Twenty Two, Forty One, Thirty Three

In case you were hiding out in a cave and somehow missed it, Kilian Jornet won Hardrock and shattered the course record this past weekend. His time of 22:41:33 was more than 40 minutes faster than Kyle Skaggs’s 2008 effort, and about 1 hour, 45 minutes faster than what anyone else has ever run there! It’s hard to argue that anyone has ever run a more impressive 100 miler, and yet by all accounts it seemed that Kilian was relaxed and laid back for more or less the entire race.

This is of course the way that Kilian tends to race. When you do as many epic adventures as he does, it’s only natural that he would be laid back about his racing. No matter how rugged, challenging, and competitive any race is, it will be quite tame and laid back as compared to other things he does on a fairly regular basis.

It’s easy to look at this race and wonder how much faster could he have run? He mentioned in a post-race interview that “we started really slow together” and that he took numerous photos throughout the race. He was also stopping for several minutes in many of the aid stations, presumably to warm up from the stormy weather, but perhaps also because he just wasn’t concerned that much about racing as fast as he could. At least once during the race he slowed down to wait up for Julien Chorier, who was running all day in second place, so that he would have someone to talk to. It seems very reasonable to wonder if he could he have run under 22 hours had time been his main focus right from the start?

The thing that needs to be remembered though is that it is this laid-back approach that makes him such an effective racer. Sure he could have done a lot of things differently to save himself a lot of time (especially in the first 60 miles), but then would he have been able to run the last 30 miles an hour and a half faster than Kyle? Of course I do not know the answer to this question, but anyone who has been around enough 100 milers knows just how important patience is. For Kilian, this patience comes naturally in the form of not taking himself, or any given race too serious. This isn’t to say that he isn’t competitive and focused. He just has a very unique (and seemingly very effective) way of going about things. Anyone who ever plans to run a 100-mile race in the future would be wise to incorporate his laid back, and subsequently patient approach.

Maybe he could have run faster if running faster was his main goal, but to me it seems just as likely that the reason he was able to run this race so fast was because it wasn’t his main goal to do so. He ran well within his comfort zone and simply enjoyed himself for about 15 hours and then he kicked it up a few gears and ran away from everyone in the race, as well as everyone who has ever run this race.

Another thing that I took away from his performance is a reminder of just how much it can mean for anyone to run on a course that is suited for their strengths as a runner. Kilian is without question the top trail ultrarunner in the world, but even he has types of races that he is not suited for. Hardrock is most certainly not one of them. He seems to struggle on occasion with the heat, and he seems to be mostly mortal on long flat stretches. Hardrock of course doesn’t have a whole lot of either one of these things. This is another thing I think any aspiring 100-mile racer can take away from his performance. Find a race that suits your strengths. You might not shatter a longstanding course record, but you will likely surprise yourself with how much stronger you can perform as compared to a race that suits your weaknesses. Kilian’s fastest time in two Western States performances was nearly an hour slower than the current course record. Of course he could run faster there than he did in either of his attempts, but I doubt he could ever run as fast as Tim Olson’s course-record time, certainly not in a hot year.

This performance certainly does not mean that Kilian is unbeatable, but he did just raise an already very high bar a couple more notches. Once again though, he has showed us all what’s possible, and in doing so he has certainly done his part to help so many people run faster than they ever thought they could. Thanks, Kilian.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What are your thoughts on Kilian’s Hardrock course record? Does someone expanding our sport’s concept of what we can or can’t do inspire you in your own runnings? Or does it affect you in a different way?
  • Do you think that Kilian’s laid-back approach in the race’s first half helped him run so strong in the race’s second half? Have you ever found that a chill vibe with your racing helps you race better?
  • What do you think is possible for Kilian at Hardrock? Sub-20 hours? Something different?