Summits of my LifeFrom The Field
The long-distance and ultramarathon champion Kílian Jornet recently broke the record for the Bob Graham Round – the challenge in the Lake District that winds 106km over 42 peaks – in 12 hours and 52 minutes, an hour ahead of the previous record that has stood since 1982. He’s also four-time champion of Europe’s Skyrunner World Series, three-time champion of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, and twice named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. Ahead of a screening of Path to Everest that charts his summit of Everest, Sidetracked grabbed a few minutes to talk to the Salomon and Suunto ambassador.
First of all, what was it about the Bob Graham Round that attracted you to it in the first place? It is quite different from your other more mountainous challenges.
Yes, it’s something that is very special because it runs through the history of the sport. The first people racing in the fells were here in the UK – and especially in the Lakes – in the 1600s and the 1700s. What first got my attention about the Bob Graham Round was that people had been running this for so many years. And then, of course, the story of Billy [Bland] and his record there, it was amazing. I realised when I went running how fast he was, because I got these great conditions. It was very dry so it was fast – I was thinking about how Billy was running before in worse conditions. I was really inspired by him.
You’ve been a professional runner for a long time now. Was the culture of fell running something that you were aware of or did you learn a lot more about it when you were out in the Lake District?
I learned about fell running when I was racing in 2006-7. I recognised these guys, and I talked with them, and they were talking about these races – like the Ben Nevis or Dolomites – all these old races. I saw how strong they were. I became interested in this and the culture. Actually, this year going to the Lakes and doing the Bob Graham I realised what the sport is like here. It was one of the first times I saw how many people are outdoors – so many people hiking, running, and all the running clubs – so it was inspiring to see that.
What were the different challenges of running on that terrain compared to the more mountainous runs? Was it more straightforward, or different, or do you just put your head down and run it like you normally do?
No, the terrain was very challenging. They aren’t high mountains but there is a lot of elevation and it’s very steep. Because you go straight – I mean there’s no trail – so you take the steepst path. Compared to the Alps where there are thousands of kilometres of trails that people just follow all the time, here it goes straight up, very technical. You need to see all the time where and how you put your feet, because you’re not on a flat trail.
People see what you’ve done, you’re like Superman. Do you ever have low moments? Do you ever think ‘this is getting too hard’? Psychologically, how do you deal with moments when you’re struggling?
Sure, you have many many hard moments. I try to win races, and I think I’m good at preparing for them, so then it is less a struggle when it comes to the moment. In training, if I get very tired or am struggling, that is just part of it. It is what it is. It’s what I love about the sport – you challenge yourself to go farther and that means high moments. We do it first of all because we love it, even if it’s hard. You look around and think ‘oh wow, I’m in a beautiful place, and doing what I like to do’ so that gives you the energy back.
You are known for your speed and your fastest-known times. Is it about the speed or is it as much being out in the mountains?
Speed I would say is the consequence of what I do and the way I like to do things, so it’s not the final goal at all. I like to be out and I like racing, but a thousand times more I like to train. Training is enjoyable. Every day to be out there, and exploring and doing things… in the end speed is only one way to challenge yourself and one way to explore your capacities, but other elements are interesting and as great as being fast.
You now live in Norway – is that because it is more suitable for training?
Yes; before Norway, I was living in the Chamonix area for the last 10 years. Chamonix is great for training in the mountains and different terrain, but there are all these people so you don’t feel like you’re in nature. In Norway, you’re more alone and you have a sense of nature – plus you have the technical mountains, long winters, lots of skiing, and it’s great for running. But most of all you can go out without seeing anyone.
What does the next year have in store for you? What challenges have you set yourself?
Well, I don’t know exactly what I’ll do, but for now it’ll be skiing, then the running season, and I’d like some racing. Then some long runs and other things in the mountains, or perhaps expeditions; these are the things that are getting me excited.
Most people go running to relax. How do you relax?
Running can be relaxing when you are in a stressful situation. I have a break from a hard training season. I’m not very social, so I like to be alone and read a book, and hang out with my dog.
Path to Everest is being screened at the Vue Cinema Islington on November 27th and 28th. It features the story of the final ascent of Kìlian’s ‘Summits of My Life’ project, which saw him establish records for ascending Mont Blanc, Denali, and Aconcagua among others.
Summits of My Life is an illustrated, info-packed, and awe-inspiring account of his successful attempts to set new roundtrip FKTs (fastest-known times) while following his own ethic of climbing simply, purely, with minimal gear, and with love and respect for the environment and the mountains.