Jim Walmsley looks back on 2017

David Miller spoke to US trail running sensation Jim Walmsley about his racing strategy, his 2017 and his next targets

"100 miles still could take another year to truly figure out and run the way I believe I can, but it will happen. I’m too stubborn for any other result besides that." Jim Walmsley (picture credit: Alexis Berg)

"100 miles still could take another year to truly figure out and run the way I believe I can, but it will happen. I’m too stubborn for any other result besides that." Jim Walmsley (picture credit: Alexis Berg)

Hey Jim, thanks for taking the time to talk to us here at Trail Running.
You’ve been the talk of the ultra-running community of late and it’s hard not to admire your do-or-die racing style! Tell us more on why you choose to race like this.

I don’t consider how I race a do-or-die, win-or-drop mentality. I plan every race accordingly both to finish and to run it the way I want to. Many times I’ll have a time or course record in mind. However, it is all calculated as I want to get the most out of myself. On a not-so-perfect day this can dig you into a deeper place than anticipated.  As a professional, I always have the next race in my mind and on the horizon. This constantly keeps me motivated in my training and provides purpose in how I structure my training. 

This sport has been around for a long time and many of these course records still take a great day out in order to take them down. Sometimes nutrition or pacing doesn’t go as well as it needs to go in order to stay smooth, strong, and on time objectives. When trying to run big races it is inherently riskier as sometimes you blow up. That’s okay I’m the big picture as it takes the risk and the drive to go for it in order to improve upon some of the great performances of the past. I like competing against myself, the current competition, and all the past champions on race courses as well. It excites me to race literally everyone in that manner. 

How do you deal with any negative criticism?

There really isn’t a whole lot of criticism in the way I race or my results. Occasionally it pops up and you have to ignore it. It’s not positive for me to pay attention to those people or overthink any of it. Short-term memory is an athlete’s best friend. Forget all the highs and all the lows; stay hungry and true to what motivates you as a runner.

How did it feel on toeing the starting line with the likes of Kilian Jornet at UTMB? 2017 was arguably the greatest ever field of runners in UTMB history.

François (D'Haene, the 2017 winner) really proved that he has the best hold on pacing, eating, and managing 100’s compared to anyone else right now. I was up front with François much more than Kilian, as we were setting the pace back and forth.

I think it was a quick turnaround for Killian from Everest and Hardrock. But all year, and especially one, two weeks after the effort at UTMB, Kilian showed what also makes him a special athlete. He threw down some of his best races of the year immediately after UTMB, which is incredible.

I was pretty toast (he ended up fifth) after not managing nutrition the best over the long effort. It’s something I admire a lot about Kilian and Francois after UTMB. The way they manage their resilience, and their constant energy beyond 15 hours is incredible. I have work to do to close the gap in the 100-mile races and to catch up with their experience. I hope we, as elite athletes, can all come together at 100 miles more often. Western States would be my course of preference as it’s in the US, but in the meantime I like racing them on their home turf. It makes it fun and challenging, and I love the people I’ve been able to meet through travelling and this sport.

You were leading for the first section of the race. Tell us more on what happened later on...

Pretty simple really, I wasn’t eating. I had that throwing up at Western States 100 in my mind and I didn’t want to push to that point again and not finish. It cost me a lot of time waiting for my stomach to come back around. I thought I figured out a lot from UTMB. Then I turned things right around from Diagonale des Fous and I went too far not eating, forcing calories, and getting to the throwing-up followed by complete exhaustion due to no calories for too long. Luckily, I was able to rebound a little at UTMB. 

At DdF (The Grand Raid) unfortunately, self-doubt, long season, and nutrition weighed too heavy for me to push through and wait for it to come back like UTMB. I still have to learn and practise in training for my longer efforts going forward. 

What can you take away from 2017? What’s been your highlight? What have you learned?

During 2017 I’ve been exposed to so much more travelling, trail running, and 100-mile efforts. It has been an incredibly intensive learning year so it’s not surprising I had my fair share of struggles. 50k didn’t click right away when I first started. 50 miles and 100k were initial failures for me too. But I adapt, learn, and improve off of those experiences. My feet are the only feet that can go through these experiences to learn and come out stronger. 100 miles still could take another year to truly figure out and run the way I believe I can, but it will happen. I’m too stubborn for any other result besides that.

Lots of highlights from this year. Tarawera was an amazing run in February to start the year and my first time really travelling for trail ultras. Western States is always epic. I camped out in Silverton, Colorado, for five weeks after Western States. Then for six or seven weeks I was in Europe training for UTMB. And the whirlwind, mind-boggling experience at DdF (The Grand Raid) was insane. It was all an incredible adventure this year and I couldn’t have dreamt these opportunities I’d be having through running. 

What are your goals and racing plans for 2018? I think it goes without saying we’d all love to see you have a pop at Western States 100 again!

I am waiting to hear back from UTWT (Ultra Trail World Tour) for race support in 2018, which will effect my schedule. Most likely I am planning on racing in February for a 10-day trip to Spain for Carrera Alto Sil by RD Lolo Diez - I did this race last year and had a blast on this trip), an April race, Western States 100, UTMB, and TNF. 

February, right now, I would like to race Transgrancanaria. April is a real big open question. It could be Marathon des Sables, Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, Canyons 100K, and/or Transvulcania. I am also in Angeles Crest 100 in between WS and UTMB, but I am not planning on making any decisions on that until July. 

What does a typical week's training look like for you?

I periodise my training. So by that, I prefer to have a training block for each target race I do with intensity, volume, and vertical gain usually increasing as I build up each week. 
For example, this week (November 20-26), it is my week one of training after having three-plus weeks off of running, just active recovery. Week one is 60 miles and I am not worrying about climbing yet. I will build up to about three weeks held at 140 miles per week, preferably in single runs, with about 30k feet of climbing. Maybe 225k per week and 10k vert. 

Any strength and conditioning?

Last winter I got into a good routine of strength workouts for an hour once a week. I lost all that as I gradually spent more time travelling throughout the year. I am now a month back into the gym once per week and hope to continue up until my race in February and we’ll see after that. It sounds like I may be starting twice a week from next week as well.

What do you do in your downtime? Tell us something we didn’t know about Jim Walmsley!

I follow the sport a lot. I go out to help other friends at races and in training runs. We have an awesome group of ultra runners in Flagstaff and generally someone has something going on. We call our little training group the Coconino Cowboys. We generally meet up outside of running a couple times a week as well. When I have time, I dilly-dally, very poorly usually, with mountain biking and rock climbing. I like being outside so I go camping and find stuff to do. Pretty flexible with hobbies!

And finally if you had to pick one last trail to run anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

The Grand Canyon. It’s a magical place to be, it’s my backyard, and it’s where I am from. I’m proud to have the Grand Canyon as a place I train regularly.