Mil­lion-dol­lar record-breaker The un­known Bri­tish ath­lete poised to cash in on an amaz­ing sport

Meet the Bri­tish un­known who could eclipse Farah and En­nis-Hill if he wins a bizarre race in Ice­land

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - News - Ben Bloom ATH­LET­ICS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Which Bri­tish ath­lete has re­ceived the big­gest pay cheque for win­ning a race? By mid­day next Sun­day, the an­swer could be some­one most will al­most cer­tainly never have heard of – not that Jon Al­bon is con­cerned by a lack of recog­ni­tion.

De­spite his mul­ti­ple world ti­tles and No 1 sta­tus in two dif­fer­ent sports, Al­bon’s name will not be men­tioned at any end-of-year award cer­e­monies.

Liv­ing a quiet moun­tain life on the out­skirts of Ber­gen, Nor­way, Al­bon has lit­tle in com­mon with Mo Farah, Jes­sica En­nis-Hill or any of Bri­tain’s house­hold name ath­letes, but he is star­ing at the kind of $1 mil­lion (£780,000) car­rot none of his more recog­nis­able peers have ever en­coun­tered.

All he must do is run 100 miles, climb 7,000 me­tres and tra­verse more than 400 ob­sta­cles – all in freez­ing con­di­tions and in less than 24 hours – to dwarf any amount of prize money ever won by a Bri­tish ath­lete. It may not even be pos­si­ble. But if any­one can do it, Al­bon can.

For some­one on the cusp of fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity for life, Al­bon is laugh­ably re­laxed about the im­pli­ca­tions of what he is about to at­tempt – so much so that he con­firmed he would travel to Ice­land for the Spar­tan Ul­tra World Cham­pi­onship and take on the $1mil­lion chal­lenge only 10 days be­fore the race. It is typ­i­cal of some­one who de­scribes him­self as “an ac­ci­den­tal ath­lete”.

Al­bon, 29, was never meant to be­come a skyrun­ning world cham­pion – it just so hap­pened that moun­tain­run­ning mul­ti­ple marathon dis­tances at al­ti­tudes of 2,000m came nat­u­rally to him.

And he never set out to win the past five ob­sta­cle-course rac­ing world ti­tles – he just found he was good at run­ning long dis­tances while stop­ping fre­quently to climb walls, flip tyres and nav­i­gate dozens of other ar­du­ous chal­lenges along the way.

So hav­ing won the Spar­tan World Cham­pi­onship and Spar­tan Tri­fecta World Cham­pi­onship to go two-thirds of the way to the un­prece­dented $1mil­lion bonus he could win in Ice­land next week, Al­bon is stick­ing to the care­free at­ti­tude that has got him this far.

“I don’t need $1 mil­lion,” he says, bluntly. “It would ob­vi­ously be very nice if I did win it, but I can’t be too bummed if it doesn’t hap­pen.

“I think it’s best to go, try and have fun, have a smile on my face and see what hap­pens.”

A keen, if not hugely suc­cess­ful, sports­man in his youth, Es­sex-born

Al­bon tried his first ob­sta­cle-course race aged 20 – an ex­pe­ri­ence he de­scribes as “f----- up and re­ally cold”, but one that had him hooked.

De­spite no back­ground in ath­let­ics, he rapidly ex­celled and, by the time he quit his job as a Lon­don Un­der­ground build­ing sur­veyor to move with his Nor­we­gian wife Hen­ri­ette to Ber­gen in 2014, he had be­come ac­cus­tomed to win­ning. Vic­tory in the Spar­tan World Cham­pi­onship and Ob­sta­cle Course Rac­ing World Cham­pi­onship that year brought $25,000 (£19,600) in prize money and meant he never had to find a job in his adopted coun­try. He has run for a liv­ing ever since. “Ev­ery­thing in my ca­reer has just hap­pened on its own,” he says. “I’ve just gone with the flow. I never wanted to be any­where spe­cific. I think out­side the box and just go with it.

“If you’ve got good morals, take life as it comes and give it your all, then good things will hap­pen.”

That laid-back out­look is ev­i­dent in ev­ery­thing he does. Al­bon has never had a coach and does not stick to a spe­cific train­ing plan, pre­fer­ring to do what­ever he feels like, when­ever he feels like it.

“The main thing is I can’t force my­self to do bor­ing stuff,” he says. “I’ve been mean­ing to go to the gym for three weeks now but I haven’t been able to make my­self – it’s just so bor­ing.

“I like to go run­ning, I like to ski in the win­ter and I like to go boul­der­ing, which is good for grip­ping. Those things give me a good base and I like to cy­cle, like to swim a bit – I’ll do a bit of any­thing.

“It makes me healthy. You look at some­one like Mo Farah, and does he ac­tu­ally look healthy? If the whole UK pop­u­la­tion tried to copy Mo Farah’s life­style, they would have so many prob­lems.

“With ob­sta­cle-course rac­ing, it’s a healthy fit­ness that hu­mans should have, where they are good at bal­ance, speed and strength.”

That un­reg­i­mented at­ti­tude also ex­tends to his diet: “I just eat food. I don’t take any pills, vi­ta­min tablets, sup­ple­ments or any­thing, ex­cept for gels when I race and iron tablets when at al­ti­tude.

“There are so many ath­letes that need their beet­root shot be­fore a race or this pro­tein shake at that time – what would hap­pen if there was a zom­bie apoca­lypse and this per­son couldn’t run away if they didn’t have their beet­root shot?

“Who knows if you’re meant to have a bit of al­co­hol or not? Who knows if you’re meant to have a pro­tein shake or not?

“Peo­ple just make it up and most of the peo­ple mak­ing it up are try­ing to sell stuff.”

The un­con­ven­tional ap­proach is cer­tainly work­ing. He has lost just two of the 18 races he has com­pleted this year, at dis­tances rang­ing from 3km to al­most 100km and across both dis­ci­plines of skyrun­ning and ob­sta­cle-course rac­ing.

Whether that means he will win the $1mil­lion next week is un­cer­tain, though.

Vic­tory in the 24-hour race is not enough, as the bonus is only on of­fer if Al­bon also com­pletes 100 miles in that time.

It is a bru­tal task. Last year’s win­ner man­aged only 71 miles but, as long as the weather is kind, he feels there is a “mas­sive chance”.

As for the money it­self, he has no grand plans should he win it. The cash would mean he did not have to chase prize money com­pet­ing in so many races round the world. But aside from that, not a lot would change.

“We’ve got a sim­ple life­style, so we don’t need lots of money,” he says. “We don’t buy use­less stuff – we don’t even have a TV.

“It means that if I do fall off a ridge or drop down dead, then my wife will have enough money for the rest of her life. That’s nice.”

‘Look at some­one like Mo Farah, and does he ac­tu­ally look healthy?’

High hopes: Jon Al­bon trains at high al­ti­tude near his home in Ber­gen, Nor­way, as he plots his course for Ice­land and the Spar­tan Ul­tra World Cham­pi­onships. He is no stranger to vic­tory in these gru­elling con­tests (right)

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