AfterShokz: Give us a quick introduction!
Ian: I’m a runner and coach from England originally, and now based in Bend, Oregon. I didn’t start running until I was 24 but played a lot of different sports growing up and always seemed to be the guy who was zooming around at the end of a game, so it makes sense I eventually found distance running. After lots of road marathons and a few ultramarathons, I tried a 100-miler and found that it’s the distance that suits me best.
AfterShokz: Certainly one doesn’t just jump into running 100-mile races. Tell us how you got started running, why you began ultra-running, and how your career progressed?
Ian: After a few years of working as an economist in London, I found I wasn’t getting nearly as much exercise as I was used to and spent my weekends partying, which got old after a while. Then I saw a TV documentary about the 150-mile, multi-stage Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert and decided it looked like an epic challenge that fit with my love of travel. So, I entered that race and had 18 months to train for it, during which I ran my first few marathons and one 54-mile race.
AfterShokz: How many races do you run a year? And what are some of your favourites?
Ian: I usually race 1-2 times per month, anything from a 5k to 100 miles, and typically 2-3 100-milers spread throughout the year are my main focus. Western States 100 in California is one of my favourites, and this year is my 10th consecutive race there. It’s got such a great history and vibe since it was the first 100-miler in the world, and it’s the biggest and most competitive 100 in the US. I also love the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado and have had a lot of success there. Plus, it’s fun to spend a couple of weeks in the Rockies around the race. One other notable race for me is the Comrades Marathon (which is a double marathon) in South Africa that has 25,000 runners. I love that one so much that one of my dogs is named ‘Comrades.’
AfterShokz: You’ve had some unprecedented success at The Western States Endurance Run (WS100). What makes that race so historic? Will you humble brag for us and tell us your results, and a little on why you have been so successful there?
Ian: WS100 is THE race to try to win if you’re racing ultras in the US. In 1974, the whole concept of running 100 miles on trails started when Gordy Ainsleigh ran the 100 mile Tevis Cup horse race solo after his horse came up lame! The rest is history. I got in via the lottery on my first attempt in 2010 and just aimed to finish it at all costs. I ended up in the top 10, which meant I had a guaranteed entry for the next year, and that’s happened every time since. I’m hoping to be the first to run 10 finishes under a combined time of one week (there’s a special finisher buckle for 10 finishes all under 24 hours with the words, ‘1,000 miles, 10 days’). I haven’t finished in the top 3 yet, and haven’t quite had that perfect day, so I am hoping it’s 10th time lucky!
AfterShokz: When you are running 100-milers I’m sure you’ve seen or experienced some crazy things. Any fun stories you can share?
Ian: A lot can happen during these long races, but I’ve been lucky that nothing too extreme has upset my races yet. I’ve got lost and added on miles, been so dizzy from overheating that I’ve been stumbling around mid-race and have vomited during a 100-miler and kept running afterward. All that’s relatively tame compared to what some people go through. One of my favourite memories was racing head-to-head against Mike Aish at Leadville where we passed each other around six times and ended up running all out at 10,000ft altitude with 10K to go - it’s amazing how much faster you can go with the right incentives! Eventually, he pulled away in the last 5K to beat me (he’s an Olympian at the 5,000m and 10,000m, so his leg speed is way higher than mine!).
AfterShokz: What has been one of your proudest racing moments?
Ian: Completing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (running Western States 100, Vermont 100, Leadville 100 and Wasatch Front 100 in the same year in 10 weeks) in 2013 was a major goal for me, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was especially memorable because I was racing against a good friend, Nick Clark, and we both broke the old record. We had a lot of back-and-forth with me beating him in two races and him beating me in the other two, but my combined time was a little faster.
AfterShokz: On top of competing at an elite level, you also coach endurance athletes. What do you like about working with athletes?
Ian: I love discussing running all day long and have been coaching since late 2010. I now work with several other coaches working within my company, Sharman Ultra. The challenge of helping runners from different backgrounds and experience levels all around the world keeps me questioning the philosophies behind training and what to do in many more circumstances than my own racing. It’s extremely rewarding to see runners complete events or set PRs that they didn’t think were possible.
AfterShokz: We’ve heard you like running in costume! What have been some of your favourite costumes to run in and/or favourite stories about running in costume?
Ian: I’ve broken Guinness World Records 10 times for marathons in various costumes, with some more than once. In particular, I’ve run as Elvis multiple times, and the crowds always love it - they sing Elvis songs at me the whole way. Another favourite is my Spiderman costume, although one of the races I did was rainy and the mask made it feel like I was being water-boarded! One other that stands out was running the Rome Marathon as Maximus from the movie, Gladiator - the Italian crowds didn’t get the idea of running in a costume and were pretty much silent and confused as I ran past.
AfterShokz: Other than running, how else do you like to stay fit and active?
Ian: I hike a lot, often with a weight vest, and I do some mountain biking in summer. But I don’t get a chance to play many of the sports I grew up playing.
AfterShokz: What is your all-time favourite pump-up jam? What kind of music do you generally listen to during training?
Ian: I listen to a variety of music when running, plus podcasts. Recently I’ve been downloading some music from my teens like the Cranberries, Pixies, and Soundgarden.
AfterShokz: If you could give one piece of advice for someone thinking about getting into ultra running, what would it be?
Ian: Don’t rush into the really long stuff, and enjoy each step and race along the way. I took five years between my first ultra and first 100-miler. It’s good to give the body time to adjust and get the long-term adaptations for endurance.
AfterShokz: What’s next for you, Ian?
Ian: I’ve got a big summer with my 10th WS100 in June then the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc 171K in August, so right now I’m training hard to prepare. After that, I’ve got a lot more goals for the coming years, including improving my marathon time, going back to Leadville and Comrades, and racing more of the Ultra-Trail World Tour events.