May 4, 2019
Editor’s note: HOKA ONE ONE is sponsoring LetsRun.com’s exploration of the ultramarathon over the month of May, trying to determine the answer to the question: “What are the best ultramarathons in the world?” You can join the debate here. While this is sponsored content, HOKA had no say in what was written.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Prior to Saturday’s HOKA ONE ONE Project Carbon X 100k race, American ultramarathon star Jim Walmsley said anything can happen in an ultra.
Saturday’s race proved that.
Walmsley broke the world best and American record by going through 50 miles in 4:50:08 (old world best was 4:50:51 by Bruce Fordyce in 1984; Barney Klecker’s American record of 4:51:25 was the oldest American road record on the books) and less than three minutes later he was sitting on a table on the side of the course. Soon after, he was walking. Walmsley was reduced to high-fiving two-time defending world 100km champion Hideaki Yamauchi as Yamauchi ran by en route to victory in the 100km race in 6:19:54, over 10 minutes outside the 6:09:14 world record.
American Patrick Reagan ended up second in a personal best of 6:33:50 and Walmsley, who had to work hard not to get lapped by Yamauchi (each lap was almost 4.7 miles long), finished 4th in 7:05:24 on a day where the race started in near-perfect 51-degree conditions at 6 a.m. and ended in a blazing sun and 70+ degree heat.
American Sabrina Little was the only female finisher in 7:49:28.
The race was billed as a world record attempt at 100k, but Walmsley was also trying to break the 50-mile world best en route, and for the first 10k, the front three runners — Walmsley, Yamauchi, and Tyler Andrews, running his first race longer than 50k and also targeting the 50-mile world best — surprisingly ran within striking distance of one another on roughly 6-hour 100k pace. Yamauchi had talked about going out at a more modest 6 hour and 20 minute pace, but afterwards said the downhill opening miles felt fine, so he ran faster than expected as he hit 15k in 54:06 (6:00:40 pace). The lead pack broke apart the third 5k, as Andrews pulled ahead of Walmsley and Walmsley ahead of Yamauchi (53:18 for Andrews and 53:52 for Walmsley).
After the downhill opening 19.7 miles (roughly 150-foot drop), the runners ran nine 4.71-mile loops on a bike path along the river in Sacramento. When Andrews hit the finish line for the first time at 19.7 miles, he had a lead of 1:58 on Walmsley. Once on the loop portion of the course, which had a few short hills, Walmsley upped the tempo and started cutting into Andrews’ lead. Walmsley’s first loop was at 5:37 mile pace (6-hour pace is 5:48 per mile) and his second loop was even faster (5:35 mile pace).
Andrews was still running comfortably up front (5:40 pace), well under 6-hour pace for his first loop, but on the second loop he had some intestinal problems and had to take a bathroom break. He averaged 5:55/mile for that loop but on the next loop he was able to get the pace back down to 5:46 pace through the 50k mark. The problem for Andrews was that Walmsley had upped the pace behind him. On this loop just before the 30-mile mark, Walmsley caught Andrews and passed him 2 hours and 51 minutes into the race. Andrews would quickly fall apart after being passed by Walmsley, running 6:26 pace from 50k to the end of the next loop (33.84 miles) and then totally cratering and running 8:36 pace for the next loop before exiting the race in need of medical attention.
Walmsley’s string of sub-5:40 miles and the rising temperatures began to take its toll after the third loop. He ran his fourth loop through 38.5 miles at 5:49 pace. It was at 38 miles that Walmsley said in his mind he thought about just trying to get the 50-mile record as he was slowing. Walmsley slowed to 5:59 pace for the 5th loop and 6:07 pace for his 6th loop (47.98 miles) and at this point the 50-mile record would slip away if Walmsley could not manage 6:30 pace for the next two miles. But Walmsley knew the opportunity to get Fordyce’s world best was still there, and the bounce returned to his stride as he pushed and even kicked it in the final meters before the 50-mile mark, crossing it in 4:50:08, 43 seconds faster than Fordyce’s world best time from 1984. It was also 13 seconds faster than Fordyce’s time on the point-to-point London-to-Brighton course in 1983.
Walmsley Sets 50 Mile World’s Best and Starts Walking After
The fastest 50 miles on a records eligible course (South African journalist and coach Cuan Walker has pointed out that at least one person has gone through 50 miles faster than Walmsley during the downhill Comrades course which drops more than 2000 feet) had taken its toll and Walmsley immediately was reduced to a shuffle as he started jogging down the course after crossing 50 miles.
He told race commentator and training partner Eric Senseman, who was in a car right in front of him, “I’m F’d.”
Any shot at the 100k world record was now out of Walmsley’s mind.
But there was a problem.
To be given the official world best and American record for 50 miles, he would have to finish the 100k race (for some unknown reason, there is a rule that interim splits only count as records if the full race distance is finished).
A little more than two and a half minutes after breaking the record, Walmsley was walking on a bridge on the course. He then sat down on a drink station table and dumped water over his head and took gels. After a couple of minutes’ rest, Walmsley started walking again on the course.
Just a tad more than 10 minutes after he had run faster than anyone ever for 50 miles, Yamauchi went by Walmsley as Walmsley gave him a high five.
Now the questions that remained were how fast would Yamauchi run to the finish and could Walmsley make it to the finish.
Yamauchi had gone through halfway well ahead of world record pace (he was at 3:00:34, the world record is 6:09:14), but just before 50 miles he slowed noticeably, going from just around 6:00 mile pace to over 6:30 for the two miles to 50 miles.
The 100k world record shot was gone, but Yamauchi was still on pace for a PR (previous PR of 6:18:22). However, on the final lap, the heat and early pace really took its toll on one of the most accomplished 100km runners in the world, as Yamauchi ran over 7:00 mile pace and had to settle for the victory in 6:19:54.
Meanwhile, Walmsley realized he might be lapped by Yamauchi and upped the pace of his jogging to hold off getting lapped by 22 seconds.
The one guy able to get a PR was Patrick Reagan, who ran the first 50km nearly exactly how he planned, going out in 3:09:11 and hanging on to a 6:33:50 PR.
In the women’s race, Japan’s Aiko Kanematsu dropped out between 43 and 48 miles, which meant Sabrina Little was the only finisher and winner in 7:49:28.
Analysis and videos below results.
1) Hideaki Yamauchi JPN 6:19:54
2) Patrick Reagan USA 6:33:50 PB
3) Yoshiki Takada JPN 6:52:02
4) Jim Walmsley USA 7:05:24 PB*
5) Mike Wardian USA 7:29:12
6) Tyler Andrews USA DNF
*Walmsley’s time at 50 miles was a new pending world best/American record of 4:50:08 (old record 4:50:51 by Bruce Fordyce).
1) Sabrina Little 7:49:28
2) Aiko Kanematsu DNF
Boldness Gets Walmsley the World Record, Caution Gets Yamauchi the Win
Yesterday, Jim Walmsley said his mantra for today’s race would be Bruce Fordyce’s “caution,” but Walmsley did not run cautiously once he got on the loop portion of the course. That lack of caution let him run faster than 50 miles than any other human before him, but it likely cost him the 100k race at the same time.
A little dose of caution did get Yamauchi the win today. Yamauchi went out at 6-hour pace, which was faster than he had talked about prior to the race, but he said there was a reason for that: the opening miles were downhill. He said once he hit the flats he knew he would slow down. Meanwhile, Jim picked up the pace once he hit the flats. The result was Walmsley got the 50-mile word best while Yamauchi the win.
“You don’t know if you can hit a 50-mile world best or record in route to 100k unless you go try,” Walmsley said.
“Overall definitely more plusses today than one overall minus and I still got a 100k PR,” he added, noting the sun took its toll.
Jim said he was cautious for the first 20 miles of the race, but in retrospect if he wanted to win the 100k and also try and get the 50 mile record, he should have been cautious the second 20 miles, but “I like running with some instinct and sometimes it’s a plus and minus game.”
“Track and marathon really rewards courage and aggression. Ultrarunning is the opposite,” Jim said. We beg to differ as records usually aren’t smashed like Jim has done on the trails without a big dose of courage. Jim wanted and HOKA incentivized him to try to get the 50-mile world record, a sub-6-hour 100k clocking, and the win. All three was going to be a difficult task and that proved the case.
Yamauchi Will Go…Back to Work at His Electronics Job
Like Japan’s most famous current distance runner Yuki Kawauchi was when he won the Boston Marathon, Kawauchi has a full-time job. He works for an electronics company on the administrative side. His official hours are 8:30 to 5 but he often puts in an hour or two in overtime. As a result, he said he only runs a little over 100km (62 miles) a week, in addition to doing strength training. Pretty amazing he can be one of the top ultrarunners in the world on so little mileage.
Yamauchi said he doesn’t know what it would be like to be a pro runner. Up next for him is the Lake Saroma 100k in Japan in June (where the 100k world record was set last year). We asked him if he had any desire to do Comrades and he said while Comrades is not that famous in Japan, he would love to do it if he was invited.
Jim Walmsley Pays Tribute to Eliud Kipchoge
Walmsley had the unique opportunity to pursue multiple records in the same race and he acknowledged that likely cost him the win. In doing so he paid tribute to marathon great Eliud Kipchoge and at the same time showed he’s a reader of LetsRun.com.
“There were a couple of goals out there today and I think today as a team today everybody would have been happy with either. I think this might have been a quote on LetsRun the other day. It was just Eliud Kipchoge saying ‘I’m from Africa and in Africa we don’t chase two rabbits’ so that might have rang in my head today. It’s a good example of that. At least for me today, two records became not the plan” he said referencing this quote of the day from Kipchoge.
Walmsley Now Tries to Defend His Title at Western States, but May Put Emphasis on Comrades in 2020
Now Jim gets to defend his title at “his favorite” race, Western States. He acknowledged a lot of his main competitors are guys he trains with in Flagstaff who would love to beat him and “talk shit.” Jim said defending Western States is an important step in building his ultra resume. And while he loves Western States, he indicated he is keenly aware that he could become an even bigger legend in the sport if he could become the first male ever to win Western States and Comrades.
“I definitely want to give Comrades a shot. [When] you talk about the big road ultras I definitely think that is on the bucket list. I still need to learn a lot about the race before I do it because I don’t want to go there for a learning experience,” he said.
“Comrades: it’s a goal hands down,” he said indicating he wants to do one road ultra a year.
And Walmsley Wants to Do Olympic Trials Only If He Can Run 2:11:30 There
Speaking of doing only one big road race a year, Jim acknowledged one of the biggest road races in the US is the Olympic Marathon Trials. He said that today’s performance made his decision on whether he would run the Olympic Marathon Trials even more difficult. LetsRun.com assumed Jim was going to debut in the marathon at the Olympic Trials. The hilly course in Atlanta would be a course very well suited to Jim. However, the current way USATF says it will pick its Olympic team means that only a runner who has run under 2:11:30 on a marathon course will go to the Olympics. That would mean Jim has to run under 2:11:30 on the tough course in Atlanta. Jim indicated he would only do the Trials if he thought he could do that.
The bold Walmsley said, “In my crazy ideas I want to solo, well maybe not solo, but run under 2:11:30 at the Trials. I’m not going to take a crack at the marathon before that… I don’t like half-assing things… The marathon is the highest level of competitiveness in our sport right now.”
Tyler Andrews’ First Race Over 50k Was a Learning Experience
“I learned that 50-mile and 100k is a lot farther than 50k. The race just beat the crap out of me. I’ve never felt such a precipitous dropoff in a race,” he said.
Andrews said at 50k when he had been passed by Jim he still felt ok, but by 55k he was done. He admitted mentally he got discouraged once Jim passed him.
Up next is the 50k World Champs in September and then the Olympic Marathon Trials.
Patrick Reagan PRs and Gives Some Good Advice
While Reagan gave Jim way more credit for getting the 50-mile world record than he gave himself for running a 100k PR, he was very pleased with his run.
“I think in relative terms I had a great day, a 2-minute PR and my [previous] PR was on a much cooler day. I feel great about it,” Reagan said, noting that he had a great day until the last 3 laps of the course.
Reagan said instead of looking at mile-by-mile splits and getting too caught up in each mile, he looks at his average pace for the entire race. He said it causes less stress. Up next is another matchup versus Walmsley at Western States, where Reagan’s goal is a top 10 so he can get invited back.
Reagan lives in Savannah, Georgia, and to train for Western States he does a lot of treadmill training at a huge grade and often with a weight vest. How does a 15% grade on a treadmill sound?
And he gives neophytes like LetsRun.com who have never seen Western States a primer on the course. You climb 2,400 feet in the first four miles and then this year there will likely be snow for the first 30 miles and some years 115-degree temperatures at the end. It’s a “fire and ice” race. In 2017, he said there were 20 inches of snow on the ground at the start.
Sabrina Little Survives Throwing Up on the Course to Finish
There were only two women in the race and Sabrina Little was the only one to make it to the finish. She came up short of her 7:10 goal (she ran 7:49), but was glad to have finished. “I don’t think my happiness hinges on my performances. I decide to be joyful no matter what happens. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t have the day I wanted… I felt good and was rolling for a solid 20 miles. And with the heat I just felt like a pressure cooker and the goos were not settling well and I had a few lose my lunch incidents and I was weak and I was struggling from there,” she said.
Being the lead woman in this race had one drawback for Sabrina: constant coverage from the cameras. Most ultra races do not have full coverage, but the broadcast of this race was amazing and likely cost six figures. There was 100% coverage of the race with cameras following the men’s and women’s leaders and also a drone flying over at times. Great for fans at home, but Sabrina said she had “social fatigue” and called it an “introvert’s worst nightmare” as the lead women’s car was right in front of her for 62 miles.
She’s a philosophy professor at Morehead State and said she’s run so many miles over the years she’ll only need a day or two to recover. Her next goal will be to get an Olympic Trials qualifier.
LRC note: HOKA ONE ONE paid for LetsRun.com’s transportation and lodging for the Project Carbon X event.
Initially, the article said that Walmsley had run faster than any human for 50 miles but we corrected the article to point out that it’s been done at least once during a downhill Comrades.