Q&A with HOKA athlete Jim Walmsley
Written By: SportsShoes
We chat to HOKA athlete Jim Walmsley ahead of the world's biggest ultra-distance trail race.
Pictured: HOKA's Jim Walmsley competing in the 170km ultra-distance trail race around Mont Blanc (photo credit - HOKA)
Hi Jim, just how important is it to have one place and one race on the trail running calendar where the world's best athletes can come together and compete against each other?
Yeah, I think it’s amazing. I’m just really happy that we do have one race final and also a World Series. It’s not perfect yet and it’s still adapting, but it’s getting really good and there’s a lot of excitement around the sport right now, especially the ultra-distance Mont Blanc World Series and the finals.
I love it here in Chamonix. I think it’s awesome when you can gather all of the best athletes in the world into one or two specific races, like the main events at the Mont Blanc Trail Series. I’m lucky because HOKA sponsor the event and it’s also awesome to have their support.
Ultra-distance trail running can be a very dangerous sport - there has already been a fatality at this year's Mont Blanc event. How do you cope with the risk factor?
There is risk in this sport everyday. Every time I put on my shoes and I'm running in the mountains there's always a chance that I could die. I really feel for the family of the athlete who tragically died on Monday and I will pray for them - it's a very sad situation. But I think we all know as athletes that it could happen at any time and it's a risk, at least for me, that I'm willing to take, because of the love and joy I get from training and competing in the mountains. This sport makes me a better person, it influences my family and it helps us all tremendously. Also, there is risk in everything we do, I could get knocked down by a car on my way to work, so nothing in life is completely safe.
To answer your question honestly, I don't really think too much about the risk and I don't let fear control my life. I just go out there and do my best everyday, I try to be the best person I can possibly be and I think that's what we're all meant to do on this earth.
HOKA is the lead sponsor of the this year's Ultra-Distance Mont Blanc Trail Race Series. How do you feel about this and being on the team of HOKA athletes? Do you feel more pressure to perform because of this?
It's been amazing to see the brand grow, and especially to see what's happening around Chamonix at the moment, with the event village and brand activations. I feel that HOKA is a brand that you want to be a part of if you're a professional athlete. I've been sponsored by other brands in the past, but I've honestly never felt so much support, encouragement and positive energy from a sponsor in my life. HOKA supports us so well. I'm a professional athlete running in the mountains and it's really incredible because so many people in the world don't get to have these opportunities. I'm really grateful for everything they've done for me. It's great to see HOKA investing in their athletes and also in the sport. It's a privilege to be part of a brand that believes in the whole process.
This has been a big year of transition for you - getting married, moving to France and also taking a different approach to training. Can you tell us more about these life changes and how they've all had an impact on you.
Yeah there have been a lot of life-changing events for me this year. I got married May 4th and then my wife Jess moved out to France to live with me. I keep trying to tell her that this is the big one and that it's an extended honeymoon - but she says she still needs a separate one haha.
I'm having a really good time, but with transitioning out here it's not just about the training and preparation for the race. There are a lot of hard days, especially with all the paperwork, figuring out residency and trying to establish ourselves here in France. One of our biggest challenges is also picking up a bit more French because that's something we need to work on and the progress has been a lot slower than I anticipated. There have been some ups and downs and a couple of times where we've both found it hard adapting to life here. Sometimes Jess might be feeling a little down, but I might be a little more optimistic and vice-versa. The good thing is that we have each other and some really good friends to support us.
Pictured: Jim Walmsley competing in the Western States Trail Race (photo credit - HOKA)
You have a great chance of winning the 170km Mont Blanc Trail Race, how important a role does Jess have in terms of support?
She's also competing in one of the shorter Mont Blanc races, so she's very excited about that. But yeah, she also has the responsibility of supporting and crewing me. She's amazing at keeping me going, keeping me steady and remembering everything I've asked her to do. She's balancing a lot of things and she's a really big part of the team.
What's it like training out here in France and having other elite athletes, like François D’Haene to run with?
Sometimes François and the other athletes I run with look at my training say 'You ran during lunchtime, why are you running then? You either need to go before or after lunch - you should never miss lunch!'. It's safe to say that my training has been very confusing for people to follow in France, so I understand that a little bit. But honestly, François has been really supportive, helping me to navigate routes and making me feel very welcome. It's been a really nice and valuable friendship to have.
You're a three-time champion of Western States and the course record holder, but you decided not to take part this year. How difficult was it to watch from the sidelines?
It was easy actually! I planned a big long run so I was occupied! I ran from Courmayeur to Chamonix with one of my HOKA teammates, Joachim Lantz, as he was in town, so I suckered him into running 90km with me. It was a nice fun adventure and we got to check the Western States updates all the way and it was a big battle between Hayden and Adam all the way.
Ultimately, I took the decision not to race because I feel happy with what I've achieved at Western States and I have a contentment with the race at this point. It feels nice to set my sights on a new challenge, with only this goal in mind.
Now that you've been training for some time in France, have you noticed a physical difference in your running?
I've spent a lot of time over the years training and preparing for the Western States, that it's been a big switch to focus on the Ultra-Distance Mont Blanc Trail Race, because they are so different. Western States is much quicker, so for that I do more speedwork and faster long runs in training. But with Mont Blanc it's slower and there's a pack to carry, which changes your rhythm and technique. So, it's been a full commitment to running with the pack and by running I actually mean hiking. This has been the biggest difference in training and the biggest challenge for me. I've really had to slow down the pace and I feel that as a result I have more energy, stronger muscles and I hoping this will really help me in the race.
Will you try to stick to a strict race plan for the Mont Blanc Trail Race?
The biggest focus for me will be trying to set a pace that I feel comfortable with and building momentum throughout the race. I need to try and save my energy for the latter stages of the race, preparing for the tough sections and making sure that I take care of my stomach. My main goals are focussed on pace and strategy and I think if my energy is good then my legs will follow. My track record shows I can be competitive at the front of the race and I'm confident in my ability, so if I make the right decisions and look after myself then I should have a really good result.
Thanks Jim, from all of us at Sportsshoes and HOKA, we wish you the very best of luck for race day!