View from the Sofa: Up hill and down trail, extreme running joins the mainstream

5 Live Extreme BBC 5 Live

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The Independent Online

Spare a thought for fans of the band Slaves, the rowdy garage punk duo who have been included on the BBC’s Sound of 2015 shortlist. On one hand, fans will be overjoyed that others will at last discover what has obsessed them over the last year or so. On the other, they will be filled with dread. The band will play bigger, less intimate venues. Their music may even appear on adverts and sports montages. In other words, there’s a real possibility that they’ll turn mainstream.

Fans of trail-running will no doubt have pangs of the same feeling. For so long their sport has occupied a small, muddy spot on the fringes of public consciousness, dismissed by most, along with orienteering and cyclo-cross, as too much like hard work.

But this year the sport’s stars, for want of a better word, have been popping up on normal media. Kilian Jornet, an ultrarunning Catalan who seems to break a record every time he scales a mountain or runs a race, was interviewed on Channel 4 News recently. And last week, coincidentally on the day he notched the fastest ascent and descent of the 6,960-metre mountain Aconcagua in Argentina, he appeared on 5Live, the radio station that employs Robbie Savage. If that’s not breaking into the mainstream, who knows what is?

OK, so it wasn’t as if Jornet was co-hosting the 606 phone-in, waxing lyrical over Arsène Wenger’s soft centre or Leeds’ latest meltdown. He was featured on 5 Live Extreme, hosted by Will Perry and the Olympic bronze medal-winning snowboarder Jenny Jones.

The show, which last week also featured a free-runner, a cliff-diver and a woman who traverses canyons by walking on a cable, was largely concerned with why these athletes do what they do.

Psychologist Emma Barrett offered an answer – to push themselves to the limit – but Jornet’s reasoning was rather more esoteric. “To be alive, I need to be in the mountains,” he said. “I like to run to be able to do that.”

Jones appeared genuinely intrigued as to why this man puts himself through the rigours of 100-mile races or multi-day mountain challenges. “What do you think about, what goes through your mind?” she asked. The answer: “Lots of things. Or after about 60 miles or so, most of what you think about is the pain.”

Jornet lost a good friend while ski-mountaineering in the Alps and on this tragedy he was starkly philosophical. “I was right near him and at the time I was thinking, ‘why wasn’t it me?’ I have no family or kids so it would have been better if I died. And you think maybe doing these things is stupid. But it is what keeps us alive.

“Living is not being on the sofa, it is being outside, exploring.”

With this attitude Jornet deserves to go mainstream, even if his notoriety makes the trails a little more crowded. And, who knows, when he eventually speed-climbs Everest – as he is planning to do in 2016 – perhaps we could have Slaves do the soundtrack.

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