Western States 100: My experience with Kilian

July 6, 2011

Trail Updates

The smell of freshly cooked lasagna filled my nose as I entered the kitchen at the Montrail dinner Thursday night. I scooped a slice of lasagna onto my plate and carefully placed a small amount of salad next to it before I returned to my seat. I took the first bite of the lasagna and my taste buds begged for more, I was so surprised that it was so good so I took the time to thank the cook for the scrumptious meal. Less than 5 minutes later Kilian Jornet, Greg Vollet, and Patrick entered the room, my jaw droped open as I saw my running idol approach me. I sat down my food in a daze and shoke their hands and gave them a friendly “Hello”, after I build up some courage I asked Kilian about the race and complimented him on his previous wins on the Australian TNF and the Zegama. We chatted for a few minutes about trail running before he stood up to get some food, I walked to the couch so I was not in the way of the people entering the house and a few minutes later Kilian sat down right next to me. We start talking and all the while I am thinking in my head how amazing this day is and how lucky I am to be able to sit next to the world’s best ultra runner.  The next minute Bryon Powell came up to take a picture of Kilian and I. Kilian finishes his meal and stands up and entered the kitchen where he chatted with some other racers and some of his friends. My friend Meghan Hicks asked me how it was to meet Kilian for the first time and I said “it is so exciting and he is so nice!” Later I got up to throw my plate away and as I returned to my seat I see Kilian, Greg, Patrick and a few others talking together, so I decided to join their conversation. We started to talk about all things trail running and I found myself listening intently to what they had to say, a few minutes later Kilian said something in French to Greg and after a brief nod Kilian asked me if I would like to run with him the next day at 10am. Excitement filled my body as I realize that Kilian Jornet actually wants to run with me! I get out a yes and just then my mom walked up and when I told her what Kilian just said she was surprised and asked Kilian if it really was okay if I ran with him, he said yes and after that she wanted to know if she could join us. Being as humble as he is he graciously said yes and from that moment on my mom and I couldn’t wait to run with him the following day. Just to be sure my mom asks if he will go slow and starts talking about how we have watched Kilian’s Quest and how there’s no way that either of us could keep up, but once again Kilian said he will go our pace. Again, I realized how humble and genuine Kilian is, other top athletes wouldn’t even ask someone like me to run with them let alone go their pace, so I felt very grateful for the opportunity. As the night went on I spent most of my time talking to Kilian about his winter season and about trail running in general, he took some time to listen and ask questions about what I do and my training.  After that I was noticeably tired and had to excuses myself and say good night to Kilian and I told him I would see him at 10:00am at the start line for our run. As we walked out of the building Jean-Yves asked me what I thought about what recently transpired and I told him that I never had so much fun and how it was so great to meet Kilian and have a chance to run with him. We drove to the Plumpjack Inn and when we got in we set up a time to meet for breakfast. My mom and I walked to our room and we sat down and talked about what happened that day, we were so excited that we laid everything out for tomorrows run. After brushing our teeth and getting into our pajamas we slipped into our beds and fell asleep.
When I awoke from my cozy cocoon of a bed I immediately wake my mom for breakfast. After getting dressed we made our way to the dining area where we met Jean-Yves, we loaded our plates with fruit, waffles, bacon, and potatoes and then quickly retreated to a table so we could eat our food. During breakfast we spoke about the race and about the chances of Kilian winning. After we were done we said our goodbyes and departed to our rooms where we got our running clothes on. After a few minutes of fussing with our waist belts we left our room and made our way to meet Kilian. We sat on the bench for a few minutes until we saw Kilian, Jean-Yves, Greg, and Patrick make their way to where we were sitting. As they walked up I couldn’t help starring at Kilian’s shoes, they were bright red and made for speed, only then did I take my eyes off of them as they reached our seat. 
I quickly stood up and shook his hand and said good morning, and after a few minutes Simon Mtuy walked up and gives Kilian a great big hug! Kilian and Simon chatted away for a while and it was very neat for me to see two great athletes talking who shared the same interests standing right in front of me. Finally we set off up the hill and that’s where the real fun begins! As I expected Kilian was on his forefoot the entire time so trying to be more like him I transitioned from my heel strike to a more natural forefoot stride. As we ascended the mountain Kilian looked around taking in all the scenery, and making comments about it during the run. After the first few minutes I found out how good of a climber Kilian really was, even though the climb was steep Kilian kept a good pace and barely was breathing. I enjoyed running with one of the best athletes because it showed me that if I trained as hard as I could and stuck to it I could be a good runner too; maybe not like Kilian but just enough to be able to run 100 miles. Along the trail we ran into other Salomon runners going out for a morning run, and something that really surprised me was that Kilian stopped and chatted for a minute or two with them instead of just blowing them off. I was soon starting to realize that running to Kilian was more than just something he did because he had nothing else to do; it was his passion and his way of life. Soon after stopping to chat we start up again and found ourselves at the base of an even steeper hill, seeing this I immediately thought that Kilian was going to reduce speed to a slower pace, but he kept on at his reasonably fast pace for the entire way up until we stopped for the camera men. I was a little surprised to see two camera men up there but after a few minutes I realized that this was planned in advance, so I found a nice patch of snow to sit upon and waited until Kilian was done. I saw the camera men run up farther along the trail and I thought were  just getting a few shots of the valley, but as soon as I followed Kilian he sped of at a sprint around the corner. As soon as he did this I realized that they are videoing him so I hopped off the trail and made my way back to the rest of the group. After about five minutes Kilian returned to us breathing normally as if he just was walking, trying to save myself I say that I am going to get a head start but even though I started before them Kilian and Simon still caught up to me. Realizing how much more climbing we had I started to power walk to conserve energy, but Kilian was still running without issues! By this point I was sold that Kilian is one of the best climbers I have ever seen, just the way he makes climbing look so easy is absolutely amazing. As we arrived on a flat area Kilian points up ahead and lets me know that that’s what we will be climbing, I look up and my eyes pop, we have just done about 30 minutes of climbing and we have to go up that? I soon make the decision that I should reconsider joining them on this one, so I said to Kilian “You guys go ahead I will catch you at the bottom” with an “okay see you soon!” from Kilian I sped off the path until I meet a ski run. As soon as I saw it I broke out into a sprint and as I reached the bottom I realized how much fun it is to run downhill in the snow! As I stood around catching my breath I saw Kilian and Simon sliding down the side of the mountain on their backs, for a moment they looked like penguins and I started laughing because I thought it was so cool that Kilian would just have fun and treat this run like a day in the park. 
Soon Greg ran up and joined the fun and as he made his way down the hill he lost his phone, but he didn’t realize that until he was all the way back where we were waiting, so he and Kilian ran off to find it and after a few minutes they came back with Greg’s phone. Now I thought the climb and the running in the snow was fun but oh boy was I wrong! Kilian, Simon, Greg, and I started running really fast down the hill, we were running through snow and cruising through puddles until we flew off the side of a ski run sliding on our feet, Kilian was more experienced at what I like to call “downhill shoe skiing” and he immediately gained on both Simon and I. As we reached the bottom we were jumping over rocks and making our way through the field. We cruised over a bridge and saw a jump that was used for ski jumping, as I saw Kilian veer to the left I realized what he was doing. He ran up the hill and jumped off and landed on his feet and transitioned into sliding, it looked so fun that I followed along but I was able to slide no longer because I raced after Kilian so that I could finish the run with him. As everyone finally caught up to us I thanked him for the awesome run and wished him luck on the race the following day because I didn’t think I would get to see him again. After he left to go to his room we went back to our room and dropped off our waist belts and dirty shoes and met Jean-Yves back in the lobby only to realize that we were going to lunch with Kilian at the local Pizza Joint! As we arrive the smell of fresh pizza floods our noses and we immediately decided what we were going to have for lunch. We sat down and I said “hi” to Kilian- he waves in response and then orders the four cheese Ravioli, I think about how I just ran with him this morning so I decide to indulge in a small pizza for myself. As soon as the server placed our food in front of us I took a big bite of my pizza and smiled to see Kilian doing the same to his Ravioli. Once everyone was done with their food we all sat around and chatted for a while, but as day dragged on we said our goodbyes and left for our rooms, but when we returned we felt the need to go back out again and have some fun. My mom and I head directly to the little stores to find fun little items that we could bring back home, fortunately I found I a place that sold sweatshirts and without hesitating I bought one so I would have something that reminded me of the time I got to run with Kilian. With the excitement from running with Kilian and the upcoming race I decide that I want to go out and run again, so we headed back to the room and dropped our stuff and before you know it we were back out the door walking to the trail. My mom, tired from previous days of running sat down on the bench and watched me climb the hill we just ran that morning with Kilian. Inspired by Kilians running technique I tried to be more on my forefoot as I ascened the hill, I felt like energy entered me that day as I ran because even though the hill was steep I drove forward with strength that I had never seen. As I climbed I thought back on Kilians Quest where he climbed Mount Olympus, and all the while I tried to imagine that I had the athleticism like Kilian and that I am was going to set a record. Reaching a ski run I began running up it like I have seen Kilian do, and even though I am nowhere close to the speed he does it I still felt the excitement and the joy of being in the mountains. When I finally reached the top I saw a beautiful valley full of lush fields and winding rivers, I stood there on the hill for a second but remembered that night was getting close so I made my descent back down. Descending the hill was the best part of the run because I got to let loose and just fly down, I found that running downhill in the snow was better than running in the dirt so I stuck to the snow the whole way down. When I reached the bottom I felt like I just set a record of my own, I felt that in that time when I was on the mountain that I bridged a gap in my training that I tried so hard to pass when I was at home. After eating a nice dinner at the Plumpjack Inn with the Salomon family, my mom and I retired to our room where we set our alarm clock for 4am because we were going to run to the top to cheer on Kilian the next morning. Beep! Beep! Beep! Goes the alarm clock in the morning, and as we heard it we both shot up and got dressed in our running clothing, put on a head lamp and bolted out the door to meet Jean-Yves. From there we walked to the start and found everyone waiting inside, as we entered the chatter of the athletes drowned out anything we said. But soon we found Kilian standing near the back with a group of people waiting to wish him luck, when the crowd died I went up to Kilian and wished him luck then shook his hand. I was surprised to see how relaxed Kilian was because usually I am so nervous, but then I remembered Kilians passion for running and how he must be thinking that this race is just a fun run with a group of friends. After congratulating Kilian we made our way to the start and on our way we saw Geoff Roes and wished him luck. At the start line we met up with a group of emergency volunteers who were also making their way up the mountain, we all started running up the trail but soon I was the only one running, I thought that that was fine because I was going to meet up with them anyways at the top. Further along the trail I saw some volunteers scrambling up the side of a snowy ski hill and as I caught up to them I finally saw the mistake we all made, we took the wrong exit and we were now trying to climb this hill to get back on course. So I immediately sprinted to the top and waited for the rest of my group, as everyone makes their way onto the right track I start running with Erik from Salomon. We were both climbing the hill with pretty good speed and I was happy for the company because I didn’t want to run this section of trail on my own. As we ascended the mountain we talked about shoes and clothing and of course about how we thought Kilian would do, but both of us thought that Kilian will lead on this hill because he is such a great climber. Further up the trail we see the sun slowy waking from its long sleep as it peeps out from behind the mountains spreading its light on the valley below. During the run I felt bad for Erik because he was carrying a backpack full of camera equipment, but as I thought that I thought what a great training tool it was because he was building his legs by having to carry a heavy backpack. Soon we met up with Adam Chase, Josh Korn and their girlfriends and starting walking with them for awhile, but as we did this I thought Kilian was going to get to the top before us so I start running again until I came to the snow. As I reached the snow my first impression was “Yes! This will be so fun to run in!” but as my foot came down upon the snow it met ice, I caught myself from slipping and was more careful as I crossed the snow field. Soon I saw yellow flags marking the course and for a split second I thought I was in the race and I was the first person up the hill, but that passed as soon as I almost had another spill on the icy snow. Soon we came to a spot where we thought would be a good place to wait for Kilian, and after a few minutes we saw our first glimpse of Kilian making his way towards us. We all started cheering for Kilian and as he got close he gave us a smile and a wave and kept on leaping from place to place as he bolted his way up the hill. When we took our eyes off Kilian we saw Geoff and a few others a few meters behind him, but that didn’t worry us because the way Kilian was running we were sure no one could keep the pace he was at as he climbed the icy hill. Overcome with excitement we all cheered for the runners for about 15 minutes, but we weren’t running so it was getting really chilly so a small group of us decided to run back to the bottom. Feeling inspired by Kilians current state I sped down the icy course with ease that somehow I didn’t have before, as each runner passed I made sure to either wave or give them a smile. Soon I reached the dirt and that’s when I saw one of my friends from Canada running with a huge smile on her face and as I passed her I made sure to say “good luck!” and give her a friendly smile. Running as fast as I could go I descended the service road with ease, but soon I reached the bottom and entered the Inn. My mom and Jean-Yves were both waiting for me in the lobby and as soon as I entered they asked how Kilian was doing, I told them how he was and a sigh of relief escaped from both Jean-Yves and my mom. We made our back to our rooms were we packed, had showers, and dressed in some new clothes. We met in the lobby for breakfast and I loaded my plate with French toast, potatoes, bacon, fruit, cereal, and mini cinnamon rolls! After our breakfast we headed to the car to start our journey that would be full of fun and excitement! As we drove we constantly received updates from Greg because only media and authorized people were allowed to enter the first remote 55.7 miles. As we headed toward Michigan Bluff we received a message saying that a small group including Kilian went off course 2 miles but after realizing their mistake they turned around, but to our surprise they were not the ones in first, a small group of runners passed them and for the time being we were unsure what was going to happen when we reached Michigan Bluff. The car was quite as we follow another Salomon vehicle, the car in front of the car we are following takes a turn to the right but we kept following the car that we thought we were supposed to follow. After minutes of discussing if the car in front of us was the right one Gui (driving the salomon car) races up next to us and as soon as he did this we realized our mistake. Both cars were Jeeps and we were following the wrong one, after a quick U-turn we were back on track to Michigan Bluff. As we took the turn we missed the first time I got an creepy feeling as we followed this narrow road down into a small community, after driving 15-20minutes in deep forest we finally reach Michigan Bluff, at first it looks like a ghost town but the houses that looked abandoned soon were swarming with people, a little farther down the road we saw the aid station. We found a parking space next to the road and hopped out to investigate the strange new environment we have entered; as we walked down the road the high pitched voices of 3 young girls pierced our ears “Lemonade! Get your Lemonade here!” After 20 minutes of listening to their chant Josh finally went over and bought some watermelon from them. The little town was like a scene from an old western movie, all the houses were made of wood but the wood had aged so much it was like a brownish gray. In the front yard knickknacks of all sorts were scattered about the yard like old telephone booths, bath tubs, old tools, and dressed manikins. After about an hour of waiting we finally started to head down the trail to see Kilian climb, as we descended into the valley pinecones the size of rulers were scattered all around us. As we were walking I realized how steep this climb would be for the racers, but I thought to myself that Kilian is a great climber and he will lose everyone on this hill. About 15 minutes down the trail we found ourselves a nice place to sit while we waited for Kilian, as we waited Adam told stories about his experiences as a young boy with Poison Oak. It just so happened that while he was telling the story he was sitting on a few leaves of Poison Oak, he quickly jumped up and found another spot and continued his story. About 30 minutes later we here Jean-Yves (who had walked a little farther down the trail) start cheering on Kilian as he approached, I quickly turned on my camera and waited until Kilian came around the corner. As he took that corner all of us could see he was alone and still looking fresh. 
As I snapped a few shots we were all cheering him on and as we did this he talked to us just as if he was walking and before we got a chance to get another photo he had powered up the hill behind us with speed that I didn’t think existed in 100mile races. After we lost sight of him we immediately started climbing after him, even walking this hill was hard I thought to myself but I wasn’t alone in my thought because the others were breathing hard too. As we reached the top some of the other runners started to make appearance 5 minutes after Kilian. As soon as we reached the aid station Kilian had already left and was making his way to the next checkpoint. Soon we were in the car chasing down Kilian hoping we would make it to the next checkpoint before him. The next checkpoint was crowded with people so we had to park on a street a few blocks away, we hurried and ran to the checkpoint and set up Kilians aid station.
As Kilian came through he was followed by another runner, we were worried that something happened to Kilian but we finally decided that after the Michigan Bluff aid station the runner following Kilian took less time there hence catching up to him. As soon as Kilian sat down on his blanket people crowded around and were in his face, in my mind I wanted to tell them to leave him alone but that would have been rude so I just accepted what I was witnessing. After Kilian ate what he needed and refilled his supplies he received his pacer and headed out looking very strong. We hurried and gathered Kilians supplies and loaded them in the car and set out once again to the next checkpoint, the next checkpoint was Greengate and by looking at the information magazine the aid station was only accessible by the shuttle. But as we reached the road to head to Greengate no shuttle was to be found so we slowly started driving down the narrow dirt road avoiding the edge of a steep drop off. When we got to the parking area we unloaded and started to walk down to the aid station but the people said no crew help beyond the gate we just walked past, so we headed back up pasted the gate and set up Kilians personal aid station. Remembering what happened last year at this point I was really nervous, but I reminded myself that Kilian brought water this time so he would have a better chance battling the heat. Minutes later Jean-Yves says to me to go wait down at the corner to tell Kilian that his aid station was up here. I ran down to the corner and saw my friend Meghan Hicks sitting on a rock reporting the race from her phone for irunfar.com, so I decided to sit next to her and wait for Kilian. Minutes later I see a glimpse of two runners heading up the trail, at first I think that Kilian is with another racer but I soon found out that it was Simon Mtuy; Kilians new pacer. As Kilian runs up I say goodbye to Meghan and tell Kilian that after he checked in at the aid station that he needs to come up to ours so he can refill his supplies, he nodded  his head and I took off up the trail to let the group know that Kilian just came through the checkpoint.
As soon as I get back Kilian is on his way to us, Greg hurried and handed Kilian a glass of liquid meal and Kilian gulped it down. After taking that he switched out water bottles and when he stood up to go Greg poured water down the back of his shirt. Soon Kilian and Simon were racing down the hill to complete the last 20 miles. Now it was a race against time because we were afraid that we won’t make it to the 93rd mile in time, so as we were headed to the car we almost forgot the camera man! After 10 minutes of waiting he showed up and we raced to the next checkpoint, driving back up the narrow road was very scary but after awhile we reached the top and were back on our way. We got to the aid station faster than we expected so we set up the blanket and waited, we made some sandwiches and my stomach thanked me because I hadn’t eaten any food all day. After an hour the camera man started setting up his cameras and boy was that good timing because about 20 minutes later Kilian came flying down the trail with Simon right behind him, one thing I noticed was that at each aid station Kilian made sure to sample each food just to be nice. I thought that was really cool because most of the other runners just flew by without a thank you because they were so focused on the finish, whereas Kilian was enjoying this race like a fun training run. When he reached us Greg handed him a Redbull and Kilian downed it and sped of like he had wings. Now this was the interesting part, before we could park at the aid station we had to drive our car 3 miles down the road or else our runner could be disqualified and we could get a ticket, so we had to hop on a bus to get to our car. When we got back to the car we hurried and drove back to pick up the rest of the group then we sped on to the finish. The tension was building because we all wanted kilian to win, and we didn’t want anything to happen to him so the whole car ride to the finish was quite. When we reached the parking area we hopped out and ran into the field. It was such an amazing finish because it was on a high school track, in my mind it was like a victory lap because as soon as they reach the track they have to run around it to get to the finish. 
We stood around talking for awhile when all of a sudden the announcer said Kilian was minutes away so I dashed to the other side of the track and stood in position with my camera waiting for Kilian. Woo!! Go Kilian!! Was my sign that Kilian was right at the gate so I hurried and flipped my camera on and started taking a video of Kilian, as he pasted I said “Good job! But we all want a speedy finish!” he smiles and laughs and sped of to enjoy his victory lap. As he approached the finish people stuck out their hands and he came by and slapped them all, it was so cool to see that so many people were excited to see him finish. When he was about 3 feet from the finish he turned around and faced us and began walking backwards while he was waving and taking in the moment. Although the time wasn’t a record it was the 3rd fastest in history at a fast 15:34:24 and he was the first international competitor to win the WS100! After he had finished everyone went over close to him and were taking pictures like crazy, he then took the microphone and said a speech that was so well put together that everyone in the audience was silent. After his speech he came up and gave Jean-Yves a big hug and then set off to thank his crew. Soon he was whisked away to have his blood pressure taken, have blood drawn, and other test that needed to be done. After leaving the medical tent Kilian said he had a stomach issue so Greg and a few others accompanied him to the restrooms. By now it was getting dark so while Kilian was away my mom and I headed to the coffee shack and got some coffee and a muffin, we hurried and headed back to the group and when got back Kilian was there and that’s when I congratulated him on his victory and told him how awesome he did, he thanked me and              he and a few others retreated to his private house. Soon after we drove to the house only to find Kilian looking through his bag in the front hall, I ask him how he felt and he said “exactly how your supposed to feel after 100 miles” with a grin on his face, I laughed and he politely excused himself so he could go take a shower. Soon we entered the kitchen and that’s were everything was going on, Patrick was cooking strips of meat, and Greg was cutting cantaloupe, avocado and making a salad. I found the plates and silverware and I went of the set the table, meanwhile my mom was cutting bread and placing it on a plate. After the table was set and all the food was close to being down I place the cantaloupe, avocado, and the bread on the table and hurried over to help my mom cook the pasta. By now Kilian had showered and had taken a piece of bread from the table, he came next to me and started looking through the cabinet I asked him if he was looking for the nuttela he said that was for yesterday and today he needed to get salt, so after some searching he found the olive oil, and salt and drizzled the olive oil on the bread and then sprinkled the salt on top and took a bite. After I pasta was cooked we all sat down to have dinner, Kilian scooped some chicken salad onto his plate and grabbed half a cantaloupe and half an avocado. I was surprised to see him eat so little but then I remembered back to the race where he was eating ham sandwiches, liquid meals, fruit, and other foods. During the dinner Kilian told us that he had a rattle snack slither between his legs and as he said this everyone shuddered realizing the danger Kilian could have been in. A few minutes later Jean-Yves asks me what were three things that I learned during the race, first I said that it was very important to hydrate, and second I said that it is always good to pay attention and when I said that the entire table burst out laughing including Kilian because early in the race Kilian took the wrong turn. Night was wearing on and soon everyone was getting tired, so I hurried to the car and got my magazine that I wanted Kilian to sign, I brought it back to him and he wrote me a really nice message. I congratulated him once again and talked to him for a few more minutes, but while I was doing it I was thinking how much I didn’t want to leave such a fun environment but I knew that I couldn’t stay forever so we said our goodbyes and left the house. During the drive to the airport I was talking about how amazing that was and how fun it was to meet Kilian, I thought to myself how lucky I was to have met Kilian and that even though I am leaving this is just the start of something new.     

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