In my last post I made the comment that Galen Rupp would get his ass handed to him by Kilian at Sierre-Zinal. I received some push-back on that, which actually, out of all my claims in that post, the assertion that Kilian would win in a head to head against Galen on a mountain course – in my mind – was one of my most iron-clad. So iron-clad that I feel the need to write a follow up to explain why it’s pretty silly to argue any differently.
To begin, here’s a little brief on each man:
Kilian Jornet is the undisputed best mountain runner in the world. He has wins at UTMB, Western States, Hardrock (course records in both directions), and countless European Sky Running races. He has won Zegama a whopping 8 times. And he’s dating Emelie Forsberg, so there’s that. Can’t hurt his running.
Galen Rupp is a two-time Olympian for the United States with one silver in the 10k in London and one bronze medal to his name in the marathon at the Rio Games. He boasts a 26:44 10k PR. He has run a 3:52 mile. Doper? Maybe. I hope not. I’m still giving him the benefit of the doubt, but that’s a topic for a different post … to be written most likely never.
My argument really only relies on two sub-topics. Number one…
The Fear Factor
Plain and simple, participants of many European mountain races are required to have massive balls if they want to finish anywhere near the podium. To ascend, traverse, and descend that type of terrain quickly, the eventual winner is literally putting his or her life on the line. Now, to give Galen his due, the dude must have the requisite aforementioned massive balls. He toes the line with the best in the world and performs time and time again. But just because you have the courage to run fast on a track or road does not mean you also have an ability to turn off a fear of possible literal death. What if Galen has a fear of heights? He’s a Dad. He’s a city-boy, hailing from Portland, Oregon. How could we expect him to keep up with Kilian on a descent where one wrong foot placement could mean serious bodily injury or if we are being dramatic … death. Not everyone can do that. Even if Galen decided that he wanted to try to develop his mountain running skills, we don’t know if he has that ice in his veins: that ability to compartmentalize fear of falling or death or whatever, and simultaneously perform under pressure. Kilian on the other hand has proven his comfort level in the mountains time and time again.
Take a look at this clip of him prancing down the Mount Marathon course… (see 4:30)
There is no way it is a given that Galen could develop that type of ability if he wanted to, just because he is an Olympic level distance runner.
Secondly, and similarly…
Kilian was running mountains when he was still in diapers.
I admit that Kilian would likely lose to Galen at most American 50k races. I think it would be a close race at the Rut. Most of the Rut is runnable and not that technical. In a post-race interview, Kilian called the Rut “very flat”. The course has 11k of climbing over 50k! But to Kilian, it really only had two climbs, the rest was flat.
When he raced Sage there a few years ago, Sage opened up a substantial gap leading into the first technical ascent, but Kilian just totally swallowed up the lead by the time they reached the top of the relatively short climb – his climbing on technical steep terrain was in another league. That only comes from a lifetime spent in the mountains. By most people’s standards, Sage is a great climber! And he is, on courses like TNF 50 or Speedgoat where you have steep grades but little technicality. So if it would be close at the Rut, Kilian would blow Galen away on a Trofeo Kima, a Zegama, or a Glencoe Skyline. Those courses require too much mountain savvy.
Answer me this: why didn’t Jim Walmsley take down Mike Wolfe’s record at the Bridger Ridge Run in Bozeman, Montana this last summer. I ran the course two weeks before the race and told my friend Jesse Langner that there was no way in hell Walmsley was going to get Wolfe’s record. The course just isn’t that runnable. Jim wouldn’t be able to get in a rhythm. It’s too rocky, technical, etc. To be fair, I talked to Jim after the race and I don’t think he had his best day out there. It sounded like he underestimated how many calories he would need. I think he wants to go back to take another crack at it and I hope he does. I’m not saying he can’t get the record, we’ll see what happens, but Wolfe is a lifetime mountain guy and I really think he laid down a pretty untouchable CR on that one. Again, we’ll see.
One thing is certain though, I think Wolfe cracked a cold one in satisfying fashion when he heard Walmsley didn’t come anywhere near his record. But that’s just speculation.
Full disclosure: I admit that I’m a total Kilian fanboy. I pretty much tackled him to get this picture at the Rut:
Shameless. But to prove I’m not biased though, I’ll admit that I’m a total Galen Rupp fanboy too. I raced him in high school in Oregon (and by raced him I mean that I was in the same races as him) and have rooted for him ever since.
And I’m not just siding with the mountain guy to pointlessly stick it to the roadies. Both guys are at the top of their sports, they are both great, but when it comes to racing on a European style mountain race … winning requires much more than fast leg turnover and a superhuman 10k PR.
Kilian wins easy.