In 2021, Jim Walmsley returns to the Western States 100 for its fifth-straight running as the two-time defending champion having send course records in both 2018 and 2019. In the following interview, Jim talks about his IT band injury this spring, how that altered his training, why that may be a blessing in disguise, and why he comes into this year’s race with a different approach.
For more on who’s running the race, check out our men’s and women’s previews, and, then, follow along with our live race coverage on Saturday!
Jim Walmsley Pre-2021 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jim Walmsley before the 2021 Western States 100. How are you, Jim?
Jim Walmsley: I’m doing good, how are you?
iRunFar: I’m doing alright. Just saw you trucking down the road back to the start after a nice run this morning. You’re feeling well?
Walmsley: Yeah, legs are feeling good, feeling fresh. I think I’m pretty happy with where things are at.
iRunFar: Nice. You just shared with the world that you were dealing with a pretty annoying injury this spring for a while?
Walmsley: Yeah, I’ve had some frustrations in this training block that’s been no, like, not a secret within I guess the group of people I know. But at the same time it hasn’t been something that I’ve just been talking tons about and really not knowing whether it would flare up more or go away. And just being really diligent about staying on top of things, and staying in Flagstaff, and getting treatment there at Hypo2 [chiropractor] where I can kind of just, I knew someone and I can go in and get work done consistently and it’s coming around though.
iRunFar: Was it a knee, IT band issue? What exactly was wrong?
Walmsley: Yeah, knee, IT band issue. Really, flat running was kind of the crux for me to be able to do, so there wasn’t as much flat running or like, fire roads or even starting downhill in the canyon, starting downhill was problematic as well. But if I can start on an uphill it kind of tightened up glutes, calves, and stuff, almost like really helped out with my runs, so most runs started up the steep hill and then kind of started my day from there. I was able to work around it which is pretty fortunate.
iRunFar: It also shows good resilience because as you talked about in your Facebook post, it’s not like you had ramped up your mileage really quickly before. You could have just thrown in the towel and said, “I’ve got an injury.”
iRunFar: But you found a way to work around it.
Walmsley: Well, I had some good weeks of training going where I was kind of saying I was in a floating phase where I was just kind of waiting to crank up the training, and then basically had to back right off for three unexpected weeks but was able to get in on the bike and on like my Wahoo Kicker bike, which is this smart bike thing that’s been kind of, it’s a gamified way of biking indoors and making it just really easy and convenient to get in the schedule. And then essentially just making a deadline date of well, we’ve got to get back into it, and we’ll see how it reacts. More or less, it didn’t get worse week after week or day after day. There were ups and downs with it day to day, but the overall trend was it wasn’t getting worse. And then I was kind of noticing I could get in steeper up down runs. So just doubled down on that.
iRunFar: I assume that deadline was for pulling out of Western States.
Walmsley: No, it was a deadline of where I saw I could still get fit for Western States.
Walmsley: If that kind of started falling through then it would be about another deadline if it wasn’t happening. But being able to go up and down in the race and singletrack started feeling a little better. It had me optimistic and then also knowing if I back off in the taper that things could come around and that’s kind of exactly how it worked out. I think doing so much vert with it was keeping my quads and calves a bit tighter which almost kept it lingering more, then, I was able to train that way but at the same time I think it.
iRunFar: You weren’t able to fully heal as quick.
Walmsley: But then once I started backing off to kind of round out training and start trying to bring some freshness back, which means less mileage, less vert. Calves and quads start loosening up a bit and having some pain free running. It has me more optimistic than ever and it’s brought a lot of excitement for me to be running like pain free. It puts a smile on my face and makes me really happy. I don’t know how it worked out or timing wise, I feel really lucky. It’s just the momentum’s going the right way.
iRunFar: Yeah, you can tell just the feel for you right now. You’re psyched. It’s not like the supreme overconfidence of having put 180-mile blocks in, or weeks, but it’s like, you’re genuinely excited to be running in.
Walmsley: Yeah. Because I think I still rolled the dice with doing probably more than what would be advised through it to get to where I feel like I would be fit enough to run Western States how I’ve ran it in the past, and up to probably my standards, so that makes me, I feel pretty fortunate with that. Other than that I think it was a shorter block but having it, I tend to do pretty good with having some sort of issue that makes me not ramp up as much. Usually when things go too perfect is kind of when I get a little worried because then it’s, did I just do too much and then do I come in too tired and all of a sudden, coming in too tired’s been usually my biggest problem when races start unraveling is I can point back to getting over confident, trying to do more, more, more. And not backing off enough and realizing that a lot of the race has to do with the freshness that you’re bringing in. If you don’t have that to fall back on when things get hard, it’s going to crumble.
iRunFar: Yeah, I was wondering if there was a little bit, as long as you were able to get in a decent amount of training, which you were.
iRunFar: That not having those staggering training blocks one after another like could be a blessing in disguise a little bit.
Walmsley: Yeah, it’s good. I think overall I’m taking away positivity out of it.
iRunFar: Even having faced that injury issue, you’re still the odds-on favorite probably for the race. Who do you think will be your biggest challengers on Saturday?
Walmsley: Yeah, it’s a really exciting challenging field of guys. I think without a doubt, like, Jared Hazen’s the second fastest guy in Western States history, so I mean that’s a big kind of elephant in the room with like, if I weren’t here he’d be the odds on favorite. So, but the way last two years have worked out with COVID and I was supposed to be at Comrades [Marathon] this year in South Africa in June and not necessarily back here, but the way things have shaken out, I’m pretty happy to be back here and pretty excited but I think it’s a really exciting men’s field. I think for a domestic race this is about as exciting as we’ve had in a while. There’s really new guys coming in with Hayden Hawks and Tim Tollefson, Matt Daniels is back. What, 8 out of the top 10 guys are back?
Walmsley: I think there’s the, I don’t know how to say his name but Jiaju [Zhao].
iRunFar: Yeah, Jiaju.
Walmsley: I don’t know if he’s here, if he made it, but if he is I think don’t be surprised if he’s up there. But it’s exciting and I think it all depends if people want to run more aggressively or kind of be more patient approach and if people want to get out and run, I’m going to just plan on doing my thing, and,
iRunFar: Which is to go out and run pretty hard.
Walmsley: No, I think I learned my lesson the hard way in 2017.
Walmsley: I feel like I took so much away from that kind of failure at Western States. So and not to mention 2016 fell apart, too. So I mean two years fail in a row, it was fine, like oh I’m just going to see what I can do at this course. And taking what the course gives you. And when you’re not really fighting the course and having to like worry about everybody else in the race, you take things that aren’t in your control and you don’t worry about it and then you just kind of make time where you can.
iRunFar: And that’s worked out pretty well in 2018 and 2019 with course records both years.
Walmsley: Yeah, I feel like I’m doing something that I’ve done before and I’m just trying to repeat a good day and if I can repeat things that I’ve done multiple times at this point, I’m going to walk away really happy no matter where that lands. I think Western States feels like a family kind of race for me so it’s exciting to be here and I already feel a part of the family so there’s a lot less pressure for me.
iRunFar: Does that feel good?
iRunFar: Because even in the first couple years you put pressure on yourself.
Walmsley: There’s tons of pressure on myself and thinking that I need to do this or that. I think this year having a little different approach, not having my just big indicator things and not trying to time trial or prove anything to myself. Yeah, I’m just going out there trying to have a good day and have some fun and just get the most out of myself for what the day brings and kind of temperatures, course conditions, everything, but you can already sense like the energy’s back. The people are here.
iRunFar: Does it feel good to come back after the whole COVID break? I know you ran the Carbon Project in January.
Walmsley: Yeah. I got to run the Hoka 100k [World Record attempt] in January. I got to run, try a little stage race in Azores [Golden Trail Championship] at the end of 2020. I feel like I’ve been able to kind of keep my racing a bit sharp because both of those I feel like are very, they were, I had to show up to be competitive in them. And racing doesn’t feel too rusty. Takes more pressure off like I don’t feel like I’ve done too much from that, but it really feels like this is kind of finally a little celebration of getting past some restrictions. I think everybody feels a little bit of relief with this and excitement and let’s go do it.
iRunFar: I feel a lot more just like, “Ahh” about this year as opposed to,
Walmsley: Yeah. Some air has been let out and things are building.
iRunFar: Speaking of racing over this past year, you ran pretty darn well. 6:09 100k. How did that feel?
Walmsley: It hurt a lot. I think I got the most out of myself that day. I feel really positive about it. Walked away with an American record, which is pretty awesome. An official one with an official distance so that doesn’t happen much.
Walmsley: So I’m pretty excited. That run felt really rewarding.
iRunFar: Do you think that in the other direction, do you think that doing the training for that or anything could have led to your IT band issue? Because you said running the flat roads was an issue.
Walmsley: Um, no. The training was completely different. I didn’t rush back in to try to… I was actually just addressing like I’m really fortunate to have Hoka be the primary sponsor of this race and be a part of again just, Hoka and Jim Walmsley, like our goals aligning really, really well and things have worked out so well that I didn’t have to race in that Black Canyon three weeks after the 100k. I didn’t have to race just a couple weeks ago at Canyons 100k, which was just a brutal course this year. So, or every year really. But I’ve been able to back off. I’ve been able to take the time and even now it’s worked out even better because had something popped up with another race in my legs, I probably wouldn’t be here ready to go for Saturday. So it’s really worked out and I’m pretty fortunate for that.
iRunFar: Right on. Without the pressure and on a good day, do you think you’re in fitness to run faster than you have? Make some incremental improvements, changes?
Walmsley: Um, I think it all depends. 2019 I remember getting into maybe Lyon’s Ridge the first ten miles being 4-6 minutes behind on the first split because we had some snow and I’m just like, “Oh, it looks like we’re not running faster than last year this year. That’s alright. We’ll just find some rhythm.” And then all of a sudden finding some rhythm you start clicking back some time and before you knew it we’re on some crazy splits again and it’s just like alright, the race is on. And again that was just not forcing the race and letting opportunities come to me. Feeling good and pushing when you feel good and backing off when you need to so, yeah. Don’t fight the course. I’m not going out with a time goal in mind.
Walmsley: My legs feel fresh. I feel ready. I feel strong, so I wouldn’t rule anything out but Saturday looks pretty comparable weather wise to 2018 so a fast time I think is what it’s going to take with the men’s field this year. So I feel ready to get a good performance out of my legs and we’ll see where that ends up.
iRunFar: Nice. Well good luck, Jim, and see you out there. Enjoy.
Walmsley: Thanks so much.