Ian has been racing around the world in all styles of event since 2005 and coaching since 2010, having run around 200 ultras and marathons (PR: 2:21) in every type of weather and on all terrain. Ian has won around 50 multi-day races, road marathons, trail ultras and adventure races with experience of running in many mountain ranges, including the Himalayas, Andes, Rockies and European Alps. He also holds the fastest time in a trail 100-mile race in the US (12h44m), the record for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (69h49m), has won the USATF 100-mile trail championship twice and is the 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 Leadville Trail 100 Champion. Ultra Running Magazine has voted him as high as 2nd in it’s annual Ultra Runner of the Year rankings.
How did you get your start into running?
Ian: I definitely got started later than most people. I wasn’t a runner growing up and I didn’t do collegiate running. I played loads of other team sports and various things that kept me active. I have to say growing up I thought running was kind of dull because it’s just one thing and then no ball involved haha. Back when we would do sports day at school for the ages 12 and up I would do the sprints and the hurdles and I was always alright at them but even the 40 meter thing seemed quite long back then. It is crazy now that I am on the opposite end of that scale. But later I was living in London for about 3 years or so and I realized I was not doing as many sports as I previously had because it was much less convenient when you are not in college, and I had a full time job, but I had the mind state that I wanted to get into shape again and I had always been an active and healthy person. I remember watching television and seeing a television show for a race in the Tahari Desert called the Marathon Des Sables and I just decided that I was going to participate, it seemed like a good way to get some travel time in as well as see one of the most famous deserts in the world. It just so happened the documentary was about running if it had been about biking I might be a mountain biker today.
How did you do during your first time running at Marathon Des Sables?
Ian: Well I roped in a friend of mine who had done quite a bit more running before to do it with me. We did some training before the race and he ended up being a bit busier during those times so he could not train as much as I did, but he came from being a very good runner in the first place. So in 2006 we went to the desert and mind you I had no idea what I was doing. I had such a little idea of what actual training involved, and I didn’t understand that you could drink too much or too little. Being that I was in a desert I felt I should be drinking as much water as possible but I actually ended up getting hyponatremia on the first day from drinking way too much and ended up fainting twice on the start line of day two. I managed to get through the second day but ended up dropping out of the race before day 3 due to my condition. There is a wait list for this race so in 2008 I attempted the race again and finished and it was the best result anyone from the UK has ever had, I learned then that ultrarunning seemed to suit me well.
When did a career in the running industry become realistic for you?
Ian: I began coaching in 2011; I think it was at that time that I realized I had a place in this career wise. I had been steadily improving over a number of years and in 2011 I did a race called Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in Texas which had a lot of big names from the sport turn up and I managed to win it and set the record for fastest time ever run on trails for 100 milers in America. I knew I had to take it more seriously and it was that race that made me decide I needed to make a career somehow in the outdoor industry; I wasn’t sure what it would be and it took me about 6 months to come around the idea of coaching. I had a few friends back in the UK who were asking if I could coach them and that kind of made the decision for me. I took the time to get some certifications, I got my USATF coaching certificate, I got my National Academy of Sports Medicine Personal Training certification as well just so I had a good background combined with all the things I had been learning from my own experimentation. I just knew that I had to make a career out of this, my previous career was in economics & finance and it just happened to be fortunate timing that I was in a position to leave that job and pursue coaching full time. If I had liked my previous job more at that specific time It would have been more difficult to move away from it because of the certainty you have with a job financially.
What obstacles stood in your way of starting your career in running?
Ian: The main thing is that anytime you switch careers you take a bit of a pay cut, I made virtually nothing for a year after I left my job. What did help me is I didn’t have a mortgage and I didn’t have kids, both of those things gave me a bit more flexibility during this process. Another big thing was being willing to actually take the risk and go for it, initially I thought about working the finance department for one of my sponsors which would have been a similar type of job to my previous one and that didn’t really go anywhere so I was forced to think of other ways to find where I fit in career wise.
What are some of your favorite accomplishments you have had throughout your career?
Ian: I think my number one would be the grand slam of Ultrarunning which I set the record for in 2013. That involves four of the original 100 mile races which are Western States, Vermont, Leadville, and Wasatch Front. During a summer you run all 4 races and take the times and combine them for a grand total, me and a friend came under the existing record which felt great but I can say it was one of the hardest things I have ever done, from the first race till the last race it spans 10 weeks with 400 miles in total. Of course that was difficult physically, but it truly was the mental battle of running that many miles and keeping yourself motivated during the tough patches especially when the last race was so recent you might not have had the chance to fully catch your breath, but the grand slam was a very memorable one for me. Another thing that I am proud of is the consistency of the races I do, for instance I have 8 consecutive top 10’s at Western States which is the most anyone has ever had overall, so each year I do that sets a new benchmark and I am very proud of that.
What goals do you have for the future?
Ian: There are quite a few things I would like to achieve in running in general, some are more personal to me and some would make sense to anyone in general. I would love to run a sub 2:20 marathon, that to me is a benchmark of a really good marathon and I hope to do that within a year, I’d even do it next month if the time was right. The big ones for me right now are getting to ten top tens at Western States and even further than that, getting a win during that process would be fantastic. But getting to ten is a big one on my list, there aren’t many goals that take a decade to complete so that has a lot of my focus. If I win the next Leadville that will be 5 in a row which is tied for the most anyone has ever won it, so if I can hit that milestone it will be a big accomplishment for me.
Do you have any tips for runners who also want to pursue a career in running?
Ian: Of course, this will apply to really anyone who wants to improve at any level of running but don’t rush it. Don’t think you’ve got to go in there and start running 150 miles a week and start racing 10 ultras a year. Take your time, learn your body and learnt he experience. I think there is a temptation to try and do too much and definitely our culture in general and in Ultrarunning tend to reward people who do more, but I have to say It is much more enjoyable to do something for the long term even if that means doing less at once but to keep enjoying it rather than burn yourself out in a couple years which I have seen happen often. And remember just because you do more won’t guarantee you more success.
If the world could only know one thing about Ian Sharman what would that be?
Ian: One thing I think is important across all aspects of life is to choose something you are truly passionate about and do it well. Too many people get stuck in a career they don’t enjoy simply because It pays well but they don’t enjoy it. I have found that in chasing what you are passionate about you naturally tend to do more and to the best of your ability which generally brings success.
Ian is an excellent example of choosing to follow passion regardless of adversity and staying true to that passion. With so many goals and career benchmarks coming up I imagine we will be hearing the name Ian Sharman for many years to come. Remember to find and follow your passion, spend life doing what you love and never give up on that vision.
For information on Ian Sharmans coaching service click here
For information on the Benefits of Fitness Coaching from fitness authority Bree Lambert click here