Jim Walmsley Prepares for His Return to Western States

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The Western States 100—the oldest and most competitive 100-miler in the U.S.— looms just a few days away, June 24-25, 2017. The race routinely attracts a deep field full of talented elite runners, but, this year, one runner in particular will have everyone’s attention: Jim Walmsley.

Last year, Walmsley took a wrong turn at mile 93 of Western States, costing him what looked to be a record-setting victory. This year he has earned another Golden Ticket (the top two finishers in a series of six races earn a spot outside the competitive Western States lottery), and is returning for redemption.

Now based in Flagstaff, Arizona, Walmsley is beginning his final days of training. When Trail Runner caught up with him, he had just finished a routine training run—a “three-hour loop” that measures 21 miles with 5,100 feet of vertical gain.

“That run’s been kind of a staple of my training,” he says. “It’s an hour and a half from Flagstaff, so it makes for about a half day.”

With training done for the day, Walmsley spoke with us about vegetarianism, his Western States nutrition plan and his goals for Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), which he tackles later this summer.

RELATED CONTENT: “New Film Follows Jim Walmsley’s Life from the Air Force to Last Year’s Infamous Wrong Turn at Western States”

How has being a vegetarian affected your training as an ultrarunner?

 The short answer is that I don’t feel it affects my training at all. I don’t think I’d be vegetarian if it did.

I don’t like the way we process meat in America, and there are plenty of other options. It’s personal preference. It comes down to: does [a lack of meat] affect my running? If not, then I don’t mind cutting it out. I do take whey protein recovery drinks, which seems to be more absorbable than soy or egg proteins.

Walmsley eats his typical pre-race breakfast of granola, almond milk and Red Bull, before the 2016 Gorge Waterfall 100K. Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer


What’s in your fridge right now?

There is probably more of a lack of stuff in my fridge. I’ve got almond milk in there, and I’ve accumulated a lot of spices. But it’s pretty bare. I’ve been traveling so much that I haven’t been stocking up.

What are your favorite things to cook?

When I do cook, it’s pretty simple. I make fajitas a lot, and my roommate knows how to roll her own pasta, so we do that every now and then. I like salads, and I do granola for breakfast pretty regularly. Then I snack a lot throughout the day. I’m a big procrastinator, and you can’t have a big meal right before you run, so it’s important to just snack.

What’s your nutrition strategy for Western States?

 I eat kind of like a hummingbird, just fueling on simple sugars. [For Western States] I’ll use a mix of gels and drink-mix hydration, anywhere from 350 to 500 calories of sugar per hour. You have to look at aid stations and predict your time between them, and then plan your calories accordingly.

I’m probably not going to eat more than 550 calories at a time, because that gets pretty tough. Less than 350 calories can mean I’m not getting enough fuel. I’ve found the ability to slam a bunch of calories can really save your race in an ultra, because you can skip [fuel] and not realize you’re hurting [until its too late].

What will you eat before the race?

I’m likely going to stick to granola and almond milk, just a light bowl with maybe some blueberries. And I’ll probably drink a Red Bull. The race starts at 5 a.m., so I’ll eat that around 3 a.m.

You can avoid a lot of gastrointestinal distress if you start that way, eating well before racing. Some people think the Red Bull is just a stomachache waiting to happen, but it works better for me than coffee, to get my body to wake up.

Will your nutrition for UTMB look different from Western States?

The UTMB course record is 20 hours 11 minutes. That’s significantly longer than Western States, where I’m planning to be hopefully in the low-14-hour range, maybe on a really good day under 14 hours. For UTMB I’ll probably mix in a bar here and there, especially at night or if a section is significantly slower.

It changes things up to be chewing something. Even though I’m getting a significant number of calories [from hydration mix and gels], it doesn’t mean I’m not hungry. But you’re not just going to stop and eat a sandwich. You have to be OK with that discomfort. In a race like [UTMB], even a candy bar can be OK, or a slice of pizza—something that’s satisfying but wont hurt your stomach.

What’s the first thing you’ll eat (or drink) after Western States?

 I don’t know yet. I would love pizza. I’ll probably have had pizza the night before. I’m pretty religious about having my recovery drink within 30 minutes of finishing [a long run or race], but, after that, pizza. And I’m sure someone will give me a beer.

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