Spain – Some people take weeks to scale mountains, stopping off along the way in arduous pursuit of the summit. Kílian Jornet, however, runs up and down them in just under half a day, big ones too. Skyrunner, ultra-runner and ski-mountaineer, this precocious athlete from Catalonia makes molehills out of mountains – a human example of how we need to keep moving above and beyond our limits.
Three-time world champion of the Skyrunner world-series and winner of the 2011 Western States Endurance run, the apparently inexhaustible competitor holds over a dozen world speed records and has over eighty race wins to his name. At 25, his prowess seems unstoppable. I caught up with Kílian to ask him what is running through his mind, and where he plans on running to next.
Emaho : What were you doing before you were a professional athlete? When did you first start running?
I became a professional athlete when I was 18 and I studied and competed during my university years. Before running I started with ski mountaineering at the age of 13, and began competing with this discipline. Some friends suggested to me that I could try trail running during the summer months, as I couldn’t ski then. And this is how I started running professionally!
Carles Puyol with Kilian Jornet
Emaho : You have mentioned in the past that you listen to motivational music as you train and compete. What kind of music motivates you?
It’s funny because it really depends. Some people might think my playlist has no sense at all, as one track can be classical music with a Bach theme, followed up with a punk song by the Sex Pistols.
Emaho : You came first in the 2011 Western States Endurance 100-mile run. This course takes the runner all over the state of California. How do you familiarise yourself with such a vast course?
It’s a long race, but in the years before I had been running some longer races like UTMB (166k) Corsica (200k) Tahoe Rim Trail…so the distance was not the problem because WS100 is a pretty flat race, so “short” in time. The biggest problem for me is the temperature; I like the cold, but there it is super, super warm. Before racing I spent two weeks running in Auburn to acclimatize to the heat.
Killian Jornet at Mont Lachat © Seb Montaz
Emaho : Watching videos of you running along Mont Blanc, you make it appear so effortless, but clearly there are many hundreds of hours of training required. Is there room for normalcy in a life so dominated by living in the extreme?
Well, what I really like is to be out in the mountains and enjoying nature. Running is the best way I’ve found to get the chance to spend more time up there, so this is what is “normal” to me. I grew up in a mountain refuge so nature has always been my playground. But besides this, I’m not an “extreme” person; I have a life like everyone else and I like to do “normal” things such as reading a book or hanging out with friends and eating pizza!
Emaho : You set the world record for the fastest ascent and descent of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest freestanding mountain in the world. Many people could never dream of reaching the summit, let alone running to the top and back down in just over seven hours. How did this accomplishment alter your perspective on future challenges?
I always try to do different things, and this is how the project ‘Summits of My Life’ was born. I felt I had to do something different besides running and taking part in competitions. I have a mountain background so my major motivation is to climb summits or do crossings, and all these big summits are a big motivation. For next year’s ‘Summits of My Life’ project I want to keep in this way.
Emaho : You have been described as “pioneering a new style of Alpinism”. What does this mean to you?
I don’t think of it as a new style of alpinism. Alpinism is climbing a summit, and the alpine style is a climb without external help, always up, with minimal equipment. When you look at people like Christophe Profit and Bruno Brunod – they were doing that years ago. It’s just knowing how to put together the knowledge of running and climbing in the mountains.
Killian Jornet©Seb Montaz
Emaho : Your experiences in mountains suggest your fearlessness; is there anything that scares you? How does you family feel about you being involved in such high-risk activities?
Of course! Fear is part of this adventure. It’s the fear that stops you from doing some things, and the fear is good in that case. My family understand me as they also have a mountaineering background, but of course they’re always scared when I’m out there, even though they know this is the way I find my happiness, so they accept me as I am.
Emaho : The video series ‘Kílian’s Quest’ offers great insight into your life, such as your encounter with legendary mountain runner Pablo Vigil. What was this experience like?
It was such a great opportunity having the chance to meet the legendary icons of mountaineering! Pablo is an awesome person; he was, and is, an extraordinary runner, and he keeps the motivation to go to the mountains, look to the animals, find summits, and go to the races, to cheer…
Killian Jornet in LIFE
Emaho : On your website ‘Summits of My Life’, you have a section specifically allocated for a list of values: the importance of taking risks and ideas of responsibility. What aspects of your personal philosophy do you consider to be the most essential?
I think that list pretty much sums up what I feel about life and the mountains; I think the simplicity, the friendship, the effort, the constancy and the learning are the most important key values to me.
Your career has led you to destinations all over the world – Switzerland, Borneo, Australia and Japan, among others. Tell us about your favourite place that you have travelled to.
It’s so difficult to choose, and every place has its specific thing, so I couldn’t really choose one.
Killian Jornet©Seb Montaz
Emaho : Evidently, your life is about movement. What direction is your life taking now?
I’m in the middle of the ‘Summits of My Life’ project, so this is what is on my mind right know, all the challenges and the people we meet along the way. After that, we’ll see what happens!
Art & Culture Interview by Max Grobe