Last weekend the small coastal city of Tromsø, located in northern Norway almost 400km north of the Arctic circle, saw the fifth annual Tromsø Skyrace, organized by the renowned trail- and sky- running couple Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg.
We asked Kilian a few questions about the race the day before the main event.
Interviewed by Elizaveta Ershova.
TRAIL-RUN: So, I’m just going to introduce you. This is Kilian Jornet, he is the race director of the Tromsø Skyrace. We are here in Tromsø – this is the fifth year in a row, I think, that this race is taking place. I think it’s safe to say it’s been extremely successful. So my first question to you is, why did you and Emelie decide to make a race to begin with? I’m sure it wasn’t for the money, it wasn’t for the glory, probably not because you have too much free time. And then the follow up to that, why here in Tromsø, as opposed to southern Norway, where you live now, or anywhere else, for that matter?
KILIAN: Well, actually, Emilie was doing university here in Tromso, so she knew the area. And we were one year living in the Lyngen Alps, so really close to here. And it’s so fun, I think, just to start from the sea, from the city, and go to the big mountains. And we were just doing this training one day, and we said, that would be amazing to share with many people and to make a race here. So then we talked with some friends from the randonee club and the local running club, and we started making it. And it has been great, it’s a good adventure. And it’s been a bit hard, since we are all volunteering, and it takes a lot of free time, but it’s great to see a lot of people coming here and running in these mountains.
And it’s so fun, I think, just to start from the sea, from the city, and go to the big mountains.
TRAIL-RUN: Yes. So did you already know the route when you decided to make the race? Or did you have other ideas and options of where to have it?
KILIAN: Actually, starting here from Tromsø, you have Tromsdastind, which is the mountain that you see right in front, and then Hamperokken is just a beautiful mountain. So we had clear idea where we wanted to have the summits, but during the first year there was no trail going from the summit of Tromsdalstind to Breivikdet, so then we actually had to make the route. So one of the guys cut a trail through the woods so we could descend down there. And up to Hamperokken it was the same, we needed to make a trail. So we knew where we wanted to go, but we needed to do some work to make it happen.
TRAIL-RUN: Perfect. So you run a lot of races all over the world. Do you think that you succeeded in making a perfect skyrace here in Tromsø?
KILIAN: I don’t think a perfect race exists, every race has it’s own thing, it can be very special like Hardrock, or like UTMB, which is very different, but good too. And I think here we wanted to keep a familiar ambience, so that all the runners and organizers feel like the same family, and to have a beautiful course, so I think we succeeded in what we wanted to be. Of course we could have a bigger event with much more publicity, but it’s not what we wanted to be. So I think every race has its own charm, and we are quite happy with what it has become.
TRAIL-RUN: I think a lot of people would agree with you. The race is becoming very popular, at least the last two year, as soon as the registration for the Hamperokken race opened, it filled up within 15-20 minutes. And I know this because I was one of the people frantically clicking refresh on your website.
KILIAN: Yes, I know, that’s crazy. It’s amazing.
TRAIL-RUN: My question about that is, have you considered having a lottery like some of the other bigger races do?
KILIAN: Yes, we have considered that, but it’s harder, it’s a lot more work, and everybody is already doing other things. So we are thinking about it, but for this year we decided to just keep it this way. And next year we will see.
It’s true that trailrunning is becoming more popular, and a lot of people are not really prepared for doing these things.
TRAIL-RUN: Also, it’s quite a challenging race, probably only suitable for experienced mountain runners, but on the registration anybody can register. So have you considered having some kind of vetting system, where you check the participants for experience, like Glencoe Skyline?
KILIAN: It’s very hard, just like with all the other races. When they register, we ask people whether they know where they are going, that they need to look how the course is, I think it’s the responsibility of the runner. You can ask for a curriculum, but it’s hard to know if it’s true or not, since you do not know everybody. And as we say at the briefing, it’s very important that you are conscious of what you are doing. For example, before entering the downhill of Tromsdalstind, or Hamperokken, if you don’t feel safe, or you don’t feel that it is something you are prepared for, you should turn around. It’s important that people listen to these things, it’s for their own safety.
TRAIL-RUN: I’m just wondering because last year, I think over 40% of participants did not finish, did not meet the cut-offs or for other reasons, so perhaps people just see a pretty picture and sign up, without really knowing what they’re getting into?
KILIAN: It’s true that trailrunning is becoming more popular, and a lot of people are not really prepared for doing these things. It’s a problem all over the world. But 50% finishers is something that is normal here, because it’s technical, it’s long, and the cutoff times are difficult.
TRAIL-RUN: Yes. But it is a beautiful race!
KILIAN: Yes, that it is.
I think trail running is different in different parts of the world, there is not a single trail running “spirit”
TRAIL-RUN: You’ve said recently that trailrunning is changing, skyrunning is changing. It’s attracting more and more people, more publicity, more money. I guess not all of the changes are good. For example we recently interviewed Dale Garland (run director of HardRock Endurence Run 100) and he talked a lot about preserving the essence, the soul of the sport. So in your opinion, how can we, as a broader trailrunning community, preserve the soul of our sport?
KILIAN: So I think trail running is different in different parts of the world, there is not a single trail running “spirit” I would say. For example in the UK, there have been trail races since the 1800’s, and they have their own rules and traditions and ways to do things. And it’s very different from the US, where it has its own spirit, or from skyrunning. So it’s not a single thing, and it’s important to understand that it’s unique in every place. And of course as it gets bigger and bigger, there will be people coming from different motivations, for money or for glory, but I think it’s mostly the bigger races, like UTMB or Marathon du Mont-Blanc that are focused on this, and face this kind of danger. But other smaller races with a more local familiar setting are a bit less at risk of this.
TRAIL-RUN: So you think these smaller races are the way to preserve the sport?
KILIAN: I think both are good, both are important. For example, if you want a small familiar race, you should not go to UTMB, but if you want strong competition, you should do that. So just understand the differences and choose based on them.
TRAIL-RUN: Finally, I just wanted to ask if you wanted to say a few words to our readers? Maybe wish them a good season?
KILIAN: Yes, I wish you a good season, and a good summer in the mountains, and I hope to visit you soon in Russia!
TRAIL-RUN: Thank you, and we wish you a great rest of your season and congratulations on your recent accomplishments! And good luck tomorrow, hopefully the race goes really well.
KILIAN: Thank you very much!