Ryan Won Western States, Not Jim… Get Over It!

Penelope Cairns |

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! – By Linda Doke

Image from Jim Walmsley's Instagram Page.
Image from Jim Walmsley’s Instagram Page.

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 are 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.

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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 pre-occupation 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.

A Runner’s World US article 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 loud-mouthing about an intention to smash the course record?

Extracts from Walmsley’s pre-race interview on iRunFar.com:

“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 often over-confidence comes before a fall…


This article originally appeared on Rockhoppin’, a blog by Ultra-Trail Runner Linda Doke.

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!

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