The clock read 12:44:33. Ian Sharman had just run 100 miles faster than anyone ever had on the Rocky Racoon 100 course. That is 100 miles. In 12 hours, 44 minutes, 33 seconds. That’s fast.
How fast? 7:38 per mile. Fast enough that putting any 26.2 of those miles together would have qualified all but the fastest bracket for the Boston Marathon.
How did he get here though? Where did that sort of willpower come from? The mental fortitude to run 100 miles is one thing, to do so in a pace that almost all the road runners in America can only dream of… well, that is another thing. So what is that thing?
Ian first became interested in running ultra distances after watching a documentary on TV about the Marathon des Sables, A stage race across the Sahara Desert . Feeling like he wanted a challenge and wanting a change from the corporate London job and the after hours pints that went with it, endurance running offered what he was looking for.
He left England, the corporate life and flat streets, and moved with his wife to the United States and became one of the sports top performers.
As Ian says “Previously I’d preferred team sports and had never really run unless there was a ball to chase.” How do we go from a ball sport/team sport guy to one of the top Ultra Runners in the world? It helps that he had a solid background in sport, typically being the player on the pitch who did the most running during a soccer game. It also helps to be able to handle yourself mentally.
There is only so much fitness you can gain and really it comes down to refusing quit
We figure there has to be more to it than just “refusing to quit”. It’s so far, so fast. Just how do you do it? According to Sharman, having a plan is huge. ” The most important thing is to think through potential negatives and problems so you have a plan for a lot of the things that can (and will) go wrong.”
So what happens when things go wrong? What do you do? “Other than that, dealing with unexpected issues and never giving up is what gets you to the finish” Says Sharman. “The longer you can keep things comfortable, the better and faster you’ll run, so that was my main focus when I ran 12:44. I was in good marathon shape and could have run around a 2:30 on the day so ran at a pace that felt easy then managed it through the day and kept any problems from getting out of hand.”
Many of us can’t imagine “keeping things comfortable” over that distance, but Sharman explains how it’s about balance.
Running 100 miles is like plate spinning – you have a lot of things to keep under control and can’t take your eye off any of them or the plate drops. That includes nutrition, hydration, fatigue, muscle soreness, heat stroke, cramps and a whole load more.
Avoiding injuries is the single most important thing and is difficult as you need to walk a tight-rope between pushing yourself to your boundaries and not over-straining your body..
In most races I ask myself that, especially the longer ones where the uncomfortable feelings can last a very long time. It’s a certainly that there’ll be low points in any tough race, but the atmosphere surrounding races as well as the satisfaction of completing them makes it worthwhile. Also, the fitness you gain from being able to do extreme distances allows runners to get out into the mountains and see much more than hikers or unfit people ever could.
I always make sure that outside of a race I take more liquids and food than I could need, just in case I get lost and it takes a long time to get back to civilization. It’s also good training to carry extra weight that you don’t intend to even use, except in an emergency.
I usually prefer a hydration pack like the North Face Enduro Boa pack instead of handhelds since it’s more efficient to carry the weight on my back than swinging it in my hands. But I love the fact running is a simple sport and doesn’t require much kit if you don’t want it. Whatever people choose, they should try it out as much as possible in long runs before a race so any issues are discovered before it counts.
Luckily my stomach can take almost anything so I don’t have to be too careful.
Trail running gives access to beautiful courses so pick races based on the scenery being a big factor, whenever possible.
I’ll always be a runner as long as my body lets me, which I hope is until I’m 100. I want to run all the biggest and most spectacular races around the world, whether on road, trail or whatever and to hopefully get some really good results along the way.
I found that over the past few years friends and then even strangers contacted me for advice about ultras so I eventually decided to formalize the arrangement as I enjoyed it. I now coach people via the internet and in person who come from all over the world and really love helping people avoid mistakes and build up to their potential over time. When they get a PR it almost feels like I’m getting one myself and I like passing on information and things I’ve learned over the years from training, racing and research. Everyone is different so it’s essential I get to know my clients well via Skype and email to really understand what works for them and what stumbling blocks they’ve dealt with in the past.