March 2013 Archives

mountain man

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NYT Magazine lauds the accomplishments of Killian Jornet, calling him "the most dominating endurance athlete of his generation:"

In just eight years, Jornet has won more than 80 races, claimed some 16 titles and set at least a dozen speed records, many of them in distances that would require the rest of us to purchase an airplane ticket. He has run across entire landmasses (Corsica) and mountain ranges (the Pyrenees), nearly without pause. He regularly runs all day eating only wild berries and drinking only from streams. On summer mornings he will set off from his apartment door at the foot of Mont Blanc and run nearly two and a half vertical miles up to Europe's roof -- over cracked glaciers, past Gore-Tex'd climbers, into the thin air at 15,781 feet -- and back home again in less than seven hours, a trip that mountaineers can spend days to complete. A few years ago Jornet ran the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail and stopped just twice to sleep on the ground for a total of about 90 minutes. In the middle of the night he took a wrong turn, which added perhaps six miles to his run. He still finished in 38 hours 32 minutes, beating the record of Tim Twietmeyer, a legend in the world of ultrarunning, by more than seven hours. When he reached the finish line, he looked as if he'd just won the local turkey trot.

Endurance athletes often make the extraordinary look easy, but the piece notes that "Even among top athletes, Jornet is an outlier:"

Take his VO2 max, a measure of a person's ability to consume oxygen and a factor in determining aerobic endurance. An average male's VO2 max is 45 to 55 ml/kg/min. A college-level 10,000-meter runner's max is typically 60 to 70. Jornet's VO2 max is 89.5 -- one of the highest recorded, according to Daniel Brotons Cuixart, a sports specialist at the University of Barcelona who tested Jornet last fall.

His advantage lies not just in his legs (as seen below) or his lungs, but in his lineage and his lifestyle:

Born into a Catalan family, Jornet grew up in the Spanish Pyrenees at 6,500 feet, and his gifts are literally in his blood. [...] Years of daily running and skiing up mountains have further bolstered this advantage.

20130322-killianjornet.jpg
(Levon Biss, NYT)

Additionally, he's good at dispersing heat by vasodilation rather than sweating:

A body that sweats less loses less precious liquid from its circulatory system, a major factor in fatigue. In moderate temperatures, Jornet says, he can run easily for eight hours without drinking water.

Here's another alpine exploit:

This time he traversed Mont Blanc from Courmayeur to Chamonix, crossing crumbling moraines and split-lip glaciers and the chasm of the Innominata ("Unnamed") Ridge. The route -- 26 miles and 14,000 feet of ascent -- takes alpinists several days. Jornet did it in less than nine hours while carrying a little more than a dozen ounces of sports drink.

The NYT article quotes fellow ultrarunner Anton Krupicka as saying, "There is probably no one in the world who is a better technical downhill runner than him." The piece continues:

He likes to move fast and touch rock and feel wild, he told me; he feels most at ease and performs best when wrapped by the silence and beauty of the mountains. He can't abide cities for more than a few hours. The sea -- its unrelenting horizontality -- scares him.

His memoir, intriguingly entitled Run or Die, is due to arrive in July.

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