I first met Kilian Jornet before the start of the 2010 Western States 100. It was the 22-year-old’s first time racing in the United States after consecutive victories at UTMB in 2008 and 2009. His English wasn’t nearly as good as it is now but as we awaited the starting gun, we exchanged pleasantries and he peppered me with questions about the course and the weather. Of course, for those who remember, 2010 was the “Unbreakable” year, and Jornet was in the heart of the competition until mile 80 when he succumbed to the heat and took an extended break in the shade. He went on to finish third behind Geoff Roes and Anton Krupicka.
A few minutes after I finished the race that year, Kevin Sawchuk — an old friend of mine and 10-year finisher of the race himself, who was working medical at the finish line — came up to me with Jornet by his side. Jornet was holding a Ziploc bag with brown liquid in it, which Sawchuk explained to me was Jornet’s urine sample. He explained to Jornet, in Spanish, that I had experience with kidney problems in 100-mile races and that we should talk.
I spent about 20 minutes talking to him about my experiences with rhabdomyolysis and gave him suggestions about what to do. As has become standard for Jornet over the years, he was remarkably gracious and grateful and the next year, when he returned to Western States, he thanked me at the pre-race briefing and wished me the best in the race.
Of course, in 2011, Jornet avenged his third-place finish from the year before and won the race in what was, at the time, the densest finishing pack in the history of Western States, with 14 men going under 17 hours. It was in that year’s Western States that we began to see what would become Jornet’s trademark style of running with people not against them, often waiting for others at aid stations so he could run with them. A few years later, in 2014, he came to the Hardrock 100 for the first time and won the race, once again having waited for his fellow runners, such as mountain running luminaries Julien Chorier and Adam Campbell, so that he would have company to run with.
I distinctly recall, at the time, fans of the sport wondering why Jornet ran this way and what he might be able to do if he was pushed to the limit by his competitors. In the Hardrock 100 in 2016, he actually tied for the win with American Jason Schlarb. That year, they left the 90-mile aid station together and ran joyfully side-by-side all the way to the finish line in, what was then, course record time. After my finish that year, a painfully difficult one, Jornet sought me out to ask about my race. In his typical humble fashion, he was much more interested in hearing about how my trip around the San Juan Mountains went rather than regaling me with stories of his course record run.
Which brings us to 2022. At Hardrock and UTMB this year, Jornet won and set course records at both — watch his post-2022 Hardrock 100 interview and his post-2022 UTMB interview. Perhaps those questions asked in the past by observers of his shared style of racing have been answered now that François D’Haene, Dakota Jones, Jim Walmsley, Mathieu Blanchard, and Tom Evans have genuinely pushed him to the height of his potential.
Have we finally seen Kilian Jornet at his absolute best in ultrarunning? Well, only time will tell. But for my money, what Jornet has done this year in the mountains of Colorado and Europe in 2022 is the greatest season of men’s ultramarathon mountain running ever.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Avalanche Brewing Company in Kilian Jornet’s favorite American town of Silverton, Colorado. Avalanche’s Sunny Side Hefeweizen is a delightfully light and fruity take on this classic variety. Smooth tasting with a slightly lemony after taste, Sunny Side is a nicely refreshing quaffable beer to conclude any great day in the San Juan Mountains.
Call for Comments
- Have you also enjoyed following Kilian Jornet’s ultrarunning career?
- Are there any other moments that stand out for you, either in ultrarunning or shorter distance mountain running?