Book: Run or Die
Author: Kilian Jornet
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Velo Press; Reprint edition (July 1, 2013)
Language: English

“Alba was very strong. Maybe too strong. I craved fixing something worthwhile in the things I did, and I couldn’t do them and then feel gratified only within myself. I needed someone else to value what I ha done. I needed to be told I had just been on an incredible hike. To be congratulated when I had won a race. I needed only a gesture, a look of approval, to give me some self-satisfaction and motivate me to train the next morning. I needed the people who loved me to feel proud and celebrate my good results, for my friends and acquaintances to acknowledge and remember what I had done so that I could eel sure of myself and more at peace. More simply, I needed to create a past so that I knew where I was coming from and could continue to move forward” 

So writes Kilian Jornet, in Run or Die, the Catalan’s autobiography. Kilian is arguably the best athlete..frankly..ever. If you needed more proof, look no further than today’s Matterhorn record, where he smashed the previously though-to-be-unsmashable record by 20 minutes (3:14 to 2:52).

Jornet started his run in mid-afternoon local time, to have warmer temperatures and to avoid most climbers on the route, who would have started before dawn. He climbed the Lion Ridge (southwest ridge) up the 14,692-foot peak. This is the normal route from the Italian side and is the shortest of the four great ridges on the famous peak, but it still requires more than 8,100 feet of vertical gain from Breuil-Cervinia. Jornet reached the summit in 1 hour, 56 minutes, 15 seconds. (Source)

Many admirers the ultra running scene attribute Kilian’s success to his upbringing in the mountains of Catalonia. What they forget to realize, and what Kilian makes abundantly clear in the book, is the reason for Kilian’s success is for his unrelenting competitive drive. His desire to succeed where others have failed has led him to achieve the previously thought impossible.

The myth of Kilian is he simply heads to the mountains, runs and doesn’t think much of training. In Run or Die, Kilian takes us to his small, cramped apartment in France where he and friends trained day after day to be the best. Their rent was behind and their utilities unpaid as the money was best spent on gear.

“I lived in a 194-square foot studio in the Grand Hotel in Font-Romeu. I lived with a friend, although there were usually five or six people sleeping on our floor.”

“This is how, between those four walls, joined by our deep desire to destroy our bodies through hours and hours of training, Fuenri’s Factory was born. A group of friends with just two ideas in their heads: miles and yet more miles. Nothing else mattered. Where or how you slept, what you are, or, if necessary, did not eat. What mattered was to train and compete to the maximum.”

The book reads similar to a very long and winding race report. We are invited along his trips across the Pyrenees and through the Tahoe Rim Trail for his Fastest Known Time (FKT),Western States 100 for his epic battle in 2010 and his climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We get glimpses of his other races and feats and his explanations tell us more about him as a person than the race in which he participates.

For me, Run or Die did one simple thing.

This book painted Kilian Jornet as human.

He is not made of steel. His legs hurt, his muscles cramp and he digs deep down for the strength to keep going. It’s this human side, the suffering, the mental breakdowns and the pain that even more so cements him as one of the greatest athletes of all time. We watch him struggle to finish Tahoe Rim, we learn what was going through his head at Western States. We learn that he may be unbreakable, but there are certainly some cracks that formed over the years.

He hurts like us. There are mornings he doesn’t want to get up and run. *gasp*

Sure, the book contains the tried and true cliche’s, talking about success, victory, determination. Coming from one of the best athletes of all time, the quotable sections do hit home, but leave me wanting to read more about the struggles along the way.

Every runner who has set foot in a mountain or on a tough course can identify with this book. The pain and the struggle are part of the adventure that shows us we are alive. Understanding the physical limits where he can go only helps to magnify his status as an incredible, no, exceptional athlete, as per his own words.

“A great athlete is one who takes advantage of the ability that genetics have brought him in order to secure great achievements, but an exceptional athlete is one who can swim in the waters of complexity and chaos, making what seems difficult easy, creating rode from chaos. Creative individuals search for chaos in order to explore all of the plates they can imagine beyond the frontiers of consciousness, following the irrational forces that come from within themselves and from their environment”

If you want “A Tale of Two Cities” look elsewhere. If you want to see the world from Kilian’s point of view, take a few hours on a Saturday and explore the world through the eyes of the best runner the world has ever seen.


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