Eight years ago, the Californian went from the couch to an ultramarathon.
Maybe you are not in the best of shape, or maybe you are living an unhealthy lifestyle and staying out too late. But if you’re like Ian Sharman, 32, of Walnut Creek, Calif., you remedy this situation by signing up for a 150-mile race across the Sahara Desert called the Marathon Des Sables.
“Why don’t I train for this?” asks Sharman, who was 24 at the time and living in London, and who had never so much as run a 5K.
While he made a valiant effort during his first attempt at the race, he did fall short: He had to abandon the race before day 3 after suffering from hyponatremia, a common and dangerous condition that can be caused by drinking too much water.
“I had to drop out because I got so ill,” says Sharman, who knew nothing about hydration strategies back then. “But I did much better the second time.”
That may be an understatement. Since his ill-fated first attempt at an ultramarathon, Sharman has completed more than 180 ultramarathons and marathons (including the Marathon Des Sables) and earned eight separate Guinness World Records for the fastest marathon in various costumes.
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Most recently, Sharman placed fourth at this summer’s Western States 100 in California, fourth at the Vermont 100 Endurance Race, and he won the iconic Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado less than a month later. His second-place finish at the Wasatch 100 last month in Utah earned him the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning title this year. His cumulative time was 69 hours and 49 minutes, which broke the previous record time by more than 5 hours.
But the feat that has given him the most notoriety is his blisteringly fast time at the Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas in 2011; his 12:44:33 was the quickest 100-miler ever run in North America.
“That was the one that kind of got me noticed by other people,” says Sharman, who speaks with a genteel English accent.
These days, Sharman spends his time running, racing and coaching through his website and blog, “Sharman Ultra,” in partnership with a U.K. racing company.
For someone who is so accomplished in the ultrarunning world, Sharman runs surprisingly few weekly miles and tends to focus instead on quality. “I have much more of a focus on quality and not quantity, and a lot of races within that,” he says. And he generally recommends that beginners pursue ultrarunning gradually — finish a 50K and 50-miler before jumping into the 100-miler.
“It’s still a big deal to do 50K and 50-miler,” he says. “They’re skipping that level of achievement.”
His last piece of advice? If you’re unhappy with your life, then find ways to change it — just as he did with ultrarunning, which eventually allowed him to leave his job as an accountant. “That was something I’ve always lived by,” he says.
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Here are a few of his favorite things:
Favorite Trail Shoe: SCOTT T2 Kinabalu
“It’s perfect for a hundred.”
Favorite Workout: Downhill speed repeats, where you run at least one mile downhill as hard as you can, and then jog up the hill to repeat.
Favorite Local Place to Run: Mount Diablo, in Contra Costa County on the northeast side of San Francisco Bay.
Favorite Local Race: Western States 100
“There are so many in the Bay Area, it’s difficult to pick.”
Favorite Cross-Training Routine: Strength work in the gym and hiking (although he doesn’t do much cross-training).
Favorite Piece of Gear: Julbo Dust sunglasses
“Training in California, they’re essential.”
Favorite Recovery Method: Massage
“It makes such a difference getting the tightness out of the legs. Everything feels better, and you get back to running well much quicker.”
Favorite Pre-Race Meal: Pasta or Mexican, so a carb-heavy meal.