Kilian Jornet’s advice

Right before he won the Hardrock 100, among other things setting a new course record of 21 hours and 37 minutes, Kilian Jornet gave a interesting interview to the podcast The Extramilest Show in which he talked about a variety of topics, from his personal life to how he approaches competitions and how he prepares for them, not skimping on advice for experts or not.

Kilian has had a very eventful last year: he left Salomon after a multi-year partnership to found his own clothing and shoe brand NNormal, had two daughters with his partner Emelie Forsberg, and missed a 24-hour world record due to physical woes. Beyond the accidents and obstacles that happen to anyone, it is always interesting to see how gifted (highly gifted, in his case) athletes deal with difficulties. Do they get any put down? Do they slow down, not only in races but also in life? Kilian always seems impervious to hardship and still manages to come out changed and stronger, in many ways as you would expect from a man of his character but at the same time also in surprising ways. It is as if he is unscratchable or rather: it is as if he is able to treasure every experience, fortifying his mind and relaunching every challenge, in the coy and shy way that distinguishes him.
So here are his recommendations, with some of our own introductory considerations.


Kilian’s trainings are very technical, as is also to be expected. We are talking about one of the strongest ultrarunners in the world, so it is not surprising that he cares a lot about preparation. For simplicity, we have divided the topic by theme.

1. Surfaces

Kilian is primarily an ultratrail runner but he doesn’t just train in the mountains. Each workout is functional for that type of physical exertion, but its “athletic diet” involves different types of terrain and, consequently, physical exertion.
A) Trail: this is his territory and here he alternates between long runs uphill to breakneck descents
B) Road/trail: or flat, a place where you would not expect to find an ultratrail runner. As we explained to you already in this article, for the past few years Kilian has been alternating mountain training with several flat sessions to work on speed. What is the relationship between speed on the flat and speed in the mountains? None, but instead an interesting conversion occurs: flat speed becomes uphill endurance.

2. Zones

Here the discussion gets very technical, and Kilian himself simplifies it by comparing zones (which is a complex topic that our Coach Paolo Barbera addressed here) at the gaits it holds: Zone 1 is relaxed or “recovery,” Zone 2 more accelerated, Zone 3 is temporun (so at 75-80% of its potential), Zone 4 is race gait, and Zone 5 is beyond. Kilian also has a system for distinguishing the different zones, in addition to speed and heart rate: Zone 1 and 2 are those in which he can breathe through his nose, and his long experience has also allowed him to “stay in the zone” by simply following his gut feeling, regardless of pace.
The most interesting part of his talk, however, is not about speed or timing or schedules but about the big picture. Regarding zone training, for example, he advises not to consider the individual workout but the entire program: in short, it is not a sporadic over-threshold performance that trains the body to endure exertion but the sum of several more challenging workouts that lead the mind and body to move the limit further, adapting to ever greater exertion. “It’s not one hard session that gets your body used to fatigue. 30, 40, 50 hard sessions a year make it realize that it can aspire to a higher level, until he stabilizes on that.”

3. How do you feel?

Never neglect feelings and environmental conditions before going into a training session. By “environmental conditions,” Kilian means nutrition, sleep, and recovery. We are not machines, and identical workouts on paper may not necessarily be identical in reality. There are other factors to consider, such as how you slept the night before, whether you have problems at work or at home, whether you ate well and enough. A workout that on paper has a certain degree of difficulty can be much more challenging if other factors have exhausted us.
The most common mistake he sees amateurs and even professionals make is, in fact, running too fast. Zone 1 (recovery) is crucial in the economy of workouts, yet very few observe it, denying the body a chance to recover and prepare for the actual effort.

[Kilian also talks about more specific techniques such as controlling the percentage of oxygen in the blood, distributing this type of training not only in the overall program but also according to speed and physical condition but we would risk going on too long. If you are interested we invite you to listen to him in short ;)]

The journal

Kilian has been keeping a training diary since 2006. Needless to specify that he considers it very important. Why? For several reasons:

  • Our perception of the past is always mediated by memory and is fallacious. We tend to remember poorly and fragmentarily (which is why he recommends journaling immediately after training) and always have a somewhat pessimistic view of the present, while mythologizing the past and remembering it only for the good things. In short, we think we ran stronger one or two years ago when, perhaps, that is not the case at all. Jotting everything down allows for, once again, an overview that includes the past, giving us references.
  • Personal training history also allows us to understand the origin of some issues. If we are victims of injury we can look for clues in the type of preparation, correcting it if necessary.

How to keep a diary? It depends from person to person, but the most important thing is to do it all the time. Of course, the more data one collects the better but each person must find his or her own measure, not exaggerating so as not to turn this very useful activity into an unsustainable commitment. In short, it is more important to do it often than to do it maniacally and thoroughly. What to write about? Whatever you want and to the extent, again, that doesn’t make you hate it: times, distances, variability and heart rates, feelings. Anything that, in the future, can allow you to have an accurate picture of the evolution of your training. Not neglecting that a great deal of data is now provided by the tools we run with, leaving us the freedom to be much more personal in memorizing on paper our feelings, who we ran with, what weather conditions were there.

How to find motivation when you’re struggling

Even champions like Kilian go through difficult times, especially in competition. How des he deal with them? In at least two ways:
1. Eat the elephant one bite at a time. Instead of thinking about how long you have until the end of the race, challenge yourself to do something relatively small and manageable, dividing the remaining distance into more manageable segments. You don’t have 38 kilometers to go, but you have one kilometer to go, just one kilometer more. To which you will then add another kilometer. The important thing is to think and measure over manageable distances, then add them to each other.
2. It’s what you wanted. If I am doing it,” Kilian repeats to himself when he is in trouble, “it is because I trained to do it and I wanted to do it. Now it is happening and I have to keep it happening.

Training and children

Kilian and Emily have two daughters, ages 3 and 1. How do they manage to maintain very high levels of sports and be parents? Certainly doing the same job helps them a lot: they both take turns in caring for the girls but in the end the most important thing is organization.
Kilian-partly because of his athletic prowess-says that when he trains in zone 1 or 2 he can also have meetings on the phone or even record podcasts. In case his family or work requires more time, he compensates for the less time he has with training intensity.

Never forget

The finale reserves the most important words, never to be forgotten.
You do it because you enjoy it, and if it becomes a commitment and a worry there is something wrong. Running makes you feel happy and should never turn into tedium or annoyance. It is an expression of love and passion, and this should never be forgotten.
How to accomplish this? Not focusing on the goals but rather on the process. Why do you want to do that? The motivations can be many but they have to be things that make you feel good: you do it to be with friends, you do it because living in nature gives you joy. Think about that and not about timing or goals. The goal is to do it, not to reach a particular limit.

As Kilian sums up very well, “The program is a dream, reality then asks you to adapt.” The joy and wisdom of running is all in the ability to change the schedule, not in sticking to it. We live in reality and not in a dream, but we can make reality look like a dream. Changing and adapting.

(Main image credits: NNormal)


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