MR interview: Jon Albon

OCR legend turned Trail Running champ

Jonathan (Jon) Albon is not a household name and yet, in running circles, there are very few who haven’t heard of him. This year saw him crowned World Trail Champion to add to his exploits in recent years that have included Skyrunning World Champion, Spartan Race world champion and Obstacle Course Racing world champion.

Living in the Norwegian town of Bergen, Albon, who is a dryrobe ambassador, first caught the attention of the international running community in 2015 when, as an unknown obstacle course racer, he won Kilian Jornet’s Tromsø Skyrace with a lead of 17 minutes ahead of Luis Alberto Hernando, then the current Skyrunner ultra world champion.

We caught up with him to find out what makes him tick.

MR: IF you ran a flat road marathon, what do you think you could run?

JA: If I properly trained for it – and considering I ran 2.26 at the notoriously-hilly Bergen Marathon – I would hope for sub 2.20. But it’s a difficult question to answer if you’ve never actually done it. The thought of doing more ‘conventional’ races doesn’t sound that much fun. It would mean I would be specifying my fitness so much that it wouldn’t be healthy any more either. I would rather be more of an all-round athlete.

MR: Is fun a key part of your rationale behind your racing?

JA: I think fun is the over-riding element. Of course, I like to be competitive and I need to do races to earn sponsorship. But ultimately if it’s not enjoyable, I won’t be doing it for a very long time. It needs to be fun for me to continue to do what I’m doing.

MR: People have written that you’re the ‘best runner no one has ever heard of’. It’s an interesting title: what are your thoughts?

JA: It could be because I moved to Norway or it could be because I choose to do events that are more obscure. But you need to be competing in the Olympics with TV coverage or be really good on social media, which is not something I enjoy that much. It’s helped me, to be honest, to be under the radar as I’ve not had to change my approach to training.

MR: You won the World Trail title this year: was that a surprise?

JA: I knew I was in good shape before the race, but I played my cards very close to my chest. I’d come fourth the year before, but that was a completely different type of race. This year’s course suited me a lot more. I wanted to get to the race and do everything I could to be ready. I’ve got in to this habit of starting slowly and picking it up and taking people at the end. It’s a great tactic and you enjoy the race more but you rarely win big races doing that. So I decided to go out at the front and run hard and hope to have a magical day – and that is exactly what happened.

MR: Did you do anything specifically to prepare:

JA: I’m always changing my training and finding better things that I could be doing. I did change quite a few things this year that I’m sure have helped. I cut back on ‘useless’ running quite a bit and mainly did quality sessions. My easy training in the winter is all skiing anyway and I’ve also done a lot of steep cycling. This has helped a lot because I felt that I didn’t have this ‘load’ in my body which made me tired. I also went to recce the course a week early that I’ve never done before.

MR: Do you seek advice from other athletes or do you focus on what’s right for you?

JA: I very much focus on what’s right for me – what is good for me and what isn’t. But obviously I know a lot of athletes and I talk to a lot of athletes and read books about training. So I guess it’s a bit of both. This year, I have done all my easy training at a much lower heart rate – 120 instead of 140 – and I still feel that I’m getting a good base training.

MR: Talking about heart rate, do you find that you can keep your heart rate a high level in all your disciplines?

JA: With sports like orienteering and skiing, you can keep your heart rate high because you’re using your whole body. But with cycling, it’s much harder – unless I’m in a dark tunnel without lights and there are cars passing me!

MR: How much is running actually part of your training?

JA: In January I didn’t run at all, it was all just skiing. In February, I started with 5km a week and just upped it from there. Up until I ran the Transvulcania, I’d only run a maximum of a 55km week. After that I kept pushing it up so that I could run 100km weeks, but I don’t really run much more than that. In the winter, I’m skiing between 12,000-15,000m of climb a week and in the yearsummer I’m running around 4,000m climb a week and the same again on a bike.

MR: The varied nature of your training must make you more resilient to injuries?

JA: You could train hard as a runner with just running and maybe keep that going for a couple of years. But after that, you seem to get what I’d describe as a ‘swelling’ in your body and you just feel awful. It’s not until you take three months off that you realise that other humans don’t feel like that: it’s just you who feels rubbish all the time. Now I’ve stopped running in the winter I feel like my career isn’t just going to be for the next five years – I could be running for the next 25 years!

MR: Is there anything in the racing calendar you haven’t done that you want to?

JA: There are big races that would be fun to experience, like Sierre-Zinal or UTMB. I’m not the sort of person who has big goals and aspirations. My key advice to anyone is that whatever you do, you have to enjoy it: if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t want to do it. It should be part of your lifestyle.

Jonathan Albon is a brand ambassador of dryrobe, producers of the world’s most advanced change robe. To find out more visit www.dryrobe.com

David Castle

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