Run, or? The Story of Kílian Jornet Burgada

Post by blogger | June 12, 2014      

Update, June 13 2014: As detailed at the offical website, Kilian Jornet is reported to have shattered the previous speed record on Denali, West Buttress with Rescue Gully variation (Washburn Route) with a time of 11:48. A speed ascent/descent of the route is defined as leaving from Kahiltna basecamp and airstrip at 7,200 feet elevation and ascending to the exact summit of Denali (Mt. McKinley) at 20,322′ (6,194 m) — then returning down the mountain. With some ups-and-downs on the route, total vertical gain is about 15,525 feet, 4,732 meters. Round-trip distance is about 33 miles. Jornet made the climb a few days ago, on June 7.

The previous speed record was set last season (2013) by Ed Warren, who did the whole thing in 16:59. To illustrate how fast Kilian accomplished his epic speed climb, consider the fact that he made it up, and back down, in the same time it took Warren to do only the climbing leg of the trip.

According to reports, Jornet spent about three weeks on the mountain acclimatizing and getting accustomed to conditions. He used both skis and crampons, with skis playing a major part in the effort. We have no doubt Jornet’s world-class skimo race skills contributed to his traveling the lengthy slogs on the Kahiltna glacier in surprisingly short times. From his autobiography as well as press coverage, it’s obvious Jornet is much more than an ultra-runner, but rather is a well rounded alpinist with the complete set of skills necessary for high altitude glacier mountaineering.

Denali is the 5th world-famous mountain Jornet has attempted speed records on in his “Summits of my Life” project. Other peaks include Mont Blanc and Mount Elbrus.

Web articles say Jornet would be with a support team consisting of Jordi Tosas, Vivien Bruchez and Seb Montaz. The plan was to base their operation at one of the higher camps and work the mountain for altitude acclimation and so forth. Logistics with speed records on Denali require mixing acclimatization with eventually heading back down to Kahiltna base camp, where you’d start your attempt. Along with that, you have to time everything so you hit a weather window — along with tuning your kit for prevailing conditions that can vary from arctic cold to shirt sleeves. Considering all the above, setting this record should be considered incredibly impressive. We imagine it’ll stand for some time, and we’re looking forward to watching attempts to better it!

Kilian’s Quest Slow motion 1000 frames / second from sebastien montaz-rosset on Vimeo.

Kilian Jornet autobio, part one?

Kilian Jornet autobio, part one?

If you’ve ever been much of an athlete, you know those special times when you push to a personal best — or even won something. Perhaps you’ve gone beyond the pain to experience the wonder of flow in your trail running or backcountry skiing.

Kilian Jornet Burgada does all that. Only better. As one of the most genetically endowed and well trained distance runners to ever live, Jornet is already a legend at 26 years old. He’s run 13,960 vertical feet up and back down Mount Kiimanjaro (August 2013) in just over seven hours, fastest time to date. He’s won the Western States 100. He’s won, well, just about everything.

Not only the running career, but Kilian is a skimo racer as well, with, for example three, firsts of the Pierra Menta and a first in the Mountain Attack — both iconic European races that define any winner as a legend.

While 26 years old is young for an autobiography, by focusing on just his running career Jornet manages to pen a compelling and frequently inspiring story. On the other hand, focusing the content on running results is somewhat disappointing, as I was looking forward to more about his skimo life. But including much about skiing would have probably upped the page count too high. Focus is the name of the game in both athletics and writing.

A glaring omission in this book is any introspection about what I’d guess is the biggest tragedy of Jornet’s career, when in 2012 the legendary skimo racer Stéphane Brosse perished in a climbing accident while participating with Jornet in a speed crossing of the Alps (part of Jornet’s “Summits of my Life” project that resulted in movie we trailer below). Indeed, the “Run or Die” title of the book causes one to take pause, when considering Brosse. Though to be fair I’d bet something was lost in the translation. (I admit to a bit of confusion as to whether the dates of this tragedy jibe with the scope of Jornet’s book, if not, apologies for the above crit.)

The translation work by renowned translator Peter Bush is excellent. The book is entirely readable, with no typos that leap out and no awkward word use. Which brings us to a point: One has to assume that Jornet has all the sponsorship financial support he wants or needs. Thus, it is surprising his movies don’t have more readable subtitles, and better English narration. For example, his feature project “Summits of My Life” is beautifully conceptualized and filmed, yet lacks basic documentary features such as titling the interview subjects.

Overall, I found “Run or Die” to be a compelling mix of introspection and blow-by-blow accounts of epic runs. Jornet even shares about a powerful romance he had, which conflicts in an odd way with his running career (his paramour never attended a race, and they eventually parted ways). That kind of stuff might actually read better if Jornet was writing with a broader view ten or more years from now. In contrast, content such as Jornet’s run on Kilimanjaro is timely, and to enjoy the adventure as a first-person story is priceless. Again, a bit more skimo content would have been greatly appreciated, but we’ll live without. Perhaps volume 2 is coming? (Rumor, is Kilian on Denali as we go to press?)

A Fine Line official trailer. from Summits of My Life on Vimeo


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24 Responses to “Run, or? The Story of Kílian Jornet Burgada”

  1. Pablo June 12th, 2014 9:57 am

    Yes, Kilian is on Denali Right now!
    He is attemping the record of Ascent/Descent as he got from
    Kilimanjaro, Chamonix-Mont Blanc-Chamonix (4h57min), and Cervinia-Matterhorn(Cervino)-Cervinia (2h52min)

    He won the last Zegama race in Spain on 26 May and some days later then He was flying to Denali…

    He has published another book “La Frontera Invisible” (the invisible frontier) in wich he speak more about experiences out of the running races, he speaks about the hymalayan ski trip he did, the accident of Stephan Brosse, about how he is evolving as skier to a extreme skier doing first descents in the alps:

  2. Pablo June 12th, 2014 9:59 am
  3. Lou Dawson June 12th, 2014 10:05 am

    Thanks Pablo!

  4. billyg3 June 12th, 2014 11:04 am

    ‘Downside Up’ looks like an amazing movie I have been looking forward to seeing for quite some time.
    Also looking forward to his performance and the stacked field at this year’s Hardrock…

  5. Tom Gos June 12th, 2014 11:28 am

    Although I’m not a runner I did read Run or Die a few months ago and found it interesting but perhaps a bit shallow. As Lou says the translation is excellent. I recall that it seemed to me that Killian doesn’t seem to really appreciate his abilities and the things he does, that he seems to kind of take it all for granted. Perhaps this is just the result of a 20 something mindset. In the end I had hoped to read more insight into how he pushes himself to do these amazing things and the book seemed to be more of an account of things done. I don’t mean to be overly critical, I just think this guy does truly incredible things and that there must be more to it than only genetics – I would really like to read about these aspects of Jornet.

  6. Ralph June 12th, 2014 12:11 pm

    Clearly an amazingly gifted athlete. Not so sure about his choice of running trails, as it looks like he’s really helping to advance erosion, in that initial clip.

  7. Duncan June 12th, 2014 1:47 pm

    I highly recommend Downside Up. Amazing scenery, inspiring skiing, and a great soundtrack. Best ten dollars I spent on skiing this year!

  8. Pablo June 12th, 2014 5:07 pm

    HOT HOT HOT News!!!
    As stated in “” facebook (

    “Kilian Jornet set a new speed record of 11 hours, 40 minutes roundtrip on Denali’s (McKinley’s) West Buttress route in Alaska as part of his Summits of my life project.

    Kilian’s effort bests the previous record set by mountaineer Ed Warren in 2013 at 16:46 for the roundtrip by 5 hours, 6 minutes. Warren also held the now previous speed record of 12:29 for the ascent, which Kilian clearly also bested. We don’t yet have confirmation of his ascent time, but we will update this post as we learn more.

    Kilian used a combination of skis and crampons to climb the 20,320-foot mountain located in the heart of Alaska. The West Buttress speed-record route begins at base camp’s air strip at 7,200 feet altitude, travels 16.6 miles to the summit one way/33.2 miles roundtrip, and gains over 13,000 feet across quintessential Alaska mountaineering terrain including a 55-degree headwall located at 15,400 feet.

    The record information comes direct from Maureen McLaughlin, the Public Information Officer for the Talkeetna Ranger Station in Denali National Park.”

    Congrats Killian!!

  9. Anton June 12th, 2014 5:12 pm

    11 Hours!? That is unbelievable! It took us longer than that just to get to the summit from 14 camp. Amazing.

  10. Lou Dawson June 12th, 2014 6:34 pm


  11. Pablo June 13th, 2014 3:22 am

    He’s the man who came from outer space!!

  12. Tom Gos June 13th, 2014 10:37 am

    That is an incredible effort on Denali, can’t wait to read more details. As incredible as these feats are you have to wonder when he is going to begin competing in more main stream professional athletics where the exposure (and income) would be much greater.

    I’ll add another thumbs up for the Downside Up movie, great film and much more interesting than the typical North American ski porn.

  13. XXX_er June 13th, 2014 3:12 pm

    Are many Rando racers also into marathons or ultras?

    At a local event last winter a pretty good ultra runner/ less experianced skier attempted to ski 27000 vert ft for his very 1st ski event

    he did it in under 13 hrs, said the hard part was skiing down

  14. Nancy June 13th, 2014 5:18 pm

    Wow, amazing! Thanks for reporting this, Lou.

  15. Lou Dawson June 13th, 2014 6:32 pm

    Xer, not that I know of, most rando races are around two hours even if they’re long, is my recollection. Even Jornet himself probably had to make a choice at some point about specializing in longer or shorter, perhaps that’s why he’s not on a national team for skimo (or is he?). Lou

  16. Drew Tabke June 13th, 2014 6:48 pm

    He’s been THE dominant force in ski mountaineering racing (as well as trail running) since the early 2000’s. He was on the Spanish national team both as a junior and senior, winning pretty much everything you can imagine from sprints to ultras. I believe he stopped competing after 2012 to focus on his personal goals in the high mountains as documented by recent Seb Montaz “Summits of my Life” films.

  17. XXX_er June 14th, 2014 9:24 pm

    Yeah I thot rando was pretty short and ultra very long which seemed to counter one another ?

    Our event is 24hrs so the ultra runner was able to ski a long event

  18. Adrian A June 15th, 2014 4:11 pm

    Killian’s speed record is impressive. I just got off the mountain yesterday, and Killian’s crew was still around the 14 K camp preparing for a climb of the Cassin Ridge route. It was Killian’s 7th day on the mountain when he made his record climb, and he passed our party near the top of Denali Pass. He climbed / skiied the rescue gully rather than doing the fixed lines/Washburn Thumb which was pretty impressive given how thin the snow cover of the blue ice was on the Rescue Gully at the time.

  19. Aimee June 17th, 2014 9:48 pm

    He still races (and often wins) Skimo world cups as part of the Spanish national team. Long distance or short distance, it doesn’t seem to matter for him in either running or skiing. He’s he exceptional athlete who can win a 30 minute race one day and an ultra the next.

  20. JayJay June 18th, 2014 3:04 am

    Here is his side of the story:

    He is such an incredible athlete and for a randodude he skis pretty awesome lines. He spends his winters in my playground in Northern Norway. Superb terrain with mellow to super rad lines to ski.

  21. Frame June 18th, 2014 7:57 am

    25l pack! That’s pretty wild. I sometimes fill my 25l pack on a day trip with my 4 year old.

  22. Mark Worley June 19th, 2014 9:36 am

    Good for Kilian on Denali! Previous record holder, Ed Warren, is a friend of mine. To say he’s fast is an understatement, but if someone is going to break your amazing record on Denali, I can’t think of a more worthy person than Kilian Jornet.

  23. Mark Worley June 19th, 2014 9:37 am

    By the way, I am almost done reading said book. It is a good read. Jornet proves fairly superhuman.

  24. Lou Dawson June 19th, 2014 10:52 am

    JayJay, am back in my office where updates and edits are easier. Thanks for the link, I changed things around in the blog post to reflect it. Lou

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