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Jim Walmsley and the Impossible

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On Saturday, June 23rd, 2018, Jim Walmsley ran for 100 miles, from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California in 14 hours 30 minutes 4 seconds. His pace averaged 8:40 per mile over the course of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in the 96-degree day (+/-), until he reached the Placer High track in Auburn to a crowd of hopefuls. Officials ushered his parents to special chairs at the finish. The media poised.

The roar grew as he rounded the top of the track and suddenly it was clear that it wasn’t just a 100-mile record that was being witnessed. Patience, humility, persistence and courage were crossing the finish line in the long and lanky body, wide shining eyes and toothy smile of Walmsley. Not an eye was dry as his smile tilted downward and he hugged his mother and father. Soon, the crowd was chanting, “Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim!”

He beat Timothy Olson’s 2012 record by 16 minutes and 40 seconds after trying twice before and epically failing, once due to a wrong turn while on course-record pace and once due to pushing what he calls his “suicidal pace” too far and DNFing from lack of hydration and fuel.

It seems he learned to listen to his body more, to take it a bit easier and relax this year. “It’s about running patiently, running more methodically, getting in creeks more and staying on top of nutrition,” he said.

That Walmsley finds inspiration from marathoners is no surprise when you listen to him talk about racing. “I love watching the dynamics of the marathon. The level of running is so competitive and so good. The way they train and the way they push what traditional thought is in racing and training is pretty extraordinary.”

He talks about his 100-mile strategy as though he were running a marathon. “I like getting people beyond their threshold pace,” he told Trail Runner in a pre-race interview. “I don’t necessarily want to run aggressively off the front per se. I would rather drag along the guys that are going to be chasing me. So if I blow up, at least they will, too.”

The catch, of course, is that Western States is not 26.2 miles. He ran it at a pace most strive for in a 50 miler or marathon. These “guys that are chasing” are fictional characters. His competition runs 100 miles the way they know how: listen to their body, use their strengths, be patient, fuel and hydrate smartly.

When Walmsley is out on that course, he’s mostly alone (without even a pacer) in a liminal bubble of his own creation between the possible and impossible. He widens the gap with every mile. No one is chasing him.

It seems that listening to his body and having trust were the keys to conquering his white whale this year. “Trust my rhythm,” he said. “Don’t question it, just trust my rhythm.”