Kilian Jornet is a brilliant athlete, a world class endurance runner who must pay attention to training details, schedules, and his competition. But he is an amateurish, immature writer. It’s okay to admire one but not the other. While he may be acutely aware of his own physical ability, accomplishments, and goals, he does not appear to be particularly attentive to others, including readers.
Run or Die was written by a self-absorbed 24-year-old Jornet, with scant attention to what race he’s running or even what country he’s in. He writes about the pounding of his feet, a potentially disastrous injury when he was even younger, surviving a harmless fall, falling asleep while running, all told in a detached stream of consciousness, straining to sound poetic. He writes as if we should already know what supermarket he’s shopping in.
Readers require more than internal thoughts – or at least this reader wanted to know more about concrete details. What about the other characters? His support team is mentioned as if they are nothing more than props, names dropped here and there in passing, as if part of the terrain that he must overcome. When he tried to acknowledge their effort, it came across as false and self-serving. “Since I prepared everything yesterday, we were able to take advantage of the morning rest…” His lover Alba, the most interesting character in the book (yes, even more than Joret), is given little attention, and she fizzles away in a poorly developed interlude – something about her being selfish, and he compares her to a training session. And his family gets short shrift. Why does Joret run? Does it have anything to do with his mother? His father? All we get is a passing reference to where they lived, and some curiously captioned photos.
After eight chapters of Joret inadequately trying to explain what he thinks about while running, we get a last chapter titled, “What I think about when running.” To which, of course, the only reply can be: What was he thinking about when writing this book?
I impulsively bought “Run or Die” after reading about Joret’s “running” up Everest, twice, a phenomenal, unbelievable accomplishment. He did it without oxygen in 26 hours. Amazing. He also has set speed records on Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Denali, Aconcagua and Kilimanjaro. I am in awe of his running ability, but he is not a writer. At least not yet. If he wants to become one, he should read and study books like Born to Run and A Voyage for Madmen. If not, I hope an accomplished writer helps Joret tell the Everest story. I would want to read that one.