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The ultra-marathoner is excited to be back in Chamonix, France to attempt a third consecutive win at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc after what he calls a smarter approach to post-Western States 100 training.
The tall, lanky athlete with long, frizzy hair will be hiding in plain sight before taking part in trail running’s most prestigious competition on Friday evening.
Known throughout the world, this California native revels in the camaraderie he finds among his friends and fellow runners when he is in this revered mountain village. Nevertheless, he is trying to keep a low profile out of the public eye in the days leading up to the race given the crush of fans and followers lining up for his attention.
In a series of seven races in Chamonix this week, 10,000 runners will be competing, including 2,500 in the 171km UTMB. UTMB has always provided a global benchmark for competitive mountain ultrarunning as it features a deep field, a moderate altitude, long stretches of technical terrain, and steep climbs and descents through parts of France, Italy, and Switzerland.
Walmsley arrived in Chamonix on August 24 after flying into France about ten days earlier. During his time in partial disguise on Tuesday afternoon he wore a nondescript cap, sunglasses, Teva sandals and nothing from his primary sponsor, Hoka One One — made possible, in part, by complying with a local mask recommendation from the team. Aside from that, he also hasn’t posted on Instagram or Strava, in part to not disclose his location.
It’s not common to see so many people in hydration vests, running shoes, spandex, calf sleeves, and other gear after a run or heading to an expo,” says Walmsley, who is otherwise healthy but has a minor foot issue. It can definitely be an energy trap that you can get sucked into a little bit, especially if you are in the area during UTMB week, when everyone knows everything about all the elite athletes. It’s your responsibility to look after yourself and manage it. There are a few things we do to hide from the radar a bit.”
As Walmsley sees it, this will be one of the ways he changes how he approaches the UTMB.
He says he trained a little more conservatively in the seven weeks leading up to the 106-mile UTMB this week, having won his third consecutive Western States 100 in Auburn, California, on June 26. He initially spent a lot of time at home in Flagstaff, Arizona, and he also trained a lot up near Silverton, Colorado, as he has before. In contrast, he mixed in long days on his feet with big vert to ensure he could adequately recover and avoid overtraining.
In 2017 and 2018, Waldsley ran aggressively at UTMB – he wound up fifth in 2017 and dropped out of the race near the 75-mile mark – and both times he was fresh off a hard effort at Western States 100.
Taking two months for two hard 100 mile races is pretty quick, Walmsley admits. During your time at Western States, you will probably have brought everything you own with you, so when you get to UTMB you may not have anything left over. The lessons I’ve learned have helped me balance my workload this year. As a result, I’ve been fit-tired on the actual race day at UTMB; in the past, I’ve simply gotten started training as soon as possible for the purpose of cranking some crazy training in between.”
The New Approach of Jim Walmsley
Compared to previous years, Walmsley says he’s trained less volume this year, but he has climbed steep mountain trails more. A bike trainer was a big part of his springtime training for Western States, but it wasn’t part of his pre-UTMB training.
He said he built up for the idea that UTMB would be next and would require more climbing and longer hours. Therefore, that prepares us for a day in the mountains afterward that is longer. My confidence is boosted by another good result, and I know I’m going the right way. It is just a matter of replicating what I’ve already done. While I don’t need to prove anything in my training, it is imperative that I do the right things in order to make sure I am prepared for UTMB and don’t cook myself before the race.”
Walmsley, who will wear the No. 1 bib in the race, will be trying to become the first American man runner to win UTMB, along with other top U.S. runners Tim Tollefeson, Jason Schlarb, Tim Freriks and Andrew Miller. Francois D’Haene, Xavier Thevenard, as well as their countryman Ludovic Pommeret will also be competing, as will Norway’s Hallvard Schj*lberg and Russia’s Dimitry Mityaev. (Walmsley helped D’Haene win the Hardrock 100 on July 16-17, setting a course record.)
Only a handful of American men have finished on the podium at the UTMB women’s race (Krissy Moehl, 2006, 2009; Nikki Kimball, 2007; Rory Bosio, 2013; Courtney Dauwalter, 2019).
After fading to finish fourth behind fellow American David Laney with 15 miles remaining in 2015, Seth Swanson had been second. In both the 2016 and 2017 races, Zach Miller went off the front but faded to finish sixth and ninth, respectively, while Tollefson placed third in both races.
Apart from those recent efforts, Topher Gaylord and Brandon Sybrowsky tied for second in the inaugural UTMB in 2003, Mike Wolfe was second in the rain-shortened race of 2010 and Mike Foote was third in the rain-shortened race of 2012. Timmy Olson was fourth in 2013, Foote placed fifth, and Jason Schlarb was fourth in 2014.
Walmsley says that they are still banging on the door to get inside the party. “I’m still hopeful for a break-through with a big, long ultra in Europe. My results in Europe have not quite been as good as those in the USA. I am hoping to replicate my great results I have earned in the States here. What a fantastic opportunity.”
Waldsley’s second UTMB
Among the top 20 American men in 2017, Walmsley was one of six (Tollefson, third, Walmsley, fifth, Dylan Bowman, seventh, Miller, ninth, Laney, fourteenth, Jeff Browning, twentieth). A man from the United States has not finished higher than Schlarb in 2019.
“Until somebody changes that and wins it, it will always be the conversation heading into the race,” says Bowman, who aside from his strong showing in the UTMB in 2017 also finished second in the 145 km TDS race in 2019. Although we have the talent and are getting closer to catching up to the American women, who have done well here throughout the history of the race, we still have a long way to go. It’s time for the win that we’ve all so desperately coveted for the last 15 or so years. I predict Jim Walmsley to finally provide us with it.”
As for Walmsley’s training, he recently ran with friends in other parts of the French and Italian Alps. Over the weekend, he ran two longish mountain runs, and on Monday and Tuesday, he ran mostly flat 8-milers. After dropping his girlfriend off at Oriseres, Switzerland, for the 56 km OCC race, he planned to run a steep uphill hike followed by a mellow downhill run on Wednesday.
In the morning he plans to have a breakfast, do a 20-minute shakeout run, then take a nap before going to the 5 p.m. meeting. start of the UTMB (11 a.m. ET) ready to rock and roll.
Walmsley says the situation is exciting, but isn’t simple. Having success in long races won’t be as simple as showing up. For a chance, you need some experience and hard work, because you will really have your work cut out for you.
It’s my goal to make it all the way around (Mount Blanc) and hopefully to put myself in contention, but a lot of things must go right and you should take things one by one.”