Kilian Jornet’s 2010 Ultrarunning Season

AJW's Taproom“It was a great day! One of my best racing experiences ever!”

Kilian Jornet traveled to the United States in June of 2010, at the age of 22, to compete in his first American race, the Western States 100. As he mentioned above, he recalls his experience to this day as one of his best. Kilian had been competing in trail ultramarathons for about two years at this point, and he’d traveled the U.S. the summer before and set the still-standing Tahoe Rim Trail supported speed record.

“Compared to Europe where people are more hyperventilated, the ambiance at the start was chill. There was no pressure in the air. In terms of results, it was not necessarily a good race. But in experience terms, for the discovery of American ultrarunning culture and because I learned so much, it was one of my best days.”

Kilian Jornet running the 2010 Western States 100. All photos: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Earlier in 2010, Jornet had competed in the International Ski Mountaineering Federation World Cup circuit and World Championships. Thus, he only began his run training in late March, three months before Western States. However, when he dove into his training, he went all out.

“I did very big volume during my ski season, with 350 hours and over 300,000 meters of climbing, so I was prepared for the distance.”

In early June, Kilian ran across Europe’s Pyrenees Mountains, his home mountain range, over an eight-day period. He covered 80 to 116 kilometers a day with 4,000 to 7,500 meters of climbing each day. This was part of his Kilian’s Quest series of big endurance feats all over the world.

Following that adventure, he arrived in the U.S. a week before Western States where he tuned up with four days of cycling and four days of running, including a six-hour mountain bike ride over 48 miles of the course on the Wednesday before the race.

“On my recon bike ride from Robinson Flat to the river crossing, I was stunned by the temperatures. It was so hot!”

On race day, Kilian found himself in a lead group of four at mile 30. Running along with Hal Koerner, Geoff Roes, and Anton Krupicka, Kilian felt comfortable in the early going through the high country, but also a bit wary due to what he says was his limited English proficiency at the time.

“We ran in a nice group, but I didn’t chat much as my English was horrible back then.”

Around mile 44, Kilian recalls that he became frustrated by the fact that the race forced him into so much running as he was more accustomed to European races where he hiked more, “As you know, Western States is relatively flat and my legs were not used to so much running. So, to break the monotony, when we got to the first canyon, I moved to the front and ran the downhill very fast. Afterward I realized that was a big mistake as the temperatures there got very hot and there was still a lot of racing ahead.”

Cooling off and fueling up at Michigan Bluff, mile 55. Jorge Pacheco, in the background, would later pace him.

Kilian picked up American Rickey Gates as his pacer at Foresthill, mile 62, and all the way to the river at mile 78 they tried to maintain a solid pace while also attempting to remain cool. They maintained contact with Anton who had pulled ahead of Kilian going into Foresthill and they had about a 12-minute lead on Geoff at the river crossing.

After the river crossing, however, Kilian began to falter.

“After the river, I started to have cramps all over my body. I would run 10 steps and then have to stop. Jorge Pacheco was pacing me then and being very supportive. Geoff went flying past me on the way out of Green Gate looking fresh and focused. I was stopping for a long time at each aid station to cool off, stretch my muscles, and eat salt pills.”

By the time Kilian got to No Hands Bridge at mile 96, he was being caught by fourth-place runner Nick Clark. He was able to find another gear and hold off a charging Nick for a third-place finish.

Leaving Foresthill at mile 62 with pacer Rickey Gates.

The next year, 2011, Kilian would return to Western States and with experience on his side. He won the race in 15:34.

Later in his 2010 season, Kilian ran and won Sierre-Zinal as well as Diagonale des Fous. Additionally, he started UTMB, a race he’d already won twice, and ran well from the start, but the race was canceled after a few hours due to weather. He did turn around that crazy weekend, however, with a win at Trofeo Kima on Sunday after the Friday evening UTMB cancellation. In addition to these races, Kilian also set a then-speed record on Mount Kilimanjaro in 2010.

Looking back on his season now nine years later, Kilian has fond memories of how much he learned.

“I finally learned what real heat is and how important it is to acclimatize and how pacing in the heat is different. But more than that, 2010 was the first time I had an interview on iRunFar and I learned that I better get better at English!”

[Editor’s Note: For a real throwback, here are our pre-race and post-race interviews with Kilian at the 2010 Western States. Not only were these Kilian’s first video interviews with iRunFar, but these were among iRunFar’s earliest video interviews, too.]

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Carson City, Nevada and the Shoe Tree Brewing Company. Their Wicked Shifty Sour New England IPA is one of the most unique beers I have had. Sour and bitter while being remarkably drinkable, this hybrid beer is one that most certainly tastes better than it sounds.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What do you remember about Kilian Jornet racing the 2010 Western States 100, and about the famous battle in the men’s race?
  • What other memories do you have about Kilian’s earliest trail running and ultrarunning races?

There are 12 comments

  1. AT

    I can’t find Unbreakable anywhere. Would absolutely love to locate this unicorn in 2019. Any ideas where to go? I’ve looked in all places online..

    1. Jonathan Nyce

      Yeah, I was able to order a digital download off of the link that AJW put up below. That was only about two months ago as well so I’m sure it’s still active. Totally worth it!

  2. Josh Tilford

    What a year! Kilian provides detailed accounts of the 2010 Western States race in his book Run or Die … great read. I’m continually impressed by his willingness to admit mistakes and to learn from them. A true student of the sport.

  3. Walt Whitaker

    It was my first ultra race as a spectator, and I volunteered to help the runners at the river. Killian and Anton were the first runners I ever saw under those conditions. I expected all runners to be totally exhausted at that point but both Killian and Anton had fire in their eyes along with their pacers. My memory has them both in the same boat going across. Geoff Rose was 12 minutes behind, and I commented to a more experienced volunteer that it looked like he was headed for third place. The volunteer responded to me that Geoff had never lost a 100 miler. About a few hours later the word got back to us that Geoff had won! Wow! And I was fortunate enough to see the rest of the race in “The Unbreakables” later on. And was it cool that I was in it at the river! Got me hooked, and I later volunteered at the 2012 Western States where I first met Mike Wardian. Then I ran into him in the Chamonix Alps before the UTMB in 2014. Got to crew him there and later at Western States 2016 and the Tarawara 100K in 2017. Also got to crew Jason Schlarb at the 2016 UTMB. Guess you could call me an ultra running groupie. Thanks for your great coverage.

  4. Wyatt

    “As you know, Western States is relatively flat and my legs were not used to so much running…,” said no but Kilian. While there are races with more vert for sure, Western States still has 18K of climbing–nothing to sneeze at. I guess that is flat when you’re a guy who can go sub-23 on the Hardrock course! It is hard to believe that 9 years have passed since that incredible 2010 WS. At the time, Kilian was only beginning to emerge. What a career he’s had.

    On the 2010 WS, it is incredible to me that, as well as Anton was moving between Auburn Lakes and Highway 49, he still got passed by Geoff. It seemed Anton still had a lot in the tank but Geoff just had a bit more? Legendary race and what a gift that it was captured on film.

  5. Evan Kimber

    Unbreakable has footage of this exact moment, Killian takes off like a slingshot and is out of sight (Anton comments on how demoralizing it was). However, you then see Killian hiking and Anton catching up to him on the next climb.

    I ran WS in 2010 and one of the things I could not believe is hearing how Killian did not carry bottles with him between aids. The fact that he still managed to finish 3rd just spoke volumes about his immense talent.

  6. Evan Kimber

    The moment I’m referring to: “So, to break the monotony, when we got to the first canyon, I moved to the front and ran the downhill very fast. Afterward I realized that was a big mistake as the temperatures there got very hot and there was still a lot of racing ahead.”

  7. Nick

    The comment about so much running is kind of tongue in cheek. Even in hilly European races Killian only rarely hikes. FFS he’s among the only athletes capable of running nearly every single of many ultras. Also, UTMB does involve a non trivial amount of running.

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