A Dialog With Jon Albon – iRunFar

grew up in Nice Dunmow in England — a small city, an hour outdoors of London. The rolling countryside of the south of England is much faraway from the fell operating scene within the north of the nation, and Albon discovered his approach to the mountains later in life — thanks in no small approach to his marriage to Norwegian mountain runner Henriette Albon.

The couple now lives in Norway, the place Albon has tailored to a unique lifestyle and now integrates a ski season into his coaching. The pair operates a training enterprise alongside their very own racing and Albon, who has simply turned 34, has already packed in a fascinatingly numerous profession.

Jon Albon ski coaching at house in Norway. Photograph: Petter Engdahl

Jon Albon wasn’t a runner in childhood, and as a substitute his first sport was curler hockey, one thing he competed at from age 10 by means of to his early twenties. After finishing college, he moved to London the place he discovered work as a constructing surveyor engaged on the London Underground transit system. Whereas in London, he stated, “I progressively stop hockey and I knew I wanted to do one thing to maintain match. Working grew to become a approach to get to and from work and my then girlfriend, now spouse, launched me to issues like orienteering.”

As a substitute of taking place the street operating route like many city runners, Albon was all the time drawn to more odd and fascinating pursuits, and stated: “The primary actual races that I began doing have been impediment course races — Spartan and issues like that — as a result of it appeared like a enjoyable problem and full physique health, not simply operating.” He went on, “That sport grew as I used to be rising as an athlete.”

At this stage in his profession, Albon was focusing his aggressive vitality on impediment course racing, with path operating citing the rear, as extra of a enjoyable passion. On this spirit, he traveled to a variety of U.Okay. path races that piqued his curiosity or have been in places that he wished to go to.

Jon Albon racing Spartan Breckenridge in Colorado in 2015. Photograph: Spartan Race

Though nonetheless racing largely shorter distances, he took on two U.Okay. ultramarathons in 2014, profitable each. One was the favored 74-kilometer 10 Peak ─ The Lakes Lengthy Course in England’s Lake District. He stated:

“I simply wished a problem and, additionally, I’d by no means been to the Lake District earlier than. I’d learn ‘Ft within the Clouds’ and I knew there was this complete historical past, and I had a number of respect for fell runners. And I figured if I’m going to go up there to do a race, I ought to do one the place I’ll get to see just about many of the Lake District in a single go.”

This similar curiosity additionally introduced him to race the long-lasting Man V Horse in Wales. He stated: “It was actually enjoyable, and really the yr I did it there was some actually good competitors, some previous winners. I used to be simply on a excessive and managed to cross everybody, however then quickly realized that to really beat the horse it actually depends upon the gap of the course that yr, and the temperature and the whole lot. So it was enjoyable to really beat all of the people, however there was no manner I used to be beating the horses that yr. And I additionally acquired a bit misplaced, in order that didn’t assist!”

In 2014, Jon and Henriette moved to Norway the place they nonetheless reside, and it was right here that his operating transitioned from passion to profession. He stated, “That yr [2014] I had achieved a number of impediment course racing and I gained fairly a number of races. After which once I moved to Norway, I acquired this chance to exit to the Spartan World Championships within the U.S. In order that was my first worldwide race. I went out and did that and one way or the other magically managed to win.”

Albon had been struggling to search out work in Norway and stated, “I feel I acquired about $15,000 for profitable that race. After which I used to be invited again out for the impartial Impediment Course Racing World Championships, and I gained that as effectively and I acquired perhaps $10,000 for that!” Thus, fairly by accident, within the midst of looking for a daily job, racing offered itself as a manner for Albon to earn a residing whereas discovering his toes in a brand new nation.

Throughout his first yr in Norway, in between racing the Spartan World Championships and the Impediment Course Racing World Championships, Albon discovered himself on the beginning line of his first skyrace. He stated, “Certainly one of my sponsors requested me, did I wish to exit to the Limone Skyrace. It turned out Limone was the ultimate within the Skyrunner World Collection that yr and possibly probably the most aggressive skyrace there can be that yr, and I got here 14th and was exceptionally dissatisfied in myself!”

Albon’s sponsors and others made him see that he had achieved very effectively, given the usual of competitors and his nonetheless modest expertise within the mountains. He added: “Turning up and making an attempt to race individuals like Kilian [Jornet] was fairly particular. So, the following yr, impediment course racing was how I used to be incomes my residing and skyrunning was how I used to be difficult myself as an athlete.”

Jon Albon competing in a Spartan race in Wales in 2015. Photograph: Spartan Race

In 2015, Albon headed to the northernmost level of his now house nation to participate within the iconic Tromsø Skyrace, which marked a turning level in his skyrunning profession. He stated: “I feel Tromsø was the primary skyrace I truly gained. And earlier than I did it I used to be adamant that I didn’t have the appropriate expertise and shouldn’t be there. Kilian [Jornet] gave the pre-race speak and stated, ‘That is harmful, that’s harmful.’ … I turned to my spouse and stated, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, I don’t have the appropriate expertise.’ And he or she stated, ‘Properly for those who get nervous you possibly can simply flip round.’”

In dreadful climate situations, Albon discovered himself to be extra snug with the moist and slippery Norwegian mountains than a number of the opposite worldwide runners, who have been maybe extra accustomed to dry and rocky terrain. He ran steadily in about fifth place, earlier than climbing up the sector, and passing a runner he later found was champion Spanish skyrunner Luis Alberto Hernando, to take the lead and finally win the race.

It was an enormous confidence increase for the humble-to-a-fault Albon, who stated: “That was once I all of the sudden realized that perhaps I used to be fairly good at skyrunning as effectively. After which to fulfill Kilian and Emelie [Forsberg] and win their race — that was a course that Kilian put collectively and that was what he thought-about purist skyrunning. So, to assume that I didn’t simply win a traditional skyrace — I gained one which the most effective athlete on the planet thinks represents what skyrunning needs to be — was sort of a kick.”

Tromsø grew to become a agency favourite for Albon, and a race he was drawn again to yr after yr — taking the win on 4 events.

Jon Albon on his approach to profitable the 2018 Tromso Skyrace. Photograph: Skyrunner World Collection

Albon, like many others, felt that skyrunning grew to become rather less aggressive and diluted within the years that adopted his initiation on the self-discipline. He stated, “I undoubtedly really feel like I had a little bit of a straightforward run into the skyrunning world, as a result of the Golden Path World Collection was coming about and it appeared like skyrunning was dying down a little bit bit, which has been a operating theme for the final years.”

He went on to win the Skyrunner Excessive World Collection and the Skyrunner Extremely World Collection, however felt that the dividing of the self-discipline into the assorted classifications (Excessive, Basic, and Extremely) was detrimental to the game, because it finally diluted the competitors.

In 2018, Albon was chosen to run for Staff Nice Britain on the Path World Championships — the 85k race at Penyagolosa Trails, Spain. Though already a world champion impediment course racer and skyrunner, Albon was nonetheless comparatively inexperienced to racing extremely distances. He stated: “I used to be so out of my depth … I nonetheless didn’t actually know methods to practice … I didn’t actually know methods to peak my form [fitness] particularly for an occasion, so I don’t assume I had the most effective preparation.”

Though he didn’t really feel overly glad along with his efficiency, Albon nonetheless positioned fourth, simply behind teammate Tom Evans, and stated: “I definitely discovered quite a bit and it made me wish to return and do the Path World Championships once more. I discovered quite a bit and I did a number of analysis. My spouse helped, and collectively we got here up with a coaching philosophy, and I went again the following yr and gained.”

Albon on his approach to fourth place on the 2018 Path World Championships, to assist the Nice Britain males win a workforce silver medal. Photograph: iRunFar/Kirsten Kortebein

One change Albon launched was to periodize his coaching within the build-up to a objective race. He would begin by constructing a powerful cardio base, with larger give attention to extra race-specific components within the weeks nearer to the occasion. He additionally discovered that as path operating grew to become extra of a critical pursuit, he needed to take a step again from impediment course racing.

As he lightheartedly defined, “Impediment racing is like being dragged by means of a bush backward whereas somebody is hitting you with a baseball bat — it’s not good in your physique!”

The 2019 Path World Championships in Portugal have been run over a shorter distance — 44k, which was nearer to Albon’s consolation zone. He stated: “The course I assume suited me. I’d had a poor race in Transvulcania some weeks prior, however I feel that stood to me and I managed to get in some good weeks coaching and get all of it collectively in time for the Path World Championships.”

Jonathan Albon profitable the 2019 Path World Championships. Photograph: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

Though Albon has developed a powerful affinity with racing the Path World Championships — he positioned third within the 38k brief path in Thailand in 2022 and can be returning to race the marathon-distance brief path in Austria this yr — he did stress its limitations as a world champion decider, saying: “It’s only one race. Mountains are available in all styles and sizes, so it’s a bit harsh to say that on at the present time, on such a mountain, on such a path — you’re the finest mountain runner.”

All the time in search of out probably the most aggressive challenges inside his most well-liked distance vary, in 2021 Albon headed to the UTMB competition in Chamonix, France, to race the 55k OCC — setting a large 17-minute course report. He stated, “Me and Robbie [Simpson] floor ourselves to the bone pushing one another alongside. All three of us within the prime three — me, Robbie and Petter [Engdahl] — have been all below the course report, however I feel me and Robbie actually did push one another alongside.”

Jonathan Albon, profitable the 2021 OCC in a blistering course report. Photograph: UTMB/Laurent Salino

Albon partly credit this stellar efficiency to lastly attending to the foundation of an harm that had troubled him for years. He stated, “I had an issue in my foot for 4 years — two sesamoid bones have been cracked, and it was all the time actually painful for a few years … then throughout the COVID-19 pandemic I had a possibility to have surgical procedure and get it mounted.”

Albon took benefit of the pause in competitors in 2020 to get well from the surgical procedure. He resumed coaching within the winter, and was primed for an ideal season come 2021, throughout which he climbed to the highest 5 on the world Worldwide Path Working Affiliation rankings — a rating system which he sees as a larger measure of a path athlete’s place within the world pecking order than any particular person world championships.

On resolving the harm, he stated: “It was a brand new lease on life. All of the sudden I may practice as I wished to coach, somewhat than being restricted by the foot factor.”

The next yr — coming off an excellent win on the 2022 Mont Blanc Marathon — Albon returned to the UTMB competition in France, stepping as much as the 100k distance by racing the CCC. This time he positioned second to Petter Engdahl, however had a tough race and it left him questioning whether or not racing longer ultras was a course he actually wished to go down. He stated: “It turns into fairly a unfavorable expertise if you don’t really feel such as you’re racing anymore, you’re simply surviving.”

Albon skilled abdomen points throughout the race and stated: “I couldn’t take any gels for a number of hours after which I simply felt like I used to be shifting so slowly. And I wasn’t ready to be shifting so slowly, however that’s extremely racing … Psychologically I wasn’t ready for that sort of race both, however I feel had I been in a position to gasoline correctly, I’d have been shifting quicker.”

The 2022 CCC males’s podium (l-to-r): 2. Jonathan Albon, 1. Petter Engdahl, and three. Andreas Reiterer. Photograph: UTMB

Whereas beforehand his plan had been to step as much as the 100-mile distance at UTMB for 2023, he has now revised this, saying: “Perhaps in a number of years, however for now I feel I’m going to return to CCC once more and attempt to do it correctly.”

Over the course of our chat, a recurring notice was Albon’s continuous doubting of his personal means — and his frequent shock at what he may truly obtain and the extent at which he was in a position to compete. After I pressed him on whether or not he thought this humility was a blessing or a curse, he stated that: “Confidence could make you carry out higher, however then for those who don’t assume you’re good it means you’re by no means going to stint on coaching. You’re all the time going to execute coaching in addition to you presumably can since you imagine you’ll want to, and also you’re all the time going to push as onerous as you possibly can.”

Jon Albon, cruising to victory within the 2022 Mont Blanc Marathon. Photograph: Golden Path Collection | Mont Blanc Marathon | Jordi Saragossa

Subsequent up for Albon is the 2023 Zegama Marathon, which he describes as a “loopy expertise race, it needs to be a number of enjoyable,” earlier than he as soon as once more dons the Staff Nice Britain vest for the Path World Championships. Lastly, he’ll return to CCC in August. Maybe the course wherein we are going to see this multitalented runner go down hinges on how he feels after his second effort at this epic extremely.

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