Never scared of pushing his body to the limit and facing new challenges head-on, inov-8 athlete Jon Albon has proved, in the last fortnight, that he is far more than just the UK’s number-one obstacle course racer.
Two weeks ago he tackled his first ultra running race. 35 miles of trails later, he crossed the finish line a convincing victor.
Not content with that, Jon took to the highest mountains in Wales last weekend to race the classic Welsh 1000m Peaks Race. At 21 miles and with 2800m of elevation gain, it’s the type of event no fell race virgin would usually consider.
Jon, however, is no ordinary athlete and duly romped round his first fell race to claim yet another outstanding win.
In this blog, Jon writes about his victory in Wales…
I have always wanted to take part in a fell race. On Sunday I got my first chance -and what a baptism of fire it turned out to be!
The race I had chosen was the Welsh 1000m Peaks Race, also known as The Snowdonia Summits Marathon -a course that takes in all five of the 1000m peaks in Wales, finally finishing on the top of Snowdon.
At 21 miles it isn’t the longest race in the world but with self navigation, 2800m of elevation gain and extremely rough terrain to contend with, I knew it was going to be really tough.
Clare Miller (also part of UK-based team inov-8 OCR) and I travelled up on the morning of the race. This meant the alarm was set for 2am, leaving us just enough time to get to Llanberis, register for the race and jump on the bus to the start line.
As we arrived the weather was atrocious. The car park had turned into a river and the organisers were facing a tough decision as to whether to cancel the event because of electric storms in the mountains. We got ourselves registered and tried to find the toilets, just as the power to the building cut out! We knew right there that we were in for an interesting day.
Thankfully the weather began to clear. By the time we stood on the start line the rain had almost stopped and the storms had passed. The wind was light and it was strangely warm and humid. This meant the jackets came off and the race was on!
I met some of Clare’s friends that were also taking part. I got chatting to Chris Burn, who had finished second in last year’s race. We ended up running the first two-thirds of this year’s race together. His knowledge of the mountains and navigational skills were superb. I definitely owe my eventual win to him.
I had a proper map in my bag but had printed small map cards which, it became clear, were not in enough detail to use with any confidence. I always knew where we were but didn’t have the confidence to strike out alone until we got to the Pyg Track for the final ascent up Snowdon. I’m not sure of the etiquette of fell racing but if it was an orienteering race I would definitely feel bad for basically following for so much of the race…
Chris and I led from the first control. It was brilliant. I forgot I was in a race and was simply enjoying running over such epic mountains. We walked many of the hardest ascents, some of which included scrambling which was a novel experience for me.
As we hit the two-thirds mark of the race at Pen-y-Pass, Chris and I were still together at the front. It was clear I was feeling stronger than Chris so he pointed me in the right direction and I forged ahead. It was a good job I did, as little did we know at the time that we were being hunted down by Colin Donnelly, who was later described to me as a fell running legend and still seems to be going strong even in his late 50s! Colin has won the race 12 times before and wasn’t going to give up a potential 13th easily. Luckily I had enough steam in me to power up the climb, only starting to slow near the summit of Garnedd Ugain, the last peak before the finish on the top of Snowdon.
Descending Garnedd Ugain, I passed Colin going up. This was the first time since leaving Chris I thought my win could be in danger and was surprised to see someone else in second place. Colin had done amazingly well to reel us in but had run out of time, as all that remained was a small climb to the summit of Snowdon. I was really pleased to cross the finish line and get the win.
Clare finished fourth woman, following a strong race, albeit with some navigational errors. I really enjoyed the race and was proud to make it home first.
Unlike a lot of other races I take part in, this race has much history behind it and has been running as a fell race since the early 70s. There are many fell races around and even though they are quite low-key they are extremely challenging.
I ran in my inov-8 x-talon 212 shoes, which, as always, felt lightweight and gave me brilliant grip on all the different terrains.
The experience should prove invaluable as I attempt a 73km race taking in 10 peaks in the Lake District at the end of the month…looks like I am getting an appetite for hills!
Before that, however, I’m racing against not only runners but also horses this weekend! Don’t believe me? Check this out: Man Versus Horse Marathon.