Spanish ultra-athlete Kilian Jornet reveals how he jumps ridges, skis and creates records effortlessly
Growing up in a mountain hut in the Pyrenees running and skiing comes naturally to Kilian, as his parents always took him outdoors to let him discover nature and play sports at the same time.
It is literally difficult to get hold of ace ski mountaineer and sky runner Kilian Jornet after he broke the 24-hour uphill ski record to climb 23,864 meters (78,274 ft) in February. It is simply because in March, the Spaniard, now based in Norway’s Rauma welcomed a baby girl into the world with his partner Emelie Forsberg. However, a few days ago, he announced that he will not be participating in the Hardrock 100 ultramarathon in July later this year. Famously called a superhuman, his achievements are beyond the understanding of many. Experts are still trying to figure out how he managed to run to the top of Mount Everest twice in one week in May 2017. However, the incredulity is not stopping Kilian, as he is always running and using his bare hands with a mountain goat-grip to maneouver along ridges and tough terrains. While the ski stick is one of his many companions, it is the unmistakable GoPro camera mounted on his head which is hard to miss. He says the camera helps him get a geo-location for his pictures to know where he is at any point in the run-up to the top.
Being the Snowman
Growing up in a mountain hut in the Pyrenees (mountain range sharing borders with Spain and France) running and skiing comes naturally to Kilian, as his parents always took him outdoors to let him discover nature and play sports at the same time. “I like the polyvalence and being able to combine different sports throughout the year,” says the 31-year-old who is on a personal project called ‘Summits of my Life’ where he tries to create ascent and descent records for all the major peaks in the world. The peaks include the likes of Kilimanjaro, Matterhorn and Mount Everest, which he set the record for in 2017. Intrigued by his varying achievements, it is only fair to ask the man how he managed to break the uphill ski record recently. One of the biggest challenges, Kilian claims to face is, ironically boredom. “Doing the ‘hamster’ (looping around a slope or mountain) is not that exciting, so fighting boredom can be an issue,” he says. “I do many loops in my training and I had prepared some entertainment for the night-time hours but I didn’t end up using any music or podcasts during the entire time,” reveals Kilian.
The athlete, who is also a trail and long-distance runner said in the four days before the challenge, he actually didn’t train much. Kilian said he only ran and skied for one hour each, along with climbing a summit before making the final run. The multiple-record holder also got around to beating the boredom by having a silent partner with him. However, being focused is also important, he adds, “I set myself short goals like — get to the end of the flat, the steep section and the off-piste. And on a bigger scale, I set short-term goals like doing only two loops till I reach 20,000 metres.” While these goals will make any person including amateur ski mountaineers dizzy, Kilian says he simply divides his training in the year into two seasons — November to May for Skiing and May to October for Trail Running. Training for 20 - 30 hours a week, he said it is also important for aspiring ski mountaineers to get adequate training recovery. With the discipline becoming big in India, he said it is essential to not only have a good ski technique but for them to also know their surroundings and the mountain very well. “Start slow and focus on the key factors to include getting intel about the weather forecast, the gear and the knowledge of being able to read the terrain,” Kilian adds. So what kind of diet does he follow and what should others follow? “It is really difficult to suggest as it depends on every person, but I have never really eaten much so I usually take snacks and water. So every person should try different options and decide what suits their bodies,” he advises.
On the Everest trail
While experts have their doubts, Kilian dismissed all of them after he co-authored a paper for the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, with University of Lausanne physiologist Grégoire Millet. In the paper which was published in April 2019, Kilian said he simply uses simulated altitude methods for his acclimatisation strategy. “I find this very exciting because I’ve been able to acclimatise at home rather than spending time in base camps, where you also get fatigued,” Kilian explains when we ask him about this mind-boggling method. For the Mount Everest climb, Kilian said he started sleeping in the altitude tent two or three times a week, two months before he made the climb. However, the serious preparation began one month before the climb as it saw him sleep in the tent every night at altitudes ranging between 13,000 and 16,500 feet; running on the treadmill with an altitude mask was also a part of the preparation.
With extreme training like this, what is next on Kilian’s calendar? The athlete recently released his schedule and said he will be participating in Zegama Aizkorri marathon in Spain, Sierre Zinal in Switzerland and finally the Pike’s Peak Marathon in Colorado in the next few months.
Running for records
- Holds the record for the most number of Skyrunner World Series titles at five
-Holds the fastest known ascent and descent time for Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, Denali and Everest peaks
- Holds the 24-hour uphill skiing record at 78,274 feet