Jonathan Albon can become Spartan millionaire overnight by landing the biggest payday in endurance running
Jonathan Albon could be a millionaire by lunchtime on Sunday.
All he has to do is win a 24-hour running race, covering 100 miles of hilly six-mile laps with obstacles including monkey bars, sandbags and walls interrupting him every half mile or so.
Oh, and his run will be in Iceland. Where it is daylight for about six hours a day and the weather forecast for the weekend is for rain, snow and sub-zero temperatures.
If succeeds, he will be $1m richer. Plus an extra $100,000 bonus for clocking up a century of miles.
Sounds simple, right? In some ways he is on familiar ground.
Albon is a professional obstacle racer – such is the modern sporting world that one can make a living out of crawling under electrified wire and submerging yourself in water while competing against others – and has experience of 24-hour races in which “you break your body down then carry on”.
But in the landscape of ultra-endurance racing, this is uncharted territory. Never in the modern era has there been such a prize on offer.
In the late 19th century promoters used to put up huge cash prizes for the winners of six-day races – and the events used to draw hordes of voyeuristic spectators – but the largest purse on offer these days for an ultra-distance race is $10,000.
Indeed, Spartan, the organisers of the series of races that Albon is competing in, did not envisage the situation arising.
And Albon admits that if it wasn't for the carrot of $1m, he would be putting his feet up and reflecting on a long, successful season.
“I don't need the money,” he tells i. “I have had a really successful season and have made enough to carry on running full time.
“[But] if it wasn't for the money, then I wouldn't be racing. I just need to know if it is possible. Who knows what is possible?
“It will be horrible – I know what these races feel like – but when I look back in hindsight I am sure I will say that I had fun. This has never been done before and I have to know whether it is possible.
“I don't think I will ever get my head around what I have to do to run a 24-hour obstacle race.
“I have done one before and I do know that the first six hours are when you break your body down, then the rest of it you just carry on. I just hope I will do it smiling and singing a song rather than crying.”
Albon's ambition of flying out of Iceland on Sunday with $1m in his pocket is a tall order.
The race in question, the ominously titled Spartan Ultra World Championship, is the finale of a long, gruelling season for the Essex-born athlete.
In the summer, Joe De Sena, the founder of the Spartan series of races, said that if a runner wins the World Championship in Tahoe, Nevada in September, the treble of the Trifecta in Greece in November and covers 100 miles in the 24-hour Iceland ordeal, he would stump up a cool million.
What is obstacle racing?
Obstacle racing's most recent boom began in the 1990s. It involves participants running courses from 5km to ultra-marathon distances, with obstacles such as mud water hazards, low-rigged barbed wire, tyre lifts and assault-course style walls to tackle. There is no federation or governing body – each race organiser can make their events as difficult as they like. On some courses fire and even electrified wire come into play. Jonathan Albon insists he has had assurances from Spartan that they will make this weekend's course at a level where a 100-mile finish is possible in 24 hours.
It sounded impossible. Last year it was. The 2017 winner of the Iceland race, America's Joshua Fiore, covered 71 miles.
But Albon heads into this weekend's race, which starts at midday on Saturday and finishes at the same time on Sunday, having won both the Tahoe event and the one in Greece.
And now Spartan and De Sena are faced with the prospect of paying out.
Albon, who lives in Norway after moving there with his wife, seems taken aback at the attention his final race of he season has received – he likes the solitude and simplicity of running.
He admits he can't stand the gym, doesn't follow a regimented training programme and shuns protein shakes and fitness watches in favour of real food and time outside. It is an admirable philosophy.
And he says his path into elite obstacle racing was unplanned; he simply discovered he was good at it and found that the prize money on offer was enough to make a living out of.
Even so, he wonders if there is a little serendipity attached to the $1m race falling in a year where he has been in unbeatable form.
‘I don't believe there is a god, but…'
“I am starting to wonder whether my way into racing has all come down to this,” he says.
“I don't believe there is a god but it is pretty cool how there is the offer of all this money and I am the only one in a position where I can win it. My season should have finished weeks ago, but here I am.
“I had to race a 50km event in Malaysia because I discovered I hadn't actually run a qualifying race for Iceland.
“I arrived in Singapore a couple of days before, drove across the border, ran the race [his time was a shade over six hours – enough to qualify for Iceland but some way off winning pace] and was back in Norway by Tuesday.
“Now all I have to do is pack and stop worrying about whether I am fit enough or whether my season has gone on too long and just race.”
The prospect of becoming a millionaire overnight – literally – means he will have an entourage of friends and family making the trip to Iceland.
“I have warned them, that this could be an absolute shit-show,” he said. “I could be crying and vomiting after six hours.
“If I get to the stage of where it looks impossible to run 100 miles then I will stop. I know there will be a lot of people in the race who are on a journey of self discovery, but I already know what it feels like to run a 24-hour obstacle race. It hurts.
“And if I can't win the money, then I will stop running, go into a sauna or a hot spring and have a beer. That way I can be skiing next week and reflecting on what has already been a good season.”
For more information about Spartan and to register for 2019 events visit www.spartanrace.uk/en
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