written by Mackenzie Wilson
How does an economist from London who’s lived most of his life at sea level transform into an ultrarunner capable of conquering 100-milers above 10,000 feet? For Ian Sharman, 37 and of Bend, it all started with walking.
In 2005, Sharman was living in London and saw a TV show highlighting the Marathon des Sables race, 150 miles in six stages over seven days. It made him wonder if he could do something like that. He played sports growing up, but had never focused on running. “On the TV show, I saw people walking most of it and I thought, I’m sure I can walk for a week, that doesn’t seem like a big deal.” The next year, Sharman signed up for the race. During stage three he got hyponatremia—dangerously low levels of sodium in his blood—and had to drop out.
Two years later he finished thirteenth, the highest a Brit had ever placed at that point in the race’s history. By 2011, Sharman was a sponsored ultrarunner specializing in 100-mile trail races. Even with loads of titles to his name, Sharman couldn’t avoid the reality of ultrarunning as a profession. “About three months in, I was like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t really pay anything, so I have to do something else,’” he said. Fellow U.K. ultrarunners had been asking him to coach them, so he started Sharman Ultra: Endurance Coaching. Now, Sharman is known as much for being an uber-accomplished ultrarunner as he is a coach.
He and a team of elite coaches help runners navigate training, prevent injury and develop grit—something Sharman knows a thing or two about. The races he competes in keep him on his feet sometimes between twelve and twenty-four hours in temperatures above 100 degrees. “Mental toughness matters a lot more than just pure physical fitness,” he said. “ The better you are, sometimes that can make you a little bit cocky and then you think it’s going to be easy, and it’s not easy.” To accomplish such feats you’d assume takes perfection, but, Sharman says, far from it. “You can get away with being less than perfect if you do a lot of other things right,” he said.
Sharman has adopted a less-is-more training mantra, and doesn’t shy away from enjoying Bend’s craft beer scene. “Usually I avoid alcohol for a couple of weeks before a major race, but otherwise it’s a big part of my lifestyle, and I tend to eat out multiple times per week,” he said. For an extreme athlete, Sharman has a refreshingly relaxed take on diet and exercise—maybe because he knows the best way to succeed at anything is to take it one step at a time.
Pro Ultrarunner and Head Coach at SharmanUltra.com
Age: 37 Born: Northampton, England
Running, usually around ten to fifteen hours a week, plus hiking, especially in the Cascade Mountains, and light gym strength work a couple of times a week.
I try to eat a generally healthy and balanced diet without any fads, but Bend is such a beer town and that’s one of the things I love about it. Three staples in my diet are hummus, salmon and avocados.
I’m inspired by world-class distance runners like Mo Farah, Eliud Kipchoge and Haile Gebrselassie. Outside of sport, great leaders like Nelson Mandela have always shown me hope about the best side of humanity, and we need more people like him in the current world.
Down ’n’ Dirty Half in October