May 15, 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.
LetsRun.com’s Weldon Johnson conducted a 2+ hour interview on Tuesday with HOKA ONE ONE ultrarunning star Jim Walmsley on Tuesday.
We’re going to publish the entire interview as a podcast later in the week so if you have time for that, we recommend you hold off and listen to it in its entirety. Update: It’s been published here. But we know not everyone does the podcast thing so we’ve transcribed the best/most informative parts of the interview for you below. The highlights are still very long – more than 14,000 words (and we cut out a decent amount) – but we think you’ll learn a lot about ultra running – we know we did.
Walmsley earlier this month set a new 50 mile world’s best of 4:50:07 at the Hoka One One Project Carbon X 100K Challenge on May 5, 2019, breaking Bruce Fordyce‘s previous record from 1984 by less than a minute.
Walmsley has already recovered from that effort and is training to try and defend his Western States 100 mile crown in June, where last year he set a course record of 14:30:04.
“Yesterday was kind of my first like 11 mile run back and the legs feel good now….I think yesterday I labeled (my run yesterday on my Strava account) as ‘Western States day one.’ So every step has a purpose now which is pretty powerful,” said Walmsley.
Note, some answers/questions have been edited for clarity. The order of a few things also were occasionally switched.
Weldon Johnson (LRC): So you got the 50 mile record. Are you pleased with things, still? With 10 days to reflect, are any of your impressions different than they were 10 days ago, like how do you view the weekend?
Jim Walmsley (JW): I would say it was an overall really successful weekend. I think the main goals were to try to set a record, it wasn’t necessary to distinguish which one. Sub six hour pace for the 100k would have been the nicest because it puts you en route for world records on everything. So that would be pretty cool. But that didn’t happen. But the 50 mile world record is pretty awesome. It’s got a lot of history behind it, big positives to that.
But I’d say there’s things I could have done better, I should have done better in the race and executed better on race day. So there’s really big positives, but still plenty to build off of and learn and do better next time….
(later in podcast) In general, I think there were multiple objectives for this. It’s kind of cool how things worked out especially with a few of the Japanese athletes coming over for Hideki (Yamauchi) to pull off, like the win in the 100k, I felt like there were individual small victories where it brought together a really good camaraderie amongst the athletes competing out there and it was kind of fun and happy to celebrate with them afterwards.
A really cool part about the HOKA Project Carbon X was that it really got to throw a kickback to – (remember) HOKA got their start in ultra running – kind of their heritage and their grassroots. So I think that was really important.
But with this as well, I would say a road ultra like this is kind of a glimpse of like that folklore magic of what you get at something like Western States or UTMB or Comrades like there’s so much more build up to it and especially where everyone’s announced in the race and you get to talk it up because people love the debate before the race more than the race itself. But this one really did touch base on kind of the grassroots of ultrarunning.
LRC: The one thing I learned from this whole sort of exploration of the ultra scene sponsored by HOKA is that just so much can happen. There’s just so many more variables in ultra running and I think it makes it maybe a bit more interesting for the neophyte for sure – just because, I feel like with a lot of track races you kind of know who is going to win.
JW: I would say it’s way more interesting. I think everything is almost always left up for debate so everybody can still have their opinion and not necessarily be right or wrong. Ultra running is a lot about how you did it and kind of the legend or folklore of the story behind that race – like every year a specific race has its own story behind it that might have made it incredible even though it’s a slower time. It’s like but this one was like truly the best effort (for a variety of reasons) and stuff like that. So it’s all kind of part of the sport and makes it more, maybe interactive for for most people to talk about.
LRC: And then there’s there’s interesting storylines, right. Like when people move up and distance you never know what’s going to happen. (Take) Tyler Andrews, you know, he was going for it. Talk about that for a minute
JW: He really did go for it. He’s also on Strava and when you look at this training, he’s not your typical road marathoner. He’s done up to like hundred 160-200 mile weeks. And he’s a really big fan of the double. So he’ll run twice a day. And he was really getting into speed workouts before this. And I mean, I’m sure he would tell you is probably in the best shape of his life for this event.
And he has a PR, I think of 2:15 for the marathon. So definitely pretty respectable in that discipline. And he’s got the world record of 50k on the track, I think in like 2:46, I want to say so, but he lacked the experience in the 100k and going further in ultras, and what’s going to come later in the race.
And yeah, it kind of proved a little bit that ultrarunning is at least slightly different and it’s difficult to just drop yourself in and have immediate success.
LRC: Yeah, when he’s there at the press conference, you guys were all friendly, but were you thinking like, ‘Man, I know it’s coming to you.’ What were you thinking before the race?
JW: Um, I think I very much respected him as an athlete. And I mean, I would talk to guys in Flag(staff) and most people were more casual like, uh, ‘I think he’s gonna struggle in like 100 K, like, in even 50 miles, I don’t think I just don’t see it.”
But for me personally, like getting psyched up for the race and then especially even how the race played out I let him go because I knew he was going to want to push the pace early. It’s what he talked about before the race and I only learned that maybe like a week before the race because I think he was very confident about how well his training was and the fitness that he had going in. So he wanted to push the pace and for me, it’s like, ‘We’re already like, under world record pace, under six hour pace. Hold the reins, it’s coming. Don’t worry. It’s a world record for a reason. Because, like, things get very difficult very fast and what was easy is now impossible.’ So that (comes from having) a little more experience with it.
(But I had) enough respect (to think), ‘I need to start closing this gap to Tyler because what if he does stick it? And what if he does just run away with it?’ It’s one of those classic, LetsRun debates of like what happens when you stick a better marathoner in there? And it’s like, all right, we tried a 2:15 guy, now let’s plug in a 2:10 guy in there, now let’s plug a 2:08 guy in there and now let’s plug a 2:05 guy in there and like do they just keep falling domino after domino? Or does one finally stick it?
What’s interesting about Tyler though is he gets really high mileage and I think it gives him a much better chance at converting it faster than a (regular) marathoner that’s 100 to 140 miles a week.
But something I did in my training that more so than anyone else – Pat Reagan’s probably the next to do this because we both have Western States in almost six weeks now – was keeping more vertical running and trail running into my routine to get ready for the next race because we tend to kind of cycle things in and out of races and roll one race right into another training block to get ready.
So I think that paid off a lot in the strength of how I was able to hold on to mistakes and sometimes too fast of a pace in the middle miles for me and hold on enough to still get the the 50 mile world record and even finish the race. I mean, I kind of took my little breather afterwards but things kind of felt and went along fine for the the 12 miles after the 50 mile without really pushing things at all…
(But) as a trail runner, I shouldn’t have made this mistake, but I was kind of looking into my GPS (watch) too much. And as a trail runner, you know, like the distance is never as advertised. It can always be longer or shorter.
But we were on a road (so) you really expect it to be true. And I think I was looking into that too much – and between not taking tangents enough or going off the course a little bit to use the restroom and coming back on, little things like that add up to distance – and I actually had like .35 of a mile (to run) further than what I thought so I thought I was going to be more in a comfortable like 4:48 or 4:49 for the (50 mile) world record.
But all of a sudden like, I’m like getting closer and closer (to the old record time of 4:50:51) and I’m like, ‘I don’t see it (the finish line).’ I’ve done the loop multiple times. I know I got like a ways to go and it’s like, ‘Oh crap,” and things kind of became like, all right, we gotta like ratchet it down this last like half or quarter mile sort of thing that I just wasn’t expecting. But you start gaming ait a little bit because yeah, it’s a world record. It hurts. It’s not supposed to be comfortable. It’s not supposed to be easy. And I think I was also paying back some stupid middle miles.
LRC: But yeah, you were running some middle miles under 5:30 and I think 6:00 pace for 100k is 5:48 and that’s nuts.
JW: In retrospect it was stupid.
Before the race I got asked, like everybody got asked, ‘What is your motto?’ And when it was my turn to say and I just had one word, ‘Caution.’ And I think I lived up to that for the first 20 miles like my plan, like I wanted to, but then the pacers started dropping out and I started finding my own rhythm to kind of loosen my legs up a bit and I probably went like somewhere between 10 to 15 miles clicking anywhere from low 520s to 535. And then all of a sudden, round mile 38 it’s like, “Uh oh. That probably wasn’t the best idea,’ and temperatures are starting to warm up. I think I should have started increasing my liquids.
Like my nutrition plan, I think I should have had a plan to increase liquids throughout the race and I didn’t really compensate liquid wise for the temperatures in the later stages of the race. Things get hard very quick when you kind of cross that line a little bit, and who knows, maybe I would have saved a really good 100k time if I had maintained that motto of, ‘Caution, caution. wait.’ And there’s no reason I should have been clicking anything under 5:40 at this point, and yeah I would say in retrospect that’s probably the biggest disappointment. I feel like I made preventable mistakes.
LRC: But wouldn’t you say that’s sort of who you are maybe even some of your appeal. You’re not afraid to sort of set really big record or just go for it. And we may not end up pretty all the time, but I think a lot of people respect it.
JW: Yeah, I definitely have eaten my words more times than once and, but I also say that’s what gets me most excited about training and pushing myself is kind of having that eye on me and (people asking), ‘What is he going to do?’ And it’s like well I better train my ass off because everybody is watching and I just said I was going to do this so yeah it kind of sets you up for huge success or huge failure and it makes it fun and exciting both to watch and for me as a athlete to train for.
I think this was absolutely like invaluable experience that I can take forward into a future 100k but also a future Comrades as well and unfortunately more road ultras. Like I would say my passion and heart is definitely with some trail ultras, but I feel like I have time in my career to do that, but with the road ultra stuff, the clock is ticking. So I feel like I need to get the best performances out of myself while I I’m still a little bit younger and can click those splits more comfortably.
LRC: The Hoka Carbon X shoes are dropping today.. I feel like Kipchoge has his own shoe and you have a shoe. How many other runners can say that?
JW: Well, I’d say neither one of us truly have a shoe. Karl Metzler actually truly has issue called the Speed Goat which is his nickname. But yeah, maybe someday Kipchoge and I can get shoes named after us.
LRC: Real quick. Hideaki Yamauchi (the two-time world 100k champ) claimed to me that he only runs like 500 kilometers a month. (Is that possible?)
JW: Yeah, I’ve heard that. I think the mentality of Japanese runners plays really well to an ultra.
From the stories of like, they have these 1k loops around the perimeter of a park and they run single file and there’s just this track edge (to run on). Something like that that’s just so mind numbing, and (takes so much) discipline to go out and just jog it every day, I think can play very powerfully in the ultras.
And then in addition,he’s very patient. He ran with better caution. ..
So he’s got really good attributes that can translate to ultras and it’s not just all running.
To do it on like just 100k a week (or training), yeah, it’s pretty insane. I wouldn’t feel comfortable myself training that way. But I’ve always been a higher mileage guy.
LRC: So how much on average, would you say you say you run? And does that really change at lot for the event. If you’re doing 100 k on the roads is that different from a Western States versus UTMB, or are you on your feet the same amount of time per week?
JW: I would say with my training thinks change drastically. I try to race like about every other month, kind of a bigger race and things will cycle up and down with that between taper and then build back up. So you get these dips and then these training blocks. And I think it’s important to build the training blocks continuously together without too, too much rest, but you can definitely vary the intensity of the training blocks to kind of pace yourself to not burn out. I also say like a lot of ultra runners, but myself included and a lot of us like in our group, the Coconino Cowboys in Flagstaff, are self coached. And it’s one of those intuition things that you just have to kind of learn, in my opinion, to not overdo it and sometimes I do and sometimes they do and other people do.
But the more you can be in tune with that, the better I think because being healthy and logging miles is one of the most powerful things and I mean, I think even yourself and LetsRun are huge advocates of long slow distance or just mileage and and i don’t think anyone’s arguing of season after season of being healthy of like, that’s obviously going to build on to reaching new levels for yourself. For me personally, things definitely changed a lot with different goals. But things don’t necessarily specialize until about six weeks or so before the race. So you bring a lot of fitness into each block, but then the specificity can change drastically. So for the half marathon in January, I was getting on the track more regularly than I had, than I’ve ever done since graduating college in 2012. Which was really fun to start with, and then all of a sudden very quickly fizzled out of like, I don’t like this routine. It’s not as interesting and as exciting for me.
And kind of that road workout passion fizzled pretty quickly, which worries me little, a lot of bit about doing a bigger marathon block that might be four months long.
So then things transition very quickly to a 50 mile race out in Hong Kong, and immediately got back on to the trails and onto the (Grand) Canyon and things had to adjust slow but getting in that climbing to strengthen the legs right back up was very important to me. And then my Western States (training) will be probably a really fun, it’s generally a really fun combination of climbing, running fast long runs. I would say a faster rolling long run is one of the big staples of Western States training and that’ll be like a 20 to 26 mile run on typically a dirt road
And then something like UTMB is going to involve actually more hiking. It’s different muscles, different energy systems. So I get up to Colorado up in the San Juan area and do a lot more higher altitude hiking, typically with my race pack or extra gear to make it a bit heavier and yeah, we get out the the wizard sticks and start using some poles that hike around really high mountains. Typically I try to keep hiking above treeline and then if it’s below tree line I try to be running it. And then time on feet, the more mountainous stuff you’re doing and more technical training, technical trails, your times just going to skyrocket just because it’s not running on the roads anymore. What’s an easy effort on a trail might be in Flagstaff, it could very well be eight to nine minute per mile, but that’s probably a 630 to 730 effort wise on the urban trail system around town. So it’s going to vary for people but time on feet just starts exploding and it’s really important for especially the longer grind-ier ultras.
And then I guess for bigger races, I like getting to probably between 130 to 150 miles a week. I also log my vertical feet climbed and typically it’s going to be equal to vertical feet descended, but I log everything on Strava online and basically everything’s public for everyone to learn what I’m doing and try to copy it or take in what might benefit them. I think that’s something unusual that I’ve done that people really appreciate is the transparency to my training. So Jonathan Galt can like anyone else go on Strava and look up my Strava, and everything’s on there.
LRC: You’re not afraid to be giving away your secrets?
JW: No, because one of the things I’ve learned is I can handle a really big workload and I don’t get hurt very much. Yeah, I’ve avoided injuries very well.
And so far, like people have tried copying my training and typically they keep up for a little while and then they have something happen and all of a sudden, like, that wasn’t a very good plan was it?
But then I also have some of my best friends here in Flagstaff that do very similar stuff and have had really great success translating that into their ultra trail running and I think in general we have a very healthy and fun group that pushes each other and also really embraces true kind of ultra running and answering that, ‘Why (do we do it?)’ and, and I think we’ve kind of got – we’ve even compared it to a college team – we have a really great group of guys here in Flagstaff.
So I log vertical feet and then when I’m doing something for like UTMB or there’s still many races that are much harder than UTMB arguably like Wasatch 100, Big Horn 100, Hard Rock 100 here in the States are some of the more famous ones.
Other ultra runners- I think Kilian Jornet he logs mostly I think feet climbed. And then I think Courtney Dauwalter is all about time. And both of those are really powerful, especially time for Courtney, of how she translates things into such long ultras and such grindy stuff. It’s just a really powerful skill to hone in on in longer ultras.
Kilian is extremely difficult to beat on really steep technical stuff. That’s kind of his niche. But I would say I have a good balance of runnable difficult trail running/ training, but coming from a road track background sort of thing I still log miles first.
LRC: It’s amazing. And I maybe I should have started off saying you’ve qualified for the Olympic trials with 64:00 half marathon because the more I learn about this, I’m sort of amazed you could do that while doing these other things. They’re just so very different. (64 flat is 4:52.9 pace and yet) whereas for a 100k you are running 5:50 essentially. Yeah, I think it’s just such a different skill set.
JW: I think you guys had Sage Canaday on the other week and his biggest thing that he harps on is just like “variable efficiency.” And I think that’s a great way to put it. Just learning to be efficient at different paces.
Courtney’s got a different efficiency pace than I do, and probably the slower you can make your efficiency pace a lot of times the more useful it is in the longer harder ultras, because a faster guy will move to a little slower pace to make it that distance. And all of a sudden, they’re like, they’re not used to it. They’re using different muscles and things start to hurt very early and they’re like, ‘What is going on? I’m only 25 miles in and I’m only doing like eight minute miles.’ And it’s like, ‘Well, welcome to ultrarunning, you’ve got 75 more miles to go and you can pick it up if you like, but you’re going to pay that back even harder.’
With track there’s this like whole, like (strategy) of hide your cards. I’m doing something different that nobody else is doing. And I think the best track runners all know that, like, they’re all doing the same thing. They’re all doing the same workouts. It’s not a big deal. But whether you’re Matt Centrowitz or Eliud Kipchoge or Jenny Simpson, like for the most, well, let’s not throw Eliud in there, but Galen Rupp, I mean, they’re all gonna be doing some staple workouts that are very similar to each other.
LRC: One thing you also said is a 2:10 guy can outsmart a 2:05 guy or something along those lines, like the most talented guy doesn’t necessarily win. You’ve got to be ready on the day. They don’t just awarded the medal to who has the best PR.
JW: Yeah, probably one of the coolest points about this point in my career is I say, ‘I’m not doing anything new at each ultra I’m signing up for but the ability to replicate a good performance is its own skill.’ And I think that shows that you’ve you’ve actually dialed something in when you’re able to replicate a good performance. And then even in ultra trail running to replicate something, but also adjust it for different circumstances. And I say ultra trail running is almost probably more pure and beautiful because there’s not a scientific approach to it as much. It’s more of going back to that intuition side. And kind of, I would say, more artful with how you feel you can train and where you need to put more emphasis on right now, and what skills are you bringing into this block that you can use better for the race? Or what have you been leaving out that you need to improve before the next race, and a lot of times, that for myself, it’s when I drop down in the races of incorporating a couple of track workouts, but it doesn’t take a whole lot typically for an ultra to harness that efficiency at a decent cadence and pace.
LRC: You talk about replicating the performance and I always feel like the top people in more traditional running, they almost always win. They almost always have good performances and I’m sure there’s times they’re sick. The training hasn’t gone well, but they sort of know how to get the best (out of themselves). And I feel like it sounds like just you sort of figured that out.(But) in the ultras more stuff can go wrong, right? There’s more variables because the one thing with most people road races is they are run in pretty good weather. And that’s definitely not the case (with ultras).
JW: We run throughout the whole day. And I think one of the parts about our sport is that we embrace the adversity of the hard parts of the day. And the hotter it can be, the more interesting it’s going to be or the colder it is, the more interesting or the more rugged and mountainous, it just adds more variability of like, well, they’re doing great now, but they still got a long way to go. And yeah, I think as we saw on the 50 mile, like, things could be clicking for 40 miles, and then all of a sudden, like, things start to tighten up a little bit. And that last 10 can be a just different ball game than anything else in the rest of the race.
LRC: (Ok this is the) last kind of training question, I feel like most more traditional running (people do) two workouts a week of some extent, you know, maybe a tempo run, then some intervals or something and then a long run. I know maybe there’s changes (for specific) events but do you sort of stick to that mindset of sort of three harder efforts (a week, with at least one easier day in between) or is it more it’s five days a week that are sort of difficult?
JW: I think you need to throw that mentality away. So one of the most important things you can do about ultrarunning I think is fully commit to it. And that’s probably one of the hardest things for elite runners on the road or track to maybe do to translate to ultra running is kind of forget a lot of what you know in the structure of it (the week). It needs to be more about the overall process week to week or month a month as opposed to breaking down the week. I would say like for most of us, we we use that kind of rolly long run, typically a Saturday or Sunday, so still in line with traditional road guys, but that’s probably one of our more workout oriented runs.
And then other than that one of the best parts about a trail is like, well, nobody else really knows exactly what that trails like. So if you go jog something at a 10 minute pace, it’s like well, yeah, but I climbed 4000 feet today like, or I mean if you can go under a 10 minute pace out of South Kaibab (in the Grand Canyon), that’s an insane pace. Most people are very much above 12 minute pace climbing out of the Canyon but that’s a super hard effort. So you kind of got to feel your efforts with the trail but a trail kind of disguises like easy, hard days and you got to take advantage when you’re feeling good. And when you’re feeling tired, you need to also respect that and it might be a couple days of just jogging out there but you get the mileage, you get the grinding, you get the vertical and that’s equally as beneficial in trail running as it is getting in that faster upbeat stuff to.
LRC: What’s one piece of advice you would give to other runners?
It depends on the runner, nut consistency is key. Just like any running, I think making a plan to get out the door every day is probably the most important thing. And especially like, I came from, I ran in college, and then I went active duty Air Force and kind of I had the balance trying to figure out like a lot of post-collegiates, like, (the work-running balance). And I didn’t have the prs to necessarily like just keep at it on the track and it’s like, well, what am I going to train for?
The biggest thing was like off days started becoming contagious – that’s kind of the saying I made for it. So just one of the most important things, especially as I knew I was going to be transitioning out of the military was making a plan to get out the door and run every day. And that consistency is the most important part. And that doesn’t mean you don’t take off days. There’s still days where like, I get just super slammed and tired. And it’s like, all right, this is a day I need to take off. And that’s totally fine and it’s worth it. But I personally am not a fan of planned off days. I think you should take the spontaneous off day when you really need it most.
LRC: One of the announcers at the Carbon X event was Juli Henner (now Benson), your college coach. And it’s pretty interesting to talk to her because she made it sound like you were kind of difficult to coach in college. The one thing she was saying was that like, you would just push, push, push, do more and more and more. She kind of had this battle with you.
And then finally I think one summer she said she just let you, she’s like, ‘All right, Jim, forget it, you know, you’re not listening to me, do what you want to do this summer.’ She said you came back and like the sickest shape and if NCAA cross country was that first week of school, you have been like top 20.
JW: And unfortunately, I’m also very known for burning out pretty quickly in seasons. I think the structure of a whole season really like, wears me down. One of the best parts about ultrarunning is that there’s not necessarily like a season that you’re competing through, you get to kind of peak for an event and then peak for an event and they’re spread out enough where I’m able to just kind of hit one race and then rest, recover, train, hit a race.
So I really like the ebbs and flows that come with the seasons of ultrarunning. Where like a collegiate season of racing all indoors and then racing all outdoors and then summer and then cross country and repeat, yeah, I didn’t quite ever figure that out great, I think.
LRC: But it sounds like in some ways you kind of have because you started doing your own thing and figuring out what works for you, whereas I feel like so many people, maybe they listen to the coach exactly, but the coach isn’t going to understand your body exactly like you are. You’ve gotta kind of figure it out.
JW: Well, I was telling you earlier, I think one of the things that I was frustrated with in college was Juli kept me a lower mileage in college than I was at in high school. But there’s lots of reasons for it, and I think it was the best call, because adjusting to altitude, workouts at altitude, a service academy life, just lots of stresses. It was a really good life learning time of learning how to balance stress, more so than more and more and more, especially running-related.
But then philosophically, she’s probably mindsetted more like a true 800-meter runner and loves the hard, fast workouts. And those were the hardest workouts for me that I would pay back the most in training. And yeah, I found very early in high school that I very much like the longer, bigger mileage and I draw a lot of strength off of that training that plays out very well for me.
And so philosophically, I think we didn’t always align perfectly, but I learned so much from her and that different opinion and it was a pretty rewarding process in college. And [I] probably have a faster mile time than I would otherwise.
LRC: Yeah, 4:01 on the DMR, is that right?
JW: Yeah. And then official 4:04 for the open mile.
LRC: See that gets you the respect on LetsRun.
JW: No, no, no. There’s always another bar and it’s like, “Well, he didn’t break 4:00,’ and then like, ‘Well, you ran 3:59 but you’re you’re still nowhere near the top guys in the US.’ I mean, you think there’s a couple guys even like under 3:50 right now. So it’s like, there’s always another one.
And I think that’s one of the most important parts of having a career is always adjusting your goals as you go like, and that’s something I learned in high school. Like, you’ve gotta have a foresight to adjust your goals afterwards, and that’s when it’s going to keep you motivated and keep you going. So there’s always higher goals to set for.
LRC: See, I think the typical LetsRunner is conflicted with you because you are a 4:01 guy,
Sub-14:00 5k guy. So they’re like, ‘Yeah, he’s gonna take it to the ultra people.’ But then at the same time, they’re like, ‘Oh, ultras, we can’t respect that too much.’
But I think I was kind of surprised when Mike McManus said you’re one of the more polarizing people and I’m like, ‘I feel like Jim’s very popular on LetsRun for an ultra[runner] because we feel like you’re one of us and an ultrarunner and so maybe people are kind of more intrigued, they can kind of relate to what you do and and also they see like, ‘Hey, this guy, he doesn’t have to do ultras.’
I feel like the implication is some other guys couldn’t run the shorter stuff, so that’s why they moved to ultras. It may not be totally fair, but that’s sort of the assumption, whereas Juli told me, “Yeah, I told Jim he could be an 8:20 steepler and he’s like, ‘Oh, why would I want to be that? That’s not the best.’” And I’m like, well maybe you could make an Olympic team. And is there any truth to that?
JW: Olympic team on the steeple?
LRC: Yeah, do you think you could have been an 8:20 steepler?
JW: Yeah, I think I could have ran 8:20 in the steeple. My steeple form was absolutely terrible. I said, it was kind of like watching some guy bounce over a steeple and just turn a steeplechase into the hardest fartlek you’ve ever seen. I was just terrible at it.
And I ended up running it five times and like, I guess, first time I broke 9:00, second time I did it at the conference meet and won conference against like 8:40-something steeple guys that had been steepling. And then luckily for me though, it was at the Air Force Academy at pretty high altitude. There’s NAU, Wyoming, and Air Force Academy that are at that altitude in DI and competing at 7,000 feet, I kind of jokingly said, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Because you can come up from 5,000 feet and it’s just not the same.
And then my [third] one was at regionals down in Texas and I qualified for nationals with like an 8:51. And then the semifinals [at NCAAs], I ran 8:41.
And then, two days later tried to come back in Des Moines and race again and I think the gorilla finally jumped on my back at that point, and I don’t even know what I ran.
But yeah, not much steeple experience. But I was really fit my senior year. I was able to hop in the 10k for what I consider like my only 10k in college and ran 29:08 — or only 10k ever, really — for a time. And then was running really tactically good 5ks, but the way graduation stuff worked out, President Obama was coming our graduation and that was something that I didn’t want to miss as a life experience and the way things worked out, I probably should have done the 10k, but that was the day after graduation and being a military academy, we stand all day for graduation and then so that’s not quite ideal. So I ended up going with the steeplechase instead and just going for it.
LRC: That’s cool. I think so many LetsRunners get so caught up and running. Like, ‘Oh my god, I gotta do the 10k, I can’t see the president speak at my graduation.’
JW: Yeah, it’s one of those things. Yeah, I had missed out on a lot of NCAA ways that I felt like I was fit enough and fast enough but didn’t quite get it done. And it just turned into [a] lesson, just saying, ‘I don’t care what event it is, I’m gonna figure out a way before I graduate to get to NCAAs, and yeah, it ended up being through the steeplechase.
And yeah, it would have been cool to do the 10k. I want to say Jared Ward was in my only 10k. But I definitely got my butt kicked by Stephen Sambu in that race, and then a Mexican runner, I think it was Barrios, but I think there’s a couple Barrioses out there, but got quite a few scalps in that 10k, which was kind of cool.
LRC: And you beat Jared Ward in college, right? Let’s just get that out there.
JW: Yeah. So I want to say that was the 10k (Editor’s note: Walmsley beat Ward and Scott Fauble in the 10k at the 2012 Mt. SAC Relays). But I think I graduated that year. So he’s older than me, but I graduated that year, he had another year. And I think he really started to blossom the next year in college and then obviously developed a lot as a professional on the roads after college.
LRC: All right, before we talk, whether you can beat Jared Ward at the Olympic Trials next year,let’s real quickly rewind. I want to go through your sort of like, we kind of did college, but sort of what your first memories of running, running in high school, that sort of stuff. I mean, you’re a very good runner in high school making Foot Lockers, but did you run as a kid before high school? How’d you start running, that sort of thing?
JW: Um, I mean, I guess like we had field day once a year in elementary school, it would go up to an 800. I was usually pretty good at that. But I grew up playing soccer, so that’s probably where the fitness stuff comes in. I think in middle school, we had like a month-long track program that I did 7th/8th grade.
But I would also say [I] didn’t start running until my freshman year of high school, where a fellow soccer friend that was a year older talked me into coming out for the cross country team. We were in a really competitive soccer program, so that was kind of an extreme no-no to start doing a sport that much. But my soccer coaches were pretty encouraging of it, because they’re like, you’re one of the best like fitness runners we have on the team, probably the best, and I think this is only going to complement it even more so. So yeah, it’d be great as a second sport, just soccer is still your first sport.
And I really enjoyed the community and friends and the social aspect of being on a high school sports team, as opposed to a club soccer team that basically I could go to school every day and no one knows that I’m even an athlete because it’s just outside of school sports. So I ended up getting a group of friends on the cross country team and really choosing that part of it to my sophomore year end up, just going into running. I was getting hurt too much along with, it was just a time in my life where I was growing still. So freshman/sophomore year was the first time like kind of dealing with injuries. So my parents were like, ‘Oh, Jim, it’s time to choose sports, like you’re just starting to break and you can’t do both sports and I think they were fully expecting me to just quit running and do soccer and I kind of threw my parents a curveball when I decided to do running instead.
And then I guess in high school, this is probably relevant, and kind of gets some people really excited because it’s one of these things like who’s one of the runners that you started looking up to first and probably you admire most. And still, I think is one of the most fascinating stories is Kenny Cormier. Being from Arizona, I got to read my freshman year about Kenny Cormier in the newspaper and kind of his story of coming out of nowhere, big mileage and just outworking everybody to become a Foot Locker national champ, I think that really set my sights and goals in high school a lot. It was just that lucky part of being a freshman in Arizona, reading about this guy that just started dominating out of Douglas High School.
LRC: So Kenny was Foot Locker champion, looks like just googling this, [in] 2004 and he was known for just banging out the miles.
JW: And even at Arkansas, he was just known as like. So yeah, I like that story, throwing his name out there.
LRC: So he was a senior when you were a freshman?
LRC: Oh, interesting the sort of influences that people have. And also, your high school teammate, he ran Western States?
JW: Yeah, so another senior when I was a freshman, James Bonnett, he was the youngest Western States finisher ever at the time, up until a year or two ago. But they don’t allow people under 18 to run Western States basically, and he was like 18, and whatever, like [a] very young 18-year-old and basically was considered this ultrarunning phenom because people didn’t get into ultrarunning at a younger age and it was very — and even still sometimes — controversial about how — well definitely, we’ve seen even younger kids start getting into ultrarunning — and it’s just like, how young is too young for ultrarunning and going that far and pushing your body that way? But at the time, he was very cutting-edge and he got picked up by North Face to run ultras like right out of high school, because he finished 14th as an 18-year-old and that was just so unheard.
LRC: He’s sponsored?
JW: Small sponsorship. But North Face was, and still is, a very big, influential brand in ultrarunning, which kind of kicks on the the dirtbag side of ultrarunning and real grassroots stuff. Like Scott Jurek and Dusty Olson are kind of known for sleeping on the starting line before the race in a sleeping bag and maybe or maybe not a tent, and then you wake up and you just start running. Like you wake up 15 minutes before the race and you start racing and there’s a really cool kind of dirtbag side of trail ultras, at least, that you just make it happen. Because sponsorships, especially like further back, we’re just kind of unheard of and everybody made their own way and and I think it’s definitely getting more professionalized in a depth perception. I think for a while top runners have been doing pretty well and what’s running but it’s far and few between and then nowadays I think there’s becoming better depth in the sport for professional side of it.
At least in the US. Then you start looking abroad and depending on where you’re at, it can be very difficult.
LRC: Yeah, it’s very interesting, right? Because I feel like now I don’t know there’s I don’t know there’s a maybe a couple dozen guys or girls you know, making a living doing this or trying to make a living … (How many pro ultrarunners there are in the US?)
JW: It’s just like track though. Everything’s still in the running industry that’s very [not] disclosed and and not allowed to talk about and it’s not open and transparent. So yeah, you can speculate 12 or you could speculate 100 or you could speculate five. None of those numbers are probably right.
LRC: Right. But how many guys in your group don’t have other jobs?
JW: I guess I’m the only one that does this as my only income and we have six, seven guys.
JW: When I was transitioning out of the Air Force in 2015 I knew I wanted to do something in my life for me and go do trail running. I was finding a lot of joy and happiness with it coming off a time that wasn’t so great in my life, with just kind of failing at being active-duty military and not having a good career and separating with them. But making that decision to just put everything into ultrarunning or trail running or just running in general was just the best thing I ever did for myself.
And it all started with, I guess, the summer where I went out to Western States and went out to Hardrock and just tried to pace and crew and hang with the ultra community and I learned so much and really felt like I learned the sport from the right lens and perspective by doing it that way. And then I ended up getting a job in Flagstaff working 40-45 hours a week at the local bike shop, Absolute Bikes, that hired me because they thought I had a cool military job. And then once I explained it to them, they’re like, ‘Oh, that sounds really boring.’ …Being in missile silos, I would do the night shifts. And yeah, you’re just up in a little tiny room underground all night. And I say learning to be bored is actually an extremely powerful skill in ultrarunning and I actually probably maybe owe some of that to missile silos.
LRC: You were pushing the nuclear button? I mean, you could have pushed it? Or you’re in some silo where the nukes are? Explain what’s going on here.
JW: Yeah, so I did almost a year of training out in Central Coast California, lived out in Lompoc out there, which is still the smallest town I’ve ever lived in. But that was pretty eye-opening. Because I know when I was going to college, I thought Colorado Springs was a tiny town coming from Phoenix. Now I think Flagstaff is arguably too big. But I was out in Great Falls, Montana, missile silos up in Montana that it was like two and a half, three hour drives one-way. I would do eight shifts, 24-hour shifts in Montana.
And yeah, there’s no button. They’re actually switches that you turn. It takes two people, both hands, so that there’s all sorts of safety mechanisms of there’s no way I could launch it by myself. There’s a lot of redundancy in that system.
And yeah, [I] kind of ended up getting in trouble outside of the job itself and things didn’t really work out very well job-wise up there. I’d say I was a very good missileer, very good at what I did, but didn’t make the smartest choice when I was in Montana.
But also that kind of led to this like failure time in my life that started pushing me to go find stuff that I was happy with. One of the best things I learned about Montana is they really care about like, their question is, ‘Well, what do you do?’
And in a lot of places around the country, especially in the States, it’s, ‘Oh, I’m, I’m professional runner’ or ‘Oh, I run LetsRun.com’ or “I’m a lawyer” or “I work at the coffee shop down the street or: this is my job. And in Montana, that question is completely different. They don’t care what you do job-wise. It’s what are your hobbies, what are your passions, what do you love to go do? And it’s a lot more emphasized on that and it became a lot more developing that and just getting outside in Montana, it’s just a really beautiful state. And then trail running’s huge up there compared to track and road, it’s just nonexistent because of the weather, I think. And there’s such great places that I started to learn about trail running when I was up in Montana and kind of trying to find an identity after college running for myself.
And yeah, I remember having a talk, I think in 2014 I was think I was thinking about signing up for a 30k trail race in Helena and I talked with Juli Benson. Or maybe I had just done it, and I was like, ‘I think I could do trail running. I think I could be pretty good at it.’
And I think she just saw a lost kid not knowing what to do in their life. And she’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, I think you should go for it.’
And I just really took it to heart and just like, made a decision I kind of knew my days were limited in the Air Force at that point and I started planning for where I was going to go, what I was going to do and making a plan to put everything into there.
LRC: So you you won [the] JFK [50-mile] in the Air Force, but it’s sort of when this whole thing was going down.
JW: So yeah, so I won in November 2014, I was still active duty. And then I ended up leaving the Air Force in February 2015, so a few months later.
But basically, it was like a mutual, or their discretion. Well it was a mutual separation, but yeah, I got fired.
LRC: So there’s a DUI and then a there’s a cheating scandal with at the base you were involved in.
JW: Yeah, I put myself in a bad situation with the DUI that no one should be responsibly putting themselves in. And then there’s a whole cheating thing which has to do more with the career field and how things worked up there, I would say. And already kind of having the blemish lead to very much days being limited, but also sometimes not knowing if I’d be kept in the Air Force. Because I ended up only serving three years active-duty where, after a service academy, your commitment is five, but on my discharge paperwork, it’s filled out as a service academy commitment completed, which I think is a nod to there were mistakes on both ends, the Air Force and my end. But it was their discretion. So I got a 10-day notice in February to say, hey, pack your stuff up, you need to leave. And I was actually gone in four days, I had to rush down for my sister’s wedding and basically packed up my whole life in Montana and was ready to get out of there and just loaded everything in a U-Haul and started driving south.
JW: In Montana was definitely probably the darkest moments because it’s very like, lieutenant-based job. There’s tons of lieutenants running the missile silos, and they say it’s a sharp pyramid in that career field. So like as you get higher ranks, there’s just very few officers in that career field because they just need people in the silos more than anything.
So you have a lot of peers and basically, they all know what’s going on. They all know you’re in the shit house and it’s just the stink that’s on you every time you walk around and work. And yeah, just got to a point where people are asking you like, ‘Hey, how’s things going?’ And you’re just like, ‘Things fucking suck, leave me alone.’ And straight up tell people that and like, they just walk away and they go, ‘Wow, what’s his problem?’ I just got over like faking that things were fine. And yeah, there was definitely probably the most real depression I’ve ever dealt with in my life at that point, but yeah, it came to be what’s important to me in life and and choosing some more choices to start planning of what was making me happy and what’s important.
Olympic Marathon Trials Talk
JW: You need to dream and you need to inspire yourself. And that’s going to be the goal, that’s what’s going to inspire me to put my best foot forward. Do I know it’s almost impossible or moonshot or probably not going to happen? Yeah, absolutely. I’ll be competing against guys that are more marathon-specific, much closer to leg speed. But I think with my now ultrarunning background, I do bring in a way to approach the marathon a little differently, especially on a course like Atlanta, that that maybe I have a little niche if the race plays out that I could compete for a spot. But yeah, dream big, swing big. And I don’t know, I don’t think there’s anything to lose there.
Part of me wants to do the ultrarunning decision of like, no, I gave up my Olympic dream a long time ago…[But] for me, that dream and that moonshot, and that absolute, longshot, if I was able to pull that off, I think that would be pretty legendary and go down in American running quite a bit.
LRC: Are you fully committed to the trials now? Like what is your thought process? So?
Yeah, as of right now, you guys are the main publishers of this. But I think everybody also takes it with a little bit of a grain of salt because it’s not official official, and they can always change their minds. But unless you have that 2:11:30 standard, it doesn’t matter what place you get, they won’t select you for the team. They’re only going to select amongst the people with that automatic standard instead of going to the rankings. So I understand how that works, but
I’ve heard they’re trying to go for a Gold Label standard on the race which, that means top five no matter what, they can choose from and have the standards so yeah, that would basically make it a normal Trials to for everybody to dream big again and have that traditional Trials atmosphere.
I have a feeling that’s gonna happen, in my opinion, but I think in my perspective, if I don’t think I can aim for a 2:11:30 or faster marathon, then I’m probably not going to be fast enough in the marathon to really be competitive enough in it. So you need to have that mindset. You can’t have the mindset, I think in 2020 that the US team is going to be made by 2:15, 2:16 quality guys. Maybe Atlanta will go that slow, but I don’t think everybody’s sure how that course is going to play out for everybody. If anything I think I have some strengths that could be to my advantage there. But yeah I need to be ready to run fast and do it and as of now I need to start planning how to try to run 2:11:30 at the Trials to to get that standard. And who knows, maybe even still, they let me go and I run on the best day 2:12 and get a top-three spot and I’m the guy that gets snubbed because I didn’t have the qualifier. Whatever, that’s like the coolest middle finger I could give to the marathon community and walk away. It would be equally as epic.
LRC: Dreamers never reach their dreams unless they dream big and go for it. I was told to do my research for this podcast and I listened to I think a Citius podcast. You’re clearly a running guy because you’re talking about Parker Stinson and how he was going for it and this was a year and a half ago.
JW: He just did a good one (American record at 25k).
LRC: Parker was blowing up at all these marathons and people were like ‘You idiot Parker. You’re not that fast. Don’t go for it. Well, now he’s the US 25 k record holder.’
JW: Join the club of awkward distance American record holder.
LRC: Let’s let’s turn back to ultramarathoning and this discussion we’ve had on Letsrun of what are the best races in the world, who are the best runners, where do you want to see your career end up and this week we’re talking about what are the best records. Your names already being mentioned of one of the best of all time. I don’t know if you feel like that’s too early, your career is too young. My opinion on ultra running is, and maybe this is way too simplistic, but there’s a big three, at least in America on how the races are viewed, that’s Western States, Comrades, and UTMB, and nobody’s won all those. I guess Kilian’s won two. If somebody could win all of those, that’d be totally epic.
JW: On the women’s side, quite a few have won two. On the men’s side, Killian is the only one that’s one Western States and UTMB, but Francois Dhaene if I wasn’t there last year, he’d be in that category. And he’s incredibly strong at 100 milers.
It’s impossible to say who’s the best ultra trail guy, what’s the best course record and stuff. That’s one of the best parts about the sport is you get to have your opinion I get to have mine.
As far as getting compared to the best ever, I’m not sure I’ve had the full body career. Killian has been doing this for like 12 years, he won UTMB in 2009. And he’s 31 or something right now. And Francois he’s like 32 and he won UTMB back in 2013, 14.
The amount of time that they’ve had in the sport to just have a full body resume (is impressive).
Or Scott Jurek winning Western States seven times, Ann Trason 14 times. Ellie Greenwood winning both Western States and Comrades. Ann Trason winning Comrades as well, sort of things like that, I don’t have the full body of work like that.
As far as some of the most stellar performances (of all time) yeah, I think I’m maybe in that discussion and some of the more exciting races.
And I would almost say Matt Carpenter’s more in that category of he’s hit some real diamonds, but I wouldn’t necessarily say (he’s one of the best of all time, but) yeah, if you get into shorter trail races which is its own topic. I kind of call the shorter trail races, the Joe Gray world, because he’s so dominant at short trail races but it’s its own like lost discipline between road running and ultra running that I don’t feel like gets its fair share of limelight.
LRC: Why do you want to do 50 miler(s)?
JW: Scott Jurek’s book North said this and it really resonated well with me but it’s just “this is who I am and this is what I do” that really helps me embody loving this discipline and wanting to go into further grindier stuff. I see myself getting in the longest stuff as my career ages.
I guess when I first started I had different motivations. I had different, whys. Like any career, whether you’re going from high school to college, college to post collegiate or to professional.
Your whys are always adapting and changing. Like in high school, you have friends, peers, family that you’re kind of running for, and then you get thrown into a lot of times out of state college and you’re like, well, I don’t know any of you guys. And a lot of kids move like lose the motivation to compete the same way they did in high school and college and some people in college really start to gain that why question. For me, it turned into I had nothing to lose.
I really, really enjoyed the community aspect of ultra running. I think it’s so open door.
Really good people in the sport. That was appealing to me, and that’s who I wanted to be. I drew a lot on my experiences, initially, from the Air Force of things could always be worse. And this is nothing. There’s real life problems out there. And this doing ultra running is not a real life problem. So get over it, get through the race and suck it up. This is an identity with me for now in my life, I think this won’t last forever. And that will again change of why I continue to do ultras or why I choose to get into cycling or bowling or rock climbing or anything else. You gotta find a passion in life and hobbies. It’s important for balance.
Topic turns to 50 miles versus 100 milers and dropping out of traces:
LRC: Did you get some criticism in the ultra community for dropping out of race?
JW: Yes. Everybody does. If you have a track, road runner background they’d say “of course, pull the plug, you need to save the legs for another day.” But that is not the ethos of ultra running. I think I got a lot of respect and tip of the hat from the ultra running community when I made a wrong turn at Western states in 2016 (and finished the race)….People were I think really happy for me to still get that finish at Western states in 2016. And that’s something I’m really proud of as well. And I think that embodies that everybody in ultra running a suffering out there. And it’s not easy for the fastest guys. And it’s not easy for, it’s a lot harder probably for the people that are just trying to run away from cut offs throughout the race.
WK: Turning to your career. What are the big goals you want to accomplish?
JW: Yeah, so it’s kind of cool that you identified Western states, UTMB, Comrades, what you are calling the Triple Crown. I’ve kind of had that idea in my head for a while. And that would be an absolute career dream come true that I think would separate (me from others), a little bit of a distinction of it, but it will always be debatable. It’s not seven male wins at Western states. I think three guys right now have three wins at UTMB and it’s not Bruce Fordyce’s nine wins at Comrades. But it would be my own identity in it. And you know what? It’s not a failure if I don’t do it. I’m still running as a job and profession and I’m in my 20s. Things are pretty good. And I feel really grateful and fortunate for that. But again, that’s an exciting goal that inspires me and yeah, I want to I want to go for it.
LRC: Would you say those are the three most prestigious races?
JW: I would say at least in different kind of disciplines. They’re three extreme races. There’s other races that are very prestigious, very competitive, competitive and prestigious are not the same answer in ultra running. It depends what type of ultra running you really like. And once you get on to track ultras, probably world records are most prestigious, it’s not necessarily winning events because you could set up a track and do it anywhere because it’s also standardized as long as you have the certifications and drug testing in place for it.
LRC: What races are we missing?
JW: Lake Saroma in Japan is a great one. That’s 100 k in June in Japan. Talking with Hideaki (Yamauchi) out at Project Carbon X, he never really even considered Comrades because it just conflicts with Lake Saroma. In the States, you talk about 50 mile distance (and) 50-100k kind of distance on the trails, you got Lake Sonoma, and the North Face 50 mile. Probably the two most prestigious in the US for that distance. You got Two Oceans, Comrades, kind of sisters, down there (in South Africa). Beyond those two, you’re kind of getting into your niche and nitty gritty.
There’s fkts. It’s difficult (to come up with a lit). I don’t think to narrow it down. I think find a part of ultra running that you enjoy. And there’s different prestigious and goals that you can find that way. I like that Triple Crown because I think it involves such extreme skills: Comrades is not UTMB. Those are two races that are very difficult to probably put together. Western States is more in the middle. And that being just probably the ultra in the US that Americans go crazy for, Europeans don’t think as much about Western States compared to UTMB because it doesn’t have the numbers, it doesn’t invite elites the same way. UTMB if you have an elite (ranking you can get in the race). They do things off of an ITRA score.
(A discussion of ITRA scores can be found in podcast).
LRC: Are you doing you UTMB this year?
JW: I’m probably not doing UTMB. My next race after Western States, I have Sierre-Zinal. And now so that’s a really big prestigious race out in Europe. That’s 31 k out in Switzerland. Killian’s won it six times. This is one of the hardest records and trail running. Jonathan Wyatt has the course record, their New Zealander Olympian, a nine time mountain World Champion, absolute badass. And the only guy to go under 230 at Sierre-Zinal. I think there’s a bit of a learning curve out there. At that course, I think it would be a bit luck to pull off the perfect race first time. I kind of have it as more of a priority race next year because I would ideally not do Western States before Sierre-Zinal because I found with that race at least in hundred milers, you kind of got to play it by ear how to recover from it.
LRC: How are you going to get your Triple Crown if you don’t run UTMB (this year) and if you haven’t run Comrades?
JW: I’ve got a long way to go.
I have found that the Western States-UTMB, double is difficult talking with even Kilian and Francois who have both done it. Killian actually won Western States and UTMB in the same year.
But they think it’s an extremely difficult double to do. Francois, I talked with him and we’re thinking about getting more of the bigger names in ultra running to all plan to do it in 2020. So we’ll see how that goes.
Just taking a little bit of a mental break from it. I’ve done it the last two years. Had difficulties in both races… Just talking with Francoise mostly, he thought it would be a good thing to take a mental break from it and just take a year off, but the hardest part about that is for American men, we’re all still dreaming about being the first American man winning it.
LRC: It’s pretty interesting that your competitors are giving you career advice.
JW: Francois has a different skill set. I think we’ve we’ve gotten along pretty well. I think there’s a really good mutual respect there. And I think he’s got just a really great unique skill set. In these long hard ultras, the guy can hike so fast. It’s insane. But yeah, he’s just really strong and mentally has the right mind for the sport that I could learn a lot from him.
Killian’s actually isn’t as much of a 100 mile guy I think as a lot of people give him credit for. I think he’s really like a 50 k mountain guy, like a five hour mountain race with technical stuff. And he’s got a great skill set. I would say, if if you wanted a matchup where an ultra runner was going to win (versus anyone). Let Killian pick the course and race any marathoner in the world and Killian would definitely get him. He’s got a very extreme unique skill set.
LRC: Speaking of Kilian beating any runner, if you pick the course, my brother is backing off his claim that Kipchoge could sit on your shoulder and kick your ass. But he wants he wants to know what race distance could you first beat Kipchoge at? What type of race?
JW: I smile when talking about Western States. Because I feel like being from Phoenix and liking the rubble mountains. I feel like that one plays a lot to my strengths. I feel pretty comfortable there. But at the same time, I’ve gotten myself into my own trouble at that race – two out of three times. There’s no guarantee in ultra running. So with someone that good at running, I would want to make it the least amount of running possible compared to technical mountain stuff. I would put Kipchoge more out of his comfort zone (at that). And I got you in my efficiency zone. The more reasonable the ultra, the more he’ll be comfortable and his just absolute talent will overpower the grind, the ultra stuff. So I think you got to get him something where he’s not comfortable with. And obviously he’s not going to be training on ridge tops and, and scree fields and snow. Get them in a cold ultra.
LRC: Are there any records out there, world records, even some of these 24 hour runs or any records that you want, (before you retire)?
JW: (Before) transitioning with that, if you guys find your marathoner (to race me) the Grand Canyon’s always open. So there’s a really great Rim to Rim to Rim record there that I have. And that would be a great way to at least experiment with that idea. Just don’t let anyone die down there, please.
LRC: They’d have no chance on that right?
JW: There’s still time on both (rim to rim and rim to rim to rim). But I’m not sure who could get more time on the rim to rim to rim. I think I could drop 15 to 20 minutes on my rim to rim rim. And I have that as a bucket list.
(As for) course records. I think Comrades has a little bit of skepticism from my viewpoint about clean competing. UTMB gets changed too much. Leadville seems like a great one. Pikes Peak Marathon, Sierre-Zinal
LRC: What about some of the road records or 24 hour records?
JW: I haven’t started thinking as much about the 24 hour records and stuff. But the way that so many regard Yiannis Kouros 24 hours, Spartahlon, and 48 hour records. I could see myself dabbling in that stuff. But again, dabbling will set you up for failure in ultra running. You’ve got to be fully committed to it. So that’s a tough idea to wrap your head around to start doing 24 to 48 hour track races, but I think you have to commit to it and eventually it’ll be ‘well yeah, this is who I am and this is what I do now’ and use it to your strength. That’s how you have to do it.
The roads are plus minus game. I really enjoy the process of training on trails over roads. And as I learned with this 50 mile 100k Project X, I needed to do more training on the asphalt and for Comrades next year, I need to do more training on the asphalt and find some really hilly asphalt roads.
(Discussion turns to “backyard ultras, etiquette of running the Grand Canyon and more, that will be on the podcast:
JW: A style of ultra running that is gaining a lot of popularity is backyard ultras.)
LRC: Who are the greatest of all time?Male and female?
JW: I have an American lens. Female I’d give it to Ann Trason. She just set the bar so much and exceeded what other women were doing at the time. In my opinion. I think she’s pretty great. Male? Male is a bit harder.
I’ll go with someone that probably hasn’t gotten mentioned. Tim Twietmeyer’s great.
LRC: Who? Can you spell it?
JW: He’s my favorite best.
LRC: Are you really being serious? Or being difficult?
JW: Probably just being difficult and throwing out a very respectable ultra guy but his career as a full body thing I would say is pretty unmatched.
LRC: What’s what are his career highlights?
JW: I want to say he has 5 Western States wins. But he has 25 western states finishes under 24 hours. He’s like the iron ultra man of Western States. So being Western States biased, American bias and then wanting to give you someone that you probably haven’t had mentioned yet to stir the controversy more. I also have like an era bias as well. I think everybody that starts learning about the sport in that era is very biased to the people they first start learning about it like this guy’s such a badass so I mean, modern day guys right now Francois and Killian Jornet. I’m bad at pronouncing the South Africans name but that just won Two Oceans (Bongmusa Mthembu) but he’s got three Comrades and the Two Oceans win under his belt and some second places at the world hundred Ks. Hideaki, he probably needs to work on a full body, but I mean two world 100k championships is extremely impressive.
LRC: What about current current ultras. We won’t do the men since you’re a man?
JW: I think Courtney Dauwalter is the most well rounded best female ultra runner right now. And really embodies that grind, the suffering that in my opinion I think I still have so much more to to learn and embody that I find it very admirable.
LRC: I have a LetsRun/American bias but someone like Camille Herron is just too road focussed?
JW: I think she needs to show more variability to be considered that. I think that full body wise what Courtney’s done comparatively outweighs it…(brief discussion of Ida Nilsson, Tranvulcania, Ida Nilsson, Ruth Croft,, Ragna Debats)..It depends what ultras you want to look at. If you want to do road ultra person, Camille’s probably the best road trip person currently. But road ultras probably translate best for marathoners. So I would also argue you could start pulling more marathoners and road ultra records would be the first to fall in my opinion.
(We both rave about 100k women’s 100k record).
WJ: All right, we got I got two questions from Jonathan going to end this. If you had the option of being the world’s best marathoner or the world’s best ultra marathoner which would you choose and why?
JW: I think marathon because it’s the top of the pyramid in our sport, I think it’s gained, especially what Kipchoge has done. It’s been incredible. I think marathon is the pinnacle whether you’re coming from trackside or any other avenue, I think it’s drawing the best talent in the world. So I think the best marathoner in the world should get the crown of the best runner in the world for distance. Obviously the whole debate of once you move under 800 it takes on a new specialization.
WJ: And finally, how do you feel ultra runners are generally perceived on Letsrun.com? Is the perception fair?
JW: So the definitive answer for that is hobby jogger. I think that is LetsRun’s favorite usage for anyone that they want to talk trash to. And is it fair? Depends. Part of online chat is that you don’t know necessarily who is saying it. If Kipchoge is calling LetsRunners hobby joggers, then maybe that’s fair. But I would say it’s not fair for the most part. One of my biggest learning curves in ultra running. And it was actually probably in 2014, when Sage Canaday and Killian were racing really great. As always, a big rude awakening was ultra runners train hard, they train specifically and they do a lot. They’re still extremely difficult to beat and you can’t dabble in it and come in and think you’re going to win it. I think full commitment to owning being an ultra runner is probably the best thing you can do if you want to truly have success in ultra running. And if you have one good ultra, probably the ultra running community doesn’t really care. Then it’s a flash in the pan as they would say. And I think ultra running community really likes embodying someone that wants to be in the sport, longer term. And they also as a group, we we also probably cherish people that have been in the sport for a long time. So you talked about the Tim Twietmeyer with so many Western States, and there’s a really big pride in that there’s really big, like, prestige, I would say for being the oldest finisher at Western States, people are trying to out compete each other for being oldest finisher at Western States. And I would also say whether you call us a hobby jogger or whatnot you guys are still welcome to come join us out on the trails. I think it’s a pretty open, open community that makes it pretty special.
Jim on the Carbon X shoes:
JW: I think the shoes are pretty cool.
WJ: Actually, let’s go back what shoes do you train in most of the time?
I do most of my training in Speed Goats, Mafate or Clifton. More typical Hoka based shoes. Occasionally I’ll throw on what used to be the Tracers now I have the choice of the Carbon Rocket or the Carbon X to do workouts and so that’ll happen like once or twice a month.
But, yeah, the Carbon Xs were a really fun shoe. They’ve worked out well for me so far. I’ve hit really good workouts, long runs and now world record and so it’s hard to complain about a shoe that I feel confident and good about. I think it brings its own different part of it. I’ve actually never worn or put on a pair of Nike Vapor Flies but Hoka has done their own unique geometry with it, that’s going to be different. The drop I think they said it came out is a five millimeter drop which is more true to what they traditionally do. Just in general that sort of shoe is really going to play to what Hoka does in general with with cushion. They also do a dual layer with like a rubberized foam on the bottom layer and then a new foam that they have on the top layer. And then Hoka general feels really confident with where and how they’ve done with the carbon plate that’s going to separate that shoe as a special performer. For me the results have been speaking for themselves and yeah, I’ll keep wearing the shoe for workouts and helping me get the most out of myself like myself as a runner. It’s a cool shoe to have in my repertoire now….We were testing prototypes out, but they’re like all coming in white and our running joke was that we’re going to take them into the Canyon on a dusty day….no one had the balls to take those shoes in the Canyon and dust them up and give them back …. The Carbon Rocket is a completely different feeling shoe yet, but the carbon rocket right now is the owner of Scott Fauble’s 2:09 and Cam Levin’s 2:09. So I think, again, Hoka is doing something with their shoes, and they’re getting good performances out of them.