There are some athletes to whom the rulebook does seemingly not apply. Sprinting had Usain Bolt. Marathon running has Eliud Kipchoge. And mountain running has Kilian Jornet. Having recorded multiple victories at the Western States, Hardrock 100 and UTMB, not to mention the small matter of scaling Everest twice in one week, Jornet notched up another record at the weekend: bettering Billy Bland’s Bob Graham Round record, a time that had stood for some 36 years. Jornet’s new record of 12hrs 52mins is just over an hour quicker than Bland’s time of 13hrs 53mins. Runner’s World spoke with the 30-year-old to find out how he did it.
Congratulations on breaking the record for the Bob Graham Round. Was it as difficult as you thought it would be?
‘Yes. The distance, the elevation and the technical terrain make [the Bob Graham] hard to complete, and that was the first goal for me: to try to finish the round. Yesterday, I had the best conditions possible. It was very dry; I had a group of pacers who were amazing and were very talented runners themselves. Also, I had Billy’s time to aim for; when Billy did it, he was doing it with no references.’
What motivated you to attempt the record?
‘I wanted to come here because the Bob Graham is part of the history of fell running, and fell running is part of the history of mountain running. It’s incredible for how long people have been running in the fells. When Bob Graham first did the round [in 1932], it was another step, this linking of summits. Billy’s time is part of the sport, and it’s been inspiring me since I first heard about it. I wanted to come here and run in the footsteps of these legends.’
The British fell running scene has embraced you as one of their own. Were you surprised by this?
‘I’m very thankful to the people here. It was a last-minute decision to do the round; I literally decided earlier in the week to come here. Rob Jebb, a fell running champion, wanted to try the Bob Graham on Saturday, but he said it was too hot so he decided not to do it. He and his pacers, instead, helped me. That was amazing: to have local people support me and show me their mountains.’
The previous record was held by Billy Bland. Did you get a chance to speak with him?
‘I met him on Thursday, a couple of days before the run. I went to his house and he welcomed me. He gave me some advice and told me a few anecdotes of when he ran it. Then, during the run, he was out there on his bike – he’s a great cyclist – and was stopped by a road to cheer me on. He was also there at the finish, in Keswick, to welcome me. I felt very humbled and honoured by that.
How did you fuel yourself along the way?
‘You need to eat a lot. It’s a long run. If you don’t have calories, it’s impossible to complete. It was hot, too, so it was important to eat a lot of salt. I ate mostly gels, bars, fruit and crisps, and I took on lots of electrolytes.’
By British standards, it was a hot day. Was it no trouble for you?
‘I was born in Spain but at 2,000m above sea-level, so when it’s over 15C I’m terrible! It was hot [over 20C] but the the morning was quite cloudy and there was a bit of wind throughout the day. The final four hours were really hot, but the rest of the day I had perfect conditions.
The previous record had stood for 36 years. You beat it by over an hour. Were you surprised to knock so much off the time?
‘Yes. My plan was to run 15-20 minutes faster – and even that felt like a dream. But my pacers were so good as to make it possible to run a bit faster. Some of the people who paced me, such as Carl Bell and Rob Jebb, are very talented athletes and I hope they try the Bob Graham soon, because I think they can run just as fast.’
Now that you have the Bob Graham Round record, are you interested in attempting other classic British rounds, such as the Ramsay Round in Scotland?
‘The Ramsay Round is something I’ve been looking to do. It’s not planned yet. It might be two years’ time, it might be longer than that. The culture of the rounds in the UK is so cool. I love these challenges and the ambience around them.’
You broke your leg in March this year. Have you been surprised by your speed of recovery?
I didn’t set myself any goals this season. After breaking my fibula, I thought, “It’s recovery time.” At the beginning, I could only do fast walking on crutches. Then I started cycling, and then I began hiking in the mountains. When I broke my leg, I was in really good shape. Rest when you are in great shape is never a problem. I normally recover well from small injuries. But still, I was surprised by how quickly I’ve been able to recover.
Having set FKTs on Everest and now bagged the Bob Graham record, what’s next?
Last year’s expedition to Everest was very interesting for me, in terms of what I learned about altitude and what might be possible up there. For sure, I want to continue to do some things in that area. However, although I have a lot of things written in my notebook, I’m yet to decide which one I’m going to go for next..