Kilian Jornet is my new hero. The 25 year old long distance runner, skier, skyrunner, and all around ultra-athlete has been winning the longest races and setting new speed records running up and down mountains all over the world. He’s also a very good writer. I just finished reading his book Run or Die, which has a beautiful comparison of what he does on mountains to art:
A great athlete is one who takes advantage of the ability that genetics have brought him in order to secure great achievements, but an exceptional athlete is one who can swim in the waters of complexity and chaos, making what seems difficult easy, creating order from chaos. Creative individuals search for chaos in order to explore all the places they can imagine beyond the frontiers of consciousness, following the irrational forces that come from within themselves and from their environment.
Perhaps I run because I need to feel creative. I need to know what is inside me and then see it realized somewhere outside me. We can explore our inner selves and know what we are capable of, but perhaps we also need to externalize that and separate it out from our bodies in order to view it as spectators, in order to evaluate it and see the defects so that we can do it again, better. It is a pleasure intrinsic to the creation of beauty.
A race is like a work of art; it is a creation that requires not only technique and work but also inspiration to reach a satisfactory outcome. But also, it is ephemeral, because like a Buddhist mandala, the enjoyment comes in the creating of it; at the moment of climax, at the point when it has reached its perfection, it disappears and will be impossible to create exactly ever again. There can be no repeats; we can relive similar emotions and experience familiar sensations, but they will never take the same shape, because inspiration leads us to explore different forms. (Run or Die, p. 177-178)
Killian Jornet is truly a running artist. Not an artist who runs, but a runner whose very act of running is the work of art. People focus on the endurance feats and the speed records, but reading his book you can tell that he is mostly concerned about living each moment of a run as an adventure unto itself.
…I think I run simply because I like doing it; I enjoy every minute and don’t wonder why. I know that when I am running and skiing, my body and mind are in harmony and allow me to feel that I am free, can fly, and can express myself through all my talents. The mountain is a blank canvas, and I’m the paintbrush that refuses to obey a paint-by-number pattern. Running provides my imagination with the means to express itself and delve into my inner self. (Run or Die, p. 176)
That’s a perfect description of why we create art, whether a painting, a song or a mountain leap: providing the imagination with the means to express itself. A few months ago The New York Times Magazine published a great profile piece on Jornet, Becoming the All-Terrain Human, by Christopher Solomon. It is a good introduction to Jornet’s world and all that he has accomplished. And remember, he’s still only twenty-five.