Kilian Jornet Interview on His Grand Teton FKT and the Pikes Peak Marathon

On Saturday, August 12th, Kilian Jornet (Salomon) set a new fastest known time (FKT) on the Grand Teton from the Lupine Meadows Trailhead to the summit and back when he ran the 12.5 miles and 7,428 vertical feet run in just over 2 hours and 54 minutes. He broke Bryce Thatcher‘s legendary 29-year-old record of 3:06 in the process. In the following interview, find out why Kilian went for it, how he prepared for the attempt, and how the actual run went. In addition, the Catalan runner talks about his upcoming run in the Pikes Peak Marathon, which iRunFar will be attending on Sunday.

[Editor’s Note: Given previous discussions elsewhere, I’m compelled to ask that all comments in response to this interview be civil and respectful. Talk to others as if you were out running on the trails together. -Bryon]

[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]

Kilian Jornet Grand Teton FKT and Pre-2012 Pikes Peak Marathon Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Bryon Powell here of iRunFar with Kilian Jornet here in Manitou Springs, CO. How are you doing, Kilian?

Kilian Jornet: Fine, yes.

iRF: Earlier this week you ran the Grand Teton [in Wyoming], and you ran it really fast, the fastest time ever on that route. What made you want to go run the Grand Teton?

Jornet: Because it’s a nice mountain in America. Everybody says to me that out of Alaska it’s maybe the most beautiful mountain. It is a nice mountain. It looks a lot more like the Alps. Tony [Krupicka] and Rickey Gates says to me about the record, and I say, “Okay, why not to try?”

iRF: Did you know how important that record was especially in America and in the mountaineering community. Did you know about that at all?

Jornet: I didn’t know about the record before. I met the record holder in Speedgoat 50K in the race. I’m very happy for that. I talk a little bit about it, but I don’t know the history about the record.

iRF: Was this your first time in the Tetons?

Jornet: Yeah, first time with Anton and Sebastien Montaz, three days there. We go up for training and running two times before the record.

iRF: When you were doing the run, both in practice and when you were doing the record, when you’re meeting up with other people on the trail, because people do this and take days sometimes to get up to the top and back, what were they saying when they saw you and Tony moving so quickly?

Jornet: No, it was normal. It’s easy to pass because you can go to the right or to the left side. Yeah, normally people here go really quickly, but we are used to it. In Europe it’s normal to do these things and we are used to the reactions of the persons.

iRF: When you actually went for the fast run, did anyone else try it with you or did you run it alone?

Jornet: No, I ran it alone. The day before, we stayed [ran] with Emelie Forsberg. She also runs up and down. We run together in 3:51; for a woman, that is really fast. The next day, I run alone.

iRF: How fast did you think you could run it?

Jornet: I was thinking it was possible to run under three hours with the conditions. Things with the snow are really much faster and sometimes you can run maybe 15 minutes [faster]. I was thinking that was not easy but really possible to run under three hours.

iRF: Before you tried it, in the past year or two, people have been talking about “Fastest Known Times” [FKT’s] in the U.S. have become more popular. Especially, Bryce’s Grand Teton record was talked about a lot. People were telling stories about his attempt. They said when he was descending down the mountain, it looked like he was falling down the mountain because he was moving so fast. People were down in the valley looking up. What was it like descending off the top of Grand Teton all out?

Jornet: Yeah, I’m happy for the downhill. I came down I think in just one hour. It’s fast, but I think it’s really firm because in Europe, the Matterhorn record is really hard and the downhill really fast. Here the downhills were personal records and not really fast, so I know that it’s possible to run faster on the downhill. I think in America it’s not really common to have these kinds of records in these mountains, but I remember in the ‘80s people running Mt. Blanc with just the shorts and a t-shirt, and it’s much technical and the Matterhorn, so it’s quite normal in Europe.

iRF: What was the most difficult part of the challenge for you?

Jornet: I think it’s the first kilometer because it’s flat down. No, up at the top, the scrambling is nice, but when you know a little bit the route and you’ve climbed it two times before you know if you go little bit to the right or to the left. Then it’s not so technical and you can run fast and you can jump sometimes.

iRF: What was your favorite part?

Jornet: I think at the top and then between the top and the pass, the col, past the camp because it’s really rocky and you can run fast and jump. It’s fun.

iRF: In one sentence, what was the view from the top?

Jornet: The view is amazing. It’s different because you have the flat all around and this mountain and it’s the mountain. Just imagine you are in the top and you have a view of all around.

iRF: The whole world.

Jornet: Yeah, the whole world.

iRF: Let’s talk about logistics for a minute. You didn’t use any rock climbing gear, did you?

Jornet: No. The gear was a pair of Salomon Sense [shoes], one shorts, one wind jacket. I don’t carry water as there are three rivers.

iRF: No water and no shirt?

Jornet: No, because it’s really hot here.

iRF: So you didn’t take any water. Did you take any food?

Jornet: I took three gels.

iRF: You had your Suunto Ambit?

Jornet: Yeah, I had my Ambit for the GPS, but I was watching the downhill and it goes down a lot.

iRF: You’re obviously running quite strong. Just earlier today you ran the entire Pikes Peak course. How long did it take you to get to the top?

Jornet: I ran from the parking to the trail [summit] in 2:20. In addition, I stopped maybe 15 minutes in the camp talking with people. It’s a nice trail, but it’s flat. It’s all runnable and it’s difficult to follow all the trail because it’s…You see the mountain there and the trail is going, going [drawing switchbacks with his hand]…

iRF: Yeah, and what you’re used to is just going straight up.

Jornet: Yeah, going straight and then the rangers say it’s important you don’t cut for the ecology. And when you come to the top and see the big cars and the restaurant and the fast food, you say, “Oh, it’s not for the ecological.” It’s really sad when you come to the top and you see all these things up.

iRF: This weekend, there’s very good competition at this race.

Jornet: Yeah, it’s a good level.

iRF: Who do you think is going to push you to the top?

Jornet: I don’t know a lot of the American runners, but I know Max King. He’s in good form now. It should be a good race for him because it’s almost flat. Rickey Gates, too, if he runs the Ascent and then the Marathon, too, he’s in good form now. Then I don’t know all the local runners. But it’s a special race; it’s not like Skyrunning. So for me, it’s difficult to run there.

iRF: Yeah, it will be interesting. On the descent, you actually have to run fast. You can’t just let gravity take you down the mountain.

Jornet: Yeah.

iRF: So a runner like Max King or Sage Canaday who won Mount Washington [Road Race] and just set the White River 50 mile record… He has a road running background…

Jornet: Yeah, so I think it’s a good race for road runners going to the mountain because I think it’s like you can run and there are no rocks in the trail; so it’s a good race between road running and mountain running.

iRF: It’s good because it brings the different communities together.

Jornet: Yeah, like Sierre-Zinal or this kind of races.

iRF: Great. Well best of luck, and I hope you had a great time here in the states over the last couple of months.

Jornet: Yeah, sure.

iRF: Great to see you, Kilian.

There are 35 comments

  1. Chris Parrott

    What route did he run? I assume the Owens-Spalding route. I climbed the upper Exum years back and I think it took me all afternoon to reach the moraine where I camped. How awesome! Kilian is a bad ass

  2. Guy C.

    The good 'ole USA: can't run a direct route up or down the mountain, but as a consolation you can get a cheeseburger at the top. Great interview, thanks.

        1. George Zack

          yeah, Sage is running on Saturday.

          I sort of get the impression from his unspoken language that … he is less than stoked about this race. I mean, I am sure he will get after it and all, but his excitement for Grand Teton was at one level, and then he talked about how flat, lacking rocks and the cars at the top of Pikes. It does not seem to be the sort of event that inspires him.

          Call it the cry of the mountaineer …

  3. James @RedDirtRunner

    I had the chance to have dinner with Bryce and his wonderful family a couple of weeks ago in the Tetons. Luke Nelson (who has taken a shot at the record himself) was there as well. Bryce spoke to the Inca Runners Camp group in detail about his record. Before we left that week word on the grapevine was that Kilian was gonna take a shot at it. Bryce held the record for 29 years for a reason. It was a tough one to beat. Especially with so little snow up top. That was one hell of a run by Kilian.

  4. Thomas

    Nice interview! I love the different perspective that Kilian brings to U.S. Mountain races – I don't get it, but I love it! Now I can tease my friends about running a flat Marathon at Pikes Peak.

  5. George Zack

    So he ran a 2:20 with a 15 minute break, starting from the lot above Cog or down in town by the FD? Guess it doesn't matter …we'll find out on Sunday.

    1. Brett

      George, I took it to mean from down by the town he ran a 2:20 up to the top, but in addition to that kind of 'stopped the clock' and spent 15 minutes at Barr Camp.

      Wait until Kilian finds out the Sierra Club of all groups are the ones that sued and got the road paved all the way to the top. Welcome to America, where everything has to be easy and food can never be too far away.

  6. Ben Nephew

    Bryon,

    Did Kilian ever take a shot at the Matterhorn record? I am guessing he has, but it's not clear from his Quest video with Bruno. If so, that seems to be one of the only records he hasn't been able to get.

  7. Rick

    Would love to see Kilian take a crack at the Incline before he leaves Manitou Springs. With an average grade of like 38% it could be right up his alley for another FKT.

  8. Phil Jeremy

    I'm presuming his comment about switchbacks and fast food was his way of expressing the irony of the Speedgoat situation…..(and I know there's no cheesburgers at SP50 but he has a point)

  9. JMock

    Brett,

    I was scratching my head a bit on that. Wasn't it just last year that the Americans at UTMB were saying that Europe "shits all over their mountains" with gondolas and the like? Not saying either is right, just kinda funny to hear us say that about their mountains, and then them about ours too.

    1. John

      I think we need to keep a little perspective here. Pikes Peak is one iconic mountain in the US, and yes…you can drive to the peak. How many other mountains are there like that in the country? One cannot drive up Mount Whitney, Denali, Rainier or many of the other peaks in the Rockies, Cascades and Sierras. (I'm a little biased to the west here)

      And there are differences between establishing a trail, or even a road, up a mountain and sending all foot or car traffic up those routes versus allowing a free for all up the mountain.

      I mean what is ideal here? Probably established routes with zero fast food at the summit. I'm hoping we can all agree on that…even though the no fast food thing may now be a pipe dream at Pikes.

      1. KenZ

        Yes, and I think a lot of that has to do with how opinions and protection have changed over the years. Many, many "environmental/outdoor travesties" have been committed here in the US, and most of those would never happen if proposed in this day and age. But there is history there, and most of this happened when protections were few. On that thread, to cut the Europeans a little slack on their mountains, there's history there too, and their history (apologies to the American Indians of course) is one heck of a lot older than ours.

        Allow me to note some of the US-based things that would likely never happen if proposed now, but happened much more recently than most of what has been set as precedent in Europe:

        ***Pikes Peak (as noted), Mount Washington (you can drive there too, and the coal train to the top is an environmental disaster), THREE remaining large trees in California that you can drive through because we cut through them, Glen Canyon Dam(n), Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Freakin' Mount Rushmore (!WTF!), and many, many others….***

  10. Phil Jeremy

    I guess its just different cultures.I was in a French cinema the other day and two Americans came out complaining aggressively that they didn't serve popcorn….it was kind of embarrassing. There is a park in Mamaroneck outside New York and there is sign with a long list of all the things you CAN'T do which would damage the enviroment…we use to call it 'the no fun park'….but you could drive through it in a 4×4 gas guzzler.

    There are double standards everywhere.I always think that ski resorts in the summer (anywhere in the world) look as if the land has been raped……..but woe betide you cutting a switchback!!

  11. trail running

    Yeah exactly when all that speedgoat issue was happening, I was hiking around staring at the colorful industrial air and then later hiking up around the ski areas and the cuts on and through mountains and that was my gut reaction um environment and cutting switchbacks. It's funny though when Killian mentioned the top of pikes peak and ecology, never really thought about it even when I was up there in that just thought it was cool. It's the need to lecture and the need to have things easy that creates all these double standards methinks.

  12. trail running

    I might be thinking crazy, but I'm thinking Kilian won't be able to do as well as expected because pikes peak isn't steep enough for him going up and down and the incline is too short for him.

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