Thoughts about Kilian Jornet's 24-hour record attempt
It is a hot and popular topic these days and I do have an opinion which I would like to share with those interested. As everyone in the ultrarunning world knows, Kilian Jornet announced an attempt to break Yiannis Kouros' 24-hour world record of 303.5km (188 miles) on 27th November 2020. Below is my personal opinion about the phenomenon and because it is a personal blog, I can probably write things down that magazines and official publications can't.
A few important points first to minimize misunderstanding around my post:
- I'm not a world class ultrarunner. I have my success where I am and for what I do, but I won't ever break world records. I'm an amateur athlete, mother of 3 and an entrepreneur and perfectly happy with my balanced life. I still have an opinion and you can agree or disagree, both are fine.
- Kilian is unquestionably the greatest mountain and trail runner of his time and maybe of all time and he is well loved and admired around the world. I'm not doubting any of his other achievements.
- What I will try to say is purely about this one record attempt, what I think it was all about and why I think that. I'm not saying any of it out of jealousy, I'm very happy with what I have achieved and have no aspirations of becoming a professional athlete.
And now a few facts about his record attempt:
- He started at a great pace but fell behind Kouros' split times already around 5 hours in.
- By 8.5 hours in, he was going slower than the average pace he was supposed to bring in throughout the 24 hours.
- In his post-race video he says he had chest pain when he dropped out. Previously there was talk about dizziness, knee pain, throwing up and weather conditions. He dropped out at 10.5 hours being way behind record pace and distance.
I think this is a relatively new tendency in the ultrarunning world and I have absolutely no problem with it, however, I like to see it for what it is. A marketing effort instead of a serious record attempt. Again, I don't think there is anything wrong with it!
What I see a lot lately is someone announcing a record attempt and getting a lot of free marketing. Seriously, kudos to them! I think it is a huge achievement (getting the free press that is) and will be good for the sport - keeping sponsors happy, keeping the money flowing into the ultra world. It is good for everyone. And that is what I think happened here.
There was a lot of publicity around the attempt, videos of Kouros and Kilian, a true hype around the world. And that is great. The ultra community and the sport absolutely needs this!
However, I don't think Kilian himself was serious about breaking the record. Maybe he had thought he could be close to it, maybe he was aware he can't even be anywhere close. Nobody knows what he could have done. Maybe 290km (180 miles)? Which is still the 2nd best of all time. Or 280km (174 miles)? A few guys around the world can do that, but to go that far at first attempt would have still been remarkable.
There is a huge difference between trail running and road running and if someone, then he must understand. On a track you are going at a faster pace, making nutrition requirements completely different from what he is used to. If he indeed got dizzy, then it was a nutritional mistake which I predicted on my Facebook page (sorry that part of the post is in Hungarian, maybe Facebook can translate if you click on it? ).
Knee pain? Of course your knee will hurt, you are trying to run really fast for 24 hours! As Kouros said in an interview, you just run and then when you are done you assess. You don't stop because it hurts (unless there is a serious injury but pain here and there and small injuries happen all the time at races). Again, this is something Kilian knows better than any of us.
Chest pain at 10.5 hours? He was way behind pace before those struck so even though I don't doubt his words, I still doubt he had any chance of even being close to the record.
We see similar record attempts come up time and time again these days. There is huge marketing beforehand and then the athlete drops out or finishes way off the record. It is a new way of getting marketing attention without achieving the target.
I don't put Kipchoge's 2h marathon under the exact same umbrella though. I think Nike took that seriously and made sure they had an excellent chance of succeeding and they were 26 seconds close and succeeded on the second try.
Camille Herron's 48h attempt is somewhere between the two. She is well capable of breaking the women's world record and then who knows how far she can go. But she dropped out two times already. However, Nike still got its marketing because of the hype in advance and that is very important for the sport.
Will Kilian try again? My guess is not anytime soon. The reason is that he is just too far off as we saw. Could he do it if he put his mind to it? There is a good chance he could. But he would need a year or two of dedicated preparation. I don't think he is willing to sacrifice his trails and mountains for road running in the upcoming years.
Will he try again without a serious shot at the record? Maybe. He and Salomon would get the same marketing, 17,000 people watching online, hundreds of thousands if not millions reached overall, and that is good for Kilian, Salomon and the ultrarunning sport in general. So if he does, I will be watching and wish him the best of luck to at least go all the way to 24 hours.