Kilian Jornet Burgada was once only considered amongst the premier trail running and Nordic skiing athletes of the world. These days, however, the more you hear about his exploits the more mythical he becomes.
It’s hard to wrap your head around everything he’s achieved – five-time winner of the Vertical Race World Championship (skiing), seven-time champion of the Skyrunner World Series, National Geographic Adventurer of the Year (2014). And then, of course, his renowned FKTs (fastest known times). He currently holds the FKT for descent and ascent of the iconic Matterhorn, Mont Blanc (tallest peak in the Alps) and Denali (tallest peak in North America).
He also owns the FKT for the ascent of Africa’s tallest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, and arguably his greatest achievement to date, Mount Everest.
While an entire article can be written on what this multisport sensation has achieved, when I had five minutes to talk to Kilian Jornet, it felt right to steer away from all of that.
Here’s what counts – while Kilian seems superhuman, at heart he’s the product of a mountain child with an inherent desire to be outside. There’s no getting around the main point that Kilian keeps coming back to – the long list of records is not something he holds onto too tightly, but the opportunity to get out there every single day and do what he loves in the places that he loves, now that’s what really matters.
What sets Kilian apart to perform these unheard of feats? Perhaps we will never really know. But from the moment he started training as a competitive athlete at just 13-years old, he excelled beyond what anyone thought was possible.
While I couldn’t help but include one or two questions about his training programme and his Everest summits, I hope this interview reveals a glimpse of the simplicity of a man that follows an untainted calling to spend his life in the mountains.
Your list of accomplishments is incredible. What kind of legacy are you hoping to leave?
I think the word of legacy it’s a bit too much! I’m just a guy that likes to go out in the mountains, and I’m very lucky to be able to make my living out of that. If there is something [I’d like to leave behind], it’s to have been someone that inspired other people to go out and explore the world, and to try be happy doing whatever they choose to do.
What is the overriding factor in you deciding to climb out of bed and head into the mountains?
In the mountains is where I feel most myself. It’s where I like to be and where I’m happy. I get up, look out of the window at the mountains, spot a summit, and then head there to discover more about it. Being out there is my main motivation every day.
What has given you the guidance to achieve what you have?
Well, I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve always been in touch with nature and it’s where I’ve always wanted to be.
I grew up in a mountain hut in the Pyrenees so being in the mountains has always been part of my life. When I was 13 I started to train more seriously, and since then I’ve been out every day testing myself! I guess it’s this experience that has given me the guidance to have achieved what I have now.
The Summits of my Life project has been completed. What’s up next for your sporting career?
After completing the Summits of My Life project, I’m still not entirely sure what I’ll do in the future. I have lots of things in mind, I just need to sit and decide which ones I want to try next. But I like to change things up all the time, whether it’s skiing, trail running, climbing, or trying to go faster and lighter into the mountains.
What in your career that you’ve achieved so far are you most proud of?
To be honest, it’s all the people I’ve met along the way, the places I’ve discovered and the things that I’ve learnt. The victories, the summits – all of that is not as important to me.
How do you structure your training programme, and how much of it is based on what you feel like doing?
The way I train is entirely based on my feelings, that is, on my desire to climb a mountain or to discover a valley.
My year is divided into two seasons: trail running in the summer and skiing in winter.
Ski (November to May):
I divide the winter season into two parts. Pre-season is November and December, when I usually train between 20 and 30 hours a week. This involves volume training (3-4 hours in the morning and 1-2 hours in the afternoon, approximately). The season itself lasts from January to May. I usually take part in 20-25 races, including the World Cup, the World Championships, the European and Spanish Championships, and others. In this period, I train between 15-30 hours doing a lot of intensity training, but also with adequate training recovery.
Trail Running (May to October):
In the summer, this season is from May to October. I do between 20-35 hours a week (high volume training) and go on a couple of outings a day of between 2-7 hours, depending on the day. In this season, I spend 80% of my time running and the remaining 20% on road cycling.
I ascend and descend a total of 300,000 meters a year in ski mountaineering, which means some 500 hours in total. In the summer, I run up and down around 250,000 meters, devoting about 500 hours to it. I train 7 days a week.
What did you focus on most as you prepared for Everest?
My goal in this expedition (and my main concern) was the acclimatisation. I knew that I’d climbed more technical summits before, and wasn’t afraid about that part of taking on Mount Everest. However, I knew I would struggle with altitude.
To prepare for this, a few weeks before departing I trained with a hyperbaric chamber. I also went to the Alps to train at altitude in the weeks before I left for the Himalayas. Before heading to Everest I was in Cho Oyu with my girlfriend, so the process went really well and when I finally arrived I felt ready.
Tell us about the toughest moment in each of the Everest summits, and how you got through them.
In the first one I had stomach ache and wasn’t feeling well after reaching 7,500m. From that point to the summit was hard because I had to stop constantly. But I got through by going slowly and eventually reached the summit.
I was feeling great on the second ascent, maybe a bit tired from the first ascent. However, this time there was a lot of wind which also slowed me down. But both ascents were great and I really enjoyed myself!