Ski mountaineer and ultra-marathoner Kilian Jornet made his first trip to the United States this month. This was not a pleasure trip — at least not what most sane folk would consider a vacation. The two-time defending champion of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc arrived in America with a specific goal: to challenge Tim Twietmeyer’s record circumnavigation of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail.
Twietmeyer’s record of 45 hours, 58 minutes has stood since 2005.
Jornet’s kicked off his attempt around 5am on Monday morning a few hours before the sun started to rise above the largest alpine lake in North America. Having studied the trail he knew what he was in for. Comprised mostly of multi-use single-track and connecting the peaks along the ridge tops of the Lake Tahoe Basin he would pass through California and Nevada on the trail that ranges in elevation from 6,240 feet to 10,338.
By late Monday night the miles began to catch up with Journet and he went down for about 120 minutes of rest. Waking up he and his pacer Sean Meissner resumed their journey, and just after 2:30am, a little less than a full day after the run began, things got a touch kooky — they got lost.
“We went a good two and half miles off track, and I was absolutely horrified,” said Meissner, who won the Tahoe Marathon just two days before beginning his pacing duties.
Jornet, young at only 21 and practically a kid by ultra-endurance standards, surprised his pacer. “He didn’t even blink,” explained Meissner. “He just grabbed me by the shoulders, laughed and said, ‘More kilometers, more fun, Sean!’”
Although the happy-go-lucky attitude surprised Meissner, maybe it shouldn’t have. Jornet’s Tahoe Rim Trail run is part of Kilian’s Quest, a globe-spanning journey
of trail running supported by Salomon. Jornet’s earlier Quest attempt, on the notoriously difficult GR20 trail traverse of Corsica, resulted in a record shattering time of 32 hours, 52 minutes for the 120-mile trail.
But in Tahoe the question remained: could he complete a similar feat on American soil, especially after losing valuable time by getting lost.
Although many sections of the trail are lonely and remote, the runners were not without company. Members of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association gathered in small groups (and often alone) at some of the loneliest spots on the course and provided vocal support.
With the end in sight, the difficulty ratcheted up a notch: the runner found that the most difficult part of the endeavor was near the end: the last six kilometers from Echo Lake to Barker Pass, “The trail was just more difficult than I had imagined,” he noted.
Heralded by a squadron of pacers and mountain bikers, Kilian Jornet ran into Tahoe City just after dusk last night. With a total time of 38 hours, 32 minutes for the 165 miles, which included a total elevation gain of about 29,487 feet (according to Tahoe Rim Trail Association), he beat the record and took more than 7 hours off the former best time.
From the look and sound of things, he had just enough kilometers and just enough fun over the trip. “I feel great, but I feel better now that I can stop running,” he said immediately after finishing.