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Aug. 16, 2022

Jim Walmsley | 2022 UTMB Pre-Race Interview

Jim Walmsley | 2022 UTMB Pre-Race Interview
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Jim Walmsley is a professional trail runner for Hoka based in the French Alps preparing for the 2022 UTMB.


This episode is brought to you by Gnarly Nutrition. Use code Singletrack20 at checkout to get 20% off your next order.


  • (0:20) - willingness to publicly set goals and be held accountable to those goals
  • (2:18) - experience so far uprooting from Flagstaff, AZ to live and train in the French Alps
  • (8:38) - whether there was ever any scenario for Jim where training for UTMB in the United States this summer made sense
  • (11:27) - whether he is primarily racing the clock or racing his competitors at this year’s UTMB
  • (14:40) - whether anything less than a win at this event would be a disappointment 
  • (17:03) - whether he is the American man best suited to win UTMB
  • (18:19) - whether he enjoys following competitors and the media circus in the leadup to these events
  • (20:28) - how he feels heading into this year’s UTMB compared to prior years
  • (22:02) - whether he’s as excited about ultra running as he was 5-6 years ago
  • (25:43) - whether he has a set timeline for how much longer he wants to compete in the sport


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Finn: Jim Walmsley, it's great to meet and it is great to have you on the Singletrack Podcast.

Jim: Yeah, thanks for having me. It's been some long time coming and glad to finally make it on the show.

Finn: Right on. Well, let's get right into it. One of the characteristics about you that impresses me so much over the years is just your general willingness to be public about your goals and furthermore, to be held accountable to those goals as well. And I think you've described it in that recent Wahoo film, like Babe Ruth calling his shot, which I loved. And I'm curious, where does that mindset come from? Like does it come naturally to you? Has it been trained over the years as a competitor? Talk about that.

Jim: I think it kind of goes to a bit of my - I feel it's honesty more than anything. Like someone asks what your goal is. My goal is not to be here and participate. I have a more competitive approach to it. And my goal at many of these races, I'm fortunate enough to kind of say like my, my goal is to try to win it. I don't really care to beat around the bush around that. I just kind of see it as a genuine honesty from my end and I don't think there's anything wrong with goals and, yeah, most people aren't gonna win it. And a lot of times I don't win it. So it doesn't really mean a whole lot, but, I think that's kind of what gets motivation going and, yeah, sometimes maybe putting it out there in the world also helps fire that stoke and keeps you accountable, like it's a self-accountability whole circle to it with the whole process.So it's not necessarily intentional or anything that I'm trying to do boastfully but I think it motivates me and motivates me to aim for big things.

Finn: You moved to France earlier this year to test the theory that the way to win UTMB is to train like the euros train. I think we're about three or four months into that experiment. What's the experience been like so far? And besides specificity, are you getting any other benefits that you couldn't get training in the US?

Jim: Yeah. So I've been here about two and a half months and honestly this year, it seems more like I've just come out here from my training block more than moving to France at this point. I don't think I've had a full Euro approach at this point in time. The biggest adjustments have probably come in choosing to not race in like January, February, like many years I do. I's very common in the US, I think. With our weather, we kind of have the opportunity to race in the winter in a lot of places, especially if you're from a moderate winter, sort of place to train you have kind of a bit of an advantage and that kick starts your season really early, especially if your last season just bled over from the end of the year kind of going into early winter, November, December, if you rebound with January, February, I mean, you, you don't have much of a break off season naturally created by seasons. So not doing a races early was a bit purposeful this year. Then choosing my first race this year at Madeira Island Ultra Trail just kind of with the style and thought that it's gonna be hard, it's gonna be hiking, it's gonna go through the night. There's some travel involved. And then it was kind of a new exciting challenge and yeah. So Madeira went really well in April. I ended up running probably faster than I thought I would on paper. Aafter seeing the course, I mean, it's pretty technical and kind of lives up to its reputation quite a bit and I was a bit happily surprised that I was able to train for that in Flagstaff. And even with our winter there too, it's harder in Flagstaff to get up in the mountains and actually get a lot of our vertical spots that we're hitting, but we're also able to get the Grand Canyon in March, February, March, April, really well where in the summer, the Grand Canyon is a double edged sword and it kind of gets too hot to really be in the canyon a lot for UTMB stuff. So, we have Humphreys that opens up probably in July. Sometimes, I would say June just before Western States, usually. But it was a lot of little small climbs that we have in on Elden. That's kind of from my back door in Flagstaff. And that one felt like a lot of repetitions of the same hills, but it's a difficult race to get ready for a lot of places in the world. I think being in a rush before France, it would be a challenge to get to prepare for. And it's been funny to hear some of Francois' stories of him pointing out a hill and it's like the only hill that doesn't have snow on it in March, April. And he's like, that's the only hill I got from Madeira. And he's like, man, that's worse than what we had available in Flagstaff. So not doing a race in January, February, early season, doing a more specific race in April that was more like UTMB and then the third really big thing that's not relevant to a lot of the changes that I made was I didn't run Western States this year. This will be my first time running UTMB without running Western States beforehand. And I've never finished both races in the same year. I think the one time I finished UTMB and took fifth, I didn't finish Western states that year in 2017. And then in 2018 and 2021 I finished Western States, but I also didn't finish UTMB two months later. So it's kind of hard not to connect those two lines,those two dots and kind of look at it as a pretty big elephant of like maybe putting those many eggs into Western States affects your race two months later, and I kind of described that, especially to Europeans, too, that us as Americans, we love Western States. I think we need to keep it that way, but, it affects our performance two months later in the fact that like we put everything in the Western States and then you just kind of roll the dice. I'm like, well, we'll see what we got left and we'll see how it goes.

And more times than not, that's been a difficult turnaround. But you also have people like Seth Swanson or David Laney that have done really, really well with that double, but, they didn't win either. So there's also that like kind of obvious point as well, when you're putting in so much energy to try to just from going second or third to first place, sometimes just takes a lot more effort out of you. And then just combined with the attention in between the two races, that kind of comes with more stress.

Finn: To close the loop on this location question, I'm curious because it does seem this year more than normal there's a greater percentage of American elites coming over super early to the French Alps to get ready. Was there any scenario in your mind where training somewhere in the United States for this race made any sense and would've made you confident for UTMB like the San Juans or the Wasatch or Mammoth?

Jim: Yeah. I mean, there's good places in the US. You can definitely get the training in. American women have obviously shown that you can win training in the US. I don't think Nikki or Courtney or Rory trained abroad more than any of the men that are doing it.

So, yeah obviously you can get it done, but, it kind of just goes to maybe some of the combination of frustrations of not feeling like I've performed. Like I know what I'm capable of at UTMB and I mean, I think the biggest obvious answer is that Western States for me has taken up so much energy and focus, but, there's so many other parts of improving out here in the Alps that I think I can do that. I think I'm just basically taking steps in so many other facets of my trail running and mountain running that I hope will come together and make me a lot stronger and more kind of resilient to survive good days, bad days, and every day out in a hundred miles in the Alps, like I think that's kind of more the goal is to learn how to survive better out here. But probably the most like straightforward advantage is just the lack of travel beforehand. There's no adjustment period. And I guess it's a 6:00 PM start. So, it's kind of a weird start for Americans anyways, and it's actually pretty good timing for Americans. If you don't switch at all, it would be a nice morning start, but, in reality, I think it goes more to just your feelings and how you feel in the lead up of the race. And it's always, or it's usually been a little bit of a struggle after travel to find that mojo again and sometimes the pop. And what do you do? Do you do more or less? And, it's always kind of trying to feel that balance and I don't like having to figure that problem for UTMB.

Finn: This is a little bit of a weird question, but I think it's important to ask because I think it has been a distinction for you at Western states, for example. When it comes to UTMB this year, are you racing the clock? Or are you racing your competitors primarily?

 Jim: I think you have to look after yourself and look after your own effort. So I think it goes to kind of finding what's sustainable for you, but at the same time, like, what I believe I'm capable of, puts me out there essentially, and more times than not, I find myself near or at the front. But that's kind of how I believe, like Western State started off - people similarly said it's too fast. It's stupid and whatnot. More or less like the last two times I've lined up at Western States I didn't care what anyone was doing. I kind of stopped caring what everyone's doing. And I said, I'm gonna run my pace. And this is what's gonna get me to Placer high school and just believing. rather than trying to put in any surges or different paces and just taking my own time and pace through everything. That's kind of how I found my good flow for Western States. And that's kind of the plan for UTMB this year is to find what I think is gonna be sustainable. What's gonna get me through the night. What's gonna preserve my legs for the last 50K. It doesn't really matter if you have a lead or not, if you can't hold onto the lead, then it doesn't matter. And if you can't close a gap in front of you, then it doesn't matter. But I also think like my last two races at UTMB, having two DNFs, it puts more into pressure of like really making sure I don't overdo it and make sure that I find that sustainable pace to complete the loop this year. Because I think if I complete the loop, it's gonna bring in more positivity than the last two runs here at UTMB and the goal is not necessarily to just be here for one UTM B. The goal is to really dig into kind of a more cultural lifestyle here in France, to become more French, I guess, and do what they do and train how they train. And essentially it's a multiple year project, not necessarily a training camp to come out here for UTMB. If this can turn into multiple UTMBS, then I would like that better than just trying to win this year. Yeah, I'm greedy and that would be great. I think anyone would take that.

Finn: Well, I was just gonna ask you, given that you're firmly embedded over there in France, and it sounds like this will be a multi-year project - it could happen this year could happen next year - but in the grand scheme of things, is anything less than a win at this event a disappointment from a competitive standpoint for you? Is that firmly top of mind?

Jim: No. I think that's pretty easy to answer that. Not winning is completely like fine. I think it's important to take the jump and realize that you can fail and failure could happen. But failure is actually probably the most likely outcome actually. For most people trying to do it, like one person gets to win a year, so that's not many. I think it's more fun and I'm really enjoying the process to just choose another goa to put all my effort into. And I think the process to come here to pick up more and more French to make friends over here to figure out life over here a bit - i's making me grow as a person and not just a athlete. So I think in the grand scheme of things, there's a lot of cool stuff that comes along with this goal that I'm trying to embrace in addition to just making UTMB as a catalyst and kind of the excuse to do it, but at the same time, life isn't UT M B, life's not trail running, life's not sport. Rhere's a lot more fun to be had out here. And I'm looking to do a lot of that while I'm out here in Europe, too.

Finn: Well, I gotta say before we keep going, I gotta salute your comfortability with taking on risk and failure. Again, in the long run, especially for athletes that are coming up in the sport, it sets a great example of how you can approach it. So I just wanted to say that, but one more question on this front, and I'll say this acknowledging that I feel like Americans treat UTMB like a proxy for the Olympics at ultra running. Like we treat winning this race like getting a gold medal. Many Americans have tried. I'm sure you'll get this question 10 times over the next two weeks. There have been athletes that like Tim Tollefson and David Laney that have flirted with wins in the past. And they're here this time around too, but are you the best suited American to get the job done when it comes to potentially winning this race in your mind?

Jim: Well I guess like your last point, I think in my mind, I believe I'm the best. In Tim's mind, I think he should believe he's the best. In Zach Miller's mind, I think he should believe he's the best. I think Seth Swanson's back in it. He should believe he's got just as good of a shot as anyone in surviving. He's shown he's gotten fourth year in the past. He's really strong and survives really well in the mountains. I think a lot of people should be believing in themselves more than anything. It doesn't help to believe in someone else. Believing in yourself is the only thing that's gonna help you get there. So, yeah. I mean, I genuinely believe in myself and believe that I'm capable of winning UTMB and so I'm trying to train appropriately and with that goal in mind.

Finn: Right on couple more questions. I'm curious, given that we're about two weeks out, are you someone that likes to follow competitors in the lead up to race day? Do you like to follow all the media circus or are you someone that likes to tune out and sort of go off social media and go in like meditation, monk mode, reading books, and like, just going about your day in peace?

Jim: I think different races are different. I feel like most athletes that are running UTMB aren't logging everything or aren't logging at all. So it doesn't really matter. There's no training to go watch. So, yeah, it helps almost with less people on there. There's not anything to care for, but I feel pretty confident in how consistent my block's been for months now and I guess at this point in my career, I feel confident in myself and I feel confident in putting in just a consistent workload without having to try to boost up extra numbers just because. I think I had one week get a little out of control, but that was because I was having fun running around Mount Blanc with some of the French Hoka athletes. And I wasn't gonna say no to that. And all of a sudden, I put in a pretty big week, but it also had a bit of its repercussions with recovering from it and having a bit of a little calf strain that I dealt with for a few days and didn't run. But I mean, yeah, everything I've done so far is on Strava and I'm not hiding anything. I am confident in what I'm trying to do and yeah, we'll see. I think I'll do some shorter stuff to kind of see and hope that maybe I'm as fit as I hope I am, but hopefully there's a bit of confirmation and confidence taken away from some harder efforts between now and in the race. And then, I don't know. At this point we got what we got and we're going in with it.

Finn: Well, and granted, we're two weeks out from race day right now. So there's still a lot of time to absorb the work you've been putting in this summer, but can you give the listeners any sense to how fit and rested you are at this point compared to where you were in like 20 17, 18, 19 heading into this race?

Jim: Not really. I don't have much to give anyone confidence that I'm doing it more right this year than I've messed up in years past. Ultimately I don't feel like I've figured out how to get the best outta myself at UTMB. So part of it's like I'm not surprised of any day I have out there. I'm going to just try to prepare for the day to get really hard, no matter what. And years past it shows it actually gets much harder in the night and to get ready for a hard long night and be ready to push through that as best as possible. There's no way around it. It's gonna get hard. So, just leaning into that, embracing it. And yeah, we'll go from there. We'll try to take care of the stomach. And then I think after that, if the stomach's good, the energy's better. And if the energy in stomach is there, then it doesn't matter what the legs say. You'll be able to to tell 'em to shut up at that point.

Finn: Last question. It's a little bit philosophical and it doesn't have as much to do with UTMB, it's more just like panning out into your whole career. I'm curious at this point, you're in your early thirties, are you still super stoked on ultra running? Like, do you still love this as much as the day that you got started, you know, 5, 6, 7 years ago? Talk about that for a second.

Jim: Yeah, it's interesting. I think I kind of describe it as your motivation and your goals have to morph and change throughout your life. I mean, I considered myself pretty competitive in high school and a little bit in college and like I've been chasing it for a while and then since starting ultra trail running, my goals have changed. And it was very predominantly like with Western States there and then learning so much about the sport as I've already been in it. So the goals are constantly evolving. And I think you have to keep adapting in order to stay competitive because you'll either accomplish what you've been chasing eventually, or you'll fail trying. And at some point you call it good, but if you can keep changing your goals, then I think you can maintain being competitive and relevant. So, there's that I think as far as ultra running. I mean, Western States was definitely a big motivation and fire for me. So to kind of feel like I've taken a step back from chasing Western States, is different. But yeah, I mean, UT M B's a different style of running than Western States or than Lake Sonoma or the North Face 50 mile sort of thing. Getting used to the hiking, the slower pace, the eating the, I mean, I still hate the pack. Like , it's heavy, it's bulky, I sweat through it the whole time, but I also appreciate that the pack kind of allows me to go further on adventures. I'm able to carry self sustaining gear to, to be more prepared and, and whatnot. So there's definitely an appreciation for it too. And then, I mean, the point to point travel sort of stuff you can do once you start carrying more food and bottles with the pack and then slowing it down to a lot more power hiking. It's pretty cool. But if you asked me in high school or college, like I never would've gotten motivated on this. So, yeah. I mean, I'm definitely really stuck to training and doing better in the mountains. UTMB's kind of that catalyst that I'm training for right now. And I don't know what the next goal is. I'm not sure what my schedule will be even next year or even after UTMB. I think I'd like to do one more race, but, I kind of gotta see what's going on with the body and how I react, but yeah, you gotta evolve. And right now the stoke is pretty high on UTMB. So that's about all I can kind of ask for at this point.

Finn: Well, like if you had to guess, do you see yourself being like a Tom Brady in this sport where you just infinitely want to be at the top? Or do you imagine yourself having these very concrete set timelines of like, I just can't see myself doing this past 40, for example?

Jim: No, I don't want to grow up. I'll keep doing it as long as I can. I mean, I made it past the 2016-2017 years of like, when are you gonna burn out? Like, aren't you afraid of that? And it's like, well, I'm still here doing it. So I think I've made it at least to what most people would really like as far as a career.

And you see plenty of other people in their forties, approaching 50 and stuff. I mean, Jeff Browning is still crushing at absolute beast mode. Hell, Ludovic Pommeret was leading out Western states this year. I'm just sitting there, like, don't let that guy go. He's gonna get away. Yeah, so strong and I mean, I think actually as far as looking at other people on Strava it's kind of interesting. I'm still a fan of the sport, but I think Ludo put, has put in the biggest week out of anyone I've seen this year after Western States and before I think what will be TDS for him. I think he put in 198 miles - just insane - at like 46, 47 years old.

Finn: Well, Jim, honestly, it's been such a pleasure to chat. I think I speak for everybody in our universe that when I say we are gonna be on the edge of our seats with the popcorn ready, getting ready for UTMB. I'll make sure to link to all of your social media in the show notes in any of these Wahoo documentaries that come out. Before we go, anything else you wanna leave the audience with? Any parting thoughts?

Jim: Ah, send prayers out there. We're gonna be in full send mode and we'll need everybody's support. So, yeah, I'm excited and I tend to have a knack for making it exciting for people to watch, even if it's painful for me. So, yeah I'm excited for it. And ready to go to the pin cave.

Jim Walmsley

Trail Runner

Jim Walmsley is a professional trail runner for Hoka.