By: Ian Corless
As years go, 2016 has been a cracker in the world of ultra-running. Pete Kostelnick ran Across the USA in a record time. Karl ‘Speedgoat’ Meltzer set a new ‘FKT’ on the Appalachian Trail, Zach Miller broke the TNF 50-course record with a trailblazing run and Jim Walmsley has turned heads with a display of hard and fast running that has left many wondering, what does 2017 hold for this sport?
Walmsley, 26-years old, was an unknown before 2016. He had a history in running but it was in ’16’ when the breakthrough came… Living just below 7000ft in Flagstaff, Arizona certainly brings advantages as he can train high or low. Kicking off a running year is always a difficult thing, for the experienced runner, the first race can often be key. Bandera 100k has always been a popular season opener and when Walmsley ran 7:46, he lowered the previous course record by some 16-minutes. Heads turned!
Lake Sonoma followed two lower-key victories at Moab and Mesquite and this 50-mile race was arguably when the ultra-running community started to take note, Walmsley ran just under 6:01 to lower the course record by 9-minutes!
A hard-earned place a Western States Endurance Run (WSER) was a just reward and Walmsley stepped up his mileage and prepared specifically for the big dance in Squaw Valley. Now, the 2016 ‘WSER’ had arguably one of the best line-ups ever at this iconic 100-mile, so, when Walmsley went on record pre-race saying that he was going to win and possibly set a new course record, the community wasn’t quite sure what to think. Everyone loves confidence but was Walmsley verging on arrogance?
As the race unfolded, Walmsley glided along the trails, at times almost levitating. He floated above the terrain running at a pace that few thought possible. Timothy Olson’s 2012 best of 14:46:44 was under threat! With each mile, this tall lean runner wearing an old-school crop top that harked back to the days of Scott Jurek (who won the race 7-times) was looking set to smash the record to a whole new level. At one point, he was over 30-minutes under the 2012 mark. At mile 92/93, disaster struck when Walmsley went of course. Dejected, broken, confused, Walmsley finally back-tracked onto the race route but the damage was done. He had lost momentum, enthusiasm and he walked in to finish 20th 4-hours slower than Olson’s record. Andrew Miller won the day, the youngest ever runner to win the Western States, but all the talk was about Walmsley and ‘what might have been?’
It was a tough experience for Walmsley but one that he embraced, he showed no bitterness or remorse, he accepted the roll of the dice and moved on! The ultra-world now knew all about Jim Walmsley and a sponsorship deal followed with Hoka One One. Coached by James Bennett, Walmsley is now only just finding out what is possible. In October, the Grand Canyon offered an opportunity for Western States redemption. Although not a race, the Rim-to-Rim, and Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim has somewhat become a Holy Grail of ultra-running ever since Rob Krar ran 6:21:47 (2013) for the 42-mile journey with over 10.000 feet of vertical gain. Walmsley lowered the record to an incredible 5:55:20 and in the process, lowered the shorter R2R record too.
Walmsley had gone on record, post-Western States that he would aim for victory in two iconic 50-mile races that close out the year, JFK 50 and TNF 50 which are just 2-weeks apart. Walmsley’s Grand Canyon run was just a stepping stone to these targets as were three victories at the Bridger Ridge Run, Franklin Mountains Trail Run and Flagstaff to Grand Canyon 55k. Clocking 100+ mile weeks in training, Walmsley arrived in Maryland on November 19th to take on the first challenge. The release of the starting pistol once again saw Walmsley scorch the trails and not only win, but he lowered the benchmark time of Max King’s 5:34:59 to 5:21:28.
Wisely, Walmsley missed the start of TNF50 just 2-weeks later, he realized that he is human after all and December is also a perfect time to rest, recover and set sights on 2017 when the ultra-running world will have all eyes on him to see what he can achieve.
For many, Jim Walmsley is ‘the’ male ultra-runner of the year. I agree. His race results are there for all to see. 2017 is going to be an exciting year especially with the rise of Zach Miller and Hayden Hawks. Looks like ultra’s in the new year will be all about racing and racing fast!
Jim Walmsley’s results 2016
Bandera 100k 1st 7:46:37
Moab Red Hot 50+ 1st 3:49:20
Mesquite Canyon 50k 1st 4:11:09
Lake Sonoma 50 1st 6:00:52
Don’t Fence Me In Trail Run 30k 1st 2:08:19
Western States 100 20th 18:45:36
Bridger Ridge Run 20m 1st 3:14:03
Franklin Mountains Trail Run 50k 1st 4:34:07
Flagstaff to Grand Canyon 55k 1st 3:30:44
JFK50 1st 5:21:28
Plus, the ‘FKT’s’ in the Grand Canyon