Ian Sharman is tough and fast. I'm not sure if anybody can argue with that. In 2013 he set the record for the Grand Slam of UltraRunning (Yes, he ran Western States 100, Vermont 100, Leadville 100, Wasatch Front 100 in a total combined time of 69:49:38), has won or placed in the top 5 at more races than fingers I have, has a blazing fast 100 mile PR of 12:44, and even at one point had the Guinness record time for the fastest time in a superhero costume (I believe it has since been beaten... but that is besides the point). Besides being faster and tougher than myself, Ian also wears Trail & Ultra running on his sleeve.
Ian regularly shares race reports & advice on his blog (you should follow him if you don't already), contributes regularly to many running publications, is director of the US Skyrunner Series, and coaches multiple runners including Ellie Greenwood, and Liza Howard.
In other words, Ian Sharman is a serious advocate of the sport that we all love. And oh, if you don't follow him on Instagram you should! His regular photo updates make me wish I wasn't at my desk just about every day!
So I was very excited when Ian agreed to answer a bunch of random questions from our members. So, without further delay, lets get to the interview! 20 some random questions with the man himself: Ian Sharman!
- Do you have any mantras you repeat in your mind during tough moments? How do you dig yourself out of low points out on the trail?
Two of my main mantras when it gets tough are:
‘This suffering is why I’m here and what will make it meaningful for months or years afterwards as long as I don’t give up.’
‘I can run or walk and both will feel hard, but one will be over sooner.'
- If you found out that the world was going to end in 24 hours, what would you spend the next 24 hours doing?
That’s a tough question, but probably trying to see family members as much as possible.
- If you could hop in a time machine and talk to 10 year old Ian for 30 seconds, what would you tell him knowing what you know now?
I’d tell younger me to always be active and never skip on playing outside, whether through sport or running. It’s such a key part to maintaining a happy, well-balanced life. Or I’d tell him the winning lottery numbers.
- If you could hop in a time machine and and talk to Ian 50 years from now for 30 seconds, what would you ask him? Also 50 years from now where do you see yourself?
I’d ask if there are any mistakes I made, especially with training or racing that negatively impacted the rest of my life, like running through what seemed like a small injury but was actually worse.
- You have accomplished a lot in ultra running so far, but the possibilities are really endless. What are some of your bucket list races or goals?
Thanks. There are so many races out there around the world so I’d certainly like to do more of the Skyrunning events in the Alps and in countries I’ve not visited yet. Plus Hardrock 100 and UTMB, although I’m not in a rush to do either since I like Western States and Leadville and running those 2 excludes running the tougher, more mountainous 100s at UTMB and HR100. In particular I want to get a streak of 10 top 10s in a row at Western States and to challenge for the win.
- What is your proudest moment so far in life running related? What is your proudest moment non-running related so far in your life?
The record for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (combined time in one summer for Western States, Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch Front 100 milers) is the toughest challenge I’ve taken on and finishing that felt really satisfying. Outside of running it’s difficult to say since running is such a big part of my life now. The answer is probably the fact I’ve been able to switch from a desk job at Deloitte as an accountant to owning a couple of businesses so that I can do work that I really enjoy and that feels more meaningful - through coaching ultra runners at www.sharmanultra.com and directing the US Skyrunner Series.
- What were you like as a kid? What are some life experiences that helped shape you into the ultra runner and person you are today?
I played a lot of sports all the time as I grew up and was a jack of all trades, master of none, including soccer, cricket, rugby, field hockey, tennis, squash and anything that looked fun. I’ve always been super competitive, whether in the sports themselves or in my academics, really focusing on getting into the best university in the world (I’m biased, obviously :)) - Cambridge. Sometimes I have to remind myself that there’s more to life than competition so that I keep my running enjoyable as well as pushing myself.
- What music are you listening to right now?
Calvin Harris and David Guetta’s latest albums, but I listen to a lot of different styles of music.
- What is your funniest or craziest animal encounter on the trail?
In a race in Nepal in the Himalayas I got a rip in my shirt and a graze from a yak on a rope bridge. That felt very appropriate for that event.
- Whats the most embarrassing wipe out you have ever had on the trail? And honestly we never see video or pictures of elites wiping out on the trails. But it must happen to you guys all the time like it does for us mortals. How often do you actually tumble while running?
I think I’ve fallen maybe 2-3 times in all my trail races, excluding Rocky Raccoon 100 where I’ve fallen loads of times. Even though it’s flat and generally not that technical, I’ve gone flying a few times due to the darkness combined with the rooty sections, especially when runners come in the opposite direction and their light blinds me. Luckily the worst that’s happened is a grazed knee and I usually roll so that I won’t get injured.
- What do you think somebody should look for when they are considering hiring a running coach? What questions should they ask the coach?
Other than the experience level of the coach, in terms of qualifications and coaching ability (not running ability), it’s important to see how much contact you get with the coach. A training plan is worthless without guidance along the way and speaking to the coach is much better than just email contact. I used to offer a cheaper option that was only email based but found it just wasn’t effective so now I insist on at least monthly calls and most people opt for calls every two weeks.
Ask the coach what types of runners they’ve worked with before since everyone is a little different and it takes a broader skill set in a coach to be able to work with athletes from different backgrounds, especially older runners. Plus read testimonials, but ideally opt for a coach who is recommended to you by a friend who’s already worked with the coach.
- What does a typical training week look like for you? Do you follow a strict plan or are you more loose with your training?
There isn’t a typical week and it depends on what type of race I’m training for, but usually around 80 miles/week as a rough average. I focus more on quality than quantity and run a lot of very slow miles for recovery, being very flexible depending on how my body feels.
- Who do you look up to (Not just in running… but in life)?
Mo Farah, Kenise Berkele, Haile Gebrselassie and Paula Radcliffe are great runners and great people too from what I can tell, but I’ve never met any of them and would love to. I also look up to anyone who has carved out a living for themselves doing something that they’re passionate about and that aims to make the world a better place in some way. A great example is the founder of Clif Bar, Gary Erickson, who built a great, ethical company that with which I love working.
- What would you want to tell to the people who look up to you as a role model in the sport of ultra running?
It sounds weird to me to see that written or when anyone says they follow my running or blog, but also a great honor. I strongly believe that ultra running in general is a really positive force for good in the world, helping people discover more about themselves and pushing their boundaries well beyond what they thought possible. They then benefit from this by learning to apply this mentality to anything in life.
- If you could run anywhere in the world with anybody who would you run with and where?
Definitely the Himalayas because they’re so spectacular and I love the solitude of running on my own but would love to run with any of the four elite distance runners I mentioned as role models.
- What is your favorite inspirational saying?
Be the best you can be.
- When I’m running on the trail sometimes I lose myself and zone out and I dream about finishing a race I DNF'd. I literally will get tears in my eye and I imagine running the last mile surrounded by my family and friends. Do you ever zone out on the trail like that? If so, what do you dream about?
I often zone out if things are going well and the weather isn’t causing any issues. Sometimes I solve problems I’ve been thinking about or come up with new ideas for running or my businesses - most ideas come to me on relaxing runs.
- You always have all eyes on you. Any race you enter, or project you take on you have all the media’s eyes, your fans eyes on you as well as all your sponsors eyes. You can’t just fly under the radar. Do you ever wish you were just a middle of the pack runner without all eyes on you?
I race a lot and sometimes do it just to fit in long runs. Road marathons are great for this since there’s no pressure on me to win a race like Boston (since that’s completely unrealistic unless about 150 guys take a major wrong turn ahead of me!) so I can just do my own thing instead. I also do this at trail races fairly frequently like at Lake Sonoma 50 last year (2014) although I suspect a lot of people thought I just had a slow, bad day. It was one of my most enjoyable runs in recent years because I just took in the scenery, chatted at aid stations and took photos, not caring about the time or place.
- Is there a question you’ve never been asked in an interview before but wish you were, if so what is the question and the answer?
Do beards make you faster? Answer: I’ll never know but guys like Kilian, Sage and Max show they aren’t a prerequisite for speedy mountain running.
- What is the last book you read, and tell me about it in 2-3 sentences?
Unbroken - the story of Olympian Louis Zamperini when he was captured by the Japanese during WWII. The determination and will of the man is/was inspirational and gives me something to think about when my inner voices start to whine in a race.
- What is the best advice you have ever been given and who gave it to you?
Run the recovery runs slowly - from 9-time Comrades winner and 50-mile WR holder, Bruce Fordyce.
- If somebody were to make a movie or write a book about your life, what would it be called and why?
Realistically it would probably focus on how I met my wife rather than anything to do with running. We met chatting on Myspace back in 2006 (yes, people did that back then) when she had a broken neck from a car accident and wanted to talk to someone outside the States. After three years of a long distance relationship between London and Bend, OR, we got engaged and I moved over to the US although there was plenty of drama getting all that sorted, including my visa application getting turned down when they asked for evidence we’d met and we didn’t respond within 30 days because we were traveling around the world together for that exact period. An appropriate title would be something like ‘Endurance.'
- Last what do you think this is?
Some kind of goblin emoticon?
- One of our members who is taking on his first 200 mile race this year wants to know “Seriously this sounds funny, but i’m serious. Do you run commando? How do you prevent chafing when you run longer distances?”
Yes, just vaseline and it never causes any problems.
Thank you for reading another edition of Ultra Runners Are People Too. Although I'm not quite positive that Ian fits into that category. He may have a bit more superhero in himself than the average joe. Regardless, I am very thankful for all that he does for the sport (as well as for posting pretty photos to Instagram!).