The 2017 Western States 100 miler ultramarathon took place yesterday and there was a great deal of hype brimming up until its start out in Squaw Valley. Jim Walsmely was the favored winner for the race, expected to take the title while also smashing the course record. For those of us that watched the live coverage of the race (provided by the wonderful iRunFar crew), it seemed that this year long prophecy was going to come true.
Looking “fresh as a daisy” at Mile 15, Walmsley passed through at a time of 2:20:00. The next runner to be seen was Elov Olsson, who was now trailing Walmsely by 18:30.
Not too long later, at Duncan Canyon (Mile 24.4), Walmsley passed through in a time of 3:28. Ryan Sandes came in behind Walmsely in second place, then 30 minutes off of the lead.
Coming into Robinson Flat (Mile 30.3), Walmsley blew through with 4:20 elapsed. After taking a few minutes at the aid station, loading up on ice, Walmsely was back on course. Sandes remained in second place, coming in cool and collected, yet still caught 37 minutes behind Walmsley.
Over at Last Chance (Mile 43.3), Walmsely passed through in 5:55 elapsed. By this time, he was 1 minute behind his 2016 WS100 paces and 22 minutes up on the CR. It was apparent to many that Walmsely, following his unfortunate mistake in 2016, was finally going to get achieve retribution.
However, there were a lot of murmurings over the conditions of the day: Some of the higher peaks, Escarpment in particular, were covered in deep snow, and areas of the course were hitting record high temperatures. While Walmsely was setting down a blistering pace, proving that he had come back with a vengeance, there were concerns over whether or not he had taken these conditions into consideration for his race day preparations.
At Michigan Bluff (Mile 55.7), where it was reported to be “dang hot,” Walmsley still managed to pass through in 8:00 elapsed. He was still a few minutes slower than the previous years pace, but he was now 23 minutes under Olson’s 2012 CR. Ryan Sandes appeared at Michigan Bluff 56 minutes behind Walmsley, but still looked tough. Others would follow, but Walmsley was miles ahead of the pack.
Over at Foresthill (Mile 62), Walmsley came through with a solid 9 hours elapsed. People were saying that he was not looking as smooth as last year, but he was still working hard. Sandes still passed through Foresthill in second place, now only 53 minutes back, and looking “steady” while doing it.
And then, suddenly, the word on Walmsely went silent. While waiting at Mile 78, the iRunFar crew ended up seeing the new leader, Ryan Sandes, passing through in 12:27 elapsed. Then another runner passed, and then another, etc. All with no sign of Walmsley.
People were concerned that Walmsely might have made a mistake similar to last year’s, but most imagined that that was unlikely. Others were expecting that he finally bonked, pushing himself into the red for a little too long.
News finally came in later that Walmsely had ended up getting sick near Foresthill, unable to keep down any food and losing almost all of his drive in the process. Finally, as the race continued, Walmsley ended up dropping out of the race.
The complete details are still not fully known as of now, but it is known that Walmsley attempted to unseat Olson’s CR yesterday, braving the conditions of the day and paying the price.
Ryan Sandes went on to win the race, and it was a prolific win for him. It is unfortunate that his win did not receive as much attention from running outlets as Walmsley’s dropout did (iRunFar stayed on top of things, reporting live updates and giving attention where it was due), but this is no fault of Walmsley.
In the end. Walmsley ended up running a bit too hard under the elements, whether treacherous snow, high waters, and staggering heat. It’s something he acknowledged, stating,
Sometimes when you’re not careful trying to set off fireworks you light yourself on fire.
While many will see this as a failure for Walmsley (as well as he may have felt in the moment), there is still a deep characteristic of beauty and triumph within this. He went for the CR that day, and he gave his all to work for it. It may have blown up on him, igniting himself in the process, but he went for it. That alone shows enough personal strength.
Western States might just be Jim Walmsley’s white whale. But this is certainly not the last we have heard from him.
Photo: Alex Kurt