Kilian Jornet returns to the 2017 Hardrock 100 as the three-time defending champion, including his tie for the win with Jason Schlarb last year. In the following interview, Kilian talks about his reasons for coming back to Hardrock, his observations on the growth of trail running and where he’d like the sport to go in the future, his experiences in climbing Everest twice earlier this year, and his risk management in his adventurous life.
Kilian Jornet Pre-2017 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Kilian Jornet before the 2017 Hardrock 100. How are you, Kilian?
Kilian Jornet: Feeling good, and you?
iRunFar: Alright. It’s a beautiful day up here in the San Juan Mountains. Are you happy to be back?
Jornet: Yeah, happy to be back. Yeah, I was looking. I always enjoy this part of the States. It’s nice to be here.
iRunFar: The first time we met was eight years ago at the Tahoe Rim Trail. You were this new guy from Spain coming over as part of Kilian’s Quest. What has the last eight years been like for you growing from maybe being known in Catalunya or maybe in Spain to being known around the world?
Jornet: That’s not what I am looking for. That’s just a consequence probably. It has been a lot of fun. Along the way I’ve been racing a lot and enjoying out in the mountains and doing many long races and short races and just trying to learn. The last few years I’ve been doing more climbing and alpinism. The thing that’s been fun is meeting a lot of different people and taking a lot of experience in all the different plans and disciplines I’ve been practicing.
iRunFar: Have there been difficult aspects in that growth of notoriety and fame?
Jornet: Yes, it’s not the thing I like. Of course, we need to make a life. If you want to have sponsors you need to be public in a way, but it’s something I need to find a balance between the hours you are being public and the hours that you are alone. I like to be alone and to be a bit disconnected. Yeah, it’s a bit difficult to play.
iRunFar: Was it shocking to come from Everest into the media frenzy afterward?
Jornet: Yeah, it was good that just after Everest I was going straight home and spending two weeks at home alone there just with Emelie [Forsberg] running around and climbing. Then go to Chamonix it was a bit short. Yeah, before that I took the energy to be prepared for that.
iRunFar: A lot of phone calls and interviews…?
Jornet: Actually not for the first weeks because I told my team, “For one week, nothing,” because I wanted to start training again and to feel good again before I do all these.
iRunFar: Was there a process for you to learn how to say, “No, not now.”
Jornet: Yes, because at the beginning I said, “Yes, yes, yes,” to everything, and you don’t get time to train and then you get stressed. It was 2009 or 2010 that I was not enjoying running because going to a race was stressful for me to meet people and to do things that… yeah, the stress of that. I wanted to run, but I didn’t want to do that. After that, the team that was working for me would say, “Okay, you need to do this and this, but how many days of the year do you want to spend for press, and how many days…?” So finally, to find a good balance of that, and now it works.
iRunFar: Thank you for still saying, “Yes,” to iRunFar.
Jornet: No, thank you. It’s incredible the work you do with all the race followings and… I enjoy it.
iRunFar: We’re not like L’Equipe or 60 Minutes, but… Over the winter, you were critical of some aspects of ski mountaineering that have maybe changed and that you don’t like with the growth of the sport and becoming maybe an Olympic sport. Are there any things in trail and ultrarunning that you’ve seen change that maybe you’re not a fan of?
Jornet: I think trail running is still growing in a lot of directions. Ski mountaineering probably is more a ball on the federated way. It’s the international federation that has all the rules for races and blah blah. Their main goal is going to the Olympics, so being that is the unique goal in a way, it has been formatizing the races that maybe it’s far from what it was ski mountaineering or the big races and things. In trail running, I think it’s still the strength of the sport because there’s not a federation behind it that wants to go to the Olympics or wants to do that that it’s still keeping races like Western States or Hardrock or UTMB or…
Jornet: Or Zegama or Sierre-Zinal. So they keep the identity. I think that’s cool If you see world championships, it’s going on in trail running, but it’s not big in terms of media or competition. It’s good competitors, but there is bigger competition in these classical races. That’s a cool thing.
iRunFar: Yeah, so you wouldn’t want to see Hardrock turn into 10 laps of going up Kendall Mountain and back down for spectating.
Jornet: Yeah, it would not be Hardrock or trail running anyway. It’s mostly that long distances are a journey… to come here and explore the country and know if you can travel through the valleys. It’s not only performance but what happens at the aid stations. It’s the ambiance. It’s that that makes this sport great.
iRunFar: So you’d prefer not to have trail running or ultrarunning not go in the direction of wanting to go to the Olympics?
Jornet: Yeah, the Olympics in a way are good for the sport for the young people that they can enter clubs and get more money to improve. Of course, the performance will grow because it’s more people starting very young, so then it grows. In the other way, if the sport needs to adapt to a format to go to the Olympics and it needs to lose the soul of the sport and as you say doing loops, that’s shit.
iRunFar: Like mountain biking?
Jornet: Yeah, like mountain biking. That’s shit in that way. Then another way is the Olympics, the values of the Olympics… I don’t know if we are there because we like a sport that is outdoors because we enjoy nature and we enjoy those kind of things. When you see the Olympics in Sochi, they build all the ski resorts and after the Olympics, it’s a phantom city. Or when you see all the problems with Rio… on that way, morally, I don’t know if it’s a good thing.
iRunFar: Are there some positives you see with how the sport has progressed in the last decade?
Jornet: Yes, it has progressed well as it’s more known outside. It’s more people knowing the sport and more people entering and entering trail running. They discover nature and the outdoors. Another way, of course it’s more competitive, I think. Ultra-trail before, it was not many people that started since young, but now, the new generation we started to run from pretty young so performing from 20 years old. That means it’s more density. If you see the density of the races 10 years ago or today, now it’s more competition. I think it’s also because of teams and more organized. It’s more people traveling. More Americans are traveling to Europe and more Europeans to here. Yeah, it’s more competition in that way. It’s more promotion. I think it’s a good thing that it’s not a lot talking about only pure performance. That was a long time ago if you see Matt Carpenter, it was a lot of performance and a lot of studies behind that keep going. But what people are talking more about are the experience and what’s cool in the sport. I think it’s a good direction.
iRunFar: With Hardrock in particular, you’ve been here three times. You’ve won three times. You’ve set the course record. You have three of the five fastest times. Why come back?
Jornet: I like this country. I like these mountains. It’s cool. Always coming here, I can go to different summits to explore. Then the race itself, it’s amazing. I think the ambiance is unique—all the aid stations, how devote they are. Yeah, it’s something that is really special. I like to come back.
iRunFar: It’s the pleasure of it.
Jornet: Yeah, it’s the pleasure of it of course.
iRunFar: You could frankly run wherever you wanted to.
Jornet: But, yeah, I like to do different races and things, but yeah, it’s just cool. It’s like Zegama. I like to go back there because it’s the ambiance, and it’s like family. Here, it’s so cool, the ambiance.
iRunFar: With Zegama, I remember after you summited Everest the first time, I wrote your press people, “Is there any chance Kilian is going to show up at Zegama in a few days?”
Jornet: It was, Okay, do we try to go back, or go back and maybe go to Zegama and try to do a second summit?
iRunFar: Because you did that before when you went to Everest but there was the earthquake.
Jornet: Yeah, sure.
iRunFar: Now on the performance side of Hardrock, do you have any desire to go as fast as you can to maybe go for a record that no one can touch for 10 years, or is that not what you aim for here?
Jornet: No, I’m not this kind of runner. For me, it’s really hard to focus on training for one race for more than one week. I like to do things. I’m more now like maybe 10 years ago I could focus and train and start the race full gas, but I think now, I like to do… like if it’s good weather, after this I’d like to climb a summit or do something, so then I will not be full for the race. Also because I race a lot, I prefer to keep a bit of energy if I can. I know after that it’s Sierre-Zinal, UTMB, and then I want to try Bob Graham, and then the ski season. So, I’m not the kind who focuses on one race and gives it everything. If I can run, of course I want to try to win.
iRunFar: Speaking of trying to win, last year you had the experience of finishing with Jason [Schlarb]. A year later, what is that memory to you? Are you happy with it or regret it? What are your thoughts on that?
Jornet: I’m really happy because I didn’t know Jason before, and during all the race we were talking to each other. I knew him from there. We were talking about a lot of things and skiing. It was nice. I think that’s what’s cool. It was a shared journey, so I didn’t feel the point to sprint there. It didn’t feel like. I don’t know if the situation goes the same again if the decision will be the same or not.
iRunFar: In that moment?
Jornet: Yeah, it’s that moment you decide, not in advance.
iRunFar: You could run with Iker [Karrera] or Jason again or Mike Foote, and maybe you run in together or maybe not.
Jornet: Yeah, it depends on how it goes and how you feel if you want to sprint it or not.
iRunFar: You mentioned your training that you don’t really focus on anything for more than a week now, and you do so many different things. You do skimo and you do true alpinism and then you move over to trail running. This past week you went up Longs Peak in the Front Range, and then you were in the Sawatch and hit La Plata and Elbert, and then Eolus and today Engineer. Your longest run of the year was yesterday at 56k.
Jornet: Yeah, but that’s what I like, and for the moment, it works. Probably if I wasn’t able to perform well and to win races doing these things, probably I would maybe focus more on training purely like specific training or maybe not. Maybe I’d stop wanting to perform and doing everything. But for the moment it works. I do well in winter and running and alpinism probably because of the experience of a lot of years running. I can be less focused on things. Then, it’s complementary for sure if you see skiing and running for sure. If you see Maude Mathys, she was fourth in the world championship in ski mountaineering for the vertical, and she was winning the European championship in mountain running. They are two sports, but they are complementary. Then I think alpinism gives things. You are doing stuff that mentally demands a lot, and then you can come to a race where it can be tough, but it’s never that tough.
iRunFar: Your life is not in the balance.
Jornet: Yeah, your life is not in the balance. You feel easier mentally, so it helps on that. Another way it helps running for alpinism or for skiing. I think it’s complementary.
iRunFar: In terms of alpinists, Ueli Steck regularly trail ran.
Jornet: Yes, the last four or five years he started to run a lot and enter races. He did OCC and Eiger Ultra Trail.
iRunFar: He was signed up for CCC I think.
iRunFar: This weekend is there anything you’re most looking forward to?
Jornet: I hope the weather keeps good like this. It’s always hard with bad weather. No, I’m looking forward to having a nice race. It will be good competition this year with Jason. As you say, I think he’s been focusing and preparing well. Iker is back. The last two years he’s been injured and had a lot of problems, but this year he is feeling good. Today, he was so strong going up Engineer, it was hard to keep up with him. He’s done really good things in Spain the last weeks. He will be in shape. Mike, too, it’s a race that fits to him and many others. It will be competitive and maybe fast.
iRunFar: If there’s good conditions, and conditions change everything, there could be four guys under 25 hours.
Jornet: Yeah, sure, I think we are four or five guys that we can go under 24 hours, but then the conditions, and it’s always hard to have in these long races to have perfect conditions.
iRunFar: What do you think the fastest you could go here would be if it was a good day?
Jornet: Yeah, but it never happens. It should be a day with perfect temperature, not too hot and not too cold, no storms, and a strong field where people start strong and keep going… so it will always be something. There will always be a storm or too warm or I don’t know. These theoretical things never work.
iRunFar: Maybe do you think you can go faster than with your course record?
Jornet: Yes, sure. That year, I remember, I think it was a lot of storms. I think I stopped, adding all the aid-station stops, more than one hour. Yeah, you can take less burritos and probably you will go faster.
iRunFar: I remember that it looked like you were sprinting from aid station to aid station, and then you’d stop for 10 or 15 minutes.
Jornet: Yeah, because it was raining so hard, and you wanted to get into the aid stations with hot soup and little meat and… Okay, it’s still raining, but I need to go.
iRunFar: Obviously the men’s field is strong, but the women’s field is incredibly strong.
Jornet: That’s incredible with Caroline [Chaverot] and Nathalie [Mauclair] and [Anna] Frosty and the Americans. It will be an amazing race to follow. I think it will be fast.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you out there this weekend, and see you around.
Jornet: Thank you very much. See you around.
iRunFar: Bonus question for you, Kilian. A few weeks ago, you climbed Everest twice. How was that?
Jornet: It was cool. It’s nice. I think it was… it was interesting in the way we wanted to do completely finding some compromise—no communication, no oxygen of course, and no Sherpas and things. It was really good to know it was possible with acclimatization at home and to train at home and to be there for a short time thus making a pretty cheap expedition. Yeah, that was really cool. It was good.
iRunFar: The first time you had some stomach problems, and you made it but it was not as fast as you maybe wanted. How did you decide to go a second time because there are risks?
Jornet: Yeah, the first time I climbed up and I was feeling sick. It was challenging because you have to take off the down suit to use the toilet. Then I realized on the way that if you’re in good shape and you’re prepared and well acclimatized, it’s not that you need to wait for perfect conditions and perfect things to be up there. It’s possible. It’s not the gastro that will kill me, so why not continue? Then going down, I was thinking I knew it was good weather window in one week. I was thinking, Okay, if I recover well, maybe it’s possible. The second time it was more to try Okay, it’s possible to recover fast. As you are here, today you climb Mount Elbert and the next day you can climb Mount Massive and the week after you can run Hardrock. So to try to put that in the Himalayas was also the goal. It was interesting.
iRunFar: In going there, one of your goals was to set a really fast time from the low elevation to the summit. You didn’t really do that maybe to your potential. Do you want to go back and do that, or are you done with Everest?
Jornet: Of course, it’s as we said before like with the potential of races, it’s perfect conditions. There, the most proud day I am it was 15 May that I was doing the training from the Advanced Base Camp at 6,400 [meters] to 8,400 [meters], and I was climbing 2,000 meters in six hours. That was perfect conditions and performance. You can see it’s possible. I think it’s possible to climb Everest in 10 to 12 hours from ABC. Then, if for that you need to have porters or attendants on the way to have food or water or if you need to have communication and have a radio on you or if you need to have fixed ropes or if you need to use whatever, I don’t want to do that. I wanted to climb Everest in my way, and that was more important than the time. I don’t want to go back to try to go faster, but there are many things on Everest that are possible and many ideas. Yeah, maybe I go back to Everest but not to go faster, but there are other things to do.
iRunFar: Maybe you’re not done. What I’m most interested in about Everest is did you learn any lessons either in acclimatizing or doing it that are applicable to trail running?
Jornet: Yeah, for acclimatizing, I think, sure. I think the profile of acclimatization we did there was perfect. It’s a bit hard to explain, but I will publish it probably. It’s mostly like the pre-acclimitization at home, how to do that, and then once you are at altitude, how to do activity and rest and activity. That was interesting. Another way, actually they were really long days, more than 30-hour days each push because I didn’t want to carry much weight. I was drinking only one liter of water every push and little food. It’s interesting how the body adapts to this. I think it’s interesting maybe on running. It’s pretty easy to explain. When you’re running mountains here, you always have water or a river or something. It was interesting these physiological things how far you can go.
iRunFar: You found you can adjust your needs of water and food?
Jornet: Yes, water, food, and sleeping and of course, it’s really high so there’s not much oxygen, so you’re a bit out of control in a way. It’s hard to know how far you can go.
iRunFar: Are you excited to push those limits in the future?
Jornet: Physiologically, I think it was pretty there. Pushing more, it’s possible, but the risk is very high then, I think. With the being alone, you don’t want to go farther, I think. Technically, it’s possible to do much more interesting things. The experience of that, it gives me a lot of ideas of things to do.
iRunFar: As outdoor athletes, whether we’re skiing or alpinism or even trail running, there’s danger. How do you manage that risk?
Jornet: It’s a lot of training for that first. The last years I have been doing a lot of long days, like 10 to 20 or 30 or 40-hour days alone and accepting some risk that I didn’t want to accept before, or going close to my technical limits in a place where I was alone with no communication. Going home and going to climb a summit and being exposed to some risk—so finally to do the activities to get confident in all these situations, so that being in Everest, I’m at 8,000-something-[meters] and it’s getting to the night. I’m not stressed because it’s not the night that will kill you. I’m feeling these things—I don’t have edema, and I don’t have problems with frost bite, so it’s not that that will kill me—so I can continue. I’m feeling confident. I’m feeling well on that.
iRunFar: Was it pushing the limits in particular areas beforehand so you had the confidence…
Jornet: Yeah, it’s mostly to feel confident and comfortable in situations that normally you’re not.
iRunFar: What is the time when you say, “No, this is too much risk,” whether it’s in running or skiing or alpinism?
Jornet: It’s always hard. It depends on many things. Of course, we have a physiological limit and a technical limit and experience. If you are adapting too much, then you need to turn around, and that’s 50% of the time.
iRunFar: In terms of technical exposure…?
Jornet: Yeah, then it arrives a moment that it’s the risk you want to accept. Sometimes you accept some risks, and you come back home and some hours after or the day after you say, I was stupid. I could have died that day. I could have fallen. It was too much avalanche risk. Or you get in an avalanche or you have an accident, and you can escape. Sometimes you push too hard, and at that moment you accept that risk. Other times, you don’t want to accept.
iRunFar: When does that happen? Does that happen to you? Seeing videos of you, and seeing you externally, it seems like…
Jornet: It happens. Like I said, the 50% of the time I go training, I turn around because I don’t feel it. For example, last year when we were at Everest, I accepted a lot of risks, much more than I accepted this year. We had problems with avalanches and I was climbing some things that this year I wouldn’t accept. I don’t know. It’s emotionally how you are at that moment. I know the death of Ueli affected me of course.
iRunFar: He was such a… I always used him as an example of the cautious person because he had turned around at the summit of Everest before.
Jornet: Yeah, but… it’s like accidents happen, too. You never know. You can die doing a hard thing, but you can die also…
iRunFar: You could be Iker in your room and hit your head.
Jornet: Yeah, that’s the thing. Accidents happen. Also, the risk that you personally want to take, it depends on every day.
iRunFar: Why do you think you’ve become a little more conservative or take fewer risks this past year than before?
Jornet: I would say I’m not sure. Just two days before going to Everest, the last long training I did in Norway, I did a thing that was really good and really interesting and made me really confident, but I took too many risks that day. I think it depends really. It’s the day and how you feel it.
iRunFar: Thank you very much.
Jornet: Yeah, thank you.