Kilian Jornet interview

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Trail Running spoke to trail legend Kilian Jornet about his recently scaling Everest twice in a week without ropes or oxygen

Congratulations on your double achievement, Kilian! What made you decide to speed-climb on a very dangerous mountain such as Everest, rather than play it safe trail running?

I don’t like to do the same things all the time, and when doing different things you gain more knowledge of yourself – that’s got to be a good thing.

Did any part of the experience scare or surprise you?

Nothing really scared me as such; conditions were good and I was well prepared and acclimatised. It was hard, of course, but I expected it to be.

Was it a no-brainer for you to climb without supplementary oxygen or fixed ropes?

Yes. You can climb with oxygen, finish it and still die. For me it was more important to climb as unaided as possible, for a greater sense of achievement when I reached the summit.

How did you train for Everest?
I train all the year round in places which expose me to mentally and challenging situations. Normally, I train and ski from November to May, and run May to November, racking up about 1200hr and 600,000m per year. 

Wow, impressive. Why did you decide to go for it from Base Camp, when you had food poisoning?

I realised I had food poisoning at 7600-7800m, so having already come so far, I knew I wasn’t going to die from it – I’d just be slower.

How hard was this compared to your hardest-ever trail race?

It’s so different I cannot really compare it physically, but I think mentally it was much harder.

Nearing the summit, how was your breathing compared to racing, say, a Vertical Kilometre?

With a VK you need to breathe hard because pulsations are high and you need to send more oxygen to muscles, but when you slow down a bit, or stop, it is back to normal. Up on Everest, however, the pulse rate doesn’t go as high, but you lack energy and your brain slows down. 

What were the differences physically and mentally from trail racing?

It is another sport entirely – the running gives you the endurance for mountains and vice-versa but, physically, racing is fast and reactive, and climbing is slow and you need measured strength. Mentally, with trail running you just need to manage pressure to get a good result, but with mountain climbing you need to feel confident and make quick decisions that keep you alive.

How did being a successful and experienced trail runner help your ascent and descent techniques?

I’m physically fit on ascents and have perfected the technique on the poles to run downhill fast when needed.

How did your second experience differ from your first?

Second time round I had no stomach problems! I was feeling better, but I was tired and the weather was much colder.

Describe your favourite view?

Sunset from 8600m, big mountains looking small, Cho Oyu, Lhotse, Makalu… and
a sea of clouds.

What does it smell like up there?

It doesn’t have any specific smell really ... just clean air.

What friends did you make or meet there?

I was with Seb Montaz and I met a lot of cool alpinists there – in the end, what brings us together is our passion for the mountain.

What part made you feel best about yourself and your lifestyle?
I think everything I take on means a lot to me, so it’s hard to choose something special, but I guess in this case what made me happy was realising it is possible to do such an expedition with light gear and no oxygen.

You say the emotion hits you on the way down…

You realise what you’ve just done, you’re alive and it feels incredible!

Sum up your double Everest experience in only three words?

A big lesson.

I heard you celebrated with a run with your girlfriend and a nice fresh salad when you returned from Nepal. Can you tell us what, so we can make it too?

Ha ha, I don’t remember exactly. But it was made from fresh vegetables from our garden.

Are you satisfied with your Summits of my Life speed mountain records project now, even though Karl Egloff broke your Kilimanjaro (2014) and Aconcagua (2015) records?

Kilimanjaro isn’t part of the Summits of My Life but, yes, I’m satisfied. Records are to be broken, so I never worry about that! It’s a personal journey.

Find out more about Salomon athlete Kilian Jornet
This is an edited version of an interview previously printed in Trail Running magazine.