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.

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's Managing Editor 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.

There are 53 comments

  1. Speedgoatkarl

    If Killian gets selected at Hardrock and I'm in the field, cuz' I'm automatic. I'm bailing and giving him my spot…..I would just want to go and either help him crush it, or just watch for fun. He is amazing and Hardrock is the best we have to challenge him. Coming from the Alps, any race in the US is easy.

    I really hope he gets in Hardrock next year.

    1. Mt. Mutt

      You mean if he's not accepted,you would give him that spot?But i agree Karl,think maybe Hardrock could just make a one time exception,everything has exceptions,maybe by vote,on letting a top male and female automatic next year.My vote,Kilian and Frosty.

      1. Pete

        It is a shame the field cant include some elites by auto bid. Maybe just like 10. Allow the race committee to offer an additional ten invites 5 for the men and 5 for the woman bringing the field to 150. I don't think 10 more people would add any more environmental impact. All though once pacers are added in that makes it for an extra 20 runners through any given section. Hopefully it is a moot point. Would be fun to watch Hal, TK, and Killian battle next year.

        1. Sheamus

          Agreed. It's a bit daft, actually. If the sport – and the event – wants to go to the next level they have to have the very best there, and ALL of the best. Killian, TK, Hal, Geoff, Tim O, Finkel, Morton, Frosty… anyone who has proven themselves. As you say, ten is enough and shouldn't make an enormous difference to the impact, but will make an enormous difference to the race. Give them all automatic invites (letting them know well in advance so they can prepare, not last minute), send a camera crew there and make an amazing, good budget documentary. And hype the heck out of it.

          It's enough to just send Killian, I think… for him to truly excel he needs to be pushed by a Roes, Olson et al. I mean, how good would that be?

          WS 2010 and Unbreakable is still the best thing the sport has, coverage wise. It's been two long years!

          1. hyperphil

            Races run on public land must demonstrably act in harmony with the multiple use doctrine of USDA and the Forest Service. This means that the public in general must have a meaningful opportunity to participate. Otherwise, a special use permit is not granted. For every "elite" spot granted, the slippery slope steepens, and the envirofreaks in Denver and San Francisco are an inch closer to shutting Hardrock (and other races) down.

            Many of these comments, and those posted after Senor Jornet's violation of Forest Service law at Speedgoat, are profoundly ignorant of the political realities that could crush the sport at any moment. Public comments reflecting this ignorance fuel the opposition's fire.

            Please use discretion and be mindful of the atmospherics before coming across like an ATV club boasting about the latest meadow you just ripped up.



            1. Sheamus

              Well, aren't you a peach.

              I take your points, but there has to be a working balance between satisfying the "doctrine" and raising the profile of the race, or at least the standard at the top end of the roster. Nobody is asking for anything that will risk the sport being "crushed". The exact opposite, in fact. It would just be great to see the very best consistently competing at the biggest, toughest events, and this is one of them.

            2. Meghan Hicks

              Each of us who goes on a trail/mountain run/adventure on federal lands is subject to the regulations of the particular federal area we are using.

              In addition, if we are participating in an event on federal land, we are further governed by the conditions of the special-use permit that a race director/organization has acquired from the particular area's administrator (This is, in many cases, the USDA/Forest Service, but there are many other federal-land administrators, too, including the DOI/National Park Service and the DOI/Bureau of Land Management.). Those special-use permits all have major commonalities, but each permit has unique elements addressing issues specific to the event or the resources of that federal area.

              And, finally, when we participate in an event, we must also obey the race rules established by the race director/organization.

              For us users, this sounds complicated, but it's not. If you're going on an independent adventure, know/follow the regulations of the federal area you're visiting. If you're participating in an event, know/follow the race's rules because they will cover all of the event's "regulatory bases," from federal regulation to rules of fair play as defined by the race director/organization.

              Kilian Jornet is a federal-lands user just like the rest of us. If the guy goes out on a mountain run in Rocky Mountain National Park on a summer day, he's an equal to the hundreds of other people who are simultaneously using the park's backcountry. If he runs a race, he's an equal to all of the other entrants in the race.

              If I think about it, it's kind of awesome that, so far, Kilian is being treated as an equal to the rest of the folks who want to run the Hardrock 100. That if/when he does Hardrock, he'll be doing it in the exact same way as everyone else. I haven't seen the special-use permit for the Hardrock 100, so I don't know if this equal treatment is a result of some condition of the permit or whether it's part of the rules of fair play the race organization has created. Or both. Can someone elaborate?

              I disagree with hyperphil's statement that political realities "could crush the sport at any moment." The federal government uses a very stiff, elaborate, and well-developed hand (as they should, for they are the administrators) to guide the way we independently play and conduct events on federal lands. And, they have been using this same hand on our sport for a very long time.

              I know of instances where special-use permits for certain events have been revoked/denied by a federal administrator due to violations of the conditions of the permit or a fundamental incompatibility between the nature of the event with federal regulation for a particular area.

              I think the revoking of a particular event permit is always possible if the event massively fails to abide by the conditions of their permit. However, I think it's an exaggeration to imply that our sport is in danger.

              I also disagree with hyperphil that these comments are "coming across like an ATV club boasting about the latest meadow you just ripped up." This reads to me as inflammatory for the sake of drawing attention to his comment. I think the commenters here are simply expressing their enthusiasm for Kilian being at Hardrock someday, and that is it.

              I have spent my adult life working and playing in federal areas of various kinds. Among the infinity of users I've shared the lands with, I have found trail and ultrarunners to be among the most respectful of the resources and other users. I agree with what seems like hyperphil's implication that we must keep that respect at the forefront of our behavior, always, when we are playing in beautiful and often delicate resources.

  2. Andy

    I love the bit about how folks are awed by his downhilling. From the snippets I remember in Unbreakable, his secret seems to be that, unlike everyone else who just runs downhill, Kilian skis the steeps — in running shoes. Talk about flow. Great run, great athlete, and great interview. Thanks Meghan and iRF.

  3. CJ

    He's a real class act. I saw him a couple times near the Pikes Peak summit in the days leading up to the race and he acknowledged me both times with a very friendly "hello" as he was running uphill.

  4. Neil Benson

    I don't think you could find any iRF readers who don't want to see Kilian at Hardrock. 140 runners started Hardrock this year, aged up to 78, and only 70% (98 runners) finished. I can't believe that Kilian doesn't have a standing invitation. It seems to be like excluding Usain Bolt from the 100m final because his name wasn't drawn from the hat.

      1. Visca Catalunya

        They do, this is an old school, true grit mountain race. They do not care about elites. It is hard to even call it a race, it is more of a challenge of the human spirit. It would be amazing to see Kilian at Hardrock, but should they sell out? Just playing devils advocat here.

        1. Sheamus

          Understood, but I think there's a big difference between selling out and reserving a few spots for special invites. 10 invitation-only, taken out of the veterans pool. That still leaves 92% in the lottery overall. I'm not sure really sure how much of a difference this would make to the sanctity of the race, nor the environment, but it would certainly raise the stakes for the top competitors *and* volunteers/crowd/fans.

          1. Guy C.

            This issue about Hardrock has been addressed before in this forum (when the lottery results came out last year), and one of the founders of the race (Blake Wood) made it plain that they weren't interested in "prestige" or the "the next level." I think they like the race the way it is. Apparently around 700 people a year agree. I think the new lottery rules will help Killian get in since he is a first timer. 10 spots for elites might not seem like a lot…unless you are one of the 10 runners who got squeezed out of a race you've always dreamed of running…. Having said that, I hope Killian gets in.

            1. Sheamus

              Again, understood, but Kilian, statistically, as it is, faces those same odds as everyone else, and therefore theoretically could (a) be really unlucky and never get an invite and (b) may only get one when he's way past his prime. Which, for all we know, could be right now, or over the next couple of years. Strike while the ultrarunner is hot, and all that. If everybody is hoping KJ gets in, why not just put him in?

  5. Michael

    What is it, 6000' vert in 10 miles, and he's saying its boring cause its so flat! Freaking hilarious! Gotta be the funniest interview yet! What a classic, I can see him at the hotel later, "nah, I'll take the lift (elevator for you non Aussies or Brits), those flights of stairs are too flat"

      1. Meghan Hicks

        At that specific moment in the interview, Kilian was talking about the even grading of the trail, that it climbs (and descends) at a constant rate and, therefore, necessitates all running. Later in the interview, he referenced the trail's technicality when he said that the only technical part was the 200 vertical meters at the summit. Outside of the interview, he and other members of the Salomon team were referring to the trail as "too clean" or too non-technical for them.

  6. hyperphil

    Races run on public land must demonstrably act in harmony with the multiple use doctrine of USDA and the Forest Service. This means that the public in general must have a meaningful opportunity to participate. Otherwise, a special use permit is not granted. For every “elite” spot granted, the slippery slope steepens, and the envirofreaks in Denver and San Francisco are an inch closer to shutting Hardrock (and other races) down.

    [Reposting as a fresh comment]

    Many of these comments, and those posted after Senor Jornet’s violation of Forest Service law at Speedgoat, are profoundly ignorant of the political realities that could crush the sport at any moment. Public comments reflecting this ignorance fuel the opposition’s fire.

    Please use discretion and be mindful of the atmospherics before coming across like an ATV club boasting about the latest meadow you just ripped up.



  7. Sniffer

    hardrock should just make all of the "elites" run hardrock without a pacer. if your "elite" and get a special spot then do it on your own.

  8. Clark

    @Sniffer = pretty good idea there, but define "elites". OK I'll try: it seems logical that the winners of the select few 100s that Hardrock deems as qualifiers should get auto invites, how simple is that? Maybe extend a 2-3 year grace period to use the freebie card.

    Back to the topic at hand: great running on Pikes by Kilian, Alex, Max, and well heck, everyone out there. I had the great pleasure to accidentally bump into Kilian and Emelie back at their rental car as I was leaving (and got a great pic). He spied my 2012 Hardrock shirt and we had a good chat, there is no doubt he needs to be in. Great guy, I'd rather be pacing, crewing, or just cheering him than do it again.

    1. Sniffer

      I guess we will see how the new system works and then the web discussing can start all over. One thing that is really appealing to me is that it is such a tough run and it is not a given to be there. It makes people work hard and hopefully not take it for granted. Its my "goal" in trail running to run Hardrock.

      I haven't put my "time" in yet but am also realistic that in 2-4 yr. Ill be ready and when the opportunity comes, make the most of it. People getting an auto entry is fine (imo) but with more hype comes…pandora

  9. Tony Mollica

    Nice interview Meghan! Thank you very much!

    Killian is a fantastic uphill runner. However it is his downhill running on technical trails that most impresses me when I see it on film. It looks like it should be impossible to descend that fast on a technical trail.

    I am looking forward to seeing where Killian's career takes him; and to seeing him compete against the best runners in the world!

  10. Ed Poppiti

    Since these lands are for "public use", what's to stop Kilian @ Hardrock or Karl @ Western from hitting the trail 30 seconds prior to the "official" start, running 100 yards and wait for the "official" start and then run with the pack? Will they get a black eye in the community? Everybody wants the best to compete against the best. If they should be fortunate enough to win they wouldn't be entitled to any earnings/SWAG/"official" recognition but they would be where they belong in the community's eye. It gets monotonous reading that TK would crush it here, or KJ would shatter course records there. It's all b.s. speculation, making it real is by having the best face off. Is this unethical? Well, until there is an accepted methodology to have the top 10 or so invited to every race there doesn't seem to be much of an option. Every race I've been in there have been non entrants on the course and it doesn't seem to bother anyone.

    1. Mt. Mutt

      If you look at Tony's training run right before Hardrock,he was about a half hour faster by Ouray than anyone in the race.True he was less than halfway,but i doubt Tony,KJ or other top runners would feel it was necessary to "show up" the qualified runners in the race,or to be in the "community's eye",by playing bandit.Don't want to speak for them,just an opinion like yours Ed,^^.

      1. Ed Poppiti

        Generally speaking, anyone can run these courses 365 days per year. Yet it's in the heat of the battle that we want to see the top runners mix it up. I am not talking about one racer showing anybody up. It is a distinct possibility that KJ will never get selected at Hardrock for race day. I think we would all be the poorer for it. I just don't see another option other than what's above. I wonder if it matters more to the turtles or the rabbits?

  11. Mt. Mutt

    Think there really is no option to allowing all the top racers into a race like Hardrock,just the way it is,but nice to speculate on it.Another problem off-hand with your option is,what if one of the "unofficial"racers gets hurt out there,and it's reported that a runner is down,than race management has to concern themselves now with an evacuation using there already stretched resources.Just best if they all head down to Run Rabbit Run and duke it out!

  12. Travis

    Perhaps a little too obvious to comment on, but in light of some fantastic performances on the "flat" Leadville and "flat" Pikes Peak courses, how amazing do MC's course records seem year after year. No one is even close, despite some amazing talent. Perhaps the fact that even MC is nowhere close to his own record is all you need to know. And while Hardrock favors KJ's skillset better than any race he has competed in (in the US), I would not be surprised to see Kyle's record stand up.

  13. Sheamus

    All the more reason to *ensure* that KJ has a crack at that record whilst still in his prime. Otherwise, what's a record *really* worth if not *everybody* truly capable is able to take a shot?

  14. Billy Simpson

    Kyle Skaggs did his time, paid the price, so should Killian.

    And the part about starting 100 meters before the starters, very silly indeed. i can just picture him jogging in place at the Christ of the Mines statue.

    Let The Hardrock be The Hardrock. It's about as pure as it gets.

  15. Scott

    Kilian said it all. He has been doing this since 3. The mountains he learned to walk and run on gave him experience/physical skill/neural pathways. Like Tarzan.. Being highly attuned through exposure during early life. Brain development. Motor skills. All that.

    Running in the Alps since 3. Ha. Good luck he's a mountain specific ultra human.

  16. Aaron Sorensen

    Don' forget about Brett Maune.

    He wants this record and knows he can get it.

    When he puts his mind to something, he has come through every time.

    He has put in for Hardrock the past 3 years and not gotten picked yet.

    I think taking 10 spots away from the lottery would be no big deal if the big guns could fill those spots. Just put a list 1-20 (10 men and 10 women) and give those 20 a time to reply. The top 10 that reply get in.

  17. Joe Gerard

    Why should "elites" get special privelages. We are all runners who put one foot in front of the other. Some slow guy should have the same opportunity as an "elite."

    And what about sentimental "elites" like cancer survivors or double amputees or anything else. Where would it end?

        1. Alex

          Semantics. It's timed; awards are given; places are recorded. It has all the hallmarks of a race, we can't pretend otherwise just because some people would like to say so.

  18. Trevor

    Salomon should just dump a whole bunch of money as they always seem to do. Fly like 50 people out from Europe on a private jet that they land in a presitine San Juan mountain meadow, rent a helicopter maybe 2, set up at least twice as many aids then the course already has, have more camera men then crew, have a bigger crew then the race actually has, have pacers in the form of the best runners in the world(Bolts, Rupps, Farahs, Mosops, Krupickas included) who switch out every 20 or so miles, the pacer switch can be done in motion by a wingsuit sky dive entrance and a long line snatch up exit, so there is no need to stop moving or even slow down, as Kilian knocks of each section of the course they could paint the land scape alternating Salomon white and red, and hang Salomon banners bigger then a car dealership american flag at the top of every pass or climb, at the finish Kilian can in stride kiss the hardrock, board the departing jet back to Europe, which would then circle back and bomb Silverton to the ground leaving only a flamming Salomon logo where the town once was. Then they could make a couple Kilians Quest episodes, which leave us all hanging with "to be continued" till next month endings.

    Hardrocks entry rules would no longer matter, Salomon would get there high end marketing and possible gain some additional market share, and we would get to see Kilian break Kyles holy record…..


  19. David Pauwelyn

    It seems quite ridiculous that a runner of the caliber of Kilian should have to enter a lottery to run Hardrock 100 don't you think? Why would you ever want to exclude a top caliber runner from your race? There's always room for one more. I mean it's not like he is going to get in anyone's way.

  20. adam

    Anyone notice that the true Grand Teton speed record was set a few days ago? No short cutting like KILIAN!!!! [Link replaced, as old link to Outer Local story dead.]

    Short cutting has no place on U.S. trails. We have something left to protect in our wild areas, unlike Europe. U.S. Wilderness is a treasure and gift to the world. I don't expect trail runners to get behind wilderness or preservation, but we have to police our natural areas against those who carelessly degrade and damage them.

  21. olga

    Great job on a record by Andy, and big YES for staying on trail. If it's against the law, it's not legit. If it is not on a provided trail, it is not a valid record. It's that simple.

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