The United Kingdom’s Jonathan Albon followed up on his fourth place last year to win the 2019 Trail World Championships. In this interview, Jonathan talks about how the race went from start to finish, why he thinks this race might have played to his strengths, his continued dueling interests in both trail running and obstacle-course racing, and where else he’s planning to race in 2019.
For more on what happened at the race, read our results article.
Jonathan Albon, 2019 Trail World Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Jon Albon. You’re the 2019 Trail World Champion. How does that sound?
Jonathan Albon: Yeah, that sounds pretty good. It’s actually nice to do an interview with you guys where I’ve actually done well at a race.
iRunFar: Apparently there was a curse of the iRunFar interview that I didn’t know about.
Albon: Yeah, I think every time I’ve done a pre-race interview with iRunFar I have never really performed as well as I wanted to. And thankfully before this race we didn’t have an interview so I managed to win.
iRunFar: Last year you were, it was your first Trail World Championships if I remember correctly, and you finished forth just off the podium. Things are a lot different this year.
Albon: Yeah, mainly with the different course I think it’s way shorter, not quite as hot–still relatively hot for me. I just went out thinking that I don’t know how many more of these I’m going to be able to do, so let’s just go really hard. I went hard from the beginning to try and stay up with the lead pack, which is normally not my style, but I felt let’s go forward and see what happens and it came off.
iRunFar: Can you describe how the men’s race went out?
Albon: Well, it seemed to be really controlled for the first 7k. It was relatively flat. The start was absolutely insane because there were so many athletes, but, then, we got settled and we were all very happy running along. And then we got to the top before a big, technical downhill into the main aid station and it was like somebody threw a grenade in and it just went–poof. Some people could run down in the technicals and some people couldn’t. Some people made a bit of a breakaway on the uphill before that and everything got just completely blown up. The Swiss guy [Christian Mathys], he went out front and he had a good lead. I was quite a ways back in maybe fifth or sixth, but on the downhill I managed to squeeze past into second. Then I managed to hold that up until the top of main climb, and, then, squeeze into the lead and hold that from the top.
iRunFar: Can you talk about that moment when you did go into the lead. Do you remember exactly where that was?
Albon: Yeah it was, the top part of the race is kind of split into two, we did the big climb and then we had a little bit of a descent and another climb. At the base of that at the very middle part, we made contact. I thought, I’ll just stick with him until the very, very top and hopefully put in a gap on the descent. I’m glad I didn’t do that because now I found out being Swiss he really can descend and that’s his strength. But I managed to run and I just took the lead and carried on running the same speed I had done and just ultimately started making a lead. I thought, I’m not going to go against this I will just go with the flow. I’m in the lead now I will just run as hard as I can. I got to the top of the climb and was still in first and knew the descent was something of my strength. I had run out of water by that point, but I thought, It’s only 15k left or something, I’m just going to run to the finish and hopefully be fine. And it was. I was really happy to run across the line. If it had been another five or 10k, I think I would’ve been in trouble, but there was enough small rivers that I dipped my hat in a few times to try to control the heat. And I just made it across to the finish.
iRunFar: You arrived Portugal a few days early and you stayed in the town of Gondramaz, which is where the final aid station was. When our reporter said at 31k, before Gondramaz, that you had over taken the lead, I was thinking, Oh this is really good for Jon because he has now seen this section of course that is coming. Were you thinking the same thing?
Albon: Yeah, I think actually I recced that part and the top part of the course in this downhill into the main aid station. I looked into those three parts of the course, it turned out those were the three real important parts of the course. It was really nice to go on them knowing what’s coming and where and how things are going to be. I’ve never really recced a course before, but it really helps so I’m glad I came out here. It wasn’t quite as hot as I was expecting during the week, so I didn’t really get the heat acclimatization, but definitely looking around the course helped a lot.
iRunFar: The end of the course is a couple kilometers of pretty hard running, after you come out of that technical bit.
Albon: It was quite a lot in the forest to be honest and quite soft. We followed a water course and it was nice. But the last 2k–which I had run in the warm-up and thought, That didn’t take that long, that wasn’t that hard–seemed to be a very long 2k when I ran it in the race.
iRunFar: How does that happen like that? The kilometers get so long sometimes.
Albon: The camera guy was like, “Smile and enjoy it.” But I was so hot and dehydrated by that point that I just wanted to finish. I kind of forgot the team competition was done by time so I was running as hard as I could in, but I did do a few high-fives and stuff. I could’ve been a tiny bit quicker for the team, but thankfully it didn’t make too much of a difference and the team came in with silver. Once I got a drink after the finish I got to go and thank all the crowd, which was amazing. It was great. There is one staircase [at 16k in the race course] and there’s a feeling with the crowd so tight in and cheering. It’s detrimental to your performance because it makes you push that bit too hard before a big climb, but it’s just great for that many people to be out and cheering you on.
Albon: You crossed the line, they’re saying your name, they’re saying Great Britain as the Trail World Champion. What goes through your head in that exact moment?
Albon: That’s actually really different, even just racing you looked down to see a little flag [of your country on your running clothes.] That’s really different from normal racing, so it does give you a little bit of extra push to look down and see that and think about the fact that you are doing it for your country as well as just for yourself. I don’t think it really sunk in when I crossed the line, and it hasn’t really sunk in yet now. I think it’s just like another race, I guess. I never tried to give myself too much kudos and I kind of think if I do I won’t go on to win other things. I just take it in stride and hopefully this is just the start.
iRunFar: Awesome. What’s coming up for you in the rest of your 2019 season?
Albon: Like next weekend or further on?
iRunFar: I don’t know.
Albon: Next weekend I begin my obstacle-racing season so I have my first OCR next Saturday in Amsterdam and then another one after that, Spartan European Championships probably in the Dolomites two weeks later. Then I will be coming down to the Pyrenees for a van holiday and picking up Buff Epic Trail, which will be the next big mountain race. I am really looking forward to that one. I did a holiday in the Pyrenees in Vall de Boí last year and it was a beautiful valley and I really look forward to going back. So I’m going to do Buff Epic this year.
iRunFar: How do you feel about your identity as a parallel trail runner and obstacle-course racer? There was actually a dialogue somewhere on iRunFar in the last couple days where somebody said, “Is that Jon Albon the obstacle racer?” And somebody else responded, “No that’s Jon Albon the trail runner.” And somebody said, “No, no, no same person.”
Albon: It’s kind of cool because obstacle racing isn’t really known as a sport yet. It kind of has a bad reputation as being this big gym hoax where people take off their shirt and take nice muddy photos.
iRunFar: That’s not you? I’m just kidding.
Albon: There are few of those, but it is quite an athletic sport as well. It’s a really cool sport that tests your holistic fitness. It’s really cool to do both obstacle racing and then to kind of come and try to take on events like this and then show that obstacle racers are pretty good athletes as well.
iRunFar: I guess it’s some of the same endurance training?
Albon: Very much. I think training for obstacle racing helps me here and training for this definitely helps me in obstacle racing. I always just try to train for this sort of overall fitness. I think that’s why this course suited me, because there was a lot of river bits and things to dodge around and fast bits, slow bits. It was a really varied course so it suited me a lot and I’m happy that I have got such a wide skill set and I seem to be able to take on a course like that rather than if it’s dry and rocky I will win or if it’s a swamp I will win. I preferred this way. I do like swamps.
iRunFar: Well everybody’s got a love something, Jon. Congrats to you on your win of the 2019 Trail World Championships. Congrats also to Team United Kingdom on your team silver medal today.
Albon: Thank you very much. Cheers, guys.