We caught up with 33-year-old Scott Ultra Running Team member Ian Sharman and here’s what he had to say about all things Ultra:
TGN: Ian, first off let us say thank you for stepping into the spotlight and sharing your story with our readers. We’ve followed your running career for a few years now and are excited to pick your brain. So tell our readers: what is your main discipline or sport that you participate in?
TGN: For those readers who don’t know exactly what an “Ultra” is, it’s anything over 26.2 but usually refers to 50K- 100 mile events. So what part of the country do you live in Ian?
Ian: California, USA. But I’m a Brit and have only been in the United States. since 2009.
TGN: You’re a pretty established runner here in the states Ian, so what class do you compete at?
Ian: Ultras aren’t a big money sport, but I combine full-time racing and online coaching, so would have to describe it as semi-pro.
TGN: Alright Ian, our readers want to know what it’s like to compete as an Ultra Runner at the semi-pro level.
Ian: The experience is very similar for all runners and it’s a very inclusive sport. Even the fiercest competitors are extremely friendly, so in the early miles of a race I’m usually running along chatting to existing and new friends. Even late in the race I really believe we want each other to do well although we still want to beat each other. Nobody wants to see other runners fail and they want to win by beating competitors on their best day, not their worst.
TGN: The community among endurance athletes truly is amazing, full of camaraderie and respect. Ian, what made you decide to be an ultra runner and how has it affected your life?
Ian: I saw a TV documentary about the Marathon des Sables, a multi-day ultra in the Sahara Desert in 2004. At the time I wasn’t a runner but it looked like a great adventure. That same mentality pervades all the ultra events and they give runners a chance to travel the world and see spectacular jungles, mountains, deserts and almost any location you can imagine.
TGN: Isn’t it amazing where we first draw our inspiration from? So what are your biggest goals and aspirations for this season? Any long-term goals?
Ian: This year I’d love to win the Western States 100, the most prestigious ultra in the US. I’ve run it four times, with a best of fourth last year and have been slowly improving through the last few attempts. I’m also returning to the Leadville Trail 100 to defend my 2013 title. Longer term there are so many events I’d love to go to but the biggest goal is probably to place in the top 10 of the Comrades ultra in South Africa – the biggest ultra in the world.
TGN: Amazing, those are some impressive goals, Ian. Do you follow any strict training plans to help you perform at peak level on race day?
Ian: As a coach I’m very focused on constantly adjusting my own training and listening to the advice I’d give to others rather than just plugging ahead with runs as planned, even if my body tells me otherwise. I also use races to help me train, like a 50k trail run in the build up to a 100-miler.
TGN: What is your biggest accomplishment as an ultra runner? or scariest?
Ian: I think the toughest thing I’ve done is setting the record for the Grand Slam of ultra running in 2013, involving 4 of the oldest 100 milers in a 10-week period. However, the scariest moment was my first trip to the Marathon des Sables where I drank too much water, got hypothermia and fainted twice on the start line in the desert on stage 2. That’s the only time I’ve ever fainted.
TGN: Those are some crazy experiences! Scary stuff, we are glad you pushed past those moments to continue in your sport!
TGN: Often as endurance athletes we find ourselves relying on a vast array of gear, in ultra running what are the necessities to compete at your level?
Ian: Running is a very simple sport at its heart and that’s one of the appealing factors. However, I run a lot in sunny, hot mountains so all the gear I use needs to stand up to extreme conditions. The shoes are probably the most important item. I wear the Scott Kinabalus and Drymax socks. For shades I wear the Julbo Dust, hydration bottles/packs UltrAspire Alpha pack and handhelds, and for food I fuel with Clif Shot Gels and Bloks.
TGN: Sounds like you have it down to a science when it comes to your gear, but I guess that’s what it takes to be successful in races of this caliber. When you rely on your gear so often for results you tend to become partial to certain brands or styles of gear, what are some of your favorites and why?
Ian: These are all items I’ve tried and tested over multiple races to be able to deal with rugged mountain terrain while being as light-weight and comfortable as possible. In particular, the Julbo Dust shades have a neat feature where they adjust to the light to get darker and lighter with Zebra lenses – very useful when running in and out of tree shade.
TGN: If you had to pick just one piece of gear, your one go to item to have with you on race day, what would it be and why?
Ian: It has to be the Scott Kinabalu shoes since that’s the one item that’s make or break if you’re running all day long and your feet are getting hammered.
TGN: Yeah, we’d agree shoes are important in your line of work. Ian, nutrition is also a very important factor when it comes to performance, what types of nutritional products do use regularly?
TGN: Wow, it must take some effort to choke down 50 gels in one race but you have to get your calories from somewhere. If you could have an Ian Sharman pro model and design your own product what piece of gear would you choose? or do you already have one?
Ian: I think signature shoes would be very cool, but it would also feel a little weird in this sport that’s not as focused on celebrities.
TGN: You’d be surprised how many people you inspire daily, to endurance athletes you are celebrities.
TGN: So Ian, what races are on you attending this season?
Ian: Comrades which is in South Africa, Western States 100, Leadville Trail 100 and a host of local Californian marathon and shorter trail races. I also got back from the Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas, which was the USATF National Championship where I came second.
TGN: Wow, congratulations on your second place victory. That is an amazing achievement. Sounds like you have your work cut out for you this season, so are there any races that are above your radar that you’d like to compete in?
Ian: I just found out about an ultra starting at Everest Base Camp that looks incredible so am already thinking about that one. It starts at 18,000 ft so would be brutal but completely spectacular!
TGN: Now that you’re in the spotlight, what words of advice do you have for our readers?
Ian: The most important thing with ultras is to try to relax and enjoy yourself. Running in the mountains or other exotic locations is such a privilege and the events are so tough to finish that it’s worth taking in the experience along the way.
TGN: Those are some great words of wisdom Ian. Thank you again for stepping into the spotlight and sharing your journey with us, we wish you the best of luck in your 2014 season and will be cheering for you the whole way.
You can follow Ian Sharman’s running career via his website or by liking his Facebook page or following him on Twitter. If your interested in learning from the best check out his coaching opportunities at www.sharmanian.com
See you on the trails!