How Will Jim Walmsley Do at the Olympic Marathon Trials?

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By LetsRun.com
February 26, 2020

The 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials are almost here. As we count down the days until Saturday’s Olympic Marathon Trials (live on NBC from Atlanta), the LetsRun.com braintrust — co-founders Weldon (Wejo, 28:06 10,000m runner) and Robert Johnson (2:23 marathoner, former distance coach at Cornell) and staff writer Jonathan Gault (brains at LRC)— will be answering one pressing Trials-related question per day. You can find previous questions and all the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials coverage here.

Today’s question: What is your prediction for Jim Walmsley at the Olympic Trials?

Jonathan: I’ll say 15th. Walmsley told you guys that he thinks he’s in 2:10 shape right now, and if you look at his tuneup race at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half, he finished 28 seconds behind Matt McDonald (who ran 2:11:10 in Chicago in October), but 13 seconds ahead of Wilkerson Given (who ran 2:11:44 in Chicago). He also beat Jake Riley (2:10:36 in Chicago) by 62 seconds, but Riley was running that as more of a workout (first 10 miles at marathon pace, pick it up the final 5k), so I’m not as interested in that result.

Finishing right between two 2:11 guys in his tuneup suggests that Walmsley is probably in closer to 2:11 shape (running 2:10 is really hard, even on a fast course), but I believe he’s fit enough to hang with the lead pack through at least halfway.

The question, to me, is how Walmsley chooses to approach this race. If his strategy is simply to hang on to the lead pack as long as possible and hope he’s in position to battle for third over the final miles, then his chances of making the team are very slim (even if, with his trail background, he may be more effective over the late-race hills than most athletes). Though to be fair, his chances are slim no matter what strategy he employs.

The only way I see him making the team is if something crazy happens in the race. Maybe he throws in a huge early surge at 6 miles (assuming he even has the ability to do it), suckers the rest of the field into going with it, and he finishes third after not dying as badly as everyone else (I admit, this is unlikely).

Or maybe he makes a moderate early surge and the rest of the field, not believing Walmsley to be a genuine threat, allows a gap to form, and he tries to even-split a 2:10 or 2:11. The halfway split in 2016 was only 66:31; it’s possible he could gap everyone by going out in 65:00-65:30.

This is a guy who’s not afraid to take big swings (see: any of his runs at Western States), so I wouldn’t be shocked by any approach. But Walmsley’s chances of making the team aren’t great in any scenario, so I’m not sure that the potential benefit of the aggressive strategies outlined above are worth the increased chances of a blowup.

That’s a long way of saying that I really have no idea what’s going to happen — which is one of the reasons everyone is so excited about Jim Walmsley. What do you guys think?

Rojo: Ok, this notion that he’s going to go out super hard and gap the field by a large margin is fantasy land. I keep seeing people talking about it on the messageboard. That’s not happening. He told me in our podcast he has no desire to go out at half marathon PB pace so how is he going to gap the field?

So let’s be clear, I don’t think he’ll get some 2014 Boston Meb K huge gap on the field. That being said, I am curious as to what strategy he employs. In the ultra world, he’s known as going for broke. Does he do that here? Or does he play it more conservatively?

Regardless of the strategy employed, let there be no doubt,, Walmsley represents something magical. Check out this post from “Kudzu Runner” which summarizes Walmsley perfectly:

I’m no Walmsley fan boy, but I will admit that the NYT article completely captivated me. And it’s not hard to figure out why.

At 61, I came into running in the late 70s, when Shorter and Rogers were dominant and when Salazar, completely untested as a marathoner, would soon do epic things. I hunger for some wildness, some edge, something other than thoroughgoing professionalization, to remain a part of competitive distance running. I’m a nerd; I love data. I love reading about training methods. But I’ll always have a soft spot for the self-trained, off-in-the-woods wildman. ONCE A RUNNER perfectly expressed that particular idea–the long solo woodshed followed by the transcendent, highly-public performance.

I drove from Oxford to Birmingham Ala. back in January of 2004 to watch the trials there, and I remember the electricity that went through all of us as Brian Sell blew into town, leading the favorites. Yes, he ended up being caught, but for one moment he gave us that magic. If you’ve been in the presence of that magic, you don’t forget it.

Walmsley’s presence in the race, especially as evoked in the NYT article, offers us the possibility of that ONCE A RUNNER sort of moment. Sure, it’s a longshot. But I’ll be watching.

Jim Walmsley (Photo by Mike O’Grady)

Unfortunately for Walmsley, this is the real world, and the magic will be exposed on Saturday. The Miracle on Ice was 40 years ago and the Miracle on Dirt almost seven years ago. I don’t think we’re ready for a third miracle — the Miracle of Atlanta — in less than 41 years.

He’s not making the 2020 US Olympic Marathon team. I think he’s pretty close to being equal to all of the guys in the “second tier” — the 2:10-2:12 types in the US. However, none of those guys are making this team.

I was holding out hope but I just checked the weather forecast. Jim loves and was hoping for hot weather — if this was a marathon run in 80-degree temps, he might make it — but the weather looks ideal, 47F at the start.

Wejo: I could care less what place Jim Walmsley places… unless he’s on the Olympic team. Who cares if he finishes in 15th place like Jon predicted?

All I want to see is Jim to give himself a chance to make the Olympic team. The marathon is the one distance where I don’t judge the performance by where someone finishes. If you go for it and fade, that is very different than playing it safe and finishing 15th.

This is a Trials race, and the ultimate goal is to make the Olympic Marathon team. If Jim runs like someone trying to make the team, then I’ll give him an A+. If he doesn’t, I’ll be disappointed.

Robert’s comment, “all of the second-tier 2:10-2:12 types won’t make the team” is conclusive proof that I came up with this website’s slogan, “Where Your Dreams Become Reality.”

Second-tier 2:10-2:12 types? Does Robert realize only four guys have run under 2:10 in the field? So no one else even has a shot? That is absolutely idiotic.

Jon’s scenario is also idiotic:

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Maybe he throws in a huge early surge at 6 miles (assuming he even has the ability to do it), suckers the rest of the field into going with it, and he finishes third after not dying as badly as everyone else (I admit, this is unlikely).

That’s not how marathons are run. Throwing in a huge early surge and dying is not the best way to run a race. There are too many good guys in this field for that to work. Someone would hold back and make the team under this strategy.

All I want for Jim is for him to give himself a chance to make the team. And that means being in striking distance with 10 miles to go. Run with the pack until then and just make sure the pace is somewhat honest and give America a chance for your “Where Your Dreams Become Reality” moment.

Jonathan: Weldon, I agree with what you’re saying. For someone of Walmsley’s ability, the point of the Trials is to make the team. So do whatever it takes to put yourself in position to do that, consequences be damned. And if you think that requires making a big move, you make it. You’re not going to be telling stories about running a nice, conservative race to finish 7th. You’re going to be telling stories about the time you laid it all on the line and it either paid off beautifully or you crashed and burned. But at least in that scenario, you gave yourself a chance.

And okay, maybe my scenario was unrealistic, but my point was that I think something crazy needs to happen for Walmsley to make the team.

Seriously though, am I going to be the only one to give a place prediction? Give me something, guys.

Wejo: No place prediction from me.

Jim Walmsley breaking 50 mile world record

My dream of making the Olympic Marathon Trials is one of the reasons this site started. After I won the Marine Corps Marathon with a ridiculously slow time of 2:25, a reporter from I think Runner’s World asked me what was next. I said “I wanted to try and make the Olympic team.” Granted this was when people in the US thought if they could run under 2:14 in the marathon they might make the team. The reporter laughed at me. F him. I’m for all the dreamers at the Trials. (And maybe the reporter was right as I always sucked in the marathon)

The biggest F you of all time would be for Jim to make the team. Of course most likely he won’t do it.

To be honest, I’m really worried that Jim overcooked himself in the 50k trail race he did. To his credit, as he talked about to us, he then bailed on the big workout he had planned the next week. Best-case scenario, that leaves him ready for Trials.

I’m pretty sure Jim is the #1 guy I’d like to see make the Olympic team.

Rojo: I 100% agree with pretty much everything Weldon said. It would be the ultimate F you of all time. Can you imagine the memes if Walmsley passed Rupp in the final mile to take the third spot? It would remind me of the Matt Withrow-Galen Rupp meme, which I think was a meme before memes even officially existed.

And yes, Weldon must have come up with the “Where Your Dreams Become Reality” slogan. Or if I invented it, it died in my mind at the 5k mark of the 2000 US Olympic Marathon Trials. I can’t believe Weldon is going gaga over going for it at the Trials. Weldon was so gung-ho on “going for it” that he was like 30 seconds back at 5k in 2000. Coach John Kellogg and I saw him at the 5k mark and honestly thought he’d somehow missed the start. Now, as Weldon recounted later (kudos to whoever linked to that on the messageboard the other day as I had no idea that page existed), he was just listening to his body and eventually did catch up to the pack from which the lone US Olympian came from, but my God that pissed me off.

Then I got my hopes up again for the 10,000 Trials a few months later. Our coach is the most pessimistic person ever, so when he told me the night before the race that Weldon had a 50% chance of making the team (Or was it 30%? I can’t remember), I thought it basically meant he was on the team. He ended up getting lapped.

As for Walmsley’s place, I don’t really care what place he gets if he doesn’t make the team. And I can’t decide if he’ll just go for broke and epically blow up or if he might be better at not totally blowing up since he’s an ultra guy. I want one or the other. I’d like a “ran with the leaders for 20 miles before falling over, stumbling a 19-minute 21st mile before grabbing a beer with the fans at mile 22” or a “ran with the leaders but faded less than might be expected as he’s tough as hell and finished 12th, beating eight 2:11 guys” versus “ran like a nothing race and cherrypicked guys to finish 8th.” For some reason 12 keeps popping into my head.

Jonathan: Now I’m fascinated about Weldon’s experience at the 2000 Olympic Trials. I just read his race recap and was very impressed to find he had a 45-person fan club in Pittsburgh for the race wearing Team Wejo and LetsRun.com T-shirts.

Then I started clicking around seeing what other old links worked and stumbled upon the LetsRun recap of the pre-race press conference. It was a little more sparse than our current ones, but one of the headlines stopped me in my tracks.

WILLIAMS HASN’T SLEPT WITH HIS WIFE IN 5 MONTHS

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You don’t see that at press conferences these days!

Wejo: I’m constantly amazed by what people on our site can find. I had no idea any of that stuff existed. I didn’t even know Mark Coogan ran the 2000 Trials. My only advice for anyone running the Trials who thinks they have an even outside, outside chance is give yourself a shot. Don’t count on being better 4 years from now.

What do you all think? Share your thoughts here: Jim Walmsley Olympic Marathon Trials Prediction Thread

We had a podcast with Jim on his Trials preparations earlier this month which you can find in the player below or on your favorite podcast app.

LRC note: HOKA (the sponsor of Jim Walmsley) is advertising on LetsRun.com this month. This piece is not part of their HOKA Takes on the Trials coverage.


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