The U.K.’s Jonathan Albon, who has proven successful at both steeper Skyrunning-style races and longer ultramarathons, will use all his skill sets at the long and mountainous 2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. In this interview, Jon talks about how he trained only by skiing this winter and his recent return to running, how he raced a short skyrace in Japan just three weeks before this long event, and what he thinks about Transvulcania’s diverse men’s competition.
Jonathan Albon Pre-2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar and I’m with Jonathan Albon. It’s a couple days before the 2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. How are you?
Jonathan Albon: I’m good. How are you?
iRunFar: I’m good. You arrived on the island yesterday?
Albon: Yes, yesterday.
iRunFar: And it’s your first time to La Palma?
iRunFar: But not your first time to the Canary Islands.
Albon: No, I had a family holiday when I was around 10 to Gran Canaria. It’s a standard English thing.
iRunFar: I was going to say, like a good British family, you took your Canary holiday.
Albon: Yes. We went dolphin watching, but we didn’t see any dolphins. We did everything we were meant to do, I think [on the checklist of classic tourist activities].
iRunFar: You visited some good buffets and hotels and spent time on the beach…
Albon: Yeah, all the standard stuff and got a bit sunburnt.
iRunFar: You brought home a standard British sunburn. Now you’re back for round two in the Canary Islands for a little bit of a different style of vacation.
Albon: This is going to be a little bit more exciting, I think. It’s going to be a pretty big dance and I’m really looking forward to it.
iRunFar: We were just talking off-camera about how interesting the men’s field is this year. It’s composed of lots of different types of guys.
Albon: Yes, it seems like offering a big [Skyrunner World Series] bonus score for this race means that a lot of really good skyrunners are here. Then, Transvulcania is already a massive race on its own, so you’ve got a load of racers who’ve always been coming out to do this race and then you’ve got other top athletes: ski-mountaineering athletes, ultrarunners, mountain runners, it’s a massive eclectic mix. It’s going to be really fun to race against the people I know and am friends with, but also some other people that I’ve never run against.
iRunFar: Yeah, I was going to ask you how you feel about that. You are pretty devoted to the Skyrunning circuit over the last couple of years, in terms of including those races in your race schedule. You see the same types of guys at those races, but at this race, like you said, you’re going to be running with people you don’t normally see in Skyrunning.
Albon: Yeah, I love Skyrunning. It’s always nice to go see different mountains and race against different athletes. It’s kind of fun to go try my hand against other athletes, but also, being down here it’s not exactly the terrain I’m used to as it’s like dry, rocky trails. This will be pretty fun, but pretty challenging.
iRunFar: I was going to say, you’re British but you live in Norway, which are both lands of wet moss, rocks, swamps. Here we are on a dry island. There’s dust that comes up off the trail, and exposed, dry rocks. It’s a totally different feel for you.
Albon: Yeah, I think it is different. I think I certainly see a big difference in my results when I go from one to the other. I think on the Scandinavian-type terrain, I’m so at home. A little bit of snow, wet trails–I can run my heart out. Cooler temperatures as well. Whereas down here, it’s totally different. It’s more about making sure I drink enough, making sure my legs don’t get too pounded by the harder ground. It’s a different ball game.
iRunFar: And keeping the sunscreen on your fair skin.
Albon: [Chuckles] Yeah, and not letting it sweat into my eyes.
iRunFar: I’m American, but all of my ancestry comes from the British Isles, too, so I know about the sunscreen thing.
Albon: I might have to go and buy some, actually.
iRunFar: So, looking at your year last year, you did a bunch of the shorter-distance skyrunning-type stuff, things of up to about 50k. But you also raced the longer Trail World Championships. I presume you’ve got a similar focus going on this year? What’s your plan for this year?
Albon: Yeah, the main problem last year was that I got sick at Andorra [at the Skyrace Comapedrosa] so I missed out on the sky race there. That kind of ruined my entire chances at doing the series. A sort of saving grace was the Skyrunning World Championships which was in Scotland, so I did the ultra course there and won. That was nice, but it was a shortened course due to bad weather, so it wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for.
Whereas this year, I’m planning to do the series again. I’ve got the bare minimum of races to do the series, but I think I’ll add in another one if a race doesn’t go to plan. So, I’ve already done Japan [at the Mt. Awa Skyrace] , which was shortened. Now I’ll be here for 75k, then I’ll be at Buff Epic Trail 42k and back at the Tromsø Skyrace. So, it’s around sort of this 40-to-70-kilometer mark is a nice distance, I think. You can push hard in a race and also you feel pretty tired afterward, but not completely destroyed. I like these sorts of races where you can really get up into the mountains. It’s not just like a short up-and-down. You really get up into the wilds.
iRunFar: Just a couple weeks ago you were in Japan racing the Mt. Awa Skyrace, which ended up being 21k in the end?
Albon: 21k and the first 5k were flat and on road. So I don’t know how we did something like 1,500 meters climb over something like 13k. It was a great experience. They were really nice trails, really fun. It was a really, really tough race because it was just so short. We were pushing so hard. I went so hard on the final descent and managed to catch the leader but then my legs were just completely empty. I think that’s probably a result of skiing just far too much in the winter and not running quite enough. So, maybe an extra session of really pounding my legs and then doing a bit of flat afterward would’ve been nice. Live and learn. Here I am for 75k three weeks later.
iRunFar: Yeah. I was going to say, just a couple weeks later… you were two or two-and-a-half hours in that last race and here you’re going to take it up to seven?
Albon: I’m slightly more used to seven than two. But, it’s the first one of the year, isn’t it, so you never know how it’s going to go. I’m just going to have to go with the flow, try and have fun and see how I do.
iRunFar: This course is pretty unique in that there’s a ton of vertical packed in, relatively speaking. I mean, not compared to some of the sky races you’re used to doing, but for an ultramarathon course there’s kind of a lot of vertical. But there’s also a ton of runnable terrain. Have you done any specific training for that? Or are you just trying to ramp up your training in miles?
Albon: I’ve never seen the course or been here, so it’s hard to do specific running training. I did notice at Mt. Awa that my legs were destroyed on the downhill. I know we’ve got a 2,000-meter downhill from the top down to the sea here. So, I did try to run just a bunch of really hard, runnable downhill to try and pound my legs a bit.
iRunFar: How did that feel?
Albon: They’re still a little bit sore, to be honest. I say that I’ll go and get a massage and then we’ll see how it goes. I don’t know, I’ve been trying to ramp up my mileage slowly. I’m up to 100k per week now and I’m almost going to run that in this race alone.
iRunFar: You can get your training week in on Saturday.
Albon: Since I started skiing in the winter, my training has changed completely, but that’s also kind of fun. It’s kind of a learning experience every year when you take sort of a big off-season and ski a lot more. It’s got its benefits and its drawbacks, but I’m learning and I hope it’s going to pay off.
iRunFar: There are tons of examples from guys and women in the sport right now for whom it totally works to get off your feet and ski all winter and then have fresh legs in the spring.
Albon: Yeah, it feels a lot more healthy, just to give the body a rest from the impact of the running because it takes its toll on you. Okay, maybe one year goes fine or two years go fine, but if you want to be running until you’re 60, you want to keep your body in good shape. I don’t think running 12 months of the year is really the best thing for it. I’m glad I found skiing, which, as a type of cross training, is really good for you. It’s really low-impact, and it’s just a lot of fun, too.
iRunFar: So does that mean you still want to be running when you’re 60?
Albon: I want to run until I die [laughs].
iRunFar: Well, hopefully that doesn’t happen this weekend.
Albon: No, I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’m actually really looking forward to the course. I looked on a map and we go up from the sea and we’re pretty much on ridge the entire time, up to the mountain where you skirt on the ridge around the rim of the volcano, all the way back down to the sea again. Then we’ve got 300 meters of climb right at the end.
iRunFar: Just a mean little hill, isn’t it?
Albon: That’ll be in the heat of the day as well. I’m not looking forward to that last half hour or hour, but I’m sure I’ll get through it and sure I’ll learn a bit.
iRunFar: Grin and bear it, and pull a banana from one of the trees as you pass by. I’m just kidding. All right, well, best of luck to you on making your way across the island this weekend. We’ll see you out there.
Albon: Thank you very much. Cheers, guys!