With Secret “Trials Dagger” Shoes, Ultra Star Jim Walmsley Is Ready To Take On The 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials

“I’d like to think I’m around 2:10 shape right now…I feel like I’ve legitimately put in the training and the work to contend up front. I feel pretty confident with that.”

By Robert Johnson
February 15, 2020

Note: This content is sponsored content for HOKA, but not approved by them.

On Thursday, LetsRun.com caught up with ultramarathon star Jim Walmsley who is making his much anticipated marathon debut at the US Olympic Marathon Trials February 29, in Atlanta. Walmsley, despite winning and setting course records at ultra marathons up to the 100 mile distance, has never run a traditional marathon.

During our talk, which we are releasing as a one hour podcast later this week (Update: Podcast is now out here. Subscribe here – Jim was also on our podcast in May 2019), Jim revealed some fascinating things, many of which we hadn’t read anywhere else. That may be hard to believe, as Walmsley has been in the news A LOT recently: on Tuesday, Sports Illustrated, Runner’s World and The New York Times Magazine all dropped stories on him. But it’s true.

So hold on to your seatbelts.

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Jim revealed three newsworthy things during our hour-long talk with him:

  1. He’s going to be racing the Olympic Trials in a prototype pair of HOKA ONE ONE shoes that he loves and has nicknamed “The Trials Dagger.”
  2. On February 12, he had to bail out of what was supposed to be the “biggest” workout of his entire marathon training block.
  3. Despite point #2, Walmsley has been thrilled with how his training has gone overall and thinks he’s in 2:10 shape. He feels he’s got a legitimate shot at making the team, summarizing everything as, “I feel like I’ve legitimately put in the training and the work to contend up front. I feel pretty confident with that.”

In addition, Walmsley, like all the HOKA athletes we are profiling as part of our HOKA Takes on the Marathon Trials sponsored coverage, answered our written Q&A on his preparations for the Trials which you can find here. We asked  the HOKA athletes to share tips with the masses, and had to chuckle when we asked Walmsley what advice he’d give a first-time marathoner and he answered, “I’d like to know this answer, please.”

Walmsley Bails on His “Biggest” Workout of Marathon Training Block

Jim Walmsley celebrates after setting a 50-mile WR last year

Let’s talk about point #2 first. Jim revealed that on Wednesday, the day before we recorded, he bailed on what was supposed to to be “biggest” workout of his entire marathon training block — eight miles at marathon pace followed by one mile at threshold pace for recovery, times two. Walmsley got two miles into it and pulled the plug, writing on Strava, “Know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em…. not today.”

“In retrospect, it could have cost me maybe the race to pull it off,” said Walmsley. 

Walmsley seemed nonplussed about having to bail on the last major workout of his marathon cycle less than three weeks out from the race. We asked him how was able to have the confidence to not panic and force himself to do it — and potentially put himself into a hole.

“I think that’s where prior race experience, having a lot of the success that I have had in my little niche of running, but also not having necessarily the same pressure that everybody else has in this (Olympic Trials) race [came in handy],” said Walmsley.  “[I now realize] it’s much more important to show up with the ‘mojo’ on race day than [when I was] in my college days.

“Or if I was probably just a marathoner, I would have convinced myself that I needed to stick that workout out. And I think it’s just [that] I’m a little older now. And I would say that’s more of a mature decision on my part, rather than just prove to myself in practice that I can do it. I’m okay putting that bet on race day instead of in a workout.”

In hindsight, Walmsley thought perhaps the big workouts he did the week before caught up to him this week. On February 5, Walmsley had a confidence-building 20 x 1k workout with one-minute rest where he ran the reps starting at 2:59 and ending at 2:53; he said they felt “butter smooth” and “awesome.” Then on February 9, Walmsley did the 50k (31.1-mile run) Pemberton Trail race featuring 1,900 feet of climbing at 5:34 mile pace as a training run. In retrospect, Walmsley thinks he went a little too fast on this 50k run and it fatigued him. 

“I mean, the long run last weekend was really good. It was only 5:34 average pace, but I think I know and people that have been on the trail definitely know that there’s some hidden stories about that course kind of beating people up and I went faster than what I kind of put my governor on for me to do. I didn’t want to go under 2:55 (for the total time) and I went 2:49. So I kind of broke my own rules and am not really surprised that I felt it a couple of days later. It also reminds me of a story in one of my running books about Ron Clarke [having] basically just run himself into the ground before the [1964] Olympic final and basically ran an unofficial world record in the 5k in a workout the day before, I think, like a 10k final and basically got a third in the final that he should have won.”

Walmsely added that he thinks it’s easier for him to not overtrain now that he’s self-coached as compared to when he had a coach. “The feedback loop that I’ve had with coaches led me to overtraining a lot easier than [when I’ve been] self-coached actually. [Being self-coached], it’s just me more or less, so I don’t have many people to convince when a day is not going right. With a coach, I kind of find more pressure to say everything’s good.”

“I’d Like to Think I’m Around 2:10 Shape Right Now”

If you are a Walmsley fan, please don’t panic just because he pulled the plug on the workout on Wednesday. As I hinted at above, Walmsley is still very upbeat about where he’s currently sitting.

“I’d like to think I’m around 2:10 shape right now. [And] if you told me a year ago, if you think you could get into, shit, 2:10 shape, like what would you say? I’d be totally stoked. I think things have gone much better than I could have hoped for so far. For an ultrarunner to even be saying that [they are in 2:10 shape] I think speaks volumes of how well the training block has gone.”

Walmsley’s training block, during which he’s averaged 144 miles for the last nine weeks while still managing to lower his half marathon pb by nearly a minute in the middle of that block, has gone really well. The bad news for Walmsley is the landscape of American marathoning has changed a lot in the last year from when Walmsley first said he wanted a shot at the Olympic Trials. 

“A year ago, the scenario was so different. When I decided to do the Trials, I really felt like the US marathon [scene] was much more wide open. You still had Galen Rupp hurt, [Leonard] Korir hadn’t run 2:07. Scott Fauble and Jared Ward hadn’t run 2:09. You didn’t have 10 guys all run under 2:12 at Chicago. You didn’t have 14 guys are under 62:00 in Houston. Like it is night and day different scenario. As an ultrarunner, I definitely was licking my chops a lot more a year ago than [now].

“I mean, so many guys have risen to the Olympic occasion and I mean, good for us and good for the US, but at the same time, I think I kind of alluded to it earlier: if you told me a year ago if I’d be in the fitness and [have] the leg speed I’m at right now, I’d be more than happy, but I know it’s still going to be an absolute dogfight. “

Overall though, when balancing Jim’s increased fitness with that of everyone else in America, Walmsley feels his Olympic dream is still alive.

“I feel like I’ve legitimately put in the training and the work to contend up front. I feel pretty confident with that.”

Walmsley Will Be Wearing A Secret Shoe At The Olympic Trials: The “Trials Dagger”

Embed from Getty Images

One of the reason so many people have run so fast in the last year — in America and abroad — is because shoe technology has changed a great deal, led by the Nike Vaporfly technology that helped Eliud Kipchoge break the 2:00 barrier and Brigid Kosgei shatter the women’s marathon world record on back to back days in October. Many in the comments section of the NY Times Magazine piece wrote that Walmsley wouldn’t be able to make the Olympic team because he’s not a Nike athlete. So naturally I asked Jim, who is sponsored by HOKA ONE ONE, if he was worried about the shoe situation and if HOKA might let him wear another company’s shoes and just cover up the logo. Jim scoffed at the notion of putting on a pair of Swoosh shoes — with or without the logo.

“I’m with HOKA through and through and I’m not covering up anything, it’s going to be a HOKA shoe,” said Walmsley. “The other side of it is, we have a really great [unreleased] product that has been in a few photos online, but we have a really great shoe right now and it’s going to be extremely competitive. It meets all the [World Athletics] guidelines. Things are going really great [when I wear them] and I love the shoe and more than anything, it’s just been extremely comfortable.”

As for how good the shoes are, Jim didn’t hold back.

“I would love it if [my shoe] was a 20% shoe. At this point, I think that there was already a fix on the World Athletics rules [that were just announced]. It is a little bullshit politically but that’s okay because I think HOKA is stepping up to the answer and it’s going to be exciting for myself [and fellow HOKA athletes] Scott Fauble, Scott Smith, Sid Vaughn, Kellyn Taylor, [Aliphine Tuliamuk], yeah, we’re going to be well-equipped,” said Walmsley.

Bullshit politically?

“I just think it was a little obvious that there was like, some collusion with it,” Walmsley said. “Yeah, I mean, it’s not ironic that they (Nike) released their [Alphafly] shoe that was within regulations the [week after the rules came out] and that World Athletics made it [possible]. But you know, HOKA’s shoe is within the [new] regulations [as well] so it’s really not a big deal at the end of the day, and come February 29, I think the HOKA will take advantage of all of it as well.”

Jim at 50k Pemberton Trail Race Photo via
@TerritorioTrail twitter from @Jbrazeau instagram story

We reached out to HOKA ONE ONE Global Director of Sports Marketing Mike McManus for comment on the shoes. He would not give any specifics on the shoes beyond saying it was “a prototype that was originally going to be released later in the year,” but that HOKA was going to move up the release of the shoe so it would legal by World Athletics rules for use in the Olympics. He said the shoe “meets all the guidance” of the World Athletics rules and that all of the HOKA athletes competing at the Olympic Trials would have access to it. He said “the feedback has been great” from the athletes running in it and that the HOKA Trials athletes have had access to it for four weeks. McManus also said Walmsley did wear the shoes during the 50k trail race/training run, and that Jim has probably run 130-140 miles in the shoe.

Global Warming, Please Show Yourself in Two Weeks

Speaking of the Trials on February 29, Walmsley said the crazier the weather, the better he thinks it will be for him, particularly if it’s really hot — though Walmsley doesn’t think that will be the case. The average high on February 29 in Atlanta is 61, with the record high in all of February being 80.

“I think that the more problems and the more complexity you can add to the marathon, I think it’ll definitely favor me because that’s what ultrarunning is about. It’s about just figuring out how you’re going to solve this problem. And it’s just inevitable that more problems pop up. So whether it’s missing nutrition on the course to overheating to figuring out the right pace from just the very beginning to dealing with falling a little bit or something. There’s all sorts of problems that I’ve gone through hundreds of times in the last couple years, just in ultrarunning. One of the things you say about Western States is, ‘It’s like living a whole life in a day.’ And it just speaks to how much problem-solving you’re doing all day.”

Walmsley has said he’s already started to visualize how he thinks the race will play out and “mentally trying to prepare to suffer.” As for how he got in such great shape, Walmsley credited the Japanese for inspiring his training. 

“I wouldn’t say it’s diving into any one specific training method fully, but if anything, it would probably be embracing more of a Japanese-style marathon training approach. Only because, especially with my ultra background, that kind of volume is what I feel I feed off of and I feel like they definitely do a lot of that. And then in addition, I’ve been able to just find more training logs of Japanese runners online compared to East Africans, [who] aren’t online as much logging their training, so it’s not quite as transparent for me at home [what they’re doing],” said Walmsley.

Walmsley actually found the training log of Takayuki Inubushi — a Japanese Olympian who ran 2:06:57 way back in 1999 off of track pbs of 13:46/28:26 (Jim’s track PBs are 13:52/29:08) — on BobHodge.US and has used it extensively.

“From his to 2:06:57, I worked it all the way backwards for the two months prior to that, and yeah, I actually have two training logs [upstairs] that are backdated from February 29 — one is mine and one is his.”

One interesting thing about Jim’s training: while the marathon distance is a short race for him, he’s actually upped his mileage by a lot as he’s trained for the Trials. Jim ran 4,950 miles in 2019, which averages out to 95 miles per week; he’s averaged over 144 miles the last nine weeks while training for the marathon. Jim said that the mileage total is a bit misleading, however.

“Technically, I’ve upped the mileage but I’ve decreased the time training per week, I would say. So, I’m actually out there training a lot longer for ultras, but when you’re clipping, like clipping away on a road or doing a workout at 5:00 to 6:00 [mile] pace, you’re done a lot sooner, as opposed to [training for an ultra] and climbing at a 12:00 mile [pace], which can be harder than running a 5:00 mile. Everything takes context.”

As for the race, Walmsley is looking forward to representing everyone who roots for the underdog in Atlanta.

“I think with all of this I’ve gotten so much support [from the fans]. It feels like I’m a bit in the limelight but it also feels like I’m representing a big voice in the sport that wants that underdog story. Hopefully I can bring it together on the race day.”

You can listen to our entire 1-hour podcast with Walmsley by subscribing to the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast or in the player below.

[spp-player track_player url=”https://pinecast.com/listen/a08f1bf6-2cbc-4b0a-8ca4-6176d15b7efe.mp3″]

Walmsley Trials written Q&A on the Trials where he shares a few training tips is here.

Be a fan and talk about Walmsley on our world-famous fan forum/messageboard. The boards have been full of Walmsley talk recently.

Here is the discussion about this article:

Jim Walmsley: “I’d like to think I’m around 2:10 shape..I’ve legitimately put in the training and the work to contend up front.”

And previous threads:

Previous Walmsley podcast: 2 hour podcast with Jim from May after he set 50 Mile World Best

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