Anyone can rock up and have a go at an obstacle course race and the OCR season is in full swing. So, RSNG caught up with the Undefeated OCR World Champion and current Trail World Champion to find out why he thinks Ninja Warrior is kind of lame, why he never practises the Spartan Racing spear throw, how he maintains a positive mindset, and what the real value of exercising outdoors is…
RSNG You weren’t even a runner when you entered your first obstacle course race, so what drew you to it?
JON ALBON, OCR World Champ ‘I just quit skate hockey at 20, and saw this thing in the paper and it looked absolutely gnarly, called Tough Guy Race. You were going to jump over fire and drag yourself through ice and all this stuff.’
‘I’d never done anything with my life, so I figured, well, why not just try and see if I could complete this? So I went along and I did it, and after that, more and more obstacle races popped up and I kept entering them and kept winning them.’
‘I really enjoyed the training and then just kept going at it until I won the World Championships, and then carried on from there full-time.
RSNG I’ve done Tough Guy Race too, the winter edition, which was fully gnarly – do you want to just describe the feeling of going through something like that for the first time?
JA ‘Yes, it's definitely, Type 2 Fun. It's really satisfying afterwards, but at the time it feels like you're dying. You're breaking ice, you're getting electrocuted, you're going into dark, small spaces, you're getting exposed to heights.’
‘You're being exposed to all these fears and all this pain, but then that just allows you to feel more human afterwards. Because when you're sitting at a desk and you're nice and comfortable, you actually understand that that is a luxury rather than just everyday living.’
‘It really does expose you to the alternative reality that we could face by being exposed to the elements all the time!’
RSNG That's a good way of putting it – it changes your perspective, doesn’t it?
JA ‘Yes, and obstacle racing has changed a bit, also. There's a lot of different types of obstacle racing now, but that's where it has come from, and it would be cool if some of the other top elites actually understood that.’
‘Because some people think it's just Ninja Warrior, which is kind of crap, really. Because the best way to test a human isn't by how long it can hang, and Ninja Warrior pretty much just tests like your hanging ability. So there are a lot of different sides to obstacle racing.’
‘If you smile even in the worst situation, it changes something in your brain and makes everything a little bit better’
RSNG Where do you think it will go next?
JA ‘I don't know. Everyone talks about the Olympics, but it kind of sucks, because in order to be in the Olympics, it's going to have to standardise and change into something, which is going to detract from what obstacle racing is. I really don't think the Olympics suits it.’
RSNG So part of obstacle racing is the surprise of a challenge as well as tackling it?
JA ‘Yes. Every single event should be different, with different obstacles in a different order and a different way. So when you get there, you're not really sure what you're going to face, but you'll overcome it.’
‘That means that the best human that is ready for that challenge, will be able to do it. Rather than someone that always just practises the exact obstacles, which will be at that exact race. Like they can get really good at that one race, but then they won't be a really good all-round obstacle racer.’
RSNG Do you have any mental techniques for when the going gets tough and you need that extra bit of focus?
JA ‘I do like to try and smile. If you smile, even if you're in the worst possible situation, it changes something in your brain or something, and just makes everything a little bit better.’
‘So normally I smile and laugh at myself, like look at the stupid position you're in now. What the hell, how the hell did you get here? Then if you just think like that and just think how stupid life actually is, and the situation you’re in, it kind of does cheer you up a little bit.’
**RSNG Do you train using exercises for injury prevention?
‘Not really that I have done. I'm sure there are some that would have been helpful, but I think being a more overall rounded athlete is going to keep me a little bit more injury-free anyway.’
‘Because I am stronger than most runners, and I'm more of a runner than most strength athletes, I have got this sort of more rounded fitness, which I think is healthier. It keeps you less prone to injuries.’
‘We're all like endorphin junkies, aren't we, and the best endorphins you can get come from exercise!’
RSNG When it comes to preparing for obstacles, do you tackle them outside the races?
JA ‘I never actually practise any obstacles at all. I just like, go and do training which I think will improve me, which I enjoy. Things like climbing. For something like the Spartan spear throw, I think because I don't practise it, when I get to it I'm normally ultra-focused and I'm not going to miss that one spear throw.’
‘If you threw a spear every single day, you'd probably miss three out of ten. That means when you get to the race, you're likely to miss three out of ten spear throws, whereas I think when I get there, it's like my entire world revolves around throwing that spear and hitting it into the hay bale. So, normally I do hit them in the races.’
RSNG Do you find training outdoors in the cold and different conditions therapeutic, in a way?
JA ‘Yes. If you leave work, feeling stressed and then you drive home and then get in, you'll just feel stressed. Whereas if you run home, you get home and you've got more energy and you feel free, and you feel uplifted.’
‘I found that out a long, long time ago. It's just kind of nice that a lot of research is pointing to the same thing, so going out and getting into nature and expending energy can actually give you more energy.’
‘It’s is a funny thing, but we're all like endorphin junkies, aren't we, and the best endorphins you can get come from exercise!’
WHAT NEXT? Find out how Joe De Cena, founder of Spartan Racing turned running through mud into a worldwide mission…
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Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.