Runner Spotlight – Ian Sharman

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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.

So we see that you need some serious mental focus, we know that you have to have a plan, but what is the biggest challenge of running this kind of mileage? You can’t just show up and run 100 miles, the training involved is intense. Sharman knows he has been fortunate, staying healthy enough, and hungry enough to keep running. Staying mindful of any signals that suggest over training. He stretches, gets massage, lifts in the gym.
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..
TrailsROC is a Trail site, first and foremost, and we were surprised to hear that Sharman, who has run some dominating times on trails, doesn’t run trails the majority of the time. In fact, he splits it up all over the place, track, road, trail, montains, deserts, jungles etc.
Why though? Why run all of those different surfaces in order to run fast on crazy trail races? For Sharman it is the variety. He states the variety helps him feel challenged, especially when he is running something that is not his strength (shorter races and steep uphils).
Sharman, like so many of us has been out there on that tough run, asking “why am I doing this.” It it just another challenge endurance athletes face. The inner conversation that happens when you are out on your own.
So when does it happen to Sharman?  When does he say to himself “why”.
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.
This conversation is often overheard by endurance runners. If your car broke down, you could run home. If you got stuck out in the woods and it was getting dark, you could run out faster than someone else would hike out. If there was an emergency and a car was not an option, you could run.
What about getting lost though? TrailsROC often hosts “Learn the Trail” events to show people different trail systems, but sometimes, even the pro’s get lost, and off course. Sharman says he has been off course in both races and in training runs, he backtracks, and is starting to use maps, and even garmin routes preloaded. He has  recently planned a 40-mile circumnavigation of Mt. Hood in Oregon using maps and garmin.
Sharmin has dome advice for those who want to play it safe when they hit long trail runs.
  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.
The great question though is how to carry that extra weight? What do you use to train for 100 miles, what do you wear? What do you eat, what do you drink?
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.
Sharmin says he uses all of the Clif Bar products because he loves the taste. Yet in typical ultra runner fashion, he adds in food like fruit, pretzles, and other aid station food. It also helps a ton that he is able to keep it down…
Luckily my stomach can take almost anything so I don’t have to be too careful.
Be sure to try out gear and nutrition before your races and really long runs. Nothing is worse than trying something new and when you are 10 miles in realizing it wont work and having it ruin your race (and all of your prep).
In addition to nutriton, gear, and focus Ian has some advice for runners interested in joining us out on the trails
Don’t do too much, too soon, especially if you don’t have a long history of playing sport or running – there’s a long time to build up to longer distances (I did ultras in my first year of running but waited 5 years to run a 100 miler, which is a different beast than even a 100k).
Trail running gives access to beautiful courses so pick races based on the scenery being a big factor, whenever possible.
Great advice Ian, and for some photos of the trails check our facebook page here and our Photos from the trail page here 
 After breaking course records, going under 13 hours for a 100 mile race, piling on the miles, we wanted to know what is next for Ian Sharman. What are his plans with running. Will he be around for a long time even though he has accomplished so much already?
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.
 We hope so too Ian!
 We also wanted to give Ian a chance to talk about his coaching. With all of his running experience is makes sense he would be able to help other athletes accomplish goals just as he has. Personal one on one time seems to be the key to his success as a coach
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.
If you would like to keep up with Ian via the web, check the following.
For advice, race reports, and articles about ultras: http://sharmanian.blogspot.com/
His coaching website is http://www.sharmanian.com/.
Twitter as @sharmanian