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.”
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.”
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.
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.]
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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?