Ian has been racing around the world since 2005 and coaching since 2010, having run over 200 ultras and marathons. Ian got into it after feeling a little too sedentary working in London and he saw a TV show about the Marathon des Sables, which he then decided to enter. Ian lived in London at that point but moved to the U.S. in 2009 to get married. Ian tends to specialize in running 100 milers, with eight consecutive top 10 finishes at Western States, the record for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (69 hours and 49 minutes), two wins at the USATF 100 mile trail championship and four wins at the Leadville Trail 100. Ian run's for Altra, Drymax Socks, BUFF, CLIF Bar, UltrAspire, Julbo, Squirrels Nut Butter and OS1st.
After all that you accomplished, what drives you to continue running?
I love to travel and running takes me to a lot of new, beautiful places. The sense of community is also a big part of it and I love going back to events like Western States, including the training runs and the entire experience, not just race day. Also, I’ve always been obsessively competitive so am driven to keep improving and test myself; which is also great for improving my knowledge for coaching.
How do you motivate yourself on days when you don't feel like running?
The simple answer is races. Knowing I need to be in shape is the motivation to get out the door. But I also allow myself a good off season that’s as long as needed so I’ll be fresh and psyched up for the next year. Last year I took three months very easy to achieve this.
On average, how many times and miles do you run a month?
During peak training I’ll run six days a week with around 80 to 100 miles a week and some days with doubles, but not too often. For mountain races, the more relevant factor is the amount of vertical gain per week, not the mileage, so that tends to peak around 20,000 feet per week.
Runners like you, Mike Wardian, Camille Herron and others seem to recover so quickly and continue to put insane mileage in. Do you think genetics play a role in this or that anyone can eventually work their body to reach these levels of running?
My mileage is definitely a lot less than the runners you mention and Wardian has much faster recovery than me too. But the main thing for me personally is that I’m very flexible about adjusting things day to day depending on how my body feels. Just recently I switched from a long mountain run to something much shorter and easier close to home because my legs were trashed from the weekend, despite not having time to fit that run in any other day that week. There’s a compromise between commitment and sustainability.
With over 100 marathons and 200 ultra marathons, if you had to chose only one to compete in for the rest of your racing career, which race distance would you choose and why?
I thrive off the variety of different types of challenge so I get bored of trails if I do them non-stop for too long and the same applies for roads. But my favorite races are probably Comrades (road) and Western States (trail). Those two keep me very motivated and one of my dogs is actually named 'Comrades'.
You lead an awesome coaching team at sharmanultra.com. For runners interested in your coaching, where can they go and what can they expect?
We coach runners of all abilities and levels of experience and currently have runners in six continents, so that means a lot of different goals and backgrounds which is one of the best things about this sport! So we combine years of experience of both coaching and racing. All of the coaches are very accomplished runners themselves, like Olympian Magda Boulet and Western States record holder, Ellie Greenwood and the adjustable training plan is really the least important part of the guidance we provide. Instead, the main advantages come from advice about what will really make a difference to both fitness and race day execution, including how to make sure things stay fun and inspiring along the way.
Can any kind of runner seek you for coaching or just specific distances, levels, etc?
Really anyone, but generally we work with runners who have at least run a half marathon before, even if it’s at the back of the pack!
Have you considered running the Barkley's Marathon? Why or why not?
No, it just doesn’t look like something I’d enjoy, although the movies about it are good. I like the challenge of ultra running, but I also do it because it’s generally fun. At a 100 miler there are a lot of early miles with conversation, great scenery and it’s more like a group social run. It does get tough later on in any ultra, but a race like the Barkley is just hard the whole time and also lasts a lot longer. I kind of like day long events, not too long, but enough s**t can go down that it makes it fascinating.
What does your weight training consist of and which exercise do you feel helps your running the most?
I usually do around two fairly light sessions per week, mainly focused on proprioception to exercise my balance and stabilization muscles. Things like lunges and one-legged squats help, but the main strength work I do is running and hiking on hills, especially with a weight vest.
What's the weirdest or funniest thing that ever happened to you while running?
The first time I ran a marathon as Spiderman was at the 2008 Edinburgh Marathon and the crowds generally liked the costume, but one parent shouted out ‘you’re scaring the kids!’ Definitely weird.
Have you considered the World Marathon Challenge? Why or why not?
Yes, 7 marathons, 7 continents, 7 days is my kind of thing, but it costs a fortune, so I’d need a very generous sponsor to cover it.
What's your favorite types of fuel for running and why?
For races below around six hours I tend to stick to CLIF Shot gels, but for longer races I need more variety, including some salty, some sweet and also a mixture of real food and race food. I love CLIF Organic Energy Food in 100 milers, but unfortunately they’re now discontinued so I’ve stocked up to get me through this year’s races.
What's your favorite cheat food & drink?
A bacon cheese burger from my favorite restaurant in Bend, 900 Wall, is my go to treat for after a race. Plus I’m definitely a beer fan, which is partly why Bend is such a great location as there are around 25 breweries in the local area.
Do you like ice baths? Why or why not?
No, they don’t have any proven recovery benefit, although they can reduce soreness at the expense of recovery time. Plus they aren’t exactly pleasant. The only time I use them is during a multi-stage race if I can sit in a mountain stream between stages so I’ll be less sore the next morning.
In your free time when you’re not running, what other hobby’s do you enjoy?
I mountain bike occasionally, but mainly read and also squeeze in video games when I can, but not as often as I did growing up.
What's the most important tip you like to give new runners?
Probably the most important change I make to runner’s approach when they work with me is to make their easy days easier and hard days harder but that also depends on their starting point.
What is your favorite running accomplishment so far?
Completing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. That involves running four 100 milers in around a 10 week period. Western States, Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch Front. I wrote about it for irunfar, which is probably the best way to sum it up - Click here to read more.
What's in your running future to look forward to?
My main goals for the next few years are big incentives for me. Finishing Western States 10 times in the top 10 with a total combined time under one week. Winning Leadville six times which would be the most ever. A top 10 gold medal at Comrades and a sub 2:20 marathon. I’d also like to run UTMB and Hardrock at some point, but am really more interested in doing those routes over a few days in a more relaxed way and I’ve already covered most of both routes in the past.
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