Kilian Jornet, 2013 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Champ, Interview

After coming in third at the Transvulcania Ultramarathon in 2012, Kilian Jornet returned to win the race in 2013. In the following interview, Kilian talks about how his race went, whether he gets extra satisfaction from winning a race in which he didn’t win his previous attempt, the challenges he’ll face on the Matterhorn later this year, and much more.

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Kilian Jornet, 2013 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Champion, Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Kilian Jornet after your Transvulcania win. Congratulations, Kilian.

Kilian Jornet: Thank you very much.

iRF: This year’s race was a very dynamic race. Early in the race, Sage (Canaday) went out ahead, yes?

Jornet: Yes, he went out very strong. We were knowing that was going to happen because he was telling that and with all the races that he does and he ran with Cameron (Clayton). We knew he was going to start really strong. It was not a surprise. If they go two or three minutes in front, it’s okay. We were racing with Luis Alberto (Hernando) and Miguel Caballero, but yes, they started sprinting. It was like, “OKAY! They keep this pace to the finish they will break the record in four hours.”

iRF: So you didn’t worry about them?

Jornet: No. We were thinking that and then I was thinking that Sage could be first on the uphill, but on the downhill, they’re not really technical downhillers. So we knew on the downhill that we could catch them.

iRF: You caught them before the downhill.

Jornet: Yes, I think he pushed a bit too much. After El Pilar we started running a bit faster with Cameron and Luis on the flat. Then we saw Sage at the beginning of the uphill. During the uphill, we started running a bit harder with Luis and we caught him. Then the surprise was that Luis did an awesome attack. He started run really, really, really fast for the last 8k of the uphill. I said, “Oh, this is going to be hard!”

iRF: So that was more of a threat.

Jornet: Yes, because I know Luis well. He’s a good uphiller, and he’s not bad in the downhills. He can run fast. I don’t know how he was in the long distance because it was his first ultra. It’s awesome to finish like that. I was thinking that two or three minutes behind Luis in the downhill was okay.

iRF: You caught him how far after Los Muchachos?

Jornet: In the middle of the downhill, maybe 7k downhill, I caught him. I wanted to be really conservative during the race to not take risks because I remembered last year was super warm in the last part. I was running not easy but not hard and not pushing during the uphill. I was drinking, drinking, and I carried water almost the whole time.

iRF: You? Kilian Jornet had water?

Jornet: Yes! Almost half of a liter during the whole time.

iRF: Half of a liter?

Jornet: It was good, I think. Then it was running fast, but never pushing, pushing, pushing. When I started the downhill I finished my drinks and said, “Okay, now it’s time to go fast.”

iRF: So you felt that once you hit Tazacorte with 6k to go, you felt confident that you could run ahead?

Jornet: Yes, when I passed Luis Alberto I knew that he was not this good on the downhill and he started to be tired. I know that I was a bit afraid of the flat part before the uphill because I knew on the uphill I would to be well. But on the flat, I really don’t run because it’s just the beginning of the season. I’ve run six days, but I always run on the uphill. We ran one day here flat so I was feeling really bad on the flats yesterday. I was afraid about this two or three kilometers, but then I had 1.5 minutes in front of him. So it was okay.

iRF: That was a good barrier or cushion. I’ve seen you race many times now. You looked energy-wise okay all race, but I’ve never seen tired like you were when I saw you at Mirador del Time. It looked like your quads were tired on the downhill.

Jornet: Yes, this downhill is super long. It’s 20k of downhill. When it’s technical it’s okay because you can pause, but when it’s a road like this it’s like, “I don’t want to run this.” Then, sure you can run really fast and you can save lots of time but then you are lost because the time you run there and your legs are destroyed for the uphill and for the flat. That’s why I didn’t want to push my legs and then on the technical part, just to push it. That is the warmest part of the race and there’s a lot of heat there so it started to be warm so I need to take care.

iRF: You have a famous list of races that you want to race and win and you checked them off. Last year you came to La Palma and Dakota (Jones) and Andy (Symmonds) beat you. If you go to a race and you don’t win, does it make you want to go back and try to?

Jornet: Not all the races, but here last year it was a really hot race for me. Dakota and Andy had super good races. People here share a lot in me. The ambiance and the organization are so nice. I need to come back and wanted to win it not for me but for all the people on the island. Naturally it’s nice to have victories, but it’s nice to spend a week here with all the runners to share with the people.

iRF: To share in the beach?

Jornet: Yes, to share in the beach. It’s good after the winter to go in the warm holidays. So a week here at the beach… yeah. It was a good race, but still a good week.

iRF: You’ve spent almost a week here now. What have you enjoyed most about the island?

Jornet: Yes, being in the warmth is good sometimes. It’s a beautiful island. Yesterday in the morning when we first went up the volcano, the sunrise was awesome with the landscape. We saw all the islands all around. The light was incredible colors with the rocks and the green trees. Wow, I wanted to stop here and stay until the sun was higher to just enjoy the moment, but not the other runners. So we needed to keep running.

iRF: So you’ll enjoy it today?

Jornet: Yeah, maybe today is going to be a relaxed day—maybe the beach.

iRF: Maybe only two or three hours of training today?

Jornet: Maybe not this much. It’s different.

iRF: Maybe a little swim?

Jornet: Maybe a few meters swim because I’m really not a good swimmer. I swim more like “this.”

iRF: No triathlons in your future?

Jornet: No. No triathlons. The water when it’s solid is okay but not when it’s wet.

iRF: Speaking of solid with snow, you’re not going back on the skis this year?

Jornet: I will be in Chamonix on Tuesday and a lot of friends say the snow is super good, so we need to go to Mont Blanc with the skis next week and then we have some couloirs to do and then in June it’s still possible. All May it’s good and a mix of both.

iRF: What races or projects are you really excited about this year?

Jornet: More races. It’s nice to do Zegama which is going to be the sixth time. I’ll do other races like Ice Trails Tarantaise, a route I’ve never raced before. Also in America UROC is going to be exciting because the level of competitors and then Cameron and Sage are going to be very strong there.

iRF: Especially with it less technical there.

Jornet: Yes, it’s going to be exciting. Then the most focusing thing for the summer is in “Summits of My Life” which are the Mont Blanc record and the Matterhorn record.

iRF: That’s this year?

Jornet: Yes. Matterhorn is going to be hard because it’s really fast and it’s technical. When I talked with Bruno Brunod who has the record, he told me that in the downhill he took a lot of risks. The risk there is not to break a leg. The risk there is to disappear. I need to train a lot. It’s good.

iRF: Is the climbing also technical?

Jornet: Yes, it’s like a Fourth Class climb. I think what it is in American, I don’t know, but maybe 5.7 or 5.8 for 2000m.

iRF: Do you use ropes?

Jornet: No, just some ropes in the last part, but not so much.

iRF: Is it similar to the Grand Teton?

Jornet: Maybe the last part of the Grand Teton but for 2000m so it’s big and beautiful. It’s huge.

iRF: Do you put in a lot of training in that?

Jornet: Yes, I’m going to train a lot in Cervinia and in the ropes to know when it’s steep how it works.

iRF: Different than just going out and running Teton.

Jornet: Yes, different to be prepared but I like to… I think the fun thing is to race. Last week the skimo race, this week the running race… next week I don’t know maybe the couloir things… then Zegama. I like the change. It’s nice.

iRF: You’re going back to Zegama for the sixth time. What is so special about Zegama?

Jornet: I think it’s because I know the people there for six years. It was the first year I ran and I was really young. The race organization I know everyone—it’s like my family. It’s beautiful, it’s technical, it’s almost always cold. One year it was warm, but it’s almost always snowing or raining. So I like that, too.

iRF: Do you think after yesterday you have the “running in the heat” thing figured out?

Jornet: I think every year I improve more and know how to drink and run easy for some kilometers.

iRF: So maybe we’ll have you back at Western States one of these years?

Jornet: Yeah, maybe. I’m not sure. It’s going to be interesting one year.

iRF: Congratulations on your win yesterday and good to see you again.

Jornet: Thanks a lot, Bryon.

There are 16 comments

  1. AV1611-Ben

    I hear you, Dean. I don't mean to sound – or be – fatalistic, but I think we need to enjoy the incredible Kilian Jornet in the present. Because it seems that his approach and objectives are placing him in imminent danger. Basically, I think he makes Anton Krupicka look "conservative" in his approach, and anyone who makes AK look conservative is obviously a bit "radical".

    That being said, bless him for it, and he certainly is one of the great pioneers of – I don't even know what to call what he does – outdoor geographical achievement! The landscape is certainly shifting with what some of these guys are achieving…

    1. rob

      The stuff Anton K is doing is like sticking a toe in the kiddie pool of the climbing world. Hundreds of people, men and women, are climbing unroped, light and fast, solo, routes orders of magnitude harder than Anton can climb even when he is roped.

      If Kilian can break the Matterhorn record, it will be an impressive feat. But a fast ascent there is nowhere near "radical" in the world of mountain climbing.

      1. Mark

        That is true – look at what Alex Honnold is doing, for example – but the fact that what Kilian is doing is easier than what Honnold is does not mean it is safer. When climbing unroped, so much of the climber's safety depends on his own level of skill. Honnold is obviously a far more skilled climber than Jornet, so just because he is climbing harder stuff does not mean Kilian is at less risk.

        However, I think the past few years have shown that Kilian is without a doubt accomplished at the technical aspects of his sport – he's certainly an accomplished alpinist. I worry that he will push his limits too far though. Athletes like Kilian and Tony Krupicka are able to create a margin of safety in what they are doing thanks to their speed; if a normal person attempted to head into technical and high mountains without a rope or other safety gear, the fact that they'd take several days to do what these guys are doing in hours means that of course they wouldn't survive. I think the attitude that speed creates safety is key in driving this area of the sport, but there is always the risk of pushing it too far and forgetting that it is not the only element of safety. If the route is too technical, speed will not protect you. I don't know what's going on in the minds of these athletes, but from a spectator's perspective, I think sometimes the sheer speed of their endeavours belittles the perceived technicality of them.

        1. Dean G

          Totally agree – I singled out the Matterhorn specifically because Bruno's record on it is already quick and old footage of him coming down the mountain made him look like a mountain goat…

          On an unrelated note – sounds like Kilian ran Tranvulcania very much under control. Left some in the tank in case he needed it – and drank some water. In other words – lessons learned.

          1. Mark

            I get the impression that the likes of Kilian and Anton aren't idiots – they know the risks and attempt to be as safe as they can be most of the time, but the death of Stéphane Brosse just demonstrates that no matter how cautious you are, doing those kinds of things, there is and always will be an element of uncontrollable risk, which can't be forgotten.

  2. courtney

    Congrats Kilian! Great to hear you are drinking water these days, especially in those hot conditions :) Also, those ocean waves in the background…love that!

    1. Sean C

      Why would he need to do WS again? Kilian is probably one of the busiest person in this business, he's already done WS twice and he doesn't enjoy the pace (too flat). You're talking about a racer that has the resources and backing to do any race or challenge that he can think of. He doesn't even care about doing UTMB anymore and that's more his style.

      He has a checklist of races he wants to do around the world and has been knocking them off one at a time. Run WS again? Kilian ain't got time for that.

      1. Jon Smith

        I think he did WS because of its history, but seems like he found the course a bit boring…and still won. he's been there, done that

  3. Lisa

    Kilian's English has really improved over the years! I love how animated he sounds every once in awhile in this interview. He is an amazing athlete to watch and I know he is enjoying himself so much. I hope he stays safe with all his mountaineering adventures!

  4. nikos

    Europeans dont like manicured, prety trails. They dont run western states for the love of the course, its just one more ticked off the bucket list.

  5. loic

    Don't forget too that Kilian (like Anton) recognizes the uphill and the downhill parts several times before.

    They know exactly were to put their foot at each step, which rock is stable, how is the snow, the ice … as Mark said, they know the risk and they go through so much preparation that they bring the risks to a minimum (this minimum is obviously a maximum for most of us :-) )

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