Ian Sharman just finished his tenth-straight Western States 100 and did so in the fastest combined time of anyone in the race’s history. In the following interview, Ian talks about why you can’t make any errors at the front of the field at Western States, what mistake he made this year, what his favorite memory is from his ten finishes, and what races he’ll focus on in the years to come.
Be sure to read our results article for the full race story.
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Ian Sharman after the 2019 Western States 100. How are you, Ian?
Ian Sharman: Not bad. I can walk a little bit better than normal today.
iRunFar: Better than normal?
Sharman: When you don’t push quite as hard, you don’t trash your legs quite as hard.
iRunFar: So better than normal after Western States.
Sharman: Yes, I don’t mean compared to a normal day [laughs].
iRunFar: I didn’t think so. This was your tenth straight Western States finish. Not the finish you were looking for, in some ways.
Sharman: Not bad. The time was pretty good – it was still under 17 hours – but I thought I’d have to break 16 to be in the top 10. I was hoping for a PR, certainly, so maybe something under 15:30. It wasn’t quite the day for that. The legs didn’t quite feel it, and little mistakes here and there. You just can’t afford to make any errors when it’s this competitive and there are not that many people dropping out because it’s not that hot.
iRunFar: There’s risk in it.
Sharman: Yeah, that’s why every year at the start, Jeff Browning and I are high-fiving when it’s a hot year, like “Yeah! We can have a bad race and we’re still going to be top 10!” Well, that’s not the case when it’s a cold year.
iRunFar: There were a lot of new folks to the 100-mile distance or to this race…
Sharman: Yes, they were really impressive.
iRunFar: They nailed it, right? Because you still have to nail it. That’s what it takes, right? You have that experience.
Sharman: Well, they still have to get so much right, but there’s people with a massive amount of talent and speed. Obviously, they worked super hard for it. But that’s not enough. There are so many things that could go wrong, and for most of them, it didn’t.
iRunFar: And for you, what’s your marathon PR?
Sharman: 2:32, so these guys are like 20 minutes quicker.
iRunFar: So, you’re going in with a talent deficit.
Sharman: It totally is. I’ve always known I’m not as quick as those guys. I’m not a track athlete. I don’t have a 14-minute 5k.
iRunFar: No sub-4:00 miles?
Sharman: Downhill, yes [laughs]. I’ve done a 3:59 in Bend, but I can’t do that on a track normally, while they can.
iRunFar: You didn’t have a bad day, so for ten years in a row [you’ve performed well here].
Sharman: It was the hardest, probably the worst race I’ve had in terms of things going wrong.
iRunFar: At Western States or in general?
Sharman: At Western States. Things went a little bit wrong early on. I had three or four bad patches in the early stages and then really had bad patches from Foresthill onwards. I had to walk part of the way down to Cal 1.
iRunFar: That’s never happened before?
Sharman:No, that’s a really easy 3.5-mile downhill. I also couple of patches after the river where I was walking and dizzy and trying not to fall over. I couldn’t take any food really in the early stages, I think because I took too much sugar early on. I didn’t mix it up enough, and then I got palette fatigue and nothing would go down.
iRunFar: Was that possibly because it was so nice out and you thought you could tolerate it?
Sharman: It’s partly just because that’s what they had at aid stations. There are these big gaps between the crew, and usually I don’t have stomach problems. I wasn’t really worrying too much about it. You know, it shows you really can’t take anything for granted in 100 miles.
iRunFar: This was your first time puking at Western States?
Sharman: [Nods] My first time puking here. I’ve puked at Leadville 100 and I’ve puked at Wasatch 100 and those races were still good races. This one, it definitely slowed me down by the end.
iRunFar: So you still need your Vermont 100 for a “Grand Slam Puke.”
Sharman: Yeah, that’s the one remaining of the four. [laughs] I’m not going back to Vermont.
iRunFar: And you might not be coming back here next year.
Sharman: I’m not going to race it next year, no. I love the race, but it’d be nice to pace someone else. Chris DeNuccihas paced me here the last two years, so I’m hoping he can get in and I’ll pace him. That would just be a fun way to enjoy it.
iRunFar: Although you had a hard time yesterday, you still have 10 finishes: 1,000 miles in under a week. That was one of your goals.
Sharman: Yeah, that was a target after about six or seven races: “Oh, that’d be kind of cool.” That gives me an excuse to make sure they’re not just top-10 finishes, but that they’re quick enough top-10 finishes, as well.
iRunFar: It sounds impressive – it’s a week, 168 hours. You ran 167 hours or so, right?
Sharman: Just under 167.
iRunFar: And how many hours faster is that than the next fastest?
Sharman: I’ve got all the stats, so Andy Jones-Wilkins took 30 seconds off of Ann Trason’s time. That’s the equivalent of them being on the [Placer High] track together at the 1,000-mile mark. His last couple he was taking it easier, so he was slowing down, obviously. But, yeah, [my combined time] was just under 20 hours quicker than that.
iRunFar: Nice! So, now that you have this “out of the way,” do you have any other plans? I don’t mean just for this summer.
Sharman: There are loads of things I want to do! But at the moment, none of them are ultrarunning. [laughs]
iRunFar: What are they?
Sharman: Eating and drinking. More road running – I’ve enjoyed the road running at the beginning of the year. I think next year this gives me an excuse to go to Comrades Marathon instead of coming here, because they’re two weeks apart. I’ve got seven finishes at Comrades, and I’d love to challenge for a gold medal and get top 10 there. Apart from Max King, I don’t believe there’s been an American man in the last 30 years or so who’s done that.
iRunFar: There still wouldn’t be.
Sharman: By that point, I will actually be an American. There have been Brits in the top 10 at Comrades.
iRunFar: I was just about to ask you: Comrades is in June, are you going to try to go for Team Great Britain in the 100k?
Sharman: I can’t be bothered with that. Comrades is more fun.
iRunFar: Okay. I just didn’t know if you were transferring to the road.
Sharman: Asking someone the day after a 100-miler which race they’re going to do, their plans may change a lot, but 100k at the moment doesn’t really appeal.
iRunFar: You’ve had Comrades on your mind.
Sharman: I love Comrades. One of my dogs is called Comrades, that’s how much I love it.
iRunFar: What’s the other one?
Sharman: The other one, Amy named.
iRunFar: It’s not Auburn…?
Sharman: The other one is Poco Loco. So, it’s Poco Loco and Comrades.
iRunFar: There’s a lot of great chicken joints named Poco Loco.
Sharman: There’s one in Chamonix.
iRunFar: So, are you doing anything else this year?
Sharman: Well, I’m meant to be doing UTMB. Again, at the moment I’m a little undecided – I just finished 100 miles and I’d rather not do another one. I’d like to do a fast road one in Florida in December as well. There’s the Daytona 100. It’s completely flat, on the road, point-to-point, it just sounds appealing. Looped races, I’m not as interested in that right now.
iRunFar: You’ve done Rocky Racoon a couple of times.
Sharman: A lot of times [nods emphatically]. Yeah, I don’t need to go back there. Also, it would be quicker on the road. If I want to get a PR and go under 12 hours, that’s the place to do it.
iRunFar: Now, is that course point-to-point?
iRunFar: So it can’t be a “world’s best.”
Sharman: It could be a road world’s best, because I’m not sure how strict they are.
iRunFar: They are. For about 100k, it has to be within 50% of the distance…
Sharman: World’s best versus world record, no one cares.
iRunFar: There’s a lot of pedantic.
Sharman: Not a world record, because usually the finish line has to be within 50% of the start. Who cares?
iRunFar: So, you’ve got 10 Western States finishes. What is your favorite memory?
Sharman: I just kind of love the build-up to every one of them. At that point, everything is possible, and each one is more and more enjoyable because I know more people. As you find, you get to Olympic Valley and you walk 10 feet and you speak to someone. You want another 10 feet, and you speak to someone. You’re trying to get from one side to another, and it takes you an hour. That’s just really fun. It’s kind of like that in Chamonix as well, but even more so here. The race means a lot to me, but in some ways it’s not even the actual running of it that’s the main thing.
iRunFar: It’s so funny, because you’ve had 10 years in a row of very great performances. You can say, and not as a cliché, that it’s about the journey, not the destination.
Sharman: I was really conscious of that, after about six or seven finishes: “If I’m going to go for 10, I can’t just have stressful, horrible days, get a good outcome, but then look back and think it was all miserable.” Why am I doing this if that’s the whole experience? I aim to try and enjoy the experience. Every year, there’s 20-plus miles of misery guaranteed. Everyone will say that. From the river to the finish is never fun, especially when you’re racing people and you’re really close or you’re going for the record or whatever.
Finishing is always good, but that’s not really the most important thing. I kept trying to remind myself of that, because I was quite devastated when I saw that I probably wasn’t going to get in the top 10 after a 10-year project, but really that’s not what should matter.
iRunFar: What was the hardest moment in those ten years with regard to Western States?
Sharman: That, probably – finishing outside of the top 10. It was probably taken for granted in all the other years. To some degree I assumed it was going to happen this time. Then, when I saw the colder weather [in the forecast], I thought, “Well, I’ll get a PR, too. Bonus!”
iRunFar: That deflated you?
iRunFar:Was there ever a chance when that happened that you would be like, I’m not going to make it?
Sharman: It wasn’t like I was going to walk it in or DNF, but it definitely took the wind out of my sails.
iRunFar: Well, congratulations on a fun journey to watch, Ian. It’s been a pleasure.
Sharman: Thanks a lot. And thank you for all your coverage.
iRunFar: Thank you.
A video interview (with transcript) with Sébastien Spehler and Thibaut Garrivier after their first and third-place finishes, respectively, at the…