To fine tune my training in the last couple of months before my big race, the Dolomiti Extreme Trail, I decided to use the Albon app. Now, only a couple of weeks later, I’m already stopping with it. See, I think it’s a great app, but just not for me. Let me elucidate.
Okay, let’s start with Jonathon Albon, in case you’ve never heard of him. Albon is a top trail runner. I mean, the guy finished third at Zegama Aizkorri last weekend. Last year he finished second at UTMB Mont-Blanc CCC (100 kilometers) and won Stranda Fjord Trail Race in Norway, Marathon du Mont-Blanc and Greenweez MaXi-Race. Just to name a few. Besides that the guy has won the Spartan, the Trail and the Ultra Skyrunning World Championships. So, if somebody knows how to race, it’s Albon.
Now racing is one thing, making training schedules is another. Yet, Albon has been a coach since the beginning of 2020. At least, if we have to believe his website. If you want he can guide you personally (online), including feedback on your key training sessions. On top of that you can have one on one conversations with him to analyse and review your performance.
Great of course, but it will cost you 265 euros a month. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s totally worth it. Plus I know how time consuming it is to guide people; even if it’s online. But still, it’s a lot of money. Not everybody can put that aside for her or his hobby every month.
The Albon app
Luckily Albon made an app as well. The first time I heard about it, I was listening to The Runner’s World UK Podcast. Elsey Davis, trail runner, marathon runner and doctor, said she used the app to plan her training sessions. If it worked for her, it could work for me, I thought. It didn’t. You’ve probably guessed that already.
Let’s start with what makes the app great and why it could work for you.
The focus of the app is your upcoming big race. As soon as you start the app, you can tell it which race has the biggest priority for you. The training schedule it will come up with, is totally focused on that race: base building, sharpening, tapering and recovery. All other races you do are training races.
With a training race, you can only tell upfront how long it will take you. You can’t correct that afterwards. That’s a problem for me. See, I have no clue how long it will take me to do a race. Last Saturday I ran ERYRI 25k at Ultra Trail Snowdonia. I can guess how long 25 kilometers takes me, but not how long it takes me to climb 1.300 meters. In the Ardennes I can, because I know the area, in Snowdonia I can’t. Plus I’ve never had to climbed 8 kilometers in a row before. So upfront I can only guess, but I can’t change my guess later.
How can an app tell me what to do the week after a hard race, if I can’t tell it how hard the race was? But okay, let’s keep focusing on the pros.
Week by week
Although the training phases are determined up front, based on your priority race, the training plan is made week by week. Every week you tell the app how many key sessions you can do. A key session is a training session you don’t want to miss. All other training sessions are planned around them.
I like this flexibility. There are weeks I can do more, and weeks I can do less training sessions. The app also gives you the option to move sessions around. So I can move a key session to a day I have more time, or do a hard training on a day I feel more rested.
The best part of the app is the variety. Tuesday next week, for example, I have a power session on my schedule. However, the app gives me 3 options. I can do Hill Sprints, Biking Hill Sprints or a Stairs Workout.
Let’s say I choose the Hill Sprints. Now I have the option to do 6, 8 or 10 sprints. So even within one session there is variety.
Loads of information
If you don’t know how to do Hill Sprints, what to do as cross-training or how to fuel, the app will tell you. It is full of explanation videos; from Rate of Perceived Exertion to Training on the Flat and from Race philosophies to Lower Body strength sessions.
On top of that, there is a message board, where you can ask questions. Often Jon Albon is answering himself, which I think is amazing. I mean, although you’re using – and only paying for – the app, you kind of have Albon as a personal online coach.
Not for me
Lots of pros, so you’re probably wondering why the app is not for me. The main reason; I live in the Netherlands.
Let’s look at my Power training session of coming Tuesday again. As I told you, the app gives me 3 options: Running Hill Sprints, Biking Hill Sprints, Stairs Workout. For me, that’s one option. Where I live there are no hills. Not even a small one. To get to a hill, I have to drive 45 minutes. One way.
Most training sessions in the app require hills. There is a logic behind it. It’s made for trail runners. Most trail runs have hills. Even the nice ones I do, but for those nice ones I travel to Scotland, England, Wales, Belgium and Italy. I can’t do that for every training session. Sara will divorce me. So I have to prepare for altitude in a different way.
The second reason; I don’t like to work with Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). I like to work with heart rate. I can easily keep an eye on that during a run, and afterwards my Garmin is telling me what I’ve done. For me that’s more precise than RPE.
See, if I feel stressed, I can easily run hard, without having the idea I’m going pushing. Yet, my heart rate will tell me. Okay, it’s easy to put the RPE on the heart rate scale. RPE 1 and 2 is heart rate zone 1, RPE 3 and 4 is zone 3 and so on, but that doesn’t feel right. Because when a training session feels easy, but my heart rate monitor says I did most of it in zone, 3 I start to doubt what to fill in. On Albon’s scale it would be 4 (easy), but for my 80/20 training it would be zone 3 (medium).
The last thing I don’t like; it’s time consuming. Next week I’ve got 2 key sessions, one core session and one steady session. Easy. If that would be it, but it’s not. For every session I have to choose what I do. For my steady session, for example, I can choose from: Steady Run, Steady Fartlek, Progressive Run, Steady Cross-Training. If I choose Steady Run, I have to choose again between Flat, Undulating and Steep.
Afterwards I have to log the training sessions, fill in the RPE. All great, if you have the time for it. A pro, like Elsey Davis, probably has. A semi pro maybe. Maybe even an amateur who wants to get everything out of his running. I think I’m happy with my Google sheets, where I write down my training plan once a month and feed back once a week.
So that’s it. That’s my view. Give it a try, maybe the app will work for you.