In case you missed it, Ian Sharman ran a blistering 12:44 to win and set the course record at the 2011 Rocky Raccoon 100. As one of the 100s following his performance from afar, I was quite excited when he agreed to an interview the day after his race. [Note: We’ve previously published a full article on the Rocky Raccoon 100 and a report from Ian’s crew and pacers.]
While most news sources would pare down a 4,000 word interview into a few sound byte quotes, I say forget that. I barely knew anything about Ian before yesterday and I’m guessing the same holds true for most of you. Granted, I know that you’re likely pressed for time and may read this interview in pieces, so I’ve made it easy for you. Click on any of the following links to jump to the corresponding portion of the interview.
- Running History
- 2011 Rocky Raccoon 100
- Pre-Rocky Training and Racing
- Ian’s World Records
- Future Race Plans
- The Ultraworld’s Response to His Performance
- Personal Background
Ian Sharman Post-2011 Rocky Raccoon 100 Interview
iRunFar (iRF): How are you feeling today?
iRF: (Laughter) Okay, good, good. Just want to make sure that after running a 12:44, you’re feeling it. Before we get into the racing stuff, I think many iRunFar readers aren’t going to be familiar with your name. Can you tell us a little about your running?
Sharman: I started running about 6 years ago because I saw a TV documentary about the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert. I wasn’t a runner, but I played a lot of sports. I’d had a few years of living in London and getting out of shape. So, I thought it would be a good idea to find something to get me back in shape. When I saw the documentary, I thought, yeah, I’ll give this a go: 6 marathons in 7 days across the Sahara carrying everything on your back when I’ve never really run at all. Sounds perfect!
(Laughter) I had about 18 months to train for that. I, obviously, tried to do some long road runs, a handful of road marathons, and one ultra. I found it so enjoyable. I got completely hooked, and have been doing about 30 races like that a year since then.
iRF: Wow, 30 races! How did your first Marathon des Sables go?
Sharman: Not good. That was 2006. It was the year they had the most dropouts ever because of really harsh conditions with heat and high humidity for the desert, about 20%. And really bad sandstorms. Loads of people were dropping out from dehydration.
I was drinking all the water they gave me, but I didn’t know much about things like hydration and electrolytes. I wasn’t taking any salt tablets or anything like that. I basically just drank too much and got hyponatremia. So, I almost drowned myself in the desert.
I found that I fainted on the starting line a couple times on day two, which had never happened before. I had to walk through the day in a horrific sandstorm. I spent the night after that very ill, vomiting. I pulled out on day 3, and, at the time, I was quite glad because I’d had such a horrible 24 hours. On the bus going home, though, I saw that everyone else had their medals. It took me about 2 seconds to realize I had to do it again. I got home and signed up again, and went back in 2008.
iRF: Did that go better for you?
Sharman: Yeah, I got the best position by a Brit, at the time. Another Brit went one position higher last year. He was an Olympian, a gold medalist. I was the white boy with all the desert runners. I was much paler and hadn’t had any sand or heat training.
iRF: After Marathon des Sables 2008, were you racing road marathons?
Sharman: Yeah, I found them a way to see places. I was living in London and it’s so easy to travel around Europe from there. I was doing about 20 weekends a year going to cities around Europe for races, flying in on a Saturday and back on Sunday.
iRF: Were those all peak performances or where they a way for you to train?
Sharman: I just enjoyed doing them. I was doing them a little off pace. I was finding, over the years, that I was getting quicker the whole time. Clocking sub-3 hour marathons comfortably.
iRF: Over the past year, you’ve done a great deal of racing, 50ks and shorter, with the exceptions of your 8th place at Western States 100 and 9th at Miwok 100k.
Sharman: I did Miwok because I’d never raced that distance before and I was getting quite nervous about Western States. I wanted to do a long, hilly run before it. So I went to Miwok purely for the idea of having some fun. I took a lot of photos, took it nice and easy, and had a really enjoyable day. It was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had in a race. It was really close to Comrades so I didn’t want to put in a lot of effort in. I wanted to get in constant hills for, you know, 10 hours, and feel like I could continue for another 38 miles, so I had some kind of mental strength going into Western States.
iRF: And how did Western States go for you? Were you pleased with your 8th place?
Sharman: I thought it would be nice to do 10 minute mile-ing and finish in 16:40. So I was a bit disappointed when I dropped off that. After Foresthill, I had some bad patches with my hydration going wrong and just feeling like death for a while. I was determined that I would get through it all, and luckily, it got better toward the end. I was happy with it, and it was very much a learning experience. The main aim was to try and experience a hundred miler and learn a much as I could, so that I could race them. And, ideally, to finish in the top 10 to that I could race next year.
iRF: Excellent, are you going back?
2011 Rocky Raccoon 100
iRF: You ran Western States and that was your first 100 miler. That same June you also ran Comrades Marathon in South Africa. Was it 6:01 you ran there for 56 miles? Do you think racing the combination of Comrades and Western States was useful in running Rocky Raccoon yesterday?
Sharman: Comrades, yes. Western States, not so much. Comrades is running hard and not letting off. In that kind of distance I always aim to do a negative split. It feels better and I think it’s pretty much the optimal way to do it. But you’ve got to completely nail the tactics for it to work.
So I didn’t really think that it was going to be a negative split in Rocky Raccoon. But I was using the same thinking that you go out at not nearly as intense a level, but a level you feel very comfortable at. I really had no idea what was going to happen yesterday. I thought I could do a decent time. I thought I had a decent chance at the podium and somewhere maybe near to the course record, which I assumed would be needed for the podium anyway.
It was just a case of going out with how I felt. I assumed that there would be a few guys who would just fly out. And Zach [Gingerich] did but, Tony [Krupicka] didn’t. That surprised me when I found I was running with Tony first and even more so when he had a quick bathroom break at about 6 miles. And just because of that, I was ahead of him. I expected him to catch me up again but he didn’t. I kept waiting for the pack to close in on me. But I was actually pulling away from them at that point.
iRF: That’s a good point. Justin Mock sent in a question about that. He asked, what gave you the confidence to run away from well-known runners like Tony, Hal Koerner, and Scott Jurek? As you’re running away from them, are you thinking, whoa, what am I doing? Or, were you just running your own race and confident in that?
Sharman: I was just doing my own race. I was ignoring what they were doing. I was assuming they’d be stronger at the end. I’d recently been training for a marathon. I did one 3 weeks ago. Rocky Raccoon wasn’t an A race. I wasn’t training for this. I hadn’t done any long runs since Western States, nothing longer than a 50k. I didn’t think I’d have much strength in the last couple laps.
It was nice each time doing the out and back near the end of the loop where you can see where everyone else is. I could see that I was pulling away. I wasn’t giving it too much thought, thinking it could all disappear very quickly, you know, in one bad patch at the end. It was only in the last couple miles that I felt confident that I’d got it. Until then, I was concentrating on doing my own thing and not worrying about them. If they do better, they do better. If they do worse, they do worse.
iRF: So you’re at mile 60, you’ve run splits of between 2:25 and 2:29 for each of the first 3 twenty mile loops. How were you feeling about pace? You’d been nailing pace for about 7 1/2 hours. Did you think you could continue on with that?
Sharman: I still felt really good. I could feel I’d been running a while, as you’d expect. I basically just thought, I’ll do what I can. At 60 miles, I was thinking, if I can do 2:40 this lap, and a 3 hour last lap, then I’ll break 13 hours. And so that was totally what my thought process was. I was hoping they wouldn’t catch me if I did sub 13, but I thought it was still possible. I was thinking, I still feel good like this, so I’ll keep going until I don’t feel good like this. Then I’ll get through that until I feel okay again.
iRF: Your 4th lap of 2:34 was inline with your previous laps. How’d you feel on your last laps?
Sharman: I had my pacers on the 4th and 5th laps. On the 4th lap, when I was running with Paul Terranova, I felt stronger than I expected. We were just kind of chatting and enjoying it. Every so often I’d say to him, slow down, I’m fresh and you’re not. I would tell him, I need a couple of minutes to compose myself, where I needed to go a bit slower, till I started feeling good again. There were no real bad patches, though, so it all went fine.
In the last lap, I wasn’t counting on anything. I knew if I slowed down quite a lot I’d still get a good time. I thought, either I’ll keep running or something bad will happen like my stomach goes or I’ll trip on a root or whatever. It was going to be either a great time or a really bad time, there wasn’t going to be an in-between time.
iRF: How were you able to pace so evenly? You slowed down a tad at the end, but how were you able to set the pace that you did?
Sharman: It wasn’t really that scientific. Normally, I run with a Garmin. But I thought for this one it would be better to run without one because there are so many aid stations at which you can check your pace. Leaving the Garmin at home probably made a huge difference.
iRF: What was your nutrition plan? Did you work with anyone on that?
Sharman: I don’t thinking anyone’s going to learn from [my nutrition plan], let’s put it that way. (Laughter) I was working off the theory that there was a lot of aid stations and I’d stuff my face at every one until I had enough. I also stuffed my face with gels and was pretty sick with them at the end. I was eating MnM’s, oranges, pretzels, that kind of thing. I don’t think it would have worked much longer. If I had to do 15 hours plus, I would have needed something else.
iRF: You sort of went old school at the end with eating off the air stations. Before that, what was your tactic with gels?
Sharman: None really, but one gel between each aid station, and then force myself to eat at the aid stations even if I didn’t want to.
iRF: One iRunFar reader had an interesting question: Is there anything were unhappy with despite your amazing performance?
Sharman: No, it’s a bit freaky to me that it went so well! I’m not quite sure how it could happen. I thought I could do a good run and get close to 13 [hours] on a good day. I didn’t treat it like a race, didn’t do the kind of training I normally would. My mileage wasn’t high. There wasn’t a much pressure on it, especially with so many good guys there. To not do too well against them, no one’s going to thing any worse of you. Maybe the lack of pressure helped. There wasn’t anything that went wrong. That’s why it ended up being so good. I had a perfect day and they put on perfect weather, a perfect course, excellent aid stations and organization. When you combine those things with a little bit of luck, it can happen for you.
Pre-Rocky Raccoon Training and Racing
iRF: You say your training was not what it would look like for a 100 miler. What did you training weeks look like in the couple months before [Rocky Raccoon]?
Sharman: I was peaking for a marathon 3 weeks earlier. The highest week mileage was, maybe, 90, but with more speed work. I was trying to bring the pace up for the marathon. I wasn’t getting the long runs in, which is what I thought would be essential. I thought that would come back to bite me.
A typical training week is running every day, sometimes twice a day, averaging about 60-70 miles a week with 2 quality workouts and a race on the weekend, say a 50k.
iRF: You ran the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k in early December, the Honolulu Marathon at what looked to be 85-90% your capacity, some shorter races, then the Phoenix Marathon in 2:33. Was all that a build-up to the Phoenix Marathon and was Rocky [Raccoon] an afterthought?
Sharman: The aim was to do the fast stuff. I entered the 100 miler purely because I entered the 2010 race and became injured in December of 2009. I had almost no running in December and January. I turned up anyways because the flights and accommodation were already paid for and ran about 72 miles and walked in to the end of the loop (mile 80). I was pretty happy that my injury didn’t come back and I got in the longest run of my life.
Last year I didn’t have a chance to race. I don’t like DNFing a race or doing a race and not getting it right. So, I entered [the 2011 Rocky Raccoon 100] because I DNFed there last year. When I entered, I didn’t see any big names in it, and I thought that I could run 15 hours there, could maybe win it, and that would be fairly comfortable. Suddenly, in the last week, every big name under the sun turns up and I start thinking, I’d like to race this. But by then, I’d just run my marathon, was just in recovery mode from that.
iRF: Speaking of the [Phoenix] Marathon, you ran 2:33. Was that a PR?
Sharman: It was a minute off. I wanted to break 2:30 but it didn’t go as planned. It felt like a good race, I didn’t drop off much. In general, I’m about as fast as I’ve ever been.
Ian Sharman’s World Records
iRF: For a little while yesterday, you thought you had the trail 100 mile world record. What was that like?
Sharman: I was in a kind of daze after the race. A couple of people mentioned this to me and I thought, oh cool! It seems like it’s a subjective record, though, because all trail courses are different. It took me a minute of Googling to see that at least one person had run faster.
iRF: Jonas Budd over in Sweden has run a 12:32.
Sharman: I’m not sure how much of a trail race that was, but it was called a trail race in the description. So by anyone’s definition, that would be the trail world record.
iRF: But you still have a world record, correct?
Sharman: I’ve broken 8 slightly silly records, some of them more than once. I’ve done it 8 times, but there’s only 4 separate records, and I’ve lost 2 of them to other people. But it’s all running marathons in costume. I’m currently the fastest Elvis and the fastest film character. (Laughing)
iRF: (Laughing) What was the film character?
Sharman: Maximus from Gladiator.
iRF: But you don’t hold the Santa record anymore?
Sharman: I don’t hold Santa. I broke that record a week after Marathon des Sables at the London Marathon. But someone else broke it the following year. The other one was fastest superhero, which I did as Spiderman a couple of times. But then someone went quicker. I’m actually going to try and break that one again at the Napa Valley Marathon in about a month.
iRF: Good luck with that! Are you going to run the Javelina Jundred this year and try to break the 100 mile costume record, because that’s surely within range?
Sharman: I only did it for fun. It started off because the London Marathon had Guinness World Records and they offered some prize money for the fastest Elvis, so I did that. A load of other people did other costumed records, and I saw how slow some of them were, and I thought, I don’t race most of these marathons anyway, I just do them for fun. So why don’t I wear a costume and get a certificate from Guinness that makes it a bit more fun and a bit more exciting? It’s fun and the crowds go wild when you do it.
Upcoming Race Plans
iRF: Speaking of races, what races are you focusing on in the next few months?
Sharman: Originally, I had planned on focusing on the Comrades Marathon and see what I had left for the Western States 100, kind of like last year. Because the 4 weeks between the 2 races is not long to recover. I don’t know how the hell Ann Trason recovered in 2 weeks and won both of them. The 4 weeks between them, you don’t have any time to recover, do any training, and taper again. So you pretty much just hope that you’re fit enough and that you haven’t lost anything by the second race.
Since I got The North Face sponsorship a week ago, I thought I’d race Way Too Cool. A 50k shouldn’t take too much out of me, and there’ll be a lot of fast guys there. The American River 50 mile, I’d entered as well and, especially now, having raced Tony in a 100 miler that’s kind of flat, I’d love to race him in a flat 50 miler, which I’d say is bit more of my specialty. That could be a nice showdown. Miwok I’m doing just for fun because it’s only 3 weeks before Comrades.
Comrades is the main focus then Western States. I’m pretty much going to be trying to rack up the vertical in training. It’s good because this year’s Comrades is the uphill version, and I need a lot of climbing ability for that, too. Then there’s The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships at the end of the year.
iRF: Racing Comrades and Western states is kind of a balancing act. You kind of have to focus your training towards one, either fast stuff or a lot of vertical on trail. Which would you call your focus race?
Sharman: I’m trying to do both. Basically, I’m going to try and get in enough roads. I’m going to have a lot of marathons at a pace a little faster than I need to go at Comrades, low 2:40’s, so it’s a pace I feel comfortable doing twice. Also, in between that, every single day, I’m going to be using the treadmill to get in a climb.
iRF: You beat Tony yesterday. And he was just off Geoff Roes a Western States. Has that got you thinking about winning Western States?
Sharman: It’s a goal definitely. I was thinking it would take a couple years of going there, learning, and getting enough mileage in. Most of these guys have racked up a lot of 100 milers. I think I need a few years of experience at that, especially for something as competitive and technical as Western States. I’m going to go there and be confident that I can have a good run and see how it goes. They run a lot more vertical than me, so that has to count for something. Throw in a couple of mountains yesterday and Tony would have beat me.
iRF: Gotcha. You just mentioned that you joined The North Face team. They had good timing, didn’t they?
Sharman: Yeah. I’m really looking forward to this. They are based locally for me, just 45 minutes away. I like the idea of helping them develop new shoes and other products. It sounds exciting, developing tools to help people have fun out there and to do things as well as they can. That’s a big appeal for me.
The Ultraworld’s Response to His Performance
iRF: You wouldn’t have known this, but iRunFar tweeted about your victory yesterday and it’s been retweeted over a 100 times.
Sharman: Yeah, yeah! It’s crazy all the growth, the viral aspect of it. I get back to my phone after the race yesterday and everyone has requested me as a Facebook friend and, everyone I know has a Facebook status that says, Ian Sharman just ran 12:44, what the hell? It’s really cool and overwhelming.
iRF: Are you surprised by the size of the response?
Sharman: Yes, it feels like an overnight success story. Where yesterday only the people I know knew what I had accomplished. Now today, everyone in the ultra world has something to say about it.
iRF: As someone who watches this a lot, it has been surprising to me, the response.
Sharman: I don’t think anyone expected Tony to lose. I was just at the prize-giving ceremony and people were talking. They were saying, they saw Tony running and thought he was in the lead. They didn’t know who I was. Because it’s a loop course with 2 simultaneous races, the 100 and the 50 mile, you can’t tell who is in what race or what loop they are on. A lot of people were surprised when they found out Tony hadn’t won. They thought he was clear in the lead with Hal just behind him.
iRF: Can you tell us a little about your personal life? You’re British, correct?
Sharman: Yes. I moved to the US in 2009 to get married. My wife-to-be then was based in Bend, Oregon. Beautiful place to live, but at some point I had to start working. We had the wedding last August and I started working down in the Bay Area just before that.
Bend was really cool, such a small community. I wasn’t used to the idea of there being so many elite ultrarunners there, going out for a run with Max King and Kami Semick. At your average training session, you’ll run with multiple people that you’ve heard of. Weird. Cool, as well.
Bend was nice, but I had to move away. The Bay Area works out, so many trails and trail races. My other sponsor is the Pacific Coast Trail Runs, and they are based in the area. For their runs, I’ll be running in their colors, for other runs, I’ll run in The North Face colors. I love those races so much and it was such an honor to be asked onto the team.
iRF: One last reader question for you: Elvis or the Beatles?
Sharman: (Laughing) Music, huh? Given that I’m the fastest Elvis, I might have to go for Elvis. Elvis is pretty special to me, though. 3 times now I’ve broken the Elvis record and when you’ve got crowds chanting “Elvis! Elvis!” it certainly sticks in your mind quite a lot.
iRF: Awesome I’m glad I had an insightful reader who knew about your Elvis records. (Laughing)
Sharman: (Laughing) Anyone from the UK probably would.
iRF: Very cool, Ian. Thank you for taking the time to do an interview! Was there anything that I didn’t ask and should have?
Sharman: One thing that’s been missed out was that Todd Braje smashed the 50 mile course record yesterday.
iRF: I’ll be sure to add that to the race report. Thanks again, Ian. Safe travels, and we’ll see you out on the trails.
Sharman: Best of luck at Western States, I know you’re running it. So best of luck if I don’t see you before!
[Photograph courtesy of Endurophoto.com, which provided official race photos for Rocky Raccoon.]