Starting in 2003, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) has been recognized as one of the largest ultra-marathon races in the world. Since its inception, nobody has run its full length faster than Kilian Jornet did on Aug 26-27th, 2022. With a time of 19:49:30, Kilian not only set a new record, but also established himself as the second male to win UTMB four times (matching Francois D’Haene). With performances such as this, the mind starts to wonder… What does it take to perform at this level? How fast are the best in the world running up steep gradients? What is their training like leading into these events. Below is a full summary of Kilian’s training and UTMB race data collected via his COROS APEX Pro and displayed on the COROS Training Hub.
Training Prior to UTMB
When looking at Kilian’s training data, there are a few key items that begin to lay the foundation for his performances. These items are his Base Fitness, his training intensities, and his specificity of training. These three items are the pillars of success for any endurance athlete. How fit are you? What energy systems and physiological adaptations are you training for? Will your body hold up to the demands of the course. Kilian’s training focus surrounding these three questions paved the way for his record breaking 19:49:30.
Kilian’s Base Fitness firmly sits within the 150-170 range while training and preparing for major events. Kilian hit a peak of 175 on Aug 1st before starting a slow taper into UTMB. Ultimately, Kilian started UTMB with a Base Fitness of 149 and a Fatigue of 29. This was a fantastic taper!
A majority of Kilian’s training time is spent at Aerobic Endurance/Aerobic Power (Zone 1 & 2). Racing long distance events, this is the focus you should have. Along with this, Kilian mixes in higher intensity days to maintain a strong VO2 and ability to surge as needed.
Kilian was averaging roughly 75-150m/km in elevation gain during his final 4-week training block. Not only was Kilian training the appropriate zones, but he was building his muscular strength as well!
Breaking Down The UTMB Record
When breaking down Kilian’s new UTMB record, a few items jump off the screen. First, Kilian’s heart rate trend is amazing. The beginning 11 hours and 30 minutes proved to be the hardest. During this time, Kilian averaged 143 bpm and spent over an hour in his Aerobic Power zone (zone 2). Second, even with a reduced heart rate, Kilian was able to maintain his adjusted pace and surge as needed. To gain a better idea of how the race played out, we will break down each of the key segments and provide data points to showcase Kilian’s effort!
Start to Les Contamines Montjoie
The race started at an exceptionally fast pace! The first 31km showcased Kilian’s fastest 1km, 5km, fastest adjusted pace segments, and highest heart rate. Typically when starting a 170+km race, athletes will go out a bit slower and ease into their pacing strategy. That being said, Jim Walmsley (men’s leader through 31km) had other plans. With Kilian’s plan of staying with the leader, he pushed through 31km with Walmsley and sat on his hip the entire way. Coming through the first key section of the race, Kilian was 2 seconds behind Walmsley and running in 2nd position.
Key Data Point: Kilian was running at a heart rate within his threshold zone (166-177) for portions of this segment. This is unsustainable for durations longer than 3 hours. This was a huge risk/reward strategy Kilian was implementing.
Les Contamines Montjoie – Col De La Seigne
Throughout the 2nd key section, Kilian remained on Walmsley’s hip. This segment proved to be a bit slower due to technical terrain along with the first aid station stop for both athletes. While the pace was slower, the effort remained high. For the 30 kilometers combined, Kilian maintained an average heart rate of 148. Throughout both uphill sections, Kilian was sitting between 150-155bpm which is at the top of his Aerobic Endurance zone. Finishing the first 61km, Kilian was 5 seconds behind Jim and well within striking distance going into the final 110km of the race.
Key Data Point: Kilian reduced his heart rate but was still operating at a high level. Any time spent above Aerobic Endurance for ultra events is considered risky. Kilian was alternating between Aerobic Endurance and Aerobic Power throughout these 30km. With the intended goal of staying with the leader, this tactic was starting to put Kilian into the red from a physiological standpoint.
Col De La Seigne – Courmayeur
The third key section of UTMB is where Kilian begin to take notice of the first 60 kilometers. From the data above, you can see that average heart rate begins to reduce and downhills are being used for recovery at this point. While the overall effort did reduce during this section, Kilian still hit 166 bpm as a max. This put Kilian in his threshold zone and resulted in a sharp decline in heart rate shortly after. Kilian lost time to Jim throughout this section and ended kilometer 81 down by 1 min and 24 seconds overall.
Key Data Point: While the race to this point has been between Kilian and Walmsley, Mathieu Blanchard (COROS pro athlete) has taken a different strategy. Blanchard paced in a more conservative approach and is 16 minutes and 32 seconds behind Kilian at the 81km mark.
Courmayeur – Grand Col Ferret
From Kilometers 81-103, Kilian was able to close the gap to Walmsley and reduce the lead to 5 seconds again. However, this recovery was short-lived and Walmsley was able to re-extend his lead over the uphill sections. By the time Kilian reached Kilometer 103, he was 5 minutes and 11 seconds behind. The data from this section suggests Kilian surged to catch Walmsley (as shown by higher heart rates early), but then eased off the effort and demonstrated a more typical ultra-running approach. As Kilian lowered his effort to below Aerobic Endurance pacing, Blanchard clawed back more time. By Kilometer 103, Blanchard was only 11 minutes 27 seconds behind.
Key Data Point: This was the segment where Kilian had to let Walmsley run away from him. The effort was far too high for too long and Kilian made the decision to dial it back. Even while running uphills, Kilian was able to reduce heart rate and ensure he had the ability to finish. This was Kilian’s lowest average heart rate so far.
Grand Col Ferret – Champex Lac
With hindsight being 20/20, this may be the segment that led to Kilian having the ability to go on and win the race. The data is clear that this segment was used as a much needed recovery portion of the race. Primarily being downhill, Kilian allowed his body to recover at an average heart rate of 119 for 2 hours and 30 minutes. During this time, Walmsley extended his lead up to 13 minutes 26 seconds and Blanchard reduced his deficit to 1 min 45 seconds. The previous effort had been too high and Kilian needed a section to catch his breath and let his body recover. These 23.5 kilometers did just that. While he lost large amounts of time to his competitors, Kilian was recovering from the first 103 kilometers.
Key Data Point: Treating this segment as his recovery portion of the race, it resulted in Kilian’s lowest average heart rate (119bpm). This tactic would prove critical in his push for the final 53.5 km.
Champex Lac – Trient
Game on! This is where the race took a massive turn. Having set a torrid pace for the first 130km, Walmsley was starting to fade. The human body can only sustain so much effort before it needs to slow down. Kilian almost shared the same fate, but decided to cool off roughly 30 kilometers prior. During this section of the race, Kilian lifted his effort again as Blanchard caught him. For a short time, Kilian was actually running in 3rd on Blanchard’s hip. Throughout these critical 16.5 kilometers of the race, Kilian moved from 3rd up to 1st as Walmsley faded. By the end of 143 kilometers, Kilian was in front of Blanchard by 47 seconds, and Walmsley by 18 minutes and 57 seconds.
Key Data Point: As can be seen in the data above, Kilian lifted his heart rate back to a 125 average for this section. The pace has faded for all runners, but effort levels are building now as there is a new contender pushing Kilian.
Trient – La Tete Aux Vents
This segment is where Kilian Jornet proved he’s the best. From kilometer 143 until 151, Kilian and Blanchard ran hip-to-hip. You can see a steady surge starting the first climb (HR 148, max for this segment) and then both athletes holding steady. At kilometer 151, Kilian went for it (2nd climb pictured above). You can see a sharp increase in adjusted pace along with heart rate data following. Not only did Kilian surge, he maintained this effort… this was the winning move! By the time Kilian crested the top at kilometer 161, he had a 7 min and 23 second gap on Blanchard.
Key Data Point: The winning move demonstrated by his data. Kilian surged for 1 hour often running faster than 20 min 5k pace (adjusted pace data). During his attack, Kilian hit a max adjusted pace of 3:21/km. In other words, after running 151 kilometers, Kilian was surging at 16:45 5k pace. It’s unbelievable what he was able to do given how the first 80km of this race played out.
La Tete Aux Vents – Finish
The final 10 kilometers! Having put the hammer down on the final climb of the race, Kilian not only knew he had broken Blanchard, but he had put himself in a deficit as well. You can see a sharp return to his 119 average heart rate which is well within Kilian’s recovery zone. Even with the segment being primarily downhill, it was the slowest 10k adjusted pace portion of the race. Blanchard was able to reduce the gap in the final 10km, but the damage was already done. Kilian Jornet was your 2022 UTMB champ with a record breaking time of 19 hours 49 minutes and 30 seconds.
Key Data Point: With an adjusted pace of 9:27/km, this was the slowest portion of the race for Kilian. Having spent all of his energy on his winning move, it’s understandable that there was nothing left in the tank. He timed his move to perfection during the previous section and was able to coast downhill to the finish.
Record Breaking Tactics
Photos by: Andy Cochrane
We want to congratulate Kilian on not only winning UTMB, but for also setting the fastest time ever on the full course. Through data, we can see there were multiple tactics Kilian utilized to set this new record.
Tactic #1: Surging for 80km
Throughout the first 80km, Kilian was pushed to his limit by Jim Walmsley. Without Walmsley setting this pace, we believe Kilian would have gone out a bit more conservative. Walmsley pushed Kilian to run for a total of 1 hour 22 minutes between his Aerobic Power and Threshold levels. While we can not advise this approach by many ultra-runners, Kilian performed it to perfection.
Tactic #2 Recovery Mid-Race
Kilian’s decision to let Walmsley run ahead was pivotal in his record setting win. Without recovery, Kilian would have faded during later portions of the race as the terrain pitched upwards. Utilizing the downhill sections to recover, Kilian was able to maintain a respectable adjusted pace while lowering his heart rate.
Tactic #3: Winning Move on Final Climb
Having conserved energy during the middle portions of the race, Kilian had one match left to burn. On the final climb, Kilian surged to 3:21/km adjusted pace (16:45 5k pace) and dropped Blanchard. This was ultimately the winning move and allowed Kilian to run easy the final 10km to the finish.
Its amazing what elite athletes are capable of over long distances and durations. Kilian put his experience and fitness on full display in not only winning UTMB, but in setting a record along the way. Through the data collection of his APEX Pro, and the analysis tools within the Training Hub, we are able to see what his body went through, and the tactics that proved successful in his eventual win. As we conclude our analysis of Kilian Jornet’s UTMB data, we hope this provides you with the tools and knowledge needed to go maximize your own events. Keep training and learning to race smart as you head out the door to explore perfection!