Twenty Two, Forty One, Thirty Three

In case you were hiding out in a cave and somehow missed it, Kilian Jornet won Hardrock and shattered the course record this past weekend. His time of 22:41:33 was more than 40 minutes faster than Kyle Skaggs’s 2008 effort, and about 1 hour, 45 minutes faster than what anyone else has ever run there! It’s hard to argue that anyone has ever run a more impressive 100 miler, and yet by all accounts it seemed that Kilian was relaxed and laid back for more or less the entire race.

This is of course the way that Kilian tends to race. When you do as many epic adventures as he does, it’s only natural that he would be laid back about his racing. No matter how rugged, challenging, and competitive any race is, it will be quite tame and laid back as compared to other things he does on a fairly regular basis.

It’s easy to look at this race and wonder how much faster could he have run? He mentioned in a post-race interview that “we started really slow together” and that he took numerous photos throughout the race. He was also stopping for several minutes in many of the aid stations, presumably to warm up from the stormy weather, but perhaps also because he just wasn’t concerned that much about racing as fast as he could. At least once during the race he slowed down to wait up for Julien Chorier, who was running all day in second place, so that he would have someone to talk to. It seems very reasonable to wonder if he could he have run under 22 hours had time been his main focus right from the start?

The thing that needs to be remembered though is that it is this laid-back approach that makes him such an effective racer. Sure he could have done a lot of things differently to save himself a lot of time (especially in the first 60 miles), but then would he have been able to run the last 30 miles an hour and a half faster than Kyle? Of course I do not know the answer to this question, but anyone who has been around enough 100 milers knows just how important patience is. For Kilian, this patience comes naturally in the form of not taking himself, or any given race too serious. This isn’t to say that he isn’t competitive and focused. He just has a very unique (and seemingly very effective) way of going about things. Anyone who ever plans to run a 100-mile race in the future would be wise to incorporate his laid back, and subsequently patient approach.

Maybe he could have run faster if running faster was his main goal, but to me it seems just as likely that the reason he was able to run this race so fast was because it wasn’t his main goal to do so. He ran well within his comfort zone and simply enjoyed himself for about 15 hours and then he kicked it up a few gears and ran away from everyone in the race, as well as everyone who has ever run this race.

Another thing that I took away from his performance is a reminder of just how much it can mean for anyone to run on a course that is suited for their strengths as a runner. Kilian is without question the top trail ultrarunner in the world, but even he has types of races that he is not suited for. Hardrock is most certainly not one of them. He seems to struggle on occasion with the heat, and he seems to be mostly mortal on long flat stretches. Hardrock of course doesn’t have a whole lot of either one of these things. This is another thing I think any aspiring 100-mile racer can take away from his performance. Find a race that suits your strengths. You might not shatter a longstanding course record, but you will likely surprise yourself with how much stronger you can perform as compared to a race that suits your weaknesses. Kilian’s fastest time in two Western States performances was nearly an hour slower than the current course record. Of course he could run faster there than he did in either of his attempts, but I doubt he could ever run as fast as Tim Olson’s course-record time, certainly not in a hot year.

This performance certainly does not mean that Kilian is unbeatable, but he did just raise an already very high bar a couple more notches. Once again though, he has showed us all what’s possible, and in doing so he has certainly done his part to help so many people run faster than they ever thought they could. Thanks, Kilian.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What are your thoughts on Kilian’s Hardrock course record? Does someone expanding our sport’s concept of what we can or can’t do inspire you in your own runnings? Or does it affect you in a different way?
  • Do you think that Kilian’s laid-back approach in the race’s first half helped him run so strong in the race’s second half? Have you ever found that a chill vibe with your racing helps you race better?
  • What do you think is possible for Kilian at Hardrock? Sub-20 hours? Something different?

There are 15 comments

  1. EvanKimber

    Nice insights Geoff. If you watch all the finish videos, what I marvel at more than anything is how physically different Killian looked in relation to the the other top finishers. Sure he was a little out of breath and working hard at that final stretch but he easily could have just kept going, maybe turned around and ran a Hardrock double!

    Is Killian capable of an even faster time? I'd say likely yes, how much who knows…..but he says he will come back to run the course in the opposite (harder) direction. My oh my is this freaking exciting news! I for one feel such priviledge for someone like Killian to be a present part of our times and generation. I got to shake his hand in my hometown on Christmas day and he talks to you like he's any other mortal. Really special.

  2. Emir

    His performance at Hardrock was simply amazing. It was great to watch the race unfold even through Twitter (thank you iRunFar!) Hardrock is certainly a race that suits him, and without a doubt he would run this every year if they let him in. You just knew he was going to come ready after trying to get in for so many years. He is humble and relaxed and that makes him very different. We can be so lucky to witness his performance live. If this sport of ours was as popular like football for example his poster would be decorating many bedrooms. Well maybe it does that already? (*looking at wall)… carry on

    1. @Baristing

      The winner gets automatic entry into next year's race, and Kilian is certainly capable of stringing together victories, if he's so inclined. So it's possible he will actually run it something like every year.

  3. @scottamagee

    Always love reading your posts Geoff. I must add two thoughts here. First, Kilian's grace, and the class he portrayed at the finish of the race, and post race interviews. His professionalism is just icing on the top of the cake. He knew he put serious damage on a ridiculous course record, and it was apparent he was really pleased, but yet he never had to brag or boast. Instead he acknowledged the volunteers, race organization, and the beauty of the course. Top notch, class act. In my humble opinion, parallel to Kilian's performance was Irunfar's coverage of this years Hard Rock 100. It was outstanding, amazing, and thrilling. I knew history was being made, and Irunfar made it possible for the world to share that experience together. Truly a high point for an already amazingly dedicated crew. I am in awe of this sport after this weekend and even more excited for its future.

  4. Chris C.

    The best thing about Kilian's finish was that everyone at the finish line cared about and was more concerned with his new course record than he was. He is an incredibly inspiring individual and every bit the reason why I love trail running so much.

  5. deanger

    Another thing I like about Kilian is – you don't hear him wondering how much faster he could have run it. He is too busy (rightly) being in awe of the volunteers who made his race possible. Come back and do it again next year, KJ. And don't change a thing. Take pix, have fun, enjoy the mountains, inspire us

  6. @polyenios

    Killian knows mountains, like most people know their everyday driveway to work. He knows his comfort levels and have an understanding of his place in this event in respect to the mountain. He is confident that he will do as usual. That is why he takes his time and does not "rush" things. It is a fact that his "well" is higher than most other runners.

    Course records are relevant to the circumstances. On a given day / weather / competition records can change. Keep that in mind (and I think Killian does) and instantly you are humble enough to realize your place in this event. KJ is used to mountain weather, running efficiently in isolation, enjoying the landscape instead of the view of the next 4 meters ahead from the feet. He is frugal. He breathes and lives in this environment and he does not need much to feel comfy.

    Another issue that requires some discussion is the performance of US-runners compared to European. With the depth of US top runners at the start line, I think we should be expecting something better. I am also wondering how Chaigneau would have done in this race if he was not suffering from mononucleosis (he should not have started imho).

    1. EvanKimber

      <Another issue that requires some discussion is the performance of US-runners compared to European. With the depth of US top runners at the start line, I think we should be expecting something better.>

      We were all hoping for a better outcome, but our US guys had a tough day out there. Dakota tweaked his ankle pretty good and Olson had very bad stomach problems. Joe Grant tore his quadricep. I wouldn't chalk it up to saying the US is weak, we got some strong mountian runners. Just not a good outcome this year at HR. With that said, how about the women's international field at HR? I for one would like to see someone like Frost, Forsberg, Hawker, Greenwood find their way to the HR start line at some point.

  7. @charlsouma

    I like that someone is willing to say "Kilian is without question the top trail ultrarunner in the world" so often we hear, 'one of the best', which to me is taking away from the performance of an athlete. Of course this is your opinion, but it is mine too, so I appreciate it. Yes, I think he could easily race harder if he was chased/pushed.

  8. @alpine_runner

    According to the interview with Bryon; Kilian thinks his trips to Denali and Chamonix were great training and preparation for HR100. I saw him at Chamonix racing the VK and Marathon, during the VK he was the only runner who passed me and wasn't dripping with sweat or visibly trying hard, as he passed me he even said hello to a spanish couple he knew standing nearby. He looked totally relaxed yet went on to win the race. He won the Marathon 2 days later as well – it's amazing to see such dominance. He's even talking on Twitter about running the next Skyrunning event in Canazei this weekend, only 7 days after smashing the HR100 record. He's truly an inspirational runner!

  9. @wyoturtlefeet

    great post Geoff! and thanks for your sharing your thoughts. In following the race (online) once again this year it seemed apparent that Kilian approached this race with great and thorough joy- he seemed genuinely delighted to be part of the field and participate fully in the event – before, during and after the race. A video of the kids race shows Kilian enjoying the race, taking photos of the finishers, congratulating them. His interviews before and after the race are gracious and appreciative of the all aspects of the race.

  10. francois_g

    I don't think Kilian is really laid back. He's a very objective-driven and focused guy. His preparation (mostly mental) for an objective allow him to relax when it happens, but I'm sure in his mind he's all about slashing the competition on an event.
    Check out his book, he keeps describing his races' state-of-mind as the most competitive, including trying to look easy to scare his fellow leaders….

  11. @BourryYang

    What was that you were saying about this race being more competitive than Western States? I don't recall Rob Krar stopping to let the others catch up, taking photos on his phone or swilling Tequila at aid stations.

    Can you imagine how horrifying it must be if you're pacing Kilian and then he tells you, 80 miles into the race, that we're going to pick up the pace?

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