right for the sub-14. Even the weather I’m not totally sure of. The splits I’ve drawn out are for 13:51. That gives me time to go for the bathroom and lounge around at the aid stations a little bit more. How I view that is last year off of those splits, I was five minutes slow to mile 16. I blame that on my climb up to Escarpment. I was three minutes behind on Devil’s Thumb climb. I might have ran that a little too fast, so that might have been a little ambitious. Those splits for 13:51 come from the fastest splits ever run for every single segment independently. It doesn’t matter who it was. One thing is, I have actually the majority of them before mile 80. Comparing last year to this year, heat-wise is similar, training is better this year, heat training is better, so why shouldn’t I be able to run the same splits as last year? Then you have to hope you have enough gas. The way Tim Olson and Rob Krar and the Jims [Jim Howard and King]… but one of the Jims has a 56-minute Highway 49 on in split… but the way they’ve closed is insane. Part of it is a bit more of a slow start. I think I few it as in, those are going to be the hardest splits, and you’re not going to really know until you get there how much you’ve got. I hope to be competitive with those splits, and that’s what’s going to put me competitive to a sub-14. Other than that, I was on a really good, comfortable pace I was happy with last year. I’m going to go off of pretty similar splits as last year. It’s really mile 80 on where we’ll see what’s left. That’s going to be the difference with sub-14.
iRunFar: But if you have to choose one…?
Walmsley: Winning, hands down, winning is the most important.
iRunFar: If you have to adjust things…
Walmsley: At the end of the day, no one can take away a win at Western States from you. Someone is going to get the course record from you. Someone is going to get a sub-14 from you if that’s the course record. But a win, you have the win forever.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there. Thank you.
Walmsley: Thanks so much. Thanks so much.