by Weldon Johnson, LetsRun.com
May 6, 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. HOKA did pay for Weldon’s transportation to the event.
Saturday’s HOKA ONE ONE Project Carbon X event was the first ultra marathon LetsRun.com had even been too so we’re trying to process it. Two time defending World 100k champ Hideaki Yamauchi got the win in the 100km race, but Jim Walmsley went out harder hoping to get a triple crown of sorts: first break the World Best/American Record for 50 miles, then continue on to smash the 100k World/American record (old record 6:09:14), and in the process become first person under 6 hours for 100k. It proved to be too much as Walmsley faded and had to settle for his “consolation prize” – breaking the 50 mile world record*.
Our big picture takeaway was that on warm day, trying to knock 9 minutes off the world record proved to be too much. Walmsley likes to set huge goals for himself (smashing course records), but running an average 9 seconds a mile faster than anyone ever has in the world for 62.2 miles was a big task and everything needed to go perfect (Editor’s note: 9:14 over 100k comes out to 8.92 second per mile).
Looking back in hindsight, several things weren’t perfect.
- The weather was far from perfect (blazing sun and temps in the 70s by end of race).
- The pacing wasn’t perfect.
Let’s take a deeper look at #2 in detail. One thing we touched on in our race recap is that Walmsley for his first 3 loops on the loop portion of the course (from miles 19.7 to 33.8) was running WAY FASTER than 6 hour pace. He soon would pay the price. The question that will always remain will be, ‘If Walmsley had paced himself more sensibly from mile 20 to 35, could he have broken 6 hours for 100k?’
Probably not is our answer considering the weather, but let’s analyze it in more detail. Some might want to wonder if Walmsley could have broken the 100k world record of 6:09:14 (5:56.5 mile pace) if he had paced himself more sensibly, but that never was on the table for Walmsley as he wanted the 50 mile world record 4:50:51 en route (5:49.0 mile pace) and that record wasn’t going unless he was running close to 6 hour pace for 100k (5:47.6 mile pace). And we have plenty of details to analyze.
While this was far from your typical ultra because it had 100% live streaming coverage with cameras, drones, and a production crew that would be the envy of many televised marathons, it did have one thing that all road ultras can have these days – runners’ GPS data, assuming the runners wear a GPS watch and share it. And that is exactly what Walmsley did so we have his mile by mile splits from his Strava data below.
|1||5:45 /mi||5:45 /mi||-9 ft||140 bpm||160 spm|
|2||5:45 /mi||5:47 /mi||-16 ft||150 bpm||160 spm|
|3||5:45 /mi||5:38 /mi||19 ft||161 bpm||160 spm|
|4||5:46 /mi||5:51 /mi||-42 ft||167 bpm||160 spm|
|5||5:43 /mi||5:43 /mi||-9 ft||165 bpm||160 spm|
|6||5:43 /mi||5:43 /mi||-17 ft||165 bpm||160 spm|
|7||5:44 /mi||5:41 /mi||5 ft||160 bpm||160 spm|
|8||5:46 /mi||5:48 /mi||-26 ft||168 bpm||160 spm|
|9||5:45 /mi||5:44 /mi||-2 ft||167 bpm||162 spm|
|10||5:47 /mi||5:46 /mi||-1 ft||172 bpm||162 spm|
|11||5:46 /mi||5:46 /mi||-18 ft||163 bpm||162 spm|
|12||5:44 /mi||5:43 /mi||-6 ft||161 bpm||162 spm|
|13||5:42 /mi||5:44 /mi||-18 ft||163 bpm||162 spm|
|14||5:41 /mi||5:38 /mi||7 ft||164 bpm||162 spm|
|15||5:43 /mi||5:44 /mi||-23 ft||161 bpm||164 spm|
|16||5:38 /mi||5:36 /mi||8 ft||156 bpm||162 spm|
|17||5:44 /mi||5:44 /mi||-4 ft||163 bpm||162 spm|
|18||6:10 /mi||6:09 /mi||-3 ft||160 bpm||156 spm|
|19||5:41 /mi||5:37 /mi||11 ft||152 bpm||164 spm|
|20||5:38 /mi||5:37 /mi||-12 ft||152 bpm||164 spm|
|21||5:39 /mi||5:38 /mi||-5 ft||155 bpm||164 spm|
|22||5:37 /mi||5:31 /mi||16 ft||163 bpm||164 spm|
|23||5:34 /mi||5:32 /mi||-6 ft||163 bpm||164 spm|
|24||5:30 /mi||5:30 /mi||7 ft||157 bpm||164 spm|
|25||5:27 /mi||5:27 /mi||-12 ft||153 bpm||164 spm|
|26||5:37 /mi||5:35 /mi||-5 ft||157 bpm||162 spm|
|27||5:38 /mi||5:34 /mi||10 ft||158 bpm||162 spm|
|28||5:34 /mi||5:31 /mi||2 ft||160 bpm||164 spm|
|29||5:25 /mi||5:24 /mi||5 ft||158 bpm||164 spm|
|30||5:23 /mi||5:23 /mi||-18 ft||165 bpm||164 spm|
|31||5:31 /mi||5:29 /mi||-2 ft||168 bpm||164 spm|
|32||5:33 /mi||5:29 /mi||12 ft||164 bpm||164 spm|
|33||5:38 /mi||5:35 /mi||3 ft||163 bpm||164 spm|
|34||5:34 /mi||5:35 /mi||-5 ft||153 bpm||162 spm|
|35||5:42 /mi||5:41 /mi||-18 ft||152 bpm||164 spm|
|36||5:48 /mi||5:45 /mi||7 ft||153 bpm||162 spm|
|37||5:50 /mi||5:46 /mi||-2 ft||153 bpm||162 spm|
|38||5:51 /mi||5:46 /mi||21 ft||157 bpm||162 spm|
|39||5:45 /mi||5:44 /mi||-7 ft||160 bpm||162 spm|
|40||5:59 /mi||5:59 /mi||-7 ft||157 bpm||162 spm|
|41||6:05 /mi||5:58 /mi||22 ft||159 bpm||160 spm|
|42||6:02 /mi||5:58 /mi||0 ft||160 bpm||162 spm|
|43||5:55 /mi||5:54 /mi||0 ft||169 bpm||162 spm|
|44||5:55 /mi||5:54 /mi||-4 ft||172 bpm||162 spm|
|45||6:08 /mi||6:05 /mi||-5 ft||169 bpm||160 spm|
|46||6:05 /mi||6:00 /mi||10 ft||163 bpm||162 spm|
|47||6:03 /mi||5:59 /mi||4 ft||161 bpm||162 spm|
|48||6:05 /mi||6:04 /mi||5 ft||162 bpm||160 spm|
|49||6:05 /mi||6:06 /mi||-18 ft||159 bpm||162 spm|
|50||6:11 /mi||6:09 /mi||-2 ft||164 bpm||162 spm|
|51||16:25 /mi||16:10 /mi||7 ft||148 bpm||92 spm|
|52||18:17 /mi||17:56 /mi||14 ft||111 bpm||104 spm|
|53||13:50 /mi||13:46 /mi||8 ft||113 bpm||120 spm|
|54||12:51 /mi||12:51 /mi||-24 ft||131 bpm||116 spm|
|55||8:22 /mi||8:18 /mi||3 ft||151 bpm||160 spm|
|56||8:39 /mi||8:33 /mi||12 ft||153 bpm||156 spm|
|57||7:23 /mi||7:16 /mi||14 ft||148 bpm||150 spm|
|58||7:07 /mi||7:10 /mi||-24 ft||153 bpm||144 spm|
|59||7:04 /mi||7:01 /mi||4 ft||148 bpm||162 spm|
|60||7:14 /mi||7:07 /mi||18 ft||148 bpm||162 spm|
|61||7:52 /mi||7:44 /mi||12 ft||147 bpm||154 spm|
|62||6:57 /mi||6:56 /mi||4 ft||140 bpm||162 spm|
|0.66||8:22 /mi||8:25 /mi||-24 ft||143 bpm||136 spm|
What does the data show?
The first 19.7 miles were gradually down hill and you can see that Jim held to his mantra of “caution” and went pretty close to 6 hour pace (5:47.6 mile pace if you want to be super precise) (the Strava splits are going to be a little bit short, and also because of rounding any total time you add up will be short of the actual total time at the point).
One thing to note is something happened on mile 18 when Jim ran a 6:10 mile. Not sure if that was a quick pit stop or what, but besides that everything looks normal.
When he hit the flats for the 9 remaining 4.7 mile loops on the course, however, Walmsley immediately upped the tempo.
All the miles from 20 to 34 were way faster than world record pace as all 15 of those miles them were sub 5:40, with 9 of those miles being under 5:38 including three sub-5:30s. It’s important to realize that when Jim ran miles 29 and 30 at in 5:25 and 5:23, he was running more than 20 seconds per mile faster than sub-6 hour pace (5:47.6) and more 30 seconds per mile faster than 100k world record pace (5:56.5 mile pace) and at a pace that if he maintained it for the entire race would produce a winning time nearly 34 minutes faster than the world record (5:35:33 vs 6:09:14).
It wasn’t until mile 35 that Jim ran his first mile on the flats over 5:40 as that mile was 5:42.
Could he settle in in the 5:40s? No.
Real quickly Walmsley went from running in the 5:30s to running in the 5:50s. His 36th mile was 5:48 and 37th 5:50. Considering 5:48 is 6 hour pace and 5:57 pace was the old world record Jim would be OK if he could right the ship and run right around 6 minute miles the rest of the way, but he was tiring and had nearly a full marathon yet to run to get to 100k (25 miles to go).
Jim said it was around the 38th mile when his attention shifted to just getting the 50 mile world record as he was in survival mode. He held up ok for the next few miles, not running a Strava mile over 6:00 until mile 41 and not letting any get over 6:10 pace, but he was visibly straining. However, as he approached mile 50, the bounce returned to his stride and he kicked it in to make history by breaking the 50 mile record. But to show how tired he was, his 50th mile was the slowest of the race up to that point – 6:11 – despite the fact that he kicked it in. Jim was clearly gassed and immediately started to jog/walk and soon was sitting on the side of the road. The world best for 50 miles was his, but now it was about just getting to the finish for 100k.
(The video below is a full race replay but it set to start just before the 80k mark (20 seconds before the 50 mile mark where Jim breaks the world record). Jim at first crossed the 80k mark and everyone cheers (assuming it was the 50 mile mark and he had broken the world record), but in reality the 50 mile mark is just down the road another 20 seconds or so).
After the race, Jim said he was cautious for the first 20 miles of the race, but in retrospect said 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 too, but “I like running with some instinct and sometimes it’s a plus and minus game.”
Other notes: After the race, there was some talk as to whether Walmsley’s 50 mile world record would be certified by USATF as USATF rules state that all records attempts much come in a “bona fide scratch competition” open to runners from two or more clubs (see this messageboard board thread: Walmsley’s record may not count). The LRC thought process on this is it should get approved as the runners were from different clubs as they were from all over the world, but just had the same sponsor (Yamauchi had never run for HOKA before to our knowledge, Walmsley trains in Flagstaff, Andrews in Mass, Reagan in Georgia).
Additional analysis on Walmsley and the Eliud Kipchoge and the Olympic Trials appears below. The stuff below appeared in the final version of our race recap, but many of you read the recap before it was finalized so we are including it again below.
Jim Walmsley Pays Tribute to Eliud Kipchoge By Talking About Chasing Two Rabbits (Records) at Once)
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.”
*Technically the 50 mile “distance” is a “world best” and not “world record” distance according to the IAAF, but we at LetsRun.com often just call record performances at “off” distances “world records”.