The 23-year-old is taking the ultrarunning world by storm.
Interview by: Matt Fitzgerald
In June, for the first time in its 38-year history, international runners won both the men’s and women’s races at the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run. The men’s winner was a 23-year-old Spaniard named Kilian Jornet, who finished third in last year’s contest. Also a world-class ski mountaineer, the Salomon-sponsored Jornet covered the 100-mile course in 15:34:24, finishing just four minutes ahead of American Mike Wolfe.
We caught up with Jornet after his Western States win and asked the ultrarunning sensation a few questions.
Competitor: Last year you had a rough time at Western States, becoming quite dehydrated and suffering severe muscle cramps. Did you learn anything from the race that helped you win this year?
Kilian Jornet: Last year I learned a lot. When you win a race you don’t learn. When you lose, that’s when you think about changing and learning. Also, running with Anton [Krupicka, who finished second] and Geoff [Roes, the race winner] taught me a lot. I changed my whole race strategy, from equipment to drinking to eating salts.
Mike Wolfe gave you quite a battle this year. What’s it like to be in such a tight competition over such an extreme distance? Is it quite different mentally from competition in a short race?
Mike and Nick [Clark, who took third place] ran a great race. It’s amazing after 160 km to still be so close together! During the race, I knew that on the climbs I was stronger than Mike, so in the plains and going downhill my mind was quiet, knowing that the race would determined on the climbs. Compared to a sprint, the mindset is very different in long races. It gets quiet, the mind serves to hide the pain.
You’ve run a lot of miles for a 23-year-old. Are you ever concerned about breaking down or burning out?
No, because I think you can break mentally when you let motivation get the best of you. Physically, if you remain injury-free, you can last a long time. And if you are tired you can take a short break, or a long one.
You were a top ski mountaineer before you were an ultrarunner, and you still ski all winter. Does this background and alternative sport help you be a better runner?
Yes, mountaineering definitely helps me a lot, first by giving me motivation in the late summer, and also because I have to run in conditions including snow at the end of winter. At the level of injury, running only 6 months a year helps to protect me. Skiing also helps me train for speed and power.
You’re at the top of a sport in which most athletes don’t peak until their mid-30’s. Where do you see yourself in 10 or 12 years?
I’m at the level I am now because I started very early. Within 10 or 12 years it is certain that I will not be at this level. But I will continue to enjoy racing and mountaineering.