Breaking the record at the famous Western States 100-mile (WSER 100, 161km) ultramarathon in 2018 was not enough for Jim Walmsley, as he believes multiple WSER 100 wins cement a runner’s place in history. On Saturday, Walmsley won again, shattering his own record by 20 minutes.
“It feels like it is not an accident. It feels pretty good,” he said. “To be able to back up a year like last year makes me feel like I’m doing something right.”
He finished in 14 hours, nine minutes and 28 seconds.
WSER 100 is one of the most prestigious trail races in the world. It takes place in California, starting in Squaw Valley and descending through runnable, but hot, canyons, to Auburn.
Listen: The Adventure Trail podcast with Jim Walmsley
In 2016 and 2017, Walmsley entered the race, publicly declaring his intention to win. He looked set to break the record on his first attempt, but a wrong turn cost him time. He might still have finished high up the rankings, but he felt the mental stress generated by his mistake got to him and he went on to finish outside the top 10.
In 2017, Walmsley, 29, misjudged the heat and set out at a blistering pace only to overheat and drop out. This year, having already set the record, his approach was different.
“Getting the course record the year before takes the pressure of getting a certain time,” he said. “So it was about running within myself. But every year I’ve wanted to win just as badly, so it didn’t change much.”
Walmsley was in fifth place at the first aid station.
“I just sort of shrugged it off. I thought, ‘OK, so this won’t be a fast year’,” he said. “You can’t get frazzled by the first 10 miles of a 100-mile race.”
But Walmsley took the lead between the first and second aid station. After Robinson Flat, he began to get into his stride and never looked back. The weather was cool relative to other years, so Walmsley began to think something special was possible.
He built a healthy lead over training buddy Jared Hazen, who was in second place, but the latter was still pushing hard. Hazen finished second in 14:26:46, a time faster than the previous record.
It’s proving a spectacular season for Walmsley. He won a place at the US Olympic marathon qualifiers by running a 1:04 half marathon in January, then he set the world record for 50 miles in 4:51.25 in March.
“I was building for the 50-mile record for a while, even when I was in Hong Kong [in February] I was in the premature stages of training,” he said. “It feels pretty good to stretch that range.”
“I was trying to maintain a high level of fitness, but it made me hungry to get back on the trails,” he said.
Now, Walmsley is relaxing and taking it easier. He hopes the fitness he’s built over the last year will carry him through to his August schedule, which includes the 31km Sierre Zinal in Europe.
Along with qualifying for the Olympics, the big goal on the horizon is the Comrades Marathon, the famous 89km road race in South Africa, which takes place annually in May or June.
As for WSER 100, he will return.
“I want to win in the future,” he said. “I’m only 29, so I’ll definitely be back.”