Following Arizona tune-up, Jim Walmsley targets historic Olympics trials

When it comes to sports, sometimes stepping outside your lane can be seen as a major affront. Which is strange, because as anyone from a world-class athlete to your run-of-the-mill gym rat will tell you: The best exercise is the one your body doesn’t expect, something that pushes you outside your routine and forces the body to adapt.

Which is why one of the more fascinating stories in the ultra-running community these days is Jim Walmsley’s quest to try his luck with next month’s U.S Olympic Marathon Trials. As Walmsley trains to go down in distance, from being an ultra-runner to a standard marathon participant, he has been facing considerable backlash, both online and elsewhere. It’s no secret that the marathon community sees him as something of an outsider, so after years of insisting that ultra runners are different animals whose 30-mile training runs are nothing like the sub-5 minute splits needed to be a competitive marathoner, many view Walmsley’s dream as something akin to a publicity stunt.

But Walmsley has never been the type to take on a challenge and then fold like a deck chair. This is an athlete whose resume of wins reads like a list of the most difficult ultra-racing events in the world: Western States (twice), Lake Sonoma (twice), Bandera, JFK (three times), Moab … and the list just goes on and on. Which is why he has just as many supporters who are quick to point out that this isn’t an ego trip.

And then there’s the one thing both sides have in common: A desire to see how this whole thing plays out. Like Michael Jordan attempting baseball, or Conor McGregor stepping into a boxing ring with Floyd Mayweather, curiosity is piqued by the question of whether the skills of one discipline will translate to the other.

“I’d say I’m not in contention for the top three,” Walmsley told the Arizona Daily Sun recently. “The goal, more or less, is to be competitive and try to hold my own. … At the end of the day, I still have ultrarunning. I still have my day job.”

It sounds like Walmsley hopes that if he does get a crack at the Olympics, his unique training will present some sort of opportunity to overcome an obstacle that traditional marathoners would have a more difficult time grappling with.

“You never know,” Walmsley said. “I bring something to this race, a toolbox, others don’t. The race could turn out like, ‘Well, I’m the only one who brought this wrench. I can do that.’ You never know.”

Believe it or not, Walmsley — a Phoenix, Arizona native who just turned 30 earlier this month — has never run a marathon in his life. But he did set a Grand Canyon rim-to-rim record, and last year he won the World Mountain Running title. In 2019 he also set the world record for fastest 50 miles, running it at 4:50:08, which puts him at an average of about 5:48 per mile — not too far off the pace of a solid marathoner, but he still has much work to do.

“For an ultrarunner, [this] challenges the status quo for how we are stereotyped,” Walmsley says of his current mindset, just days after Ultra-Running magazine named him Ultrarunner of the year for the fourth year in a row. “Challenging that and putting up a good fight, that sort of thing, is more or less the bigger story that I’m after by doing this.”

On Sunday, Walmsley ran the Rock N Roll half-marathon in Phoenix. He finished with a time of 1:02:13, putting him at a pace time of 4:44. It’s the latest workout in a training regimen that has had him averaging 161 miles a week (with two weeks of 175 miles) over the last several weeks. But will it be enough?

“There’s just an unknown about it, whether the strength from running trails and the high volume I do now will translate to something that’s maybe closer to my top potential for the marathon,” Walmsley says, looking forward to next month’s Olympics trials. “With the hills in Atlanta, there’s no certain time that’s going to get you there to the top three. People aren’t sure what it’s going to take, so why not put your nose in that?”

paul chappel

ITRA QUARTZ Elite program engages 71 top athletes in anti-doping program

By Larry Carroll

The International Trail-Running Association has released its list of athletes engaged in the QUARTZ Elite Program, revealing a growing number of entrants over past installments. Touting the included names as the first time “a discipline gives its elite athletes the chance to contribute actively to a doping-free sport by signing up for a unique health monitoring program,” the ITRA reports that 71 male and female runners have elected to participate.

Using the ITRA Performance Index as a guide, the program is offered free of charge to top 10 athletes in the men’s and women’s rankings, as well as the top 3 in each trail category and athletes returning from suspension after having previously tested positive at an event.

Among those listed are such high-profile names as USA’s Jim Walmsley, Tim Tollefson and Tim Freriks, Spain’s Kilian Jornet Burgada and Pau Gapell, and French athletes Francois D’Haene and Nicolas Martin. Female athletes who have responded to the invitation include USA’s Megan Kimmel, Camille Herron and Katie Schide, Caroline Chaverot and Nathalie Mauclair from France, and Sweden’s Ida Nilsson and Lina Helander.

Camille Herron
Photo Credit: Camille Herron

Organized by Athletes for Transparency and the Ultra Sports Science foundation, the QUARTZ program’s stated mission is to “allow everyone to contribute to a sport without doping, whilst safeguarding the health of the runners.” Touting its worldwide growth, the program is divided into 3 sub-programs: QUARTZ Elite, QUARTZ Event (“for race organizers who wish to make runners’ health a priority”) and QUARTZ Regular (“for all runners who wish to act on behalf of their own health”). The program’s site says that more than 300,000 users have registered since the program’s 2015 inception.

Photo Credit: 71 athletes take part of the Elite QUARTZ Program.

Athletes for Transparency was launched in 2004, with the intent of developing the sport’s rules and ethics, as well as promoting the health of its athletes in a doping-free environment. ITRA was created in 2013, aiming to give a voice to the world of trail running while promoting tenets of strong ethical codes, diversity, race safety and runner health as well as fostering exposure with national and international institutions interested in the sport.

Photo Credit: 71 athletes take part of the Elite QUARTZ Program.

As part of the process, QUARTZ Elite runners have the opportunity to make their data public. As any observer can see on the organization’s public profiles page , these athletes have chosen to provide information on their use of medications, dietary supplements, and other information that can only contribute to the sport’s transparency.

Chevron Houston Marathon

Chevron Houston Marathon Preview

With the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon scheduled to begin at 6:50am on Sunday, January 20th, runners, fans, and organizers have already begun streaming into the city. Over 250,000 fans attended the race last year, and with fan favorites like Jim Walmsley and Tommy Puzey taking the course, there’s good reason to expect even larger crowds this year.

Aramco Houston Half Marathon

Chevron Houston Marathon

Photo credit: Houston Half Marathon

The weekend’s biggest draws may actually be running in the Aramco Houston Half Marathon. Neither of last year’s winners (Jake Robertson of New Zealand at 1:00:01 and Ruti Aga of Ethiopia at 1:06:39) will be participating, but two new entries appear poised to take their places.

Course Records:
Men’s Half Marathon – 59:22 (Feyisa Lilesa, 2012)
Women’s Half Marathon – 1:06:29* (Mary Wacera, 2016)

Ruti Aga

Photo Credit: Aramco Houston Half Marathon women’s winner Ruti Aga

Since he won the 2018 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, Jim Walmsley has cemented his reputation as one of the United States’ premiere ultra runners. Sunday, he’ll show off his road racing chops as he attempts to break the 01:04:00 threshold for an Olympic Trial qualifier. Success is far from a given: Walmsley’s last road race came back in 2014 at the Missoula Half, where his 1:09:38 wouldn’t have made the cut.

Meanwhile, Fancy Chemutai’s 1:04:52 came only one second off of a new world record in 2018. She’ll vie for the record in Houston now, and is a heavy favorite for first in the women’s field, with a chance to record the fastest women’s half-marathon time on U.S. soil.

Chevron Houston Marathon

The Chevron Houston Marathon promises to be no less exciting. Once again the most anticipated drama in that race will come from a notable absence. Bazu Worku of Ethiopia won the race for a second consecutive year in 2018 with a time of 02:08:30. Worku is not listed among this year’s Elite Field, leaving a big hole at the front of the pack.

Course Records:
Men’s Marathon – 2:06:51 (Tariku Jufar, 2012)
Women’s Marathon – 2:23:14 (Alemitu Abera, 2012)

Molly Huddle

Photo credit: Molly Huddle

Looking to fill that hole in the men’s race will be Worku’s countryman and last year’s runner-up Yitayal Atnafu, who hopes to improve on his own 02:09:07. Atnafu lead Worku until the very last leg of the marathon in 2018.

After winning the women’s race with a time of 02:24:51 last year, Biruktayit Degefa returns looking to become the first woman since 2010 to defend the course title.

Another runner to watch here is Tommy Puzey, whose win in 02:25:53 at the 2018 Toyota Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon, has garnered major attention. He’ll need to shave serious time to make a wave in Houston, but we’re not ready to count him out.

The Houston Hundred

Ultra running enthusiasts will also be closely watching Izzo Ultra Running’s Izzo Brothers. They’ll be running the first 73.8 miles of their 100 on treadmills at the Houston Marathon Health & Fitness EXPO, then running the Chevron Houston Marathon with the rest of the field to finish it out. EXPO visitors can donate to the Houston Marathon Foundation for a chance to run alongside the brothers for a few minutes or a few miles!

Bazu Worku

Photo Credit: Chevron Houston Marathon men’s winner Bazu Worku crossing the finish line.

Run for a Reason

Of course, it wouldn’t be The Chevron Houston Marathon without the Run for a Reason Program. Each year the event raises over two-million dollars to benefits its 64 charity partners, totaling over $28-million since the event began in 1995.