Steep slopes. Technical climbs. Thin high altitude air.
This, preferably for 100 miles or so at a time with snow banks and glaciers, is optimal terrain for Kilian Jornet, world champion ultrarunner. “More miles, more fun,” as he says.
At 25, he holds records for climbing and descending great peaks (15,781-foot Mt. Blanc in France and 14,692-foot Matterhorn in the Alps), has set speed records on famous trails (165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail in the U.S.), and has won multiple ultrarunning championships. Most notably, perhaps, he’s won the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (a 103-mile race through the French Alps) three times.
He’s in the midst of a quest to set speed records on the world’s highest peaks, including Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. This project, called Summits of My Life, combines ski alpinism and running.
En route to the 2013 world ultrarunning 100k championship race in Vail, Colo., Jornet spoke to a crowd at Boulder Running Company. Before taking questions and signing copies of his book, Run or Die, for a line of fans that curved through the parking lot, he talked about what it takes to become one of the fastest trail runners in the world.
“It can be hard if you think of your training like work,” he said.
Born in Catalonia, Spain, to a mountain guide mom and ski instructor dad, Kilian was introduced to high altitude adventure at a young age. At 5 years old, he had summited the highest peak in the Pyrenees. To him, climbing is natural. If you can walk from home to school, he said, you can summit a mountain.
With an exceptionally high VO2 max and the aptitude of a mountain goat, he seizes upon what others see as obstacles. That is, with an optimistic, zen-like attitude to boot.
“The nice thing is to see how the mountain looks in this moment,” he said. Reportedly, he stopped for multiple mid-race star-gazing sessions during the 2011 UTMB. Emcee Brian Metzler, Competitor editor, described runs with Jornet as including breaks to admire trees, flowers, and streams.
Jornet, who was rescued from the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix earlier this fall, after being caught in bad weather, has been criticized for his minimalist approach to speed mountaineering — a “light and fast” approach to a hybrid of trail running and mountain climbing. But he seems to respect, if not adore and thrive on, the treacherous terrain and potential mountain hazards.
“The more you know the mountain, the more you know less than the mountain,” he says. “It’s huge. There are so many things we cannot understand in life. The nice thing is to learn more and more…Like a relationship…It’s impossible to understand everything.”
Follow Jornet and other ultrarunning stars — including the United States’ Scott Jurek, Dean Karnazes, and Anton Krupicka — during the 62-mile race on Saturday, Sept. 28, here. Other participants include Sage Canaday, Boulder Running Company’s Trent Briney, Emelie Forsberg, Kerrie Burxvoort, and more.