Last updated: 26-Oct-18
By Luke Jarmey
Kilian Jornet seems to have no limits. Every year he delivers new and exciting records and challenge busters that inspire the rest of us ordinary mortals. His most recent feat was to conquer the Bob Graham Round, telling RunUltra in this interview beforehand that, “Fell running is the history of our sport, so I’m super inspired by those pioneers and would definitely try it at some point.” Well he not only tried it, he smashed it, taking nearly an hour off the record that had stood since 1982 when it was set by Billy Bland. Kilian Jornet is more than just a runner he is a legend and it virtually impossible to overegg his impact upon the world of ultra running and mountain endurance sports. He has a ridiculous race record, personal projects that blow the mind and a crossover appeal like no other.
Read on to learn more about his racing, his approach to training and his Summits of My Life project, including Everest.
Q. So Kilian let’s kick this off with a bit about your background. A child of the mountains from the moment you were born, you grew up in a 2000m high alpine hut in the Pyrenees.
This obviously affected your attitude and relationship with the mountains, but to what degree do you believe it affected you on a performance level?
A. For me, being in the mountains is something natural, it is where I feel good and comfortable. So running and practicing outdoor sports was part of my daily routine as well, and we can say I’ve been training my whole life.
Q. It appears that you were very focussed on racing when you were younger, but in recent years, particularly with the Summits of My Life project, that focus has perhaps switched over to personal projects.
Has personal achievement in the mountains always been your main motivator? Or was there a time when you considered victory in racing as your primary driving force?
A. I really love to race, the competition, the people… so I won’t stop racing anytime soon. But now I go to races that motivate me, winning is no longer a priority for me. Besides, I combine it with different personal projects because I really like the versatility.
Photo credit: Mark Usberger.
Q. You’ve mentioned that the 2017 UTMB was one of the strongest competitor fields you’d been in. If a similarly competitive line up was penned in for another of the major ultras, would that be a motivation for you to return to them?
A. Yes, probably!
Q. Ok, we’ve got to talk about your colossal Summit of My Life project. For those readers who are unaware, can you give us a brief overview of what the project is all about and what inspired you to take it on?
A. Summits of My Life is a project we started back in 2012. The idea was to set up FKTs in some of the most iconic peaks around the planet. I wanted to do it surrounded by friends and with my idea of going fast and light to the mountains. Throughout the years I’ve learnt so much about myself as an alpinist and as a person that at the end, the speed wasn’t the most important part of the project but all that learning.
Q. All of the speed attempts must have had their own unique challenges and hardships. We’ll come on to Everest in a second, but which of the other peaks did you find the most problematic and why?
A. I think it’s hard to choose one, because they all had their things.
Q. I’m sure the broken leg has scuppered things a bit, but do you have any idea when you’ll be attempting the Mt Elbrus speed record again?
A. At this time, I consider the Summits of My Life project finished, so I’m not thinking of going back to Elbrus.
Q. A number of your records have now been broken (we’re looking at you Karl Egloff!). Do you have any desire to go and reclaim them?
A. Not really! Records are there to be broken. This means that sport is evolving and that other people are doing great things as well. I went there, I did my best, and I’m happy with what I learnt, so there’s no motivation for me to do them all over again.
Q. Ok on to Everest. Your accomplishment here is initially difficult to categorize. For instance, on the surface at least, there have been faster ascents in the past.
However, when looking at the whole picture; the fact that you weren’t using oxygen or ropes, starting from the Rongbuk Monastery on your first attempt, your illness and that you summited twice in 5 days… the scale of accomplishment is simply monumental.
Are you satisfied with what you’ve achieved on Everest, or do you have an itch to get back there and push even further?
A. Yes! I’m supper happy for different reasons. Firstly, because I tried a new type of acclimatisation training at home and that allowed me to go high and feel good without having to spend a month in a base camp, that is something I don’t enjoy. Secondly, because I felt very good in altitude, so all the learnings from past years have been worth it.
Also, even though I was feeling pretty sick the first time and with bad weather the second time, I kept pushing, and that taught me a few lessons about resilience.
Finally, I wanted to test whether it was possible to start from the bottom in Rongbuk and do a single push to the summit without oxygen or assistance, and I realised it was possible. So, overall the result was great!
Photo credit: Jocelyn Chavy.
Q. Can you give us any insight into your training for Everest? Were you employing any new training techniques or anything out of the ordinary?
A. I trained very hard for Everest. The month before going to the Himalayas is probably the one I’ve trained the most in, in my life. The idea was to do activities around home that would put me in difficult situations, so I knew how to solve them when the time came to the Himalayas. Also, I trained with a hyperbaric chamber to acclimatise before going there.
Q. You’ve spoken in the past about the importance of ‘mental control’ when pushing yourself in the mountains. The effect of euphoria and fear on decision making. Why is this so important, and do you think there’s any way to help train your mind for this?
A. Yes, definitely training your mind is as important as training your body. I’ve read a lot about this over the years and try to test it on myself, so when I’m put in difficult situations I know what to do. Fear, for example, is basic, because is what keeps you alive in the mountains. When you’re scared you know it is maybe the time to turn around and go home.
Photo credit: Philip Reiter.
Q. Just to get a tad UK centric for a minute… Have you considered competing in a fell race? And following on from that, have you ever thought about doing the Bob Graham Round?
A. Yes! The Bob Graham Round has been on my list for a long time, but for various reasons I haven’t been able to give it a try yet. Fell running is the history of our sport, so I’m super inspired by those pioneers and would definitely try it at some point.
Q. On the topic of endurance running, what 3 pieces of advice would you give to someone looking to compete in their first 100-miler?
A. I would say:
- Enjoy yourself: if you enjoy what you do you’ll be able to improve.
- Rest and listen to your body.
- Be safe and test your gear.
Photo credit: Oriol Batista.
Q. What does an average trail running training week look like for you, in terms of volume, type of training and intensity.
A. In the summer, the season is from May to October. I do between 20 and 35 hours a week volume or high volume training and go on a couple of outings a day of between 2 and 7 hours, depending on the day. In this season, I spend 80% of my time running and the remaining 20% on the road, cycling.
Q. How much attention do you pay to nutrition? Do you go purely on feel or do you place greater emphasis on different nutrients depending on where you’re at with training?
A. I don’t take particular care in terms of nutrition, but since I live in the countryside we try to eat local and fresh products, some of them we grow them ourselves!
Q. Righto, to wrap this up, with your Summits of My Life project over… what’s next?
A. I don’t know yet! So many projects in mind, we just need to start working on them now.
Many thanks Kilian!
Photo credit: Javi Colmenero.
Links for more on Kilian:
Summits of My Life Project
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