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Kilian Jornet Across the Pyrenees

Last year the world mountain running champion and double winner of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc added to his regular competition season two new challenges, the crossing of Corsica and the Tahoe Rim Trail. Two impressive ultrarunning records which put the Catalan runner even a little higher among the top athletes of this sport. That was the Kilian’s Quest. And this year he is back.

For this year Kilian he intends to challenge himself with two new adventures. One will be in the fall and that will be the attempt to beat the current record of climbing up and down the Kilimanjaro. But that will be later in the year. Right now he is about to begin a different one: the Pyrenees crossing. The challenge is to run across the mountain range from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. That’ll be 700km (435miles) and close to 40000m (131000 feet) in just 7 days. That means to run a daily average of 100K for a week, a feat within reach of very few.

He will start from the Higuer lighthouse, in the Atlantic shore of Spain, on May 31st and will be reaching the most Eastern spot of the country -the Cap de Creus lighthouse- on June 6th. Along the way he’ll find many difficulties which will make this challenge the hardest to date. Accumulated fatigue will add to the difficulties of finding his own way through the entire course. Although he already knows by hand many parts of the route -those have been his training playground for years- the unexpected snow on some higher altitudes forced the team to vary the route. That will make him to take some trails not so well marked and so the possibility of taking the wrong way increases in a significant way.

But he will also have some help he has not gotten before. Through all the route friends, family, mountain runners and fans from all corners of Spain and France will cheer along and some will run with him. And also, as usual, he will have the invaluable help from the Salomon team, which will take care of the logistics to lead this adventure to a successful ending.

It’s worth noting Kilian does not take this challenge as the simple fact of breaking another record. The fastest run across the Pyrenées to date has been done in 12 days, but he doesn’t loose sleep over it. When he planned this adventure the goal was to get through another challenge “at home” and so make runners around the world discover the places where he trains and has spent most of his childhood. We hope he will make it within those 7 days, but if not, that will anyway have been a great adventure!

I’m lucky to have been invited by the Salomon team to follow Kilian (but mostly by car, I don’t want to loose sight of him!) through the full week. So Ill break the story here, updating this post day after day (and also on Facebook). You can also follow him life on and for the Spanish readers on Salomon Running España Facebook page and on, the trail running tours in the Pyrenees company website.

Kilian’s Quest Across the Pyrenees, day to day

Day 0 – Finishing details and unifying efforts. Last minute changes on the route make this adventure more uncertain but Kilian is the most confident in the successful ending for this challenge. Tomorrow at 8 AM he will kick this off by running a few km on paved roads before starting the real challenge. Before that, though, he needs to do some interviews and get the gear ready for the long 12hour running day. Rain is expected for tomorrow.

Day 1 – A somehow complicated start. Rain and fog in the early hours forced Kilian to change his shoes and socks. After the first hour he lost his way for about an hour but he was able to make it up for afterwards, trhus only loosing around 30min. He has been running all day long with some friends who have helped in guiding him on a course full of ascents and descents, but which he has enjoyed through the spectacular green colors of the landscape. A total 100Km in 15 hours at a pace not too strong. There are many days still to come!

Day 2 – Initial hours are ran at a slower pace as he is not feeling very comfortable. But once he has a good lunch at the Belagua refuge, good sensations come back and he pushes himself. This makes his current running buddy -who run most part of yesterday and more than 50% of today´s course- to be unable to follow his pace and to stop. Some moments of uncertainty and fast logistics decisions, which makes him to hold him up a bit more. Technical snowy terrain does not help either, and alltogether he is 4 hours behind the schedule. We are worried for about an hour as he is running alone, it is getting dark and has no headlamp with him. But soon after he gets to Somport where he is welcomed by his mother, who drove here to give him a nive suprise. It’s 11pm and a decision is taken to spend the night near Candanchu so he can sleep more hours and have a better rest. Tomorrow he will make up for the time. He is still strong and in good spirit.

Day 3 – To make up for yesterday’s lower milage, he starts early at 6am. Seems like his metabolism starts relatively slow (we all know slow for Kilian is fast for the rest of us) and so in the morning his pace is relaxed but steady. Right at the beginning, a 3,000 feet climb through a dense fog. He arrives at Bujaruelo around noon to have lunch. From then on, he increases his pace to, bordering the Ordesa Natural Parc, get to the Goriz refuge. Park rangers and friends of him are waiting there to give him crampons and a piolet and they have also stepped on the snow to clear out the trail. He is still phisycally in good conditions, though he is slower than planned. Blisters are making his day less enjoyable. He runs the last km solo and through quite a lot of snow, slowing him down and getting to the PArador Nacional del Monte Perdido around 11pm. Due to the extended runs (16 hours today) and the fact he is not getting gthe sleep he needs, the crew and him decide to redo the schedule. Therefore, Kilian’s Quest Pyrenees will take 8 days and will end on Monday June 7.

Day 4 – After making the decision of extending the challenge on day, he starts the day at 8:30am to run 90Km, on a sunny day with high temps. Due to the blisters, he is now using shoes one size bigger over his regular size (7.5 to 8.5 UK). Those blisters make him to slow down when downhill, but he is still strong uphill. You would say sometimes he is not pushing it to not leave those who run with him behind. In the morning the helicopter arrives to get some aerial footage of Kilian running through amazing landscape. The closer we approaches to home, the more friends join him (up to a group of 15 in the afternoon) who know well the area and give a hand in orienteering through the mountains. He finally arrives in the village of Senet at 9:30pm. Time for painful massages and to get some rest. I have lost count of the km he has already run…

Day 5 – On the move at 7:30am, running 13Km up to the natural park entrance. Prove that his pace was fast is that I had to sweat my tee to keep the pace. When he arrives to Sant Maurici, passes by the refuges, saying hello to some of the friends he has there and keeps going fast. The film crew does not get in time to shoot footage with him by the lake as when they get there… he’s already gone! A tendinitis in his right foot start getting more and more painful, but some massages allow him to keep going without further complications. Stifling heat wears him down, but he surprises us all saying he feel better today than yesterday and keeps running at a strong pace (and joined by local friends) to get into Andorra. His whole family stops by at the end of the day and run a bit with him. We can add 94Km more to the total mileage.

Day 6 – You can feel it in the air that he is getting close to home. His mother, sister and very close friends run with him on different parts and he runs through Andorra to get into France. But before, the 20 winners of the Salomon contest show up to say hello and bring him a gift: local products from each one of the regions they come from. Kilian is thankful for this unexpected gift and leaves fast downhill. This same group joins him later on for run until Font Romeu. He keeps a very strong pace and he ends up arriving alone in Font Romeu, where a reception awaits him with friends and people from the village. You can get the felling this adventure is getting to the end…

Day 7 – The day starts really complicated: heavy rain and thunderstorms join Kilian on the first hour. The weather forecast does not look good for the upcoming hours and so the decision is taken to stop and reevaluate the situation. The crew gathers in a near village and decides to do a radical turn on today’s course. He will follow the French GR10 trail which is at a lower altitude and therefore avoiding dangerous thunderstorms. A couple of hours later, he resumes his way in what will be a tough day for all of us. The crew meets him as often as we can to provide him with dry clothes and to make sure he does not get lost on this new course. In Vernet, the initial end village for today, Kilian says he has not run too many hours today and that he wants to keep going. So he continues a few more hours to get at 9:30pm at the Cortelet refuge, right next to the Canigó peak. In an astonishing way, he arrives jumping from rock to rock and with a smile on his face.

Day 8 – Last day of the challenge. Kilian gets up at 8:00am to face the last 110Km and resumes his way. It’s a really hot day and that will make him suffer more than expected. When he gets to El Pertús, he has a muscle contracture on his calf (most likely caused by dehydration) and you can see fatigue on his face. Hours go by, pain starts moving to the hips and when he climbs the Puig Neulós, he really starts suffering. He arrives to the the Banyuls mountain pass around 7pm and the crew is worried for him, but he takes the risk and starts climbing up the last km at a unbelievable pace. But a few hours later, the risk of serious injury is getting higher and he still has the entire season to face. It is wisely decided he stops in Llançà (welcomed by a warm applause of runners gathered there) and take him to a physiotherapist. Tomorrow we’ll see how far can he go.

Day 9 – He gets up quite recovered and in good spirit and gos to the spot he stopped yesterday, around 8Km from Llançà. An agreement is made that is pain is back today, he won’t get to the Cap de Creus lighthouse and he will stop on the beach of Llançà. So he starts pretty good his last few km but, given he is running the Western States in less than 3 weeks, it’s clear that continuing is taking the risk too far. Joined by a group of local runners, he arrives at the beach and jumps into the sea to celebrate his Pyrenees Crossing. 850Km and 42,000m. A feat very few can reach. Congratulations Kilian!!!