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Ultrarunner Kilian Jornet On Peaking At The Right Time

In this exclusive Q&A, Jornet shares what it takes to push yourself to the limit and how to prepare for big challenges and goals.

It’s been a busy couple of months for one of the world’s premier ultrarunners. In May, Kilian Jornet, 29, reached the summit of Mount Everest without additional oxygen or fixed ropes. Unsatisfied with his performance the first time around because of a stomach bug, he did it again within a week. Two weeks later, it was the Spaniard’s first half marathon in his adopted home of Norway, followed by a victory at the end of June at the Mont Blanc Marathon in Chamonix, France. He recently took some time to swap emails about his double Everest ascent, how he prepares for a race and his thoughts on the growing trail running trend of Fastest Known Times (FKTs).

After reaching the summit of Mount Everest, what’s the first thing you do? How do you savor the moment?

You are not fully aware of what it means. I just stayed there for a short while trying to recover a bit from the climb and being focused as I knew I had to go down. Besides, it was very dark, so I couldn’t really see anything. I took a few pictures and videos but that’s it. I think it’s not until you’re down in camp that you realize what you did.

The second ascent wasn’t planned. How quick was the turnaround and what sort of mental preparation was needed to make the second climb?

When I was climbing the first time, I had a stomachache. I had to go very slowly. It was there when I decided I wanted to try again if I had good weather, just to test myself and see how I would do it without being sick, as I felt good in altitude.

From Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn to Denali, each mountain surely presents its own challenges. Is there one that stands out to you in terms of difficulty?

Every mountain has its own thing. It might be the altitude, the technical sections or even the weather. And sometimes all at once, so it’s difficult to choose.

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What was your preparation like in the days leading up to Everest?

For me what was more challenging was the acclimatizing to altitude. I trained with a hyperbaric chamber a few weeks before departing to the Himalayas, and then I headed to the Alps to spend some time in altitude. I was in another 8,000 meters, Cho Oyu, with my girlfriend, Emelie, so when I arrived to Everest I felt very good. This was my main goal for the expedition and I’m very pleased with the result. When I was in the base camp of Everest, my daily routine was one day of activity, one day resting, and I think this is how I got ready. Try to rest a lot and eat well the days before the challenge, even though it gave me a stomachache at the end.

Obviously there is a high degree of physical stress that goes with these types of ascents. But what about the mental stress?

I’ve trained a lot in this aspect for a while now. I’ve been competing for 15 years and have been going to the mountains since I was a kid, so the mental part has been key in my preparation. These past few years, what I’m trying to do is train for stressful moments where you need to make decisions quickly. By pushing myself to the limit—but in a controlled environment—it has allowed me to learn to master my mind, so when in complicated situations I can take the good decisions.

With FKTs becoming more of a trend, do you feel like they enhance the sport? Or does it put more emphasis on the competition and less on the experience?

For me speed records are to be broken, and it’s exciting to see how people are trying to improve and try to beat these records. I also think though that you need to do this for fun, to get better and to overcome your limits. When it stops being fun or challenging, I think it’s not worth it.

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