Ian Sharman, 2015 Leadville 100 Champion, Interview

Ian Sharman won the 2015 Leadville 100 with what has become status quo for him: a perfectly executed 100-mile race strategy. In this interview, Ian talks about what tactics he used to win this year’s race, how he quiets his mind and body in the early miles of a long race when instinct runs contrary to strategy, how he feels about how the race played out, and whether he wants to run Leadville again.

For more on how this year’s race played out, read our Leadville results article.

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Ian Sharman, 2015 Leadville 100 Champion, Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here in Leadville, Colorado, at the finish line of the 2015 Leadville 100. I’m with men’s race champion, Ian Sharman. Hi.

Ian Sharman: Hi. Happy birthday, Meghan.

iRunFar: Thanks! Congratulations! What a day!

Sharman: Thank you. It was. I do like this race a lot. It seems to suit me because the altitude means that people can’t run uphill very well, so they have to hike which is my thing. There’s also flat stuff as well, so that suits me.

iRunFar: So this is your third finish of Leadville, your second win, and you ran a 16:33-and-change yesterday. Looking back, birds-eye, 360-degree view, are you happy with your day?

Sharman: Very happy. Yeah. I’d like to have gone quicker. My idea was to come here and really get closer to the course record, and I was about 50 minutes off. After 20 or 30 miles, I just thought, This is a race, and I’ve got to basically do what I can to try and win, and the time is secondary to that. I was really happy with how the race played out for me.

iRunFar: This became a race of racing men rather than racing the clock. There was some incredible tactical stuff going on the first 50 miles. Walk us through that a little bit because it was pretty dynamic.

Sharman: It was. An Argentinian guy, Gustavo Reyes, started off. He was just going under the course-record splits the whole first half.

iRunFar: Way under the course-record splits.

Sharman: For some of them, yeah. I know he’s a very good runner, but I didn’t think he was going to run that quickly. I also know he’s often really aggressive and tends to drop back a bit especially in a 50 miler. So for a 100, I was just kind of ignoring what he was doing. He did drop back a little bit by about half way and then he finished 15th or around there. It was really Mike Aish I was worried about especially after last year where he and I had a lot of back and forth. I just wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t have that back and forth right at the end because he’s such a fast runner, and Olympian, that I didn’t want to have to go head-to-head in the last couple of miles.

iRunFar: Yeah, he took his leg speed and kind of blew you away in the last couple miles last year. You didn’t want to have that happen again.

Sharman: Yeah. No, I thought I’d try and race it out of him a little bit earlier. But what happened earlier was… because he’s had a few bad 100 milers and had one good one last year, so his tactic was just to stay with me. So after the first two aid stations, every time I walked, he walked. Every time I ran, he ran. It was cool because he’s a really nice guy and we were just chatting, but it was really obvious what his tactic was. Then at Outward Bound at about 24 miles, I jumped into one of the toilets and he kept moving, and then he went back to his normal faster pace. He started accelerating away from me and trying to catch Gustavo. At that point, I thought, Okay, this will be easy from my perspective. I’ll just keep doing my thing, and I’ll see if I can catch him in the second half at some point, which is exactly what happened. So I caught Gustavo around about mile 52 just after the turnaround. I caught Mike just before the summit of Hope Pass about mile 55. Then I heard he puked straight after that. When I talked to him, he didn’t even respond, so he was clearly feeling a little bit off at that point. I think that was what threw his race, his stomach. He just wasn’t feeling great. But from that point as soon as I passed him, I just hammered it for about 30 miles thinking that last year he’d go really fast and go past me, then he blew up and I passed him. We went back and forth. So this time I wanted to go as fast as I could so that every time he did a surge, he still wouldn’t catch me. Then that seemed to work. Unfortunately, he dropped out because of the stomach, and I’m sure partly because he was here to win. Once he was dropping back to several hours behind me, it’s just not worth motivating.

iRunFar: I want to rewind a little bit and go back to the first half of the race. You are known for your tactics and for your smart racing. There are a lot of people out there who want to watch a couple guys go off the front, not respond, and trust in your own race day plan, but that’s really hard to do. A lot of people say they’re going to do it, and it doesn’t work out.

Sharman: Well, like Mike clearly intended to stay with me, but after three hours he got bored with that.

iRunFar: Right. So I want to ask you, what do you put through your head? What do you tell yourself during that time? Chill, chill, chill, don’t go?

Sharman: Basically, and the fact I know it’s such a long race. This doesn’t work in 50 milers now because they’re too competitive, too fast. I know that in a 100 miler, it doesn’t matter where you are at 50. In something like Western States, you’ve got to be pretty close to the front to have a chance. But this type of race, especially with the fact that you’ve got Hope Pass there—which tends to benefit me as I tend to gain a few places there—just a good hike up and a nice downhill times two. Yeah, but just partly the fact that it’s worked before so it gives you the confidence to do it again, and partly because I know that it doesn’t matter who’s around me at mile 30 or 40 or 50, because unless they do as well as I think I’ll do in the second half, they could lose hours. There was a guy I was running with between miles 30-40 and he was running all the uphills and I was hiking them. We got into Twin Lakes at mile 39.5 or 38.5, whatever it is, at about the same time, but I was thinking he’s not getting his pacing right for the whole thing. So maybe it’s good for 50 miles but not for 100. I’m always thinking about the last bit of the 100 mile being the important bit, so you’ve got to position yourself to being able to run that well. If you can do that, then you can catch people or stay ahead of people. So I’m always thinking about the last 20 or 30 miles.

iRunFar: Letting people go in the first half is a matter of letting them go minutes. Then in the second half it’s tons of time.

Sharman: It’s hours potentially. I always go by the mantra of Bruce Fordyce who won Comrades nine times. He always said that he was going to stick to his game plan, and if there were guys ahead that managed to hold onto a faster pace, at the end he’d shake their hand and say, “Great race.” I did my best race and my best time, and…

iRunFar: “Cheers to them. You beat me.”

Sharman: You were the better man. So I was thinking like that. I’m going to do my best race rather than someone else’s race. If they go quicker, like Rob Krar at Western States this year at two hours quicker than me, I get in and go, “That was awesome. Absolutely insane.” I don’t know how he did it, but if I would have tried to stay with him, I would have had a worse day not a better day.

iRunFar: Two hours slower or something. So you, it looked like you put your move on the race and on Mike Aish at the second downhill off of Hope Pass.

Sharman: Yeah, I really pushed that one.

iRunFar: You guys were basically together coming into the Hopeless Aid station, like 20 or 30 seconds, and then it was a matter of six minutes or seven minutes at mile 60. Did you just hammer?

Sharman: I did because I know I can do that bit really quick. I like that downhill. It’s really fun because you’ve got all the people coming out. So you pass 500 people, and they’re usually kind of clapping and enjoying things. It’s a really nice atmosphere. It gives you a boost. It’s like having a crowd the whole way while you’re doing the downhill. I enjoy that a lot. I was just trying to push, and I was smiling and having fun. I’d hoped that I’d gap him enough that it would be a little demoralizing maybe. Then my aim was to keep pushing as long as I could to stay enough ahead that he couldn’t catch me.

iRunFar: So you lead at mile 60. You know you have some sort of lead, but you don’t know what it is. Are you thinking about last year where then you went into miles and miles of flip, flop, flip, flop.

Sharman: When I heard it was only six minutes, I thought he could easily get six minutes back. He kept doing that last time very easily.

iRunFar: We’re talking about an Olympian here.

Sharman: Six minutes—if he does a minute-and-a-half or two minutes/mile quicker than my 100-mile jogging kind of pace, he can catch me in three miles and then gap me by quite a lot in another three. I hoped he was actually going to be more than six at that point, but at the next aid station, it was 23 or something I think. I knew that it was paying off that I was moving away a bit.

iRunFar: So mile 75, Outward Bound inbound, you get a report that he’s 20-some-odd minutes back. Do you start feeling comfortable or are you still…?

Sharman: To some degree because the number was getting bigger. It wasn’t so much what the number was, just the fact I was pulling away. It’s always delayed because that was from an aid station six miles earlier, so you don’t know if someone’s catching you or getting further back until way after it’s happened. That’s always been the case. It’s much easier to be chasing someone because you always know what the gap is—every aid station they can tell you if you’re gradually catching them. But when you’re ahead of someone, you just have to assume that they’re catching you, and that fires you up to keep moving.

iRunFar: Once you kind of felt maybe you were comfortable in the lead, maybe things were going your way, did you start playing with time at all or did it just become a march to the finish?

Sharman: Definitely, yeah. At about mile 80, I could see if I didn’t slow down I could go low-16’s, maybe a little bit quicker than Rob [Krar] did last year. But also then when I kept getting reports that the guys behind me were further and further back, I stopped caring. Okay, I’ve got to keep it sensible rather than push and do the fastest time I can and maybe blowing up. I just wanted to keep it a little bit more conservative so I could win. That’s why I ended up at 16:33. It’s more fun that way, as well. Instead of hammering the last 20 miles, I wasn’t enjoying it, but at least it wasn’t as painful as if I’m racing head-to-head with Mike Aish or Nick Clark or someone else like I’ve done the last couple of times.

iRunFar: Usually when I see you at the finish line at the end of races, you come across looking like you just started. You just look…

Sharman: I’m not sure about that.

iRunFar: When I saw you last night, I got a couple photos of you, and the look on your face looks just spent. Did you feel that?

Sharman: I was actually hurting less than normal this time. My legs felt a little better when I stopped running than they normally do after a 100 miler. That’s probably because the last few miles I was actually going a little bit easier so I could cross the line and not feel as bad. What you were seeing is the fact that I was coughing the whole time. That made me look a little bit worse. I think with the altitude, you usually get issues with the lungs a little bit after taking in this kind of altitude.

iRunFar: You and Mike Aish have had a multi-year battle here. He wanted to beat you this year. You wanted to beat him. Is the battle put to bed?

Sharman: No, not at all. I’m certain he’ll be back next year. I won’t be back next year. I think he’ll break the record at some point. He’s going to have that perfect day, and he’ll do 15:30. That’s why I had to race him this time. I thought if he stayed with me and slowly then just pull away, he’d benefit from me slowing him down earlier so that he could just destroy me at the end. I had to try and mix things up a little bit so that didn’t happen. I think he’ll break the record. I think he’ll be the next person to break the record. I want to, but I think realistically he will. But he might have one awesome race for every five bad ones.

iRunFar: It’s hard to put together a perfect 100 mile race.

Sharman: It is. But he’s got so much talent and speed, if he does it, it will be really, really quick.

iRunFar: Did you hear that Mike? We’re watching you?

Sharman: Right now, he’s saying never again. In two days’ time, he’ll be, “I’m coming back. Definitely going to do that.”

iRunFar: Congratulations to you on your perfectly executed 100 mile race, second win of the Leadville 100.

Sharman: Thank you. Thank you.

Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Senior Editor, the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,' and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places. For more information on Meghan and her adventures, please visit her personal website.

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