Why fear can yield your best results
Posted on June 21 2018
Jim Walmsley once charged a mountain lion.
In the early darkness of the morning, he sprinted through the Grand Canyon during his pursuit of the fastest-known time on the Rim-to-rim-to-rim trail. What he didn’t expect was a pair of glowing eyes ahead of him.
“It was one of those instantaneous fight or flight moments. If we had been two people on the trail, we would’ve run into each other. Luckily, the mountain lion was a little more athletic than a human and it just got up a wall — I have no idea how.” Jim says. “I don’t think I broke stride at all. In that fight or flight moment, I had the fight instinct. It’s a cool moment when I reflect on it, but maybe I should’ve thought twice and had the flight instinct instead.”
HOKA Trail Athlete Jim Walmsley is known for pushing the limits and that applies to whatever gets in his path. While he might race fearlessly, Jim sometimes experiences fear just like the rest of us. Just living and training on the trails in Flagstaff, AZ means Jim is no stranger to the dangers of wildlife.
Jim has learned to face fears by taking the advice of his college coach. “He always told us to learn to balance our overall stress levels. Even if your mileage isn’t going up or you go down in mileage, it might be appropriate because of what’s going on in your life,” he says.
And sometimes, he says, that means a bad day. And a bad day isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “A perfect day is easy to overlook because things went smoothly,” he says. “You’re able to learn a lot more from bad races than you are from a perfect day.”
He’s learned to transform fear and failure into opportunities for growth. It’s a mindset shift, he says. “When self doubt comes up, there’s a lot of positivity you need to reinforce and negative thoughts to deflect. If something isn’t going right, just worry about the next step forward and accomplish the small goals,” he says. “On race day, a lot of mental preparation is having confidence in the physical training you’ve done. The physical and the mental are tightly tied.”
Perhaps the race he’s learned the most from is last year’s debut at Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc — a 166 kilometer race that spans France, Italy and Switzerland with over 30,000 feet of climbing. He came home with fifth, but it wasn’t easy.
“Getting ready for that race was an amazing learning curve, especially after Western States in 2017 when I didn’t finish. During UTMB, I got to a point where I was in the lowest of lows and I wasn’t sure if I was gonna finish. But I mentally told myself, ‘I’m gonna get there’ and things eventually turned around,” he says. “I even had some of my fastest splits toward the end of the race, even though I had a super huge lull in the middle of the race.”
Jim’s 2017 UTMB race and his 2016 and 2017 race at the Western States®️ 100-Mile Endurance Run have proved to be some of his greatest teachers. And while they’ve been some of his toughest, there’s something about these experiences that keeps him coming back.
“I like to choose races that I connect with or inspire me to go train and get out the door, so it’s pretty easy to pick Western States. It’s the world’s oldest 100 miler and a lot of the best ultrarunners in the world have run it,” he says. “It’s kind of a way to backup and chase the ghosts of the past. Most everyone in our sport has tried their hand at Western States and it’s fun to continually try to perform on the big stage.”
This weekend Jim will face Western States for the third time. And with 100 miles, 18,000 feet of climbing, 23,000 feet of descent and temperatures that occasionally reach 100-plus degrees, he knows he will have a tough race ahead of him.
“It’s not easy to run that far. You have plenty of hard times in races, but that’s ultra running. There will be highs and lows and you have to know they’re coming,” he says. “A lot goes into preparation to make it look easy and I’ve spent years and years running. But nothing’s happened overnight.”
With many learnings behind him, months of training and the right mindset, Jim is ready for another big race ahead.