I'm not a natural blogger and I'm no techie. I'm an ultra trail runner by passion, and a journalist by profession - in that order of priority.
In this blog I use the one to talk about the other - my trail thoughts, musings and meanderings about running mountains and trails.
I call it rockhoppin', just because... well... that's what we trail runners love to do!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Less about the one who didn't win WS100...


It’s a week on from Western States 2017, and yet still we’re seeing articles focusing on the guy who didn’t win the race. I’m flummoxed. Anyone would think this was the first time in running history a race favourite didn’t end up the race winner!

Surely the answer is simple? He didn’t win because he wasn’t the fastest on the day. That’s a fact no one can deny. But then why is it so difficult for the US media to understand?

And the thing is, it’s not as if the guy was pipped at the post, or lost the race by a few minutes. No, Jim Walmsley didn’t only not win; he didn’t feature at all in the final quarter of the event – in fact, he didn’t even finish the race.

Many factors matter on race day and help the lead runner to a win. Careful strategising and management of race plan, effective nutrition, disciplined pacing, attentive navigation and constant mental strength are just some of the many ingredients that make a winner. All these, of course, being the culmination of months, if not years, of dedicated physical preparation and dedication to become what it takes to even have hopes of featuring in the top percentage of a race – any race.

There’re always elites who don’t win when expected to. Take, for instance, Scott Jurek’s second place at Leadville in 2004, the then twice winner of UTMB Lizzy Hawker when she came second at UTMB in 2009, and even the great Kilian Jornet at Hardrock last year and Transvulcania in 2014. That’s just the way winning, and losing, rolls – it’s all about who is best on the day.

The thing is, when these runners didn’t win in those races, they still featured in the top 5 placings, which meant they warranted significant post-race media coverage. What’s puzzling me is the media’s preoccupation with why Jim Walmsley did not win at Western States.

Am I missing something here?
This guy is fast, sure. But it’s not as if he’s won this race before and was hoping for a comeback. He has never won this race! He didn’t win it last year, and he didn’t win it this year. Get over it, folks. He wasn’t the only race hopeful who didn’t take the finish tape.

The thing is, he didn’t only not win…   did I mention, he didn’t even finish?

It’s simple: he blasted off way too fast, and he blew – spectacularly.
He’s not the first to have made such a rookie mistake, or to suffer the heat.
Runner’s World <read article here> refers to his taking off at a “torrid pace, running into ice, snow and deep mud within the first 20 miles, then coping with triple-digit heat. Even when conditions started taking a toll, he didn’t slow his pace to something more sustainable.”
Well, yes. There you have it, in a nutshell. Every participant endured those same conditions, he was not unique. Nor was he a novice to this race. He should’ve known better. Perhaps with a little more respect for the race, he would’ve tackled the day a little more wisely, like the race winner did.

In my opinion, too much pre-race hype around this man – who is elite level, yes, but one of many – distorted the reality: that there were many others on the day who approached the race far more wisely, making them better equipped to conquer the race.

Perhaps a touch of humility might be something this talented runner could benefit from in his approach to racing. His pre-race confidence and his ambitious goal to not only take the win but smash the course record may have been viewed as bold, and his self-belief commendable, but many would question whether he was even qualified to have such an audacious goal. After all, as I’ve already said, it’s not as if he’s won this race before. Perhaps aiming for a race win first, would be more appropriate, before loudmouthing about an intention to smash the course record?

Extracts from Walmsley’s pre-race interview on iRunFar.com <watch interview here>:
“The longer people try to go with me, they’re going to get dropped at some point…”
“I love the heat – it gives me an astronomical advantage.”
“My goal is to run the fastest 100 miles at Western States ever.”

Not to labour the point too much, but blasting off at blistering pace is not something that should impress anyone, unless that pace is sustainable. Clearly Walmsley’s pace was not, particularly for a 100 miler. Personally, with a race like Western States, UTMB, Grand Raid de Réunion or any of the other notably challenging big-name 100 milers out there, I only start e-watching the front runners with any seriousness from about the 120km mark. Anyone worth their salty sweat will know the race only truly starts at that point.

Oh how oft over-confidence comes before a fall…

13 comments:

  1. boom! After years of endurance racing it is a great feeling when over confident pros get disciplined. And beyond that when their excuses are put into place by well respected endurance athletes who also happen to write blogs.

    Well said Linda, your words ring true. It is annoying that the press are babying his ego, rather than focusing on the winners road to victory.

    Shame on the media!

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  2. I share your want for more coverage on some of the other performances from Western States but it too is a journalist's duty to not only follow the beat but follow THROUGH on their own storylines. It should not be surprising that the Ultrarunner of the Year and undefeated-up-until-Western-States runner garners pre-race hype and post-race enquiries about what went wrong.

    Also, not to get to analytical with your linguistics but, at first, your entry is a shame-on-the-media stance but then you slide into a shame-on-Jim type thing. This is, at the least, sloppy. But it also, "...distort[s]...reality". This article is, at its essence, hypocritical. It serves as a contribution to the very reports of which you think there should be less. And it is irresponsible with the delineation between the media's responsibilities and the runner's. Jim owes us nothing. He can run however he wants, and further more, you can run however you want. And if media sources want to follow up with interviews concerning his DNF's, it is a economic reflection of the man's ability to capture people's imagination.

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    1. Nathan, with no disrespect intended, there is some irony here. Your "not to get to(o) analytical" takes up the larger portion of your post.

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    2. You should not write when you should be asleep.

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  3. The author has struck a nerve. Athletes bragging about what they are capable of has garnered media attention and been the topic of discussion amongst aficionados of whatever sport is at the center of the discussion. We all like to see athletes who are confident and then back up their words with deeds, just like Joe Namath dud in Super Bowl #3. However, in Jim Walmsley's case with Western States, he has not been able to back up his attempts at a record with even a win, or a good podium finish. Better respect the conditions and finish than to blow up short of the finish.

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  4. Well said. Massive congrats to Ryan on his incredible win! And also to South African Kevin Harris for finishing the race. An awesome achievement to anyone who can finish this beast.

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  5. Although I get the point of this article, it is kind of ironic that the entire focus of the article was on Jim and not once was the winner of the race even mentioned by name. I think Ryan Sandes should have at least gotten a little bit of press, considering the article was bemoaning the fact that Jim got all of the attention when he (in the author's mind) didn't deserve it.

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    1. It's a running blog... one article at a time. Will you moan that the next one is about Ryan and not Jim?

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  6. Thanks for the article!

    Big respect to Ryan for the win! The man is a legend.

    Jim had a goal, he went for it, and he failed. Simple as that.
    He acknowledged that failure and is moving on.. i think we all need to as well.

    In my opinion, Jim has what it takes to win this race and possibly would have two Western States wins to his name already if:

    1. He didn't miss that turn in 2016
    2. Didn't go out too hard and ran a smarter race this year

    But thats ultra running for you. There are many factors (besides being ridiculously fast) that make a champion. Humility, patience being some them. Well done Jim, better luck next year!

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    1. If you believe for even a minute that luck has anything to do with winning Western States, then you are as delusional as Jim in believing that he could run a sub 14 hour WS100 in the conditions of 2017. South Africa's greatest athlete - in my opinion - Gary Player consistently won major golf tournaments in the US spanning a long career and it pissed off the US media no end that this humble South African could arrive on their shores and consistently beat their best golfers. After one of his greatest major triumphs a US reporter suggested to Player that his win was the result of a lucky bunker shot, to which Player replied "the more I practice the luckier I get".

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    2. Nothing remotely "humble" about Gary Player. the most self centred sportsman of any generation. Oh and as for the famous quote : "I’m a Great Believer in Luck. The Harder I Work, the More Luck I Have."
      Thomas Jefferson. And "The harder I work, the luckier I get." Samuel Goldwyn. Not so original...

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  7. JIm can take a lesson in humilty from guys like Kilian and Ryan. Make no mistake, I think he is tremendously gifted and will most probably set ultra races alight with some epic performances in the not too distant future. But for now I think he should take a step back and learn from the real pros (especialy with UTMB coming up)...

    Just an honest question to which I don't have a definite answer, has Jim competed and finished any 100miler races apart from 2016 WS... let alone win any of them with a course record?

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