Jim Walmsley is back to run UTMB for the fourth time. In the following interview, Jim talks about what it’s been like living in Europe for three months, how his training has gone while there, how that time has changed his approach to running, and what he plans to do differently at this year’s UTMB.
Jim Walmsley Pre-2022 UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jim Walmsley before the 2022 UTMB. How are you, Jim?
Jim Walmsley: I’m doing good. Feeling as relaxed as can be and ready for this weekend.
iRunFar: Nice. How long have you been in Europe?
Walmsley: Just over three months. So we’re settling in and living about an hour and 45 minutes away from Chamonix so it’s a bit quieter and really liking Arêches-Beaufort, and it’s feeling more and more like home.
iRunFar: So that sounds like you’re planning to spend some more time there.
Walmsley: Yeah, after UTMB, we’re not going anywhere. We’re staying in France and we’re staying in the Alps and it’s going to be a longer process than just a training block this year.
iRunFar: Nice. Well, how, how is your time while you’ve been those three months in Beaufort? How’s that been?
Walmsley: It’s been good. I think there’s some stresses with trying to actually do like, a legitimate move to France as opposed to just being here for training. I think if I was just doing a three-month training block here, it would probably be more relaxing but also expensive because you’d be doing more short-term rentals, where we’re able to have a longer-term rental for a house.
We finally figured out kind of how to purchase the car so we’re not going to be renting anymore, which is going to be a huge stress. Because we live pretty far out there and without a car, we’re pretty stuck. I kind of jokingly say I’d be a pro cyclist if we didn’t have a car. I’d just be riding far distances everywhere multiple times a day.
Walmsley: It’s been a lot of fun and it’s an adventure, but it also has its own stresses along with it.
iRunFar: Nice. Well, sounds like a good adventure so far. This season so far, you won MIUT [Madeira Island Ultra-Trail], and then you won the Ultra Tour du Beaufortain. Yeah?
Walmsley: Yeah. Ultra Tour du Beaufortain. Yeah. That one was kind of cool because it was an ultra just in the backyard. It actually overlaps a lot with the TDS course.
Walmsley: So, I feel like this year, I’ve learned more about TDS than any other year. I finally looked and see where it goes and that’s actually by far the best route. It gets on better trails, not the goat trails, but it gets more technical and more fun, whereas the other races are quite a bit more buffed out. But obviously, a good route that we all love.
iRunFar: And it sounds like part of the trails that you run on pretty regularly anyway in training.
Walmsley: Yeah. So, Tour du Beaufortain got me kind of exploring my own backyard. It’s been a fun block because most trails are, all the trails have been brand new. Loops have been brand new, but there’s tons and tons of options in Arêches. It’s been a lot of fun exploring, but it’s hard. It’s steep. It’s steeper than the UTMB course. Lots of hiking. I feel like it forces me to kind of work on some of my like, quote-unquote, weaknesses.
iRunFar: Something that you don’t necessarily do if you’re running in the Flagstaff [Arizona] area or what have you.
Walmsley: Exactly. Not living out of a tent before UTMB. This is the first time I’m like, basically not pegged up in a tent for a month before UTMB in the San Juans [of Colorado] and it sounds like it would have been a hard year to be in attendance [at the Hardrock 100].
iRunFar: You would be very wet.
Walmsley: Yeah. Which when it’s wet in the San Juans, our camping system’s not the best. Would have been challenging.
iRunFar: And has your sort of training block over those three months been pretty strong?
Walmsley: Yeah. Maintain being pretty healthy. I don’t think I’ve thrown in any crazy big three-week, six-week blocks, like maybe I would do for the Western States 100 or something in the past. But I can point at maybe 12, 16 weeks of really good consistency. Always up, occasional bike rides, occasional days off. I guess one week, I did UTMB with Thibaut Garrivier and Julien Chorier and Jean-Philippe [Tschumi] from Switzerland. So that was a lot of fun. But that one got a little out of control. And I guess I hit my biggest vert and mileage in a week in this block. But that was more of a unique week but very good timing. I’m happy when it was and I think it stressed the body in a good way.
iRunFar: Was it intentional for you to not have those peaks and maybe be more consistent throughout this block?
Walmsley: A little bit. I think it’s been balancing the stresses of trying to move here as opposed to just being here training, which all in all probably moderates my training a bit and I think it’ll be hopefully for good.
iRunFar: Yeah. So you were here at UTMB last year and it wasn’t the day you wanted. What happened?
Walmsley: Just kind of had some flat legs. Waiting, waiting, waiting for them to feel a little better. Get a little more momentum or anything, anything, and I mean, it felt like 40 to 45 miles of it. So, over 70 kilometers. Just legs not coming around, not coming around. And then like, it’s getting cold, François [D’Haene]’s just using his poles hiking away from me. I’m like, getting dropped hiking and then jogging back to catch up, and getting dropped and catching back up. And more or less I just kind of said, screw this, I’m obviously not where I want to be right now. And pretty quickly after, kind of let the race sink in and decided to make changes to hopefully not get my ass kicked in the same way, and to make UTMB more of a priority because I’m tired of essentially not feeling how I expect to feel for a big race.
iRunFar: And not performing like you would expect.
iRunFar: It’d be fair to say you haven’t run your best race you think you could run at UTMB.
iRunFar: How do you make that happen? What changes did you make?
Walmsley: There’s been a lot of little changes. I mean, everything from coming over three months early to running Madeira in April to not racing in January, February. I’m not doing a road ultra earlier in the year. I didn’t do the Western States 100. I mean, the list goes on and on and on and on. And I’ve just been able to kind of singularly prepare for this race.
So putting more eggs into this basket. Eggs can still break, so I don’t know. And UTMB’s still UTMB. There’s a lot of pressure around the race, a lot of media and obligations. It’s good and bad and can be stressful but it’s nothing new, and I should be used to it and it will be okay. And I feel excited and confident about this year. So I’m excited to try again.
iRunFar: Yeah, how do you like, you are putting more eggs into the same basket, like how do you on the sort of flip side like just go with it or you know, not lower expectations and what you could possibly do but lower the pressure on yourself?
Walmsley: So I guess lowering the pressure maybe comes with not looking at it as a one-year bet. It’s a multiple-year bet to come here to France and to try to learn and improve and kind of really try to master this style of ultrarunning, which is much slower hiking. And then hopefully after UTMB is done, wherever that may be, I can also apply that to just big mountainous ultras all over the world still, which it seems like UTMB World Series is growing. A lot of their races tend to be that. But then just like UTB that I did a few weeks ago is a tiny, small race in Beaufortain that’s amazing. And I can still apply it to big mountain races like that because that was 114k with 7,300 meters.
iRunFar: It’s kind of like MIUT or that like it’s three-quarters of UTMB, more or less.
Walmsley: Yeah. About 15 hours of effort. So it was a really good final preparation. It was a day, like during the day instead of at the night. Which is a big, big difference here because here you get the kind of glacier winds off the mountains and it’s much colder. Especially like even here compared to a local area with the glaciers, with temperatures as they say, “more fresh.”
iRunFar: So, one of your longtime friends François D’Haene, you’re now neighbors.
iRunFar: In Beaufort, not that he would teach you in, you know, like, “Hey, do this,” but I assume you’ve got on some training with him?
Walmsley: Yeah. When he’s been in town. He’s been out in Colorado visiting you.
iRunFar: But he’s like, as you mentioned earlier, like he’s just an amazing person with the poles hiking uphill. Like he can walk away from you and you have to run to catch up. Have you picked up that at all?
Walmsley: François, I think, is the best when it comes to full in on ultra and perspective and his mentality behind it and the adventure. And you can … very tough to push through low moments. Because I know he has low moments just like I have, but he handles them differently a lot of times. So that is very inspiring for me and yeah, just being around him. You pick up some of that mentality, hopefully, and it’s fun. He likes training hard. He likes adventuring. He likes doing rugged trails. So it’s a good elastic stretch for me in my kind of repertoire of experience in running, and he’s been a really nice and great friend and I think we’re going to have a lot more adventures together too.
iRunFar: Nice. What are you excited most about this weekend?
Walmsley: This weekend? I mean, I kind of can’t wait to get back to Courmayeur to like, I’ve had struggles from Courmayeur to Grand Col Ferret basically three out of three years. Takes 100k to get there.
Walmsley: So it’s kind of like the river crossing after 2016 [at the Western States 100]. It takes a while to get back to that spot. And so I’m looking to try to get through there smoothly as best I can and get excited to race the last 30k to 50k. Always saving a bit more for that and if someone’s ahead of me, behind me, hopefully, I have reserves to close a gap or extend the gap how I need to. But I think the mentality of kind of preparing late for the race has me excited and will keep me in check and prepared.
Which in check, like yeah, I’ll probably be running quick and a bit towards the front or off the front, but I’m comfortable doing that. I like doing it. I enjoy it. And I just need to really like listen to myself and keep my stomach and my temperature and everything. Just take care of myself in the mountains.
iRunFar: Nice. Well, best of luck and have fun out there, Jim.
Walmsley: Thanks, yeah we’ll see you out there.
iRunFar: And one bonus question for you, Jim. You’ve now spent three months here in Europe. I know you’re a pizza guy. What’s the best pizza you’ve had, what style, and where?
Walmsley: I mean some of the better pizza, well, Italy. We haven’t done too, too much in Italy. We’ve gone to Courmayeur a few times. I think all the Americans, ugh, the restaurant name is blanking my mind.
Walmsley: The one that every all of them, like Topher [Gaylord] and everybody goes to every single night. It’s really good. But also I’ve been walking into Italian restaurants and I see like, oh they’ve got good pasta. I’ve almost been leaning toward the pasta.
Walmsley: The pasta’s like really good. So I’m not missing that. We have a nice pizza spot in Beaufort where TDS goes through that we like.
iRunFar: What’s your favorite style of pizza over here?
Walmsley: Um, well I’ve had to back off from pizza quatre fromages. So I either go with the fungi or margherita is the most basic or vegetarian. But the quatre fromages has just gotten me a few times, especially if I have to run afterward. Usually the blue cheese is so good.
iRunFar: So good.
Walmsley: Yeah, if it’s just the end of the night, maybe it’s okay. But um, if I have more to do, I’ve backed off from that from years past.
iRunFar: Nice. Well thanks, Jim.
Walmsley: Yeah, thanks.