Kilian Jornet: Beyond the ordinary in ultra-trail running

Kilian Jornet ultra-trail running

Kilian Jornet emerges as an extraordinary figure, captivating the hearts and imaginations of millions across the globe. His remarkable journey, unparalleled achievements, and life philosophy have solidified this Catalan’s status as a trailblazing legend in trail running and outdoor sports at large. Let’s delve into the remarkable journey of Kilian Jornet, an athlete whose unparalleled achievements in ultra-trail running have earned him legendary status.

The mountain: Kilian Jornet’s ultimate playground

Mountain-born and bred

As the son of the guardian of Cap de Rec, a refuge nestled in the Catalan Pyrenees, Kilian Jornet’s connection to the mountains runs deep. Raised at an elevation of 2,000 meters, his affinity with the rugged landscapes was evident from an early age. By the tender age of 5, Jornet had already ascended Aneto Peak, the Pyrenees’ highest summit, standing at 3,404 meters. At just 10, he embarked on an ambitious journey across the Pyrenees, completing the traverse in 42 days.

Growing up immersed in the alpine environment allowed Jornet to cultivate unparalleled skills in navigating mountainous terrains. Furthermore, this life amongst the peaks fostered the development of exceptional cardiorespiratory fitness from a very early age.

Kilian Jornet: A prodigy in ski mountaineering

Kilian Jornet’s journey into the spotlight began with ski mountaineering during his teenage years, where he swiftly climbed the ranks to become a World Junior Champion. His remarkable recovery abilities, coupled with unparalleled technical versatility, set him apart in the competitive arena.

Jornet’s cardiorespiratory fitness is exceptional, boasting a VO2max between 88 and 92 ml/min/kg, a figure that aligns him with the elite of endurance sports. This extraordinary aerobic capacity, nurtured through rigorous ski mountaineering training, enhances his endurance and contributes significantly to his success. Furthermore, the sport has been instrumental in strengthening his leg muscles and overall power, attributes that prove invaluable in trail running, especially on steep inclines.

Kilian Jornet: Dominating the world’s most challenging ultra-trails

Kilian Jornet’s insatiable appetite for challenge has propelled him to the pinnacle of ultra-trail running. As a former Salomon ambassador and now the founder of the NNormal brand, he burst into the limelight in 2008 by clinching victory at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) at the youthful age of 20, a stark contrast to the previous year’s winner, Marco Olmo of Italy, who won at 58.

Renowned for his “light” running style, Jornet leverages minimalist equipment, skillfully navigating regulations to use “miniature” gear. This strategy initially raised suspicions of rule bending; however, authorities soon recognized that the existing regulations did not mandate a minimum size for the equipment. (Authorities have since updated the rules to ensure the safety of all participants.)

Further cementing his legendary status, in 2009, Jornet shattered the record for the GR20, the notorious cross-Corsica trail, completing it in an astounding 32 hours.

Kilian Jornet: A reign of victories in the UTMB

In the annals of ultra-trail running, Kilian Jornet’s name is synonymous with extraordinary achievement. Tied with François D’Haene, he boasts the record for the most victories in the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), having conquered the event four times. Further solidifying his legendary status, Jornet also holds the fastest completion time in UTMB history — an impressive 19 hours and 49 minutes. This record was set in 2022, marking a monumental race where he engaged in a thrilling competition against Mathieu Blanchard, showcasing the pinnacle of endurance and strategy in ultra-trail running.

Kilian Jornet: Master of the world’s most daunting trails

Kilian Jornet has left an indelible mark on the world of ultra-trail running, achieving victories in some of the most challenging and prestigious races globally. There isn’t a race that has managed to elude the Catalan’s prowess: from the technical terrains of the Zegama-Aizkorri marathon to the iconic Sierre-Zinal, the grueling Diagonale des Fous, and the formidable Hardrock 100 — an event he conquered even with a dislocated shoulder. He’s also triumphed in the Western States 100, among others.

His autobiography, Run or Die, released in 2011, offers a riveting look into his early career and mindset. The book details his aspirations to conquer a list of races, little knowing then how swiftly he would turn those dreams into a stunning roster of victories. Jornet’s story is not just about athletic prowess but a testament to the spirit of endurance, determination, and the relentless pursuit of greatness.

Summits of My Life

Having reached the zenith of trail running, Kilian Jornet embarked on an even more audacious journey in 2012, titled “Summits of my life.” This venture is a deeply personal exploration, blending athletic ambition with a quest for spiritual fulfillment.

Jornet set his sights on some of the world’s most formidable peaks across Europe, Asia, and America, including the Mont Blanc Crossing, the Matterhorn, Elbrus, Denali, Aconcagua, and Everest. Adopting his signature “light” approach, he aimed for speed and efficiency, equipped only with the essentials for safety. Despite his superhuman reputation, Jornet’s attempt on Elbrus was thwarted by severe weather conditions, a reminder of the immutable forces of nature.

The gripping tales of his high-altitude exploits have been captured in both a documentary—crafted by his friend and skilled cameraman, Sébastien Montaz—and a book, inviting readers and viewers alike into the heart of Jornet’s extraordinary adventures. The core message of his story is a powerful testament to the vital force of our dreams: “Without our dreams, we are dead.”

Chamonix to Mont Blanc and Back in less than 5 hours!

On July 11, 2013, Kilian Jornet achieved an astonishing feat: completing the round trip from Chamonix to Mont Blanc in just under 5 hours! To put this into perspective: he did it in 4 hours and 57 minutes. This remarkable journey involved ascending over a positive elevation change of 3,800 meters, navigating through challenging terrains like the Jonction and the Grands Mulets.

Kilian Jornet’s Everest conquest

In May 2017, Kilian Jornet reached the zenith of mountaineering achievements by summiting Mount Everest in alpine style, an approach characterized by its purity and self-reliance, without the aid of oxygen tanks, fixed ropes, or Sherpas. Remarkably, he shattered speed records during this ascent. Demonstrating an unparalleled level of endurance and determination, Jornet astonishingly repeated the ascent just a few days later.

Currently, Jornet resides in Norway for the majority of the year with his partner, Emelie Forsberg, and their children. Emelie, a seasoned trail runner in her own right and author of the bestseller Live and Run, shares a life filled with adventure and running.

What could possibly be next for Kilian Jornet? While he certainly has nothing left to prove, the trail and mountain community eagerly awaits his next challenge. His continuous pursuit of new frontiers is not just a testament to his indomitable spirit but also a source of immense pleasure and inspiration for trail runners and outdoor enthusiasts everywhere.

For those inspired by Kilian Jornet and looking to embark on their own trail running journey, or aiming to optimize their training, the RunMotion Coach app offers a gateway. With personalized trail training plans and expert advice, it’s designed to foster progress and help enthusiasts of all levels achieve their running aspirations.

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Mailis Durif-VarambonMailis grew up in the mountains, where she went hiking and biking every weekend. She loves outdoor activities where she can relax at the end of the day. At RunMotion Coach, she is responsible for communication management.