Kilian Jornet in Paris: “The Pyrenees traverse transformed me”

On Monday May 27, two days after his victory in the Zegama-Aizkorri race, Kilian Jornet presented the film of his traverse of the Pyrenees, Into the (un)known, in Paris. As successful as ever in the field, as sincere and accessible to the public as ever, the Catalan retains his position as favourite outdoor athlete. And he’s still widely acclaimed. From the Pyrenees to the Champ-Élysées cinema, meet a runner with unstoppable legs and creativity.

In Paris, even if the most famous Kylian is M’Bappe, Kilian Jornet is also recognized in the street. What great name in trail running, or even in outdoor sports in general, climbers and mountaineers alike, has ever achieved this degree of popularity?
“It was incredible yesterday in Bilbao. People were cheering for him, wanting to touch him. It was crazy,” says his press attaché. The day before, Kilian Jornet presented for the first time the film Into the (un)known, recounting his crossing of the Pyrenees via the peaks. The day before, he won the Zegama-Aizkorri race for the 11th time in twelve participations. 
But back at his hotel, Kilian Jornet seems more exhausted by the days of transport and interviews than by the miles he’s covered on foot. “It’s an intense day in Paris. But I prefer to get it all together in a day or two, so I can relax afterwards and go home.

©Ulysse Lefebvre

Exploration and performance

Although he lives in Norway, the homeland of his partner, runner Emelie Forsberg, and for some years now of his two young daughters, it’s the Pyrenees as his native land that he honors in the film screened before 850 spectators, who were won over even before the first images. “It’s a film where I want to talk more about exploration, rather than performance,” proclaims the ultra-runner. Before adding: “But it’s true that I don’t like hanging around.I always want to be on the move.”

Although the account of this monstrous journey is broken down into daily chapters, with distances, activity times, elevation changes and sleep times precisely recorded (reminiscent of a famous social network for sportsmen and women), performance does indeed take a back seat to a more intimate side of an athlete whose life, both public and private, we know a great deal about.In eight days, Jornet covered 485 km and 43,000 m of ascent, notching up 177 3000 m peaks. Those are the figures.

Kilian Jornet, at his hotel in Paris, May 27, 2024. ©UL

But what we remember most is her body breaking down, her words trembling, her voice broken by the cold, and her tearful, heartfelt confidences. And in the end, the almost candid joy of being back in the heart of the Pyrenean beauty of his childhood. “With this film, I’m sharing the idea of a journey that can be made close to home, but which transports us. This adventure changed me”. Did it really? The sentence makes sense, coming from a guy who has run and won almost every foot and ski race, climbed Everest twice in one week (without oxygen) and set speed records on several summits.

His crossing of the Pyrenees via the peaks
is perhaps the high point
of his ultra-endurance quest

On the borderline between the physical and the mental

Although he hasn’t always put it into words, it’s long been clear to everyone that Kilian Jornet seeks to push his body to the limit in his efforts. But this time, he’s taking a more, shall we say, cumulative approach. In a nutshell, you could say that the altitude difference puts his muscles to the test, while the length of time alters his mind. And that’s exactly what he’s looking for. His crossing of the Pyrenees via the peaks is perhaps the culmination of over twenty years of running. If he runs for eight days, he only allows himself a few hours’ rest a night, usually 4 hours. Sometimes only 1h30. A total of 22h of sleep over the eight-day crossing. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so tired. Unlike a long effort like the Himalayas or an ultra-trail, where you exert yourself for 24 or 48 hours, this time I had to accumulate several days of intense effort. It’s nothing like that”. He lost 7 or 8 kg.




And he experienced new effects. While the muscles held out, the brain took a beating. After losing his cell phone and somehow freeing himself from all outside influence, Kilian experienced some astonishing impressions. “In my phone, I had a GPS track and often a way of keeping in touch with the outside world in the event of a problem, when there was a network.” Except that, after a rappel, the phone in the center pocket of his jacket was ejected by a descender-capper. Free at last?

Jornet needed answers to move forward. “For the next three days, I was having episodes of déjà-vu. I had the very clear impression of knowing the places, the directions to take, and even recognizing the cracks to climb.” As luck would have it, these impressions led him down the right path. Like the 3rd man syndrome that causes high-altitude Himalayan climbers to feel like they’re splitting into two, Jornet “hears” every answer to the questions he asks himself.


are the Pyrenees
more mind-blowing
than Everest?

The sensation was so surprising that he talked about it on his return, to dig a little deeper: “I realized this after the fact, talking to my former psychology teacher and some doctors. They explained to me that, as I didn’t have the information, I was somehow asking myself the question, and so my brain made me believe I knew the place, the direction, the movements, by ‘manufacturing’ an answer…. As if I’d already been there, when in fact I hadn’t. In the end, it’s another form of orientation. You don’t realize what the human brain is capable of. I’m going to continue exploring this field of knowledge with scientists. For example, we’ve started doing fatigue electroencephalograms, to see how my brain reacts when I’m exhausted and fall asleep.” Draft conclusion: are the Pyrenees more mind-blowing than Everest?


In front of a crowd of spectators, sometimes dubious about the images of a guy in shorts running on rocky ridges that are more than rotten, with no path, no ascent and even less descent, Jornet nevertheless recalls the strange concept: “The idea was to reach 3000 m summits via ridges. It’s very easy to plot on a map from Google Earth, but much harder to do on the ground! I had discussed the idea with some of my warden buddies. They said, “It can be done! But in the field, I was much less sure!” And even if we get sweaty hands watching him unclimbing (without a rope) a grade V (international grade) passage for almost two minutes of the film, it’s rather the less technical but more random passages that have left their mark on him: “The most difficult are the passages in rotten rock, in sand, with falling rocks, in wet rock. It’s only III or IV, but it’s more challenging. You think to yourself: I hope I’ll find a way out, because if not, I’m in real trouble!”


as the days went by,
I let go
of this frustration

In the picture, the endless horizon lines are bristling with the 3000 m targets. But the problems lie in the shadow of the summits, on these ridges that nobody knows, never climbed and probably never repeated in the future, so unstable are they. It’s reminiscent of the adventures of Lionel Daudet as he traversed the limits of the Hautes-Alpes department, or, more importantly, the circumnavigation of France itself. The idea: to explore and draw a new line, with the rigour of a man who doesn’t cheat. Never more than 10m to the left or right of the administrative limit.

On his line, Jornet often experiences the agonies of the half-turn that delays, the wrong choice that annoys, the little de-escalation passage where taking out the rope would mean losing a few minutes, but falling without it would mean losing much more. “At first, I felt frustrated when I realized that it wasn’t working, that I wasn’t moving forward, that it was a mess. Then, as the days went by, I got rid of that frustration.” The passage of time calms the impetuous. Or the bulimic. The Pyrenees via the peaks can’t be swallowed whole. You have to savor and savor. “It’s a process”. Jornet is still learning patience.

Another pace?

On closer inspection, you could almost see the passage of time in him. And make it better. After a family expedition in Nepal’s Khumbu region last summer, Jornet attempted a solo ascent of Everest’s West Ridge, but was injured in a snow slide. Back home, he remained under house arrest following complications of bone edema in his sacrum: “In retrospect, it was almost a good thing, as it forced me to turn my attention to projects other than racing”. So he also calculates his days of inactivity: 84. An eternity at his level. All this gives him time to think differently about the next stage of his program.Quietly. “Year off” was the headline on Alpine Mag.

I hope to continue daring

In reality, Jornet is fine-tuning his rhythm of life and activity. He chooses to run only two races in the season, Zegama and Sierre-Zinal, concentrates on the mountains around his Norwegian home, “does night loops on the waterfall behind the house, while the girls are asleep”, devotes his weekends to them, and mixes business with pleasure by towing all these little people in a trailer on skates and skis. And if he never stops, today he really has no choice, with no respite to rest: “When I got back from crossing the Pyrenees, I couldn’t rest and be like a zombie at home. You have to look after the girls, take them to school. Take care of them when they wake up at 5am. Yeah, you better be good at recovery!

A perfectly balanced athlete? Jornet tempers: “I’d like to have more time to do things like crossing the Pyrenees, but training takes up a lot of my time.” Performance remains an obsession for this “ultra-analytical training mind”. At his level, he can’t give up. Even less so at 36?



In the cab that takes him from the hotel to the cinema, where he will soon be holding an ultra-party, he recalls with a smile his first participation in the Zegama. It was 17 years ago: “I was 19 and a student. The day after the race, I was back in front of my exam paper!” This time, two days later, Jornet is in Paris at a cinema on the Champs-Élysées.

Almost two decades after he first made a name for himself, the eternal “young Catalan” continues to inspire the general public with his stories and his humility, and to amaze connoisseurs with his performances and his exacting standards. When asked if he has any projects, or even dreams, he answers by talking about 90-year-old friends who continue to go into the mountains at their advanced age. Seeing far ahead. He talks about the emotions in the mountains that he would still like to feel up there. Full of sincere love for the mountains. He also relativizes the importance of his personal projects, in view of the mountain conditions to which we’ll have to adapt in any case. Lucid. But still hopes to “continue to dare”. As for races with bib numbers? He talks less about them, because today they bring him “less emotion than other projects”.

It’s as if he wanted to take part from time to time, just to show again and again who’s boss. But it’s clear that his enthusiasm lies elsewhere, somewhere where he’ll be able to push ultra-endurance even further and, above all, for even longer. And to continue to surprise us, inviting us too “to find routes that transform us”.