Is Kilian Jornet unbeatable or are we all too soft ?

The online world has gone into a bit of a melt down today as the ultra running world wakes up to yet another Kilian Jornet dominated race. The effect this Catalan athlete is having this year on the traditions of the sport is quite remarkable. And whilst the comments boxes in a number of the well read blogs around the world are divided as to what his secret is, whether it be his talent or local knowledge, or the support from him sponsors, from what I can gather, Kilian has quietly fallen asleep clutching yet another trophy happy in the fact that he and the mountains yet again did battle and on this occasion he has prevailed.

I am not going to sugar coat this post, I am one of his biggest fans whether he wins or loses, but his performances do need looking at to find out what is the secret source when so many marquee names from the US DNF’d on the weekend.

A number of you are thinking he is only as good as the Salomon Team supporting him, or that with enough of his Salomon colleagues running alongside him they ultimately let him win, or even worse, Salomon got wind of the recent course changes in advance and only informed their athletes. Well, all I can say is that having spent time with the man, all of this chat is just that, its chatter. Kilian goes about his business no differently to you or I, he focuses on those factors in his control and executes them to perfection. When he makes mistakes he analyses them, works on improvements in training and then tries again, often with a successful outcome. Of course it is important to stress it is his job, but don’t we all try to do our jobs the best we can every day? But how many time have we heard him say after a wrong turn “More kilometres, more fun”. It happened at WS100, Mt Olympus and even this weekends UTMB. He still had a smile for the crowds and spent the better part of his afternoon cheering in fellow athletes still to finish and signing autographs for future Kilian wannabes.

One of the genuine things about Kilian is his love of the mountains and on numerous occasions during my trip with Salomon to his home town in the Pyrenees, he went out of his way to share with anyone willing to listen, the swiftest, most fun way of crossing the peaks. It didn’t matter whether you were 10 years old or 100 years old, he has time for anyone willing to listen and give it a go! A relative slow coach such as myself has returned to Australia with a new-found desire to run better and smarter utilising some of the tips he shared with me.

I would like you to reflect on this point for a moment. In the lead up to UTMB, he not only put in some serious hours of training as did other athletes from both sides of the Atlantic, but the remarkable thing is that he didn’t try to hide any of it. Regular Facebook updates would have pictures of him with Dakota Jones, Jez Bragg or Sebastian Chaigneau who all are running for rival brands flying up the side of one of the mountains on the Mont Blanc Massif.  In fact, if anyone is sitting at their keyboard wanting to rant that he has an unfair advantage due to his support, just find the nearest mountain he is running on and join him for a run. I am sure he will enjoy the company.

I was able to ask the senior guys at Salomon on how much of his life is stage managed and how much he has to himself and what was refreshing from my observations is that he uses every ounce of his day as efficiently as he runs. Feedback sessions on new developments in gear are swift and to the point, no endless meetings refining the last 5%. If it works, it works, move onto the next matter. If he fancies changing his training from running to cycling, he just gets on with it. What the association with Salomon allows him to do, is stare like any small boy does at a topographic map somewhere in the world and go “I would love to run up that mountain”. This is where the mighty Salomon machine helps execute it and bring it in all its 1080p High Definition glory to Youtube!

I don’t know about you, but those Salomon videos certainly make me want to get out and run !

How long will this passion and enthusiasm last? I can’t answer that, but on meeting his parents, their love for the mountains and their desire to share it with their children runs as deep today as when Kilian was 5 years old and crossed the Pyrenean chain on foot.

UPDATE: For a great post-race interview with Kilian, take a look at Bryon Powell’s excellent website, irunfar.com.

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Author: Marcus

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49 Comments

  1. You guys at ultra168 didn’t come up with this did you?

    http://i.imgur.com/umsH2.jpg

    Just kidding. Certainly rubbing some of the yanks the wrong way. Should be a good incentive for them to target this race in the future.

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  2. That is absolute GOLD Charlie…. I wish we did, I know its tongue in cheek, but some of the comments on some of the more well known blogs are tantamount to xenophobia. The guy just goes out and gets on with it. I didn’t hear him complaining about the heat at WS100 2010, he screwed up, came back and won it. I loved the debate a few years ago when the US accused the Euros of cheating at UTMB by using poles after Jurek bombed out again. Funny, that argument has not been brought up today as Kilian doesn’t use them either !

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  3. I wonder how many tactics were in play with Kilian dragging Dakota and Nick up mt Blanc 3-4 days out from the race. Awesome.

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    • I am not sure about that Andrew, they are old enough and smart enough to say no if they wanted ?

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  4. Nice post Andrew, as always (just the font size on this blog is so bloody small it’s hard to read for an old bloke like me). Amazing performances indeed, well orchestrated by Salomon across the major events during the year. Having met Kilian very briefly in the Blue Mountains, he is such an approachable, down-to-earth guy. For the US runners at UTMB on the other hand, I found it quite disappointing for them to throw in the towel and drop as soon as they realized that a Top 10 or Top 25 finish would be out of the question. Hal Koerner was the notable exception in carrying on, perhaps also given he’s a TNF athlete (I never thought much of Hal’s attitude but my opinion has changed as a result).
    Keep up the good work.

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    • Agreed Andre, the way Hal got it done when a lot “didn’t want to” was a great lesson to us all.

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    • Hal has lots of other things he is interested in. His focus is not just on running. He is very talented but doesn’t train as hard as the others. He turns up to plenty of races each year and just does his best without lots of fanfare and carrying on. I like his attitude. He spends much more time encouraging the average Joe runner from his home town Ashland than anything else.

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  5. Andre, thanks for the feedback, much appreciated. I’ve changed the font on the website so hopefully this is much better now! Dan

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  6. Thanks Andre, looks like Dan beat me to it! Keep us posted on your TNF100 build up, cheers Marcus

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  7. I don’t think the US runners underestimated the course. Jurek was training in Yosemite way back in late June for this and he has been to UTMB before. Bryon Powell almost skipped Western States just to focus on UTMB. Geoff Roes – this whole year was about UTMB. Jones, Clarke, Grant, I imagine they found it difficult backing up from Hardrock. Fact is they all knew what it was going to be like.

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    • While I certainly would have liked more training earlier in the year, it’s rare that us runners are 100% pleased with any chunk of training or any race. That said, my legs were 100% prepared for the course. I could walk strong up the mountains without poles and hadn’t a bit of quad soreness or any muscle soreness for that fact when I left the course at 110km. My energy was on zero and had been (for all but one short stretch) for the previous 30km, which took 8 hours. I could have kept walking and finished, but having logged at 40km death march at a previous 100 miler, in the moment I couldn’t bear the thought of walking another 60km. Should I have reacted differently? Perhaps, but I can tell you my low energy spell wasn’t for lack of preparation. I had plenty of energy for Western States and was in far better shape when I left the line in Chamonix.

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      • Good one Bryon, and great to see you already plotting revenge on UTMB. You know Kilian pretty well, is there anyone out there at the moment who can match him? What about Jurek back in his prime on Western States?

      • Thanks for posting Bryon, great to have you comment on here to share your experiences with us.

        Perhaps it’s just one of those things that saw a higher than normal drop-out ratio. These things swing in roundabouts, and I’m sure you and the rest of the guys will come out firing for the next one like the quality competitors we know you all are.

      • Bryon, thanks for chipping in and the excellent irunfar coverage, much appreciated. Interested in your thoughts on whether you would do anything differently next time to avoid the “energy spell”, e.g. nutrition, starting out more conservatively etc.? Also, how do you rate the UTMB difficulty level compared to let’s say WS100, LT100, HR100? Thanks for your insights.

  8. Backing up from Hardrock definitely played a part for those doing the double.
    Jurek and Moehl are the only US runners I know of to have performed well (to potential) at UTMB.
    Of course Jurek has also done well at Spartathlon too and the Worlds 24hr. Baffling and disappointing as to why others dnf so readily over there.

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  9. In terms of difficulty,I would rate Hardrock just ahead of UTMB (because of the added elevation aspect). It definitely requires more preparation, acclimatisation etc. Alas there is no reason top US runners at Hardrock should not be able to perform at UTMB.

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    • Agree Spud, I think you are more qualified than most having run pretty much the global smorgasbord of ultras over the last few years. We were chatting on a run this morning as to whether the conditions and local knowledge make a major impact on performance. For example, what would we see from the likes of Mackey or Clarke if they rocked up a few days before GNW100? I know most would agree that the heat and navigational issues would diffuse some of their athletic prowess, but there has to be a line drawn eventually where you just have to rely on your training and run the damn thing and the best athlete wins for a change !

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  10. I recall the “more KMs more fun” from his lake Tahoe run to rim record as well. His guide/pacer lead him astray by accident and recalled that, as he realized what happened and became quite worried, Kilian simply grabbed him and said “don’t wory, more kms more fun!”…

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    • Its happened to me as well Mike, when training with him in the Pyrenees, a group of us got lost and we did an extra 12 k, KJ came to find us and laughed as we struggled to haul ourselves over the final climb, tired and hungry. Big smile on his face and the “More KMs more Fun” quote ! Cant help but have a laugh at that response even when in a low spot.

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  11. kILLIAN IS NOT UNBEATABLE AS HE SAYS HIMSELF.

    kIIIANS BRILLANCE IS HIS MENTAL AND INTESTINAL FORTITUDE!

    IMPROVISE-ADAPT AND OVERCOME. THIS IS HIS FAME…

    SPONSERS AND EQUPMENT DO NOT GET THE JOB DONE. YOU CAN HAVE THE BEST OF BOTH AND LOSE. “HOW” YOU INCOOPERATE AND USE THEM IS THE KEY..

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    • OK Mark, who do you think can beat him on current form ? Seb, Iker, Roes, Heras? Would be interested in your thoughts…

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  12. “More KMs more Fun” Keith can use that one next time he paces Horrie at GNW!

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    • Too true Tall Geoff ! He doesn’t even need Horrie around to help him get lost. Two weeks ago he had an interesting mystery tour of The Basin on GNW100 !

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      • He tried to turn a trail run into a 7 stage multisport race.

  13. Interesting discussion guys. Anyone think the heavy reliance on pacers in the US may contribute to their low completion rate in Europe? And any chance you 168 guys with some insight give us a gear list of these pro guys? Some of those packs looked remarkably small given UTMB gear requirements. Would be good to see what products they are choosing. And gee thanks for the font increase.

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    • Hi Whippet, you read my mind. I am in the middle of a pretty exclusive review of the new Salomon pack the guys used at UTMB. It has the same design as the pack Dan reviewed earlier in the year but is designed for the mandatory gear list for races such as UTMB and TNF100. Unfortunately its not out until next year, but will be given a darn good flogging at GNW100 by me. Hopefully get it up by the end of today or tomorrow. As for the other gear they used, I will be able to shed some light on this later. One thing is for sure, they picked up extra gear for the colder night sections on top of the mandatory kit it was that cold !

      Your thoughts on the reliance of pacers is very interesting considering your experiences overseas. I have paced Andrew a number of times both here and at WS100 and I am sure he would say there are advantages to be had, but if it wasn’t available to him would it impact on his run or would he train harder etc I doubt it, but he would be best placed to comment.

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    • Doubt the lack of pacers is the reason given the majority of the US pros dropped out rather early and in the first third / first half of the race. I can only speculate that the European races, and UTMB in particular, have a much deeper field of fast participants compared to the US. Perhaps a bit unusual and demoralizing if you see dozens of fast Frenchmen and Spaniards running up steep hills 50+ miles into the event and giving the pros a run for their money.
      Only glanced through the mandatory kit, but my impression was it was actually quite similar to the very lengthy gear list required for TNF100 Australia. If you look at the video footage it appears the Salomon guys used the new 12ltr XT Advanced Skin Slab pack (looks very similar to the common 5ltr one, so easy to mistake it for that), and Kilian actually had a totally customized pack (appeared smaller than the 12ltr standard one). They sold the 12ltr pack in a shop in Chamonix, apparently Salomon had an initial run of 600 units of it, primarily for UTMB. A Singapore friend and participant is bringing one back for me, very eager to try it out for some longer outings where more water is needed. Haven’t seen it being sold here in Hong Kong as yet.

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      • Andre, I have my hands on a couple of the 12 l bags and will be posting my initial review today or tomorrow. Yep, this is what they codenamed the UTMB bag. It was used in prototype form at the TNF100 in Australia, then I played with one on my trip to the Pyrenees with Kilian after WS100 and now they are nearing a relase dat of early next year in this part of the world. Some advanced versions are trickling out of France via resellers from the UTMB I believe. All I can say is it a spectacular backpack and does all the things you come to expect from S-LAB range of Salomon. More to follow soon…..

      • I’ve managed to get my hands on one too Andre, and all being well, will be using it for the GNW too. From what I can gather, it’s the similar to the 5l version, but on looks like its been pumped with EPO

  14. One of the entrants in GOW100s has managed to order one from a source in France apparently.

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    • Yep and after all the DNF’s at UTMB there will be a few on eBay by the weekend ;)

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  15. Interesting to read some of the comments and good to see that so much thought is being put into what Killian is doing right and why he is so dominant (& by the way, it is not just Killian, there were a few guys real close who are also amazingly talented). I actually find this whole process quite exciting. Coming from a Triathlon background (no groaning please) there was a similar reaction to some of the amazing results from key competitors back in the 80′s. Less internet usage mind you, so more magazine and club level chatter. What was obvious at the time was that Triathlon was going through a period of evolution with huge levels of popular interest being generated by what was becoming a craze of sorts. This eventually led to an improvement in the standards and achievements of the top level athletes, and the also rans actually, over the years that followed. I believe we will see the same again here over the next few years, where an outstanding athlete like Killian will drive others to look for, and find, the next levels of improvement.
    As I am sure most would agree, ultra running is going through a form of its own evolution and this introspection is the natural result. Can Killian be beaten? Who cares to be honest, what will be will be…it is just great to see someone at the top of his form making a sport that most find challenging, tough and sometimes downright gritty, look beautiful, graceful and wonderful. His enthusiasm for the raw passion of running, his desire to get out and experience the world and his own charisma will drive the sport forward (now that may be something not everyone wants – but that is perhaps a different subject).
    Why did so many drop? It is more than likely a combination of many factors rather than just one or two key factors. The harsh weather at the start will have taken some by surprise, the change of start time will have rattled a few. The race being on foreign soil – different foods available pre-race, changed routines etc will have affected others. The dominant press coverage, especially on the Salomon team may have affected some. Also there is the group aspect of not feeling so bad in dropping if you know you are not the first one to do so. There were so many dropping I am sure that some felt they would fly under the radar on a bad day. The lead group took the lead early on and would have seemed intimidating at such an early stage of such a long race. I don’t really believe that the Salomon team support would have made a lot of difference – being an individual sport a lot of the top runners would build their preparation as they see fit. The addition of support from a company like Salomon would be a ‘nice to have’ not necessarily a need to have to get a top finish.

    All up though, I loved the race, loved the iRunFar coverage and think the whole weekend was totally inspirational and it definitely drove me out onto the trails after the race finished. Thanks for the article and discussion thread.

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    • Thanks for your comments Jason, and welcome to Ultra168. Your post is an excellent one, and you raise some great points. Often, it’s not one single factor that results in a DNF, it’s a combination of things that all collide together that produce the end result. Agree with your comments too regarding the evolution of the sport. We are on the cusb of a wave I believe, hence why websites such as this, and indeed your own are currently springing up to provide information and hopefully, some entertainment along the way. Thanks again.

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      • Dan. Another thought ref the DNF’s. Most of these guys have a few good ultra’s in them each year. There is a point in a race where discretion is the better part of valour and a DNF at 80 or 100k may be better than a poor result and a month of recovery before you can produce a top run again. To these guys it is there day job. They have to take a professional attitude into a race such as this with a view to their whole season not just one race. All credit to Hal for gutting it out but others may have had the next opportunity in mind when they pulled.

      • Dan we need a “Like” or “+1″ button on this Forum, there are too many posts here to reply with an “Agree” :-) Excellent stuff.

    • Thanks for your words Jason, it shows you come from the endurance world and it is very timely what you have to say as this is pretty much how we see the sport progressing in Oz. Shame we don’t yet have the depth of talent and the races our US and EU colleagues do, but in time we hope the sport grows and matures just like we saw in MTB, AR and IronMan. No groaning from me re your background, my colleagues and I have taken a lot of the learning from these more established sports to help us prepare for the ultras, especially in transitions, gear choice and nutrition strategy. Look forward to you continuing to contribute and add your insights. We will always have an opinion on this site and its not always in total agreement, but we do have a common goal in that we love smashing it up on the trails every weekend.

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  16. Cheers Andre, good to hear! I think if you’re signed in with WordPress, there is a button at the top of the page with a star and ‘Like’ next to it. Alternatively, you can always click on the stars next to the article headline, to rank it. There’s a few options, however I’ll have a look on WordPress to see if there is a ‘Like’ or +1 widget I can install :)

    Certainly generated lots of debate this article, so thanks guys for all of your contributions, this is exactly what we wanted to try and do, and we hope there will be many more interesting debates like this in the future too.

    UPDATE: Andree (and others), I’ve added lots of sharing buttons and ‘likes’ at the end of each post now, including Google’s +1, so feel free to press as many of them as you like :)

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  17. Not quite sure I understand Paul? We’re not critising or resenting any of the talents of the athletes involved, just aiming to create some debate as to what happened/what people think of the weekend’s events at UTMB. Our headline title might be a little contentious :) But our aim is have an intelligent debate.

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  18. how about, this is a hard f-ing race? i don’t know the stats, but i do believe 50% is a normal drop rate for this race. Something like 67 people finished the first race with 800 starters. This is the first time for a lot of the americans and i don’t think they are are immune to this statistic. The montrail dude who has finished this race 8 times prior, also dropped. He gave the BRIEF for the race, pretty sure he knew what he was in for. So i think you guys are giving TOOOOO much credit to a lot of factors that don’t matter at all (i don’t want to analyze each one). I did find one of the points pretty interesting though; fear of a bad finish. With so much pressure of being an american coming to the testing grounds of the world elite, there is that notion to drop instead of placing poorly.

    I figure, just put yourself in that position. I don’t care how my argument sounds or how I’ve worded it, it’s not like we are going to get to the bottom of this. But as a competitor, if I feel I am performing LESS than what I would be proud of. . I start to try to reason with myself a way out. Whether it be saying “ok well they fucked up the race, how could the organizers not do something 100% the way all 2300 runners would like them to, fuck them, fuck this race.. . deuces” i feel a lot of races could just sleep for an hour or two and get back up and finish the race but they didn’t think about it because so many people were dropping and they had that added pressure of finishing behind what they’d like.

    The salomon support team isn’t running the race for them. And hometurf? being accustomed to the track, its a race . . . on a track. Its 100 miles. seriously. Its not like people have race lines memorized. And i’m pretty sure european runners just shat on the american races as well. Pretty sure hometurf advantage didn’t stop those guys.

    I’m sure by now, you’ve deduced that i am obnoxious and have terrible grammar. But my last point, I do think being part of a team and having support saves the runners a lot of preparation and work and make it a lot easier on them. The advantage the salomon team has over north face, pearl and the other teams are they have much better gear for races exactly like this. Not that that’s the deciding factor against kilian, but maybe seb could have gained more ground had he not been wearing such shitty gear. He coulda taken iker with some slab shit. He looked like he wore a crushed up garbage bag of a shell, and who know what shoes. God help that frenchie.
    PEACE and love
    :D

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  19. Great article – agree 100% with this point;

    Competitive runners react and adapt their strategy when another competitor is trying a break away. In the end, you do not run your race as you plan, but according to the dynamic field around you. Therefore an ultra runner, able to perform well at a consistent uniform pace throughout the race, must be able to stick with his plan, when he sees others speeding up at a downhill. One has to understand that there are many runners who can take the hammering of the downhill better than him/her but by following them you end up with burned muscles sooner than you should. On the other side, if you let go, most likely will catch up at a subsequent uphill!

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    • Andrew

      This is a really interesting point you support. Your credibility and resume are truly impressive and I can’t question your authority. However….surely this is a fundamental and basic principle that any serious athlete (especially the less impetuous type that will be involved in Ultra’s) would have in their arsenal. Being able to run your own race despite what is thrown at you is as old an adage as you can get. If any of them get caught up in forgetting their plan they either have overindulged themselves in confidence in their ability to respond to anything (and I wouldn’t have thought distance runners tend to train that way a lot) or else they just ignored the first rule. I would be surprised to see this as a major factor and if I was one of their coaches I would give them a serious dressing down for doing so. A race that long is one of the biggest unknowns you can get. Anything can happen, hence your plan and sticking to it is even more imperative. It is, after all how you have prepared.

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      • Jason, really appreciating your insightful and considered comments. The point I agree with in the article is not to worry if you are being passed in a race. Stick with your plan and it will all work out. You can’t run somebody else’s race or run to their strengths to the detriment of your own.

  20. Just fyi, for competitive races that actually have a long history of elite athletes killian does not even make the list really. Look at sierre zinal. He wins alot of races that elites dont do and he does alot of challenges that have no competitors. Smart, because it made him famous but he is not the best athlete. When he does real mountain races he gets smoked, see how he would do in the World Mountain Running Championships. Thats real mountain running with elite competition

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