Kilian Jornet: It’s no coincidence that I practice these mountain sports, because as a child I lived with my parents and sister in the Cap del Rec mountain hut in the Lles de Cerdanya cross-country ski resort in the Catalan Pyrenees. That’s where my sister and I started skiing and mountaineering. Before we could even walk we had already covered our first kilometres on skis! Up there, sport was the only entertainment my sister and I had. In the summers, after school, we used to go running on mountain paths and through the woods around the hut, and in the winters, we’d do the same thing on skis! Of course, our parents were, and still are, mountain addicts. They used to enjoy their time off by going hiking or climbing summits. That’s why by the age of 5 we’d already climbed the 3000 meters Aneto and Posets peaks, among others. And by the age of 10, we’d crossed the Pyrenees and reached summits up to 4000 meters. In winter, we used to ski every day at school and with a club, and we had a ski lesson once a week. We took part in cross-country skiing races, not just in the Pyrenees but also in the Alps – in particular the “Foulée Blanche” race - and we took part in the school cross-country events.
That’s how I can best describe the way we were brought up with a love for the mountains and for practicing sport as pleasure. Having said that, my true taste for high level competition and for pushing myself beyond my limits came from training with and racing against Joan Coma on a bike. He taught me that what matters most is to do what you love, and that if you love the climbs, the pain and the fight, it’s all to your advantage. During this short 2 year phase I became completely addicted to the pleasure of training day after day.
Around the age of 13, I was in high school and pretty much by chance we heard about the Centre de Tecnificació d’esquí de muntanya de Catalunya (CTEMC – Catalunya technical centre for ski mountaineering). I got through the selection events and discovered ski mountaineering. I started to train properly, in an organised fashion thanks to the support of the technicians: Maité Hernández who taught me to train and to really fight, and Jordi Canals who passed on his passion for the sport and for competing. This was a major phase for me – I was training every day, the first Spanish championships and then European championships came up, my first victories, a few failures, and a lot of encouragement.
I also discovered trail running thanks to some of the ski mountaineering adepts who would run during the summers so as to stay fit and to appease their need to compete. They gave me a lot of encouragement and I gradually became passionate about trail running also, to the point that I now combine the two seasons.
When I finished school in 2005-2006, I decided to concentrate on racing, and I moved to Font Romeu in France to study STAPS (at the University of Perpignan), so I was able to combine my studies with my training. It was a great help that I got myself a specific contract for high level athletes. Font Romeu is the ideal place for me to be able to reconcile my life as a sportsman with my studies: it’s located at 2000 meters, there’s snow on the doorstep and several alpine and cross country ski resorts nearby.
In 2006, I suffered a severe knee injury (transversal fracture of the knee cap), it cost me my entire winter season and part of the summer season, as well as two stays in hospital. Following the knee injury, I was afraid I wouldn’t get back to my best level of fitness; I increased my training so that I could take part again in high level competitions. I started running again at the end of the summer, I had a few victories in the Gore-Tex series and I beat the world record for the Vertical Kilometre. I started having major sporting success in 2007 and onwards, which allowed me to pursue my sporting goals in different areas. Currently, the Catalan Sports Counsel gives me and a few other ski mountaineers in Font Romeu a grant that covers accommodation, equipment, medical care and physiotherapy.
I don’t have a preference for skiing or trail running, I simply love being in the mountains and I use everything that they have to offer: I’ve got my skis for the snow in winter and my shoes for the trails in summer. I couldn’t choose between the two. Also, the intensity of the skiing in winter (the races range from 30 min to 1.5 hour) serves me well for the summer and the sheer volume of effort in the summer supports me through the winter. And it’s good to stop running for 6 months of the year, because it gives my joints a chance to recover.
My winter training schedule consists of two parts: From November to December, pre-season: 20 to 30 hours a week of ski mountaineering, spread between 3 to 4 hours in the morning and 1 to 2 intense hours in the afternoon (fartlek, short series, VMA…). From January to May, it’s competition time: around 20 races covering the World Cup, the World Championships, the Spanish Championships, and the Major races. During this period, I train around 15 to 20 hours a week with lots of recovery time, lots of intensity and lots of races.
My summer schedule starts from May and ends in October: between 20 to 25 hours per week, volume or high volume, two outings a day ranging from 2 to 7 hours with 20% road biking and 80% running.
My whole year training and racing effort consists of : 260.000 meters elevation gain/loss - 500 hours of Ski-mountaineering and 240.000 meters elevation gain/loss - 500 hours Running and biking
Now, let’s focus on some questions regarding Trail Running:
Before taking up Trail running, had you practiced any other sport?
I did all kinds of mountain sports with my parents when I was a child, as well as cross-country skiing. Then I took up ski mountaineering at a competitive level.
How / why did you take up Trail running?
The people who do ski mountaineering are generally also trail runners in summer to stay fit. They encouraged me to take it up and I first tried it in 2006. I saw that it suited me pretty well so I carried on, that way I cover the two seasons.
What do you enjoy in particular about this sport?
The freedom you gain in the mountains, I love the fact that I’m practicing a sport in such a magnificent environment. The landscapes and the terrain are always changing.
Which was your first Trail running race?
La Cuita el Sol, a race with a 1700 meters elevation gain over 4 km, in 2005.
Skyrace: Andorra Skyrace in 2006
Ultratrail: UTMB in 2008
Do you practice any other sports, apart from Trail running?
Ski mountaineering at a competitive level, road biking and roller skiing for training.
Which specific types of Trail running do you prefer and why?
I like all distances. Each distance gives the possibility to explore different sensations and limits. But I don’t like flat ground, I like running in the mountains, high or low. The vertical kilometre, skyrunning, ultra trails, whatever - as long as I’m up in the mountains.
Over what race distance are you strongest?
I try to give my best performance in every race, and I prepare each one according to the profile.
Which types of trail do you prefer to run on (dry paths, muddy terrain, snow…)?
The more technical the trail, the more I enjoy it. I like very steep climbs and the most technical descents possible. Rocks, climbing, snow, mud… I like all the types of terrain that you find at altitude, and when it goes off the trail, it’s even better.
Can you describe your state of mind at the start of a race? What matters most to you, the pleasure of discovering new landscapes, or the competitive spirit?
As far as I’m concerned, a race is always a competition. I’m fortunate enough to spend 365 days a year in the mountains, and it’s only for about 30 of those days that I can’t look (too much) at the landscape. When I’m training I enjoy the mountains, when I’m competing I enjoy the spirit of the race.
What concerns you most at the start of a race? (The level of difficulty of the race, the other competitors, your morale, cramps, dehydration…)
At the start I put myself in a frame of mind of total conviction that I will win, that I can do it, so that I can try to make it happen. I try to study everything beforehand (opponents, profile of the race, nutrition…) so as to leave nothing to chance. During the race, I try to find solutions to unexpected events (that always occur) as quickly as possible.
What are your strong points? Your weaknesses?
I mustn’t say! Otherwise my opponents will aim for my weak spots! No, I guess my strong points are my performance on technical terrain and my mind. My weak points are the rolling terrain and the fact that I try to perform on every distance, without being good at any in particular.
Describe your best Trail running memory? The most stunning trail you’ve run?
Every race and every trail has its special magic, it’s impossible for me to choose just one! That’s the beauty of the mountains. I’ve been lucky enough to experience so many great moments, to have so many wonderful memories, each one has its special place inside me.
What has been your greatest joy?
Again, I think that every moment has its joy. For example, up in the mountains when you’re out skiing alone by the light of the moon, or when you reach a summit and encounter rare wildlife there. In races, the moments when I’ve struggled but I’ve come through winning are the best.
Describe your biggest disappointment, or the moment you suffered the most?
It’s in failure that you have to find the positive points. When you win, you don’t learn anything, but when you lose, you learn a lot. So I’d say my knee injury in 2006 or the European ski championships in 2008 when I broke my kit, that all taught me a lot.
How do you handle failure ?
By analysing it and by thinking about how to improve for next time. A failure is a chance to improve.
Can you describe a person/people you have met who has/have had a significant impact on you?
There are lots of very different people that I’ve met along the way. All of them have brought along their knowledge, their vision of life and of the mountains. We all need to learn from one another, everyone has something to give. The support guys, the doctors, the other runners, the officials, the students, the teachers…
Which is your favourite race?
It’s very hard to choose, I don’t have one favourite race, but a bunch of them. Zegama for the atmosphere, Giir di Mont for the race itself, Grigne or Kima for the technical aspect, GRR for the combination of all those things…
Which race do you dream of taking part in?
Loads of races!
And what about his training practices and philosophy?
How often do you train (how many days a week)? If you work, how do you fit your training in with your professional activity?
I train every day, usually breaking the day into 2 sessions, a long one in the morning and an easy one in the afternoon. That adds up to about 25 to 35 hours a week, except for the weeks when there’s a race. Then I train a lot less, about 15 to 17 hours.
Can you estimate the number of hours / kilometres / elevation gain/loss you add up in one year?
In terms of kilometres, I don’t know because it all depends on the elevation gain and loss, as well as on the technical aspect of the terrain. You can’t compare 20km and a 200m elevation gain with 20km and a 2000m elevation gain! Over a year, that must add up to about 1000 hours of which 500 on skis, 270000m elevation gain and loss, 450 hours running with 240000m elevation and 50 hours biking with 20000m elevation.
What is your preferred type of training? (endurance, speed, mixed profile) ? What is your preferred type of terrain for training?
It depends on the race that I’m preparing for. My training sessions vary enormously according to the race profile. It’s very different to prepare for a VK (which lasts about 30 minutes at full speed) versus an ultra race lasting more than 20 hours at a slower rate.
What type of intensity do you prefer for Trail running (over what distance, on what type of terrain?)
In any case, it has to be in the mountains. The distance varies according to the race I’m preparing for and to the way I’m feeling.
Do you prefer to train alone or with others? Do you have a sports advisor / coach?
Once again it depends on the day, sometimes it’s good to train with someone but it’s difficult to find people. I organise my own training according to what’s coming up and to the way I feel.
What do you do outside of the trail running season?
How do you stay motivated?
I never consider what I’m doing as training, I’m just going up into the mountains to do what I love most. Also, the fact that I have 2 different seasons (ski and trail) keeps me motivated.
Equipment and nutrition are also a key factor for performance. Let’s see what Kilian has to say about them:
Why have you chosen SALOMON?
Because Salomon provides all the necessary products, and because of the research work carried out by the technical team who are constantly striving to improve the products. Also because their philosophy on racing and on trail running is very close to my own.
Which are your favourite products? (What is your priority: weight gain, technical specificity of the product, the aesthetic characteristics…)
My favourite products are the lightest, weight is what matters most to me as long as I’m comfortable. It’s the runner who has to adapt to the terrain, the kit is there just for support.
How do you fit in with the S LAB programme?
I work very closely on it, side by side with the clothes and shoes technicians. We work together right from the start of the process, from the initial design through to the test phase…
Which SALOMON product is the most important for you?
The shoes, they have to be a continuation of my body.
Do you benefit from any other sponsorship programs?
For trail running: Suunto, Overstims and Font Romeu, Atomic, Pierre Gignoux, Crazy Idea and Pomoca.
Is nutrition important to you?
Not enormously important. I believe that one should always leave room for improvement, for me that will be in the area of nutrition. But I try to eat well. A lot of pasta, pizza and not much meat.
Can you describe your diet when not racing, and your fuelling strategy during a race?
It depends on the race. If it’s a short one, I take gels and water. For a long trail race, it varies according to the temperature, but I always have water, liquid food, sportdej, sweet potato, rice, tea, salt, sandwiches…
Finally some more generic questions
What do you do in your spare time? What are your hobbies / your other passions?
I like reading and music; I also enjoy sketching with charcoal. I like anything on the subjects of psychology and physiology.
What music do you listen to? Do you listen to music while you train?
I listen to a bit of everything, from Catalan Pop (Mano, Sopa de Cabra, Lax…) to Pop Rock (Beatles, REM, Springsteen, Guns, Blondie…) and Classical Music (Bach, Tchaikovsky), and when running I listen to a bit of techno, Black Eyed Peas, Eagle Eye…? I also listen to music during long distance races, it helps me to escape the mind and to set a pace.
Name the runner you most admire.
Marco de Gasperi, Ricardo Mejia.
Can you name another champion, in any sport, who you admire? Why?
Haile Gebreselasie. He won everything and kept a humble and positive spirit.
What do you think of the explosion in popularity of Trail running? What do you see as the future for Trail running? What type of races do you think should develop over the next few years?
It’s not surprising, it’s a sport that allows people to escape; in a society that is more and more urban and sedentary, people feel the need to be out in nature and to do sport. The future for trail running is the development of a variety of formulae: vertical kilometer, descent, skyrunning, technical, long distance, rolling terrain…
Why do the best African runners, the Kenyans for example, not take part in Trail running races? Would you fear going up against them?
We’ve started seeing African runners in skyrunning races, but on technical ground with a lot of elevation gain and loss (especially the downhill parts) they struggle because they don’t have the muscle strength in the calves and quadriceps. They’re very strong on rolling terrain, so if there’s a move towards more diversified trail races they will be (and are) very strong in the rolling ultra trails or in the mountain races.
For the greater public, Trail running is a sport that lacks clarity (there are different federations, different championships or challenges, different types of races). Do you think that the organization should change? Are you concerned that a federation would change the race rules and affect the spirit of Trail running in the future?
No, trail running for me is not just about a race, a number and a set of rules. The most important aspect of trail running for me is the pleasure of running outdoors surrounded by nature, that’s why I prefer to take part in races that cover beautiful landscapes, not ones that are part of a circuit falling under one federation or another.
Would you like Trail running to become an Olympic sport? Why?
No, but I would like ski mountaineering to be an Olympic sport. How do you define trail running, would it be 10, 20, 40, 100 or 200km races? What is the description of a trail race? You have to adapt to the terrain and to the landscapes, you can’t force a route just to reach a specific distance or elevation gain/loss.
What’s the difference between trail running and the skiing?
One sport takes place on snow, the other doesn’t. The effort is more sustained on skis because it’s over just one and a half hours whereas the trail running races are longer and less intense. And the training isn’t the same. In summer, I put in the hours, running or on my bike, I get stronger and faster over time with each race. In winter, the effort is more intense, I do split sessions and I only train on skis.
Which sport do you feel more comfortable with?
I love both of them. On the one hand, it’s easier to run, because on the skis there are more factors that come into play such as the type of snow or the equipment. But I get a lot out of both sports, and when you’re happy doing something, you do it well. Also, practicing two sports with the corresponding changes of season really helps with motivation. At the end of the summer you’re sick of running and you’re happy to be back out in the snow.
You fight against your opponents in races and you surpass yourself in the Kilian Quests and your personal FKT (Fastest Known Times) efforts. What is your philosophy?
I want to show that my passion for the mountains is more than just about the races. I want to explore all these mountains as well as the different cultures and to pass that on. I try to find places I’m interested in from a cultural perspective, for the history or for other specific cultural aspects. Every year I look for a new destination that also fits in with the race calendar. As far as I’m concerned, a Kilian Quest is just another race.
What do you think of the race prizes? Do you think there would be advantages to making Trail running a professional sport?
The sport is professional, there are brands, organisations…so why aren’t the runners professionals? It would be a reward for the work that the runners do, I’m all for it.
What advice would you give to a Trail runner?
To enjoy being in the mountains. If a runner has a great time on every outing, then progress will happen very fast.
If you were a mountain, you would be…
The Shivling, the most beautiful mountain in the world
If you were a trail, you would be…
A trail that goes around the world via the mountains., and the traverse of the Pyrenees.
How long will you keep running for?
I’ve still got plenty of time ahead of me and I’m motivated. I’ll stop the day I wake up and don’t feel like going out to train. Currently, it’s no sacrifice, because even if the conditions aren’t always perfect, I still enjoy the training.
What do you plan to do once you stop racing?
I would like to do more mountaineering, because when you’re caught up in racing, there’s no time for anything else. When the time comes I’ll find new challenges and I’ll be ready to take them on.
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