HOKA ultrarunner Jim Walmsley set the running world on fire with his 50-mile world record at the 2019 edition of Project Carbon X. However, he has some unfinished business, as he wasn’t able to hold that pace through 100K (roughly 62 miles). With the upcoming Project Carbon X 2 on January 23rd at 7am MST, Jim has a chance at redemption, so we sat down with him to learn about 2019’s race, how training has gone this year, and what his goals are for Project Carbon X 2, and more.
HOKA: Before we dive into this year’s event, tell us about 2019’s Project Carbon X. How did that race go for you?
2019’s Project Carbon X was a really good day for me. I was able to break Barney Klecker’s American Record from 1980 of 4:51:25 and Bruce Fordyce’s World Record from 1983 of 4:50:51, with my own time of 4:50:08 for 50 miles. It was a little nerve wracking trying to decide on which distance to target for 2019’s event. It was a pace of 5:48/mile for the 50 mile WR or the 100K WR pace of 5:56/mile. On paper, I had thought those might be close enough paces to be able to target both goals in one race, and that’s what HOKA set up for me to try. With warm temperatures in Sacramento in May, some unexpected hills along the chosen route, and running some impatient early miles, it all added up to not be my perfect day. Instead, I was realizing as I kept getting closer to 50 miles, that it was going to take my full gas tank in order to just pull off the 50 mile WR time. In reflection, the 50-mile World Record has a rich history, dating back to before I was born. It was very rewarding to target the record held by Barney Klecker and Bruce Fordyce. I wasn’t able to hold onto the 100K WR pace from there, but I still took away a really great experience.
HOKA: 2020 has been a tumultuous year; how has training gone for you since the 2020 Marathon Trials?
Like most runners this year, races have been few and far between. Since the Trials, I tried to mix in some other training like indoor cycling on Zwift in my garage, as well as still going out to Colorado for a summer of camping and big mountain running. In 2020, I’ve gone through confusion like most people. I have felt periods of being tired or unmotivated; I have sometimes struggled with distinguishing the difference. Despite that struggle, training has been really great overall for me. I’ve had long blocks of steady mileage without reaching too much for big weeks and I have avoided taking much time off. I ran a really fun 72-mile run in the San Juans with 25,000ft of climbing and I got to race my first ever stage race on super technical trails in the Azores Islands. Both were a nice, much-needed change from road training earlier this year. 2020 will be the first year of my life, that I know of or I have documented in training, that I will reach 5,000 miles for the year. That mileage also has about 800,000 feet of elevation gain in it.
HOKA: What are your goals for this year’s Project Carbon X 2? What did you learn from the 2019 race? Has anything changed in terms of training for this year’s 100K?
My goal for this 100K is to put my best foot forward and to put things together from what I’ve learned from my previous attempts at 100K road races. This will be my third attempt at a road 100K. I feel that my results in the 100K road distance are still disproportionate to my capability. So ultimately, I would like to take away the feeling of a good result. Going into this, I will be setting my sights and pace goals in line with trying to break Nao Kazami’s World Record of 6:09:14, at 5:56/mile pace. The biggest thing I learned from 2019’s Project Carbon X is not to lose patience. I want to maintain patience even when I am feeling good. I can’t start to wind up the pace and speed up too much too early. I need to stay with the goal pace and trust myself to be strong later. Perhaps closer to 55 miles is when I can start thinking about running below 5:50/mile pace. It would be a very positive feeling to run an evenly paced first 50 miles and build onto that the last 12 miles. Like many people, I have self-doubts about how I will feel late in races. I need to trust my training and fitness and make this about running the full 100K and aiming to break 6:09.
I see there are two big differences in my build up this time around. The first difference is there is no goal race, like Western States, looming afterwards. I am able to take full advantage of this race opportunity. The second difference is that this training block has the benefit of more speed training from my marathon block from the 2020 US Marathon Trials. My speed and efficiency on the roads have never been better in my ultra running career than this current block. Speed sessions from 2018 were really eye opening for me. They were a bit frustrating. I was able to knock a lot of rust off to run 1:04:00 for the half marathon in Houston in 2019, where I initially qualified for the trials. Then, revisiting that leg speed later in 2019 for another half marathon, workouts clicked differently than my first time back in the saddle in 2018. I was able to take a minute off of my half marathon time the month before the trials. Now, training for the 100K, I am currently feeling good about being able to hit threshold work in the range of 4:45/mile. However, I am still including sub-70 minute climbs out of the Grand Canyon’s South Kaibab trail once a week into my training. This provides more strength for my long road runs. It is now about one month out and I am getting very excited about my training leading into Project Carbon X 2. I have kept a nice balance in my training so far.
HOKA: The Carbon X shoe has been updated; what are your thoughts on the Carbon X 2 compared to its predecessor?
Compared to the original Carbon X, this shoe feels faster, no question. It has a nice heel to lean back into when I’m focusing on staying relaxed, while having a responsive forefoot to run at a quicker pace. I find my position while running is more ideal. I don’t feel as far forward as I did with the original shoe. It makes for a great tempo pace shoe and I am excited to feel even better for this 100K.
HOKA: How do you feel about this year’s field in the 100K? Who do you think will be your biggest competition?
I am still learning more about who has confirmed for this year’s race. COVID-19 is playing a much bigger role and making it difficult to have as many international athletes as we would have hoped for. That said, HOKA is making the most of the situation in a creative way that should enhance the event greatly. There will be a concurrent 100K race held in Japan. Japan, as a country, has been the kings and queens of the road 100K event. Knowing they will be time trialing as well, it will add a really great benefit for us in the US. It adds a type of ghost on my shoulder all day. I hope it will push us at the front of the race towards breakthrough times, knowing they are aiming for the same goals.
It will also be fun to see many HOKA athletes I haven’t gotten to see at races in 2020. Elov Olson, Joacim Lantz, and Johan Lantz from Sweden sound like they will be able to travel in for the race. I’ve become good friends with them over the years. We should have some really interesting dark horses traveling in from South Africa. Many of us Americans don’t know as much about those athletes. South Africa, like Japan, is another ultra road-running-crazed country engulfed by the great Comrades Marathon race. It is their Super Bowl of events in the country with a 56-mile road race in June every year. Tyler Andrews, Tim Freriks, and Jared Hazen have been training up here in Flagstaff with me. I know they are ready to chase fast times. It will also be great to line up as HOKA teammates again with Hayden Hawks. I would love to get him back a little for breaking my course record at JFK last month! haha
HOKA: What do you think about this new course in Arizona compared to last year’s 100K course?
A lot of planning went into Project Carbon X 2 to make it even better than the course in Sacramento. In retrospect, 2019’s course ended adding some difficulty with the May temperatures in Sacramento and some of the punchy, little hills along the course. 2021’s course has all the right ingredients for a fast course. I am excited to have the opportunity to chase a world record in my hometown.
I feel humbled that HOKA is able to take the necessary precautions to hold an event like this during the difficulties of 2020. I have a little bias, but the desert in Arizona makes for a perfect place to race in the winter months. Good temperatures and flat land in this area of Phoenix make this area ideal in January. Project Carbon X2’s course should be very fast and we should be able to maintain a good flow of pace all day out there. At HOKA, we all learned from 2019’s Project Carbon X. I feel like Christian Moore and the team at HOKA have really dialed this 100K race course in on near perfect. It’s on myself and the other HOKA athletes now to show up ready to run fast!