Kilian Jornet, 2012 Pikes Peak Marathon Champion, Interview

On Sunday, August 19th, Kilian Jornet ran and won the Pikes Peak Marathon in Manitou Springs, Colorado. We interviewed him at the finish, and asked him what he thought of the Pikes Peak Marathon course, his experience with the high altitude of the Pikes Peak summit, his mountain explorations in the American West this summer, and what’s next for him.

iRunFar:
This is Meghan from iRunFar and I’m here with the champion of the 2012 Pikes Peak Marathon, Kilian Jornet. Congratulations, Kilian. How are you doing?

Kilian Jornet: Thank you. I’m happy today for this victory. I think this race, Zegama, and Sierre-Zinal are the best races in the world, so I’m happy for today. The race was really hard because it’s flat, but I’m happy because I could run easy all the race. So it was fun.

iRF: So this race climbed 7,800 feet. What is that in meters?

Jornet: It’s 2,300 meters. It’s good elevation, but the trail is very… all the loops are very flat so I run all the time. It’s very monotonous. It’s not running, walking, running, walking. It’s like all the time the same pace, so this means a really hard race.

iRF: So that type of terrain where you’re gaining a lot of elevation but you’re doing it really gently, that’s a challenge for you.

Jornet: Yeah, it was a big challenge. For this race, me and Alex [Nichols], we run together. He makes the pace and it was really good for me because I’m not used to having a pace for all the race. At the last part of the uphill, I started to run by myself, and on the downhill, I tried to take it easy, because I knew it was a long, long downhill.

iRF: The race was updating us as you were moving uphill. You were together through Barr Camp which is about half of the ascent. It was after Barr Camp that you began to break away from Alex and Max King, too?

Jornet: Max King was behind us from the beginning. With Alex, yes, we run together to Barr Camp. There I was feeling good so I started to take my pace and just go at my pace.

Kilian Jornet ascending 2012 Pikes Peak Marathon

Kilian Jornet just below the summit of Pikes Peak.

iRF: Now, the top of Pikes Peak is 14,000ft, 4,300m, is that right? In America, that’s a lot of altitude. We go up there and we’re breathing really hard. What did it feel like to you? Do you spend time at 14,000’/4,300m?

Jornet: Yeah, normally in Chamonix where I live, I spend lots of time at 4,000m. Mt. Blanc is 4,800m so maybe 15,000′, maybe almost 16,000′, which is higher than here. I don’t feel a lot of the altitude, so it’s good.

iRF: Well that was good for you today because I sure saw a bit of suffering in the other guys, notably Max (King). When he arrived at the top, he was grunting trying to get enough air.

Jornet: Yeah, I know that for Max it was difficult. He told me in the last meters of the climb he felt a lot of altitude. That’s sad for him. He’s a really good runner and even with the altitude, he ran really well for third.

iRF: Two things about… I just saw you for brief moments running at the start and at the finish and up at the summit today. When I saw you at the summit I noticed two things. First of all, there was a moment when you were coming up one of the last switchbacks where it looked to me like you almost looked at the turnaround and started running over the rocks to it and then realized, “Oh shoot, I have to stay on the trail.” Did that actually happen?

Jornet: Yeah, it was difficult for me to stay in the trail, because it’s not that I like to cut, but I run always like this. It was very difficult in the downhill to say, “Okay, I need to stay in the trail,” because the vision always goes to the most direct, and the downhill first part I really need to be concentrating to stay in the trail.

iRF: I had to laugh because it looked to me like it was not natural for you to follow the trail.

Jornet: Yeah, it’s boring. It’s a beautiful race, because of the ambiance. There’s a lot of people in the aid stations, and it’s very nice, but the trail is really boring.

iRF: The man just wants to run up the mountain, right? Straight up.

Jornet: Yeah, yeah. You see the mountain is there, but you go all the corners.

iRF: Now, the next observation I have from the top is regarding your downhill. You’re coming up here and everybody is cheering for you and there are cowbells. You turn around in the aid station and you drop down. You literally flew away—dancing over rocks down the trail. The crowd went totally silent until you went out of view, and then everybody looked at each other and said, “Did you just see the way he was downhilling?” It was a kind of downhilling that people up there hadn’t seen before and that the other top runners weren’t doing. How do you downhill so well? Why are you so good at it?

Jornet: No, there is just the technical part maybe the first 200m of the downhill, so I enjoyed there, but I think it’s more about gravity. Where I go training, it’s more in the technical parts—it’s scrambling, more technical downhill. So I’ve been doing this for a long time. When I start going to the mountain, I was 2 years old and 3 years old for my first 3,000m peak, so I am good technically when I run. The flat and the road, no, because I never train on the road. I only train in the mountains, so downhill and running technical parts is easier than running the flats.

Kilian Jornet descending 2012 Pikes Peak Marathon.

Kilian Jornet descending Pikes Peak. Photo: Travis Trampe

iRF: I think you’re headed back to Europe after this race. You haven’t had enough technicality in the races here, but you’re headed home to a pretty technical race. What race are you doing next weekend?

Jornet: Yeah, the balance to Pikes Peak is the Trofeo Kima in Italy. It’s almost the same distance, but the record is 6:20. It’s more long because it’s a race with 7 passes in via ferrata and you run with nothing. So it’s really technical and a mountain-running race.

iRF: I think you mentioned that you have plans to, fingers crossed, come back to America someday. You’ve got another race you’d really like to do. What is that?

Jornet: Yeah, I’d like to do the Hardrock 100. I tried this year to win the lottery, but was not selected. So I hope this year, I’ll cross the fingers, because it’s one of the races that I want to do.

iRF: So one last question for you. You’ve spent a good couple weeks here in America exploring lots of different mountains and playing a lot. What has been your favorite mountain?

Jornet: I enjoy a lot the Tetons because we can scramble and go up all big mountains. Also Longs Peak I enjoy a lot. Not just these, but spending time with friends like Anton [Krupicka], Scott [Jurek], Pablo Vigil, which is amazing. It’s very nice to spend all this time with these people, and these Tetons are great mountains.

iRF: Alright. Well congratulations to you. You kind of came and cleaned house a little bit with your racing here in America. Best of luck in your races for the rest of the summer and fall back at home.

Jornet: Thank you very much. See you soon.

2012 Pikes Peak Marathon champs - Emilie Forsberg - Kilian Jornet

2012 Pikes Peak Marathon champs: Emilie Forsberg and Kilian Jornet.

Meghan Hicks

is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.