call your shots

Jim Walmsley is my favorite professional trail runner.  Last week he won the “super bowl” of U.S. trail running, the Western States 100, by shattering a 5 year old record by more than 15 minutes.

This video is the first video I watched of him and I became an instant fan.  In the two minute video, Jim tears down the mountain with almost inhuman agility and courage.  In the voice over (while he’s barreling down a Arizona mountain), he talks about finding a way to make it in running as if the stakes are do or die.  And now, after following him for 3+ years, his approach to racing is uniquely consistent:  it’s always do or die.

  • Quick context: Post brief career with Air Force ~2015, Jim settled into the trail running community of Flagstaff, AZ.  He quickly became recognized as one of the sports biggest stars, notching wins across the world in the 50 mile distance.  Jim is ridiculously talented but what makes him unique to this sport (which is historically for athletes focused on internal competition vs. external) is that he’s likeable but cocky.  And he’s a shit talker.  For example, he’s not afraid to claim in interviews leading up to multiple races that he’s going to crush the course record and he dares someone to try to keep up.  Or that the only person that can beat Jim is Jim (and he might even talk in third person).  The community is okay with the talk is fine if you can back it up.  But after a lot of chatter about records and wins in 2016 and 2017, he failed to deliver which has frustrated some athletes and fans of the sport.  That was until last Saturday.  He executed brilliantly last Saturday and silenced the doubters.  For now.

Starting around 10:45 in the linked video of his second failed attempt at Western States in 2017, he explains his approach in his own words.  I appreciate the guts it takes Jim to call his shots and then fight to back it up.  I like the accountability it puts on him to train hard and show up ready to do or die.

  • “Babe Ruth either hit home runs or struck out, and everybody remembers the home runs he hit after calling his shots.  Bad days are okay but at the same time when you go for it, and you go to crush it, it will work out occasionally and those are the races that people will remember.  If you say you’re gonna go sub-14 hours, it doesn’t matter what the conditions are, go try to send it!”

After watching Jim, I realize that I’ve never approached race / test / presentation with do or die / all in mentality.   I’ve traditionally taken the more self-deprecating public approach to big goals (e.g. “Uh, I’m going to give it my best, but don’t feel that great, so could easily see failing..”).  I take this approach because I’m hedging so that at least in the eyes of friends and family, I can’t lose because I was never ready in the first place.  I always leave myself an out.  And I’m learning that that means I’m never really all in.   Jim’s approach of “I’m going to dominate this race and everybody that enters it” immediately puts a target on his back, creates enemies, and opens him up to attack if he doesn’t execute.  But if you asked Jim about his approach I think he’d say something along the lines of, “I want to be the target, I want to be hated, because I do my best when it’s do or die.  And I’m trying to put together legendary performances.”

I think I should start calling my shots more.