Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ian Sharman: an ultra champion and professional coach

Thanks to an event hosted by our local Sports Basement running store in Campbell, we had the privilege to listen to our very own teammate about his recent win of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (TM), smashing the record of this 27-year exclusive event by 5 hours, that is about a 7% improvement!
Ian has already shared many insights about his four 100-mile races on his blog:
  1. Western States - 16:20:25, 4th overall
  2. Vermont - 15:57:42, 4th overall
  3. Leadville - 16:30:02, 1st overall
  4. Wasatch Front - 21:01:30, 2nd overall
If you didn't follow Ian's busy summer, such results show an amazing consistency at the elite level. It is also the result of a friendly but fierce competition with his countryman Nick Clark who finished 6th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st respectively at these same races, only conceding 30 minutes to Ian overall in his unofficial Grand Slam (Nick didn't pay the Grand Slam fee).
With a few pictures in the background, this Saturday even was basically a live and interactive blog, 2 hours of captivating insights on this intense ultra running as well as tips for training. Unfortunately, the time (Saturday, noon to 2 pm) or the weather (first pouring rain to celebrate Fall) dragged a small audience of which about 2/3 was from our ultra running team and running club, the Quicksilver Running Club of San Jose.
For one thing, although it has been going for almost 30 years, the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning isn't for everybody: since 1986, only 288 runners have completed the Grand Slam. For one thing, it's very hard to remain injury-free not only during the hard training, but also during these events. And running one 100-mile is already enough of a fate for many, or out of reach for even more runners...

Ian has already shared his top 5 tips on his blog after Western States and Vermont : Rest, No race between races (sic!), Eat well, Quality Sleep, Massage. Here are a few additional tips gleaned form his pitch this Saturday:
  1. Power hiking - What stroke me the most in Ian's racing tips is that he hikes significant portions of course. Ian got speed, he is a 2:32 marathoner. But when it comes to steep hills, his recommendation is to save energy by power hiking at a 12 or 13 min/mile pace. Ian believes that he might have hiked about 50% of the Wasatch course. In some steep sections, he could see himself hiking faster than Nick was running. Hiking use less energy, less bouncing than running. It's more sustainable, it helps keeping the heart rate lower.
  2. Hiking training - To prepare for hiking fast in races, Ian incorporates significant hiking on steep hills in his training regimen. Wearing a weight vest to strengthen his legs and core muscles, and feeling light in races without the vest. You need to do specific training for hiking because that makes the muscles work differently. Training consists in hiking as fast as possible, to get used to it, at 13 minutes/mile or even faster.
  3. Hiking at altitude - Hiking is also great exercise to get acclimated faster at altitude without burning yourself out before a race.
  4. Heat training - In addition to time in the sauna, static or exercising, Ian runs in the heat with 3 layers on (I've done that at Rancho and, yes, that gets you strange looks from the hikers you meet on the trails ;-).
  5. Low mileage - Ian prefers quality to quantity, and that's part of his coaching program philosophy and design. Typically 80 miles/week at the peak of this training. If running more than 100 miles/week, Ian feels tired afterwards and can't train has hard afterwards.
  6. Pacing - At least for the first 80 miles, go by the feel, don't try to stick to a specific or expected timing. Don't go 100% both in the up and down hills, save some energy for the finish.
  7. Coach - Ian didn't bring this topic directly but as a response to a question from the audience. Indeed, there is a steep learning curve to get ready to successfully run a 100-mile and a coach can bring many specific training and racing tips.
  8. Crew - You don't really need one if you are fast, in shorter ultras. Crews are useful though for giving or taking the headlamp at the right time/point, or bring the right stuff at certain aid stations. A heck of a job to crew for a long event and on a course with remote aid stations.
  9. Recovery - With such a series of races, 3 to 4 weeks apart, there is no room for speed training. The training was mostly done before Western States. Then each race served as... long training runs.
Ian has another 100-mile on his schedule this year, Javelina Jundred next month. Then he should get back to some speed (sic!) with marathon racing at the end of the year and next year. Ian has also been selected for the 100K World Championship on Team Britain but he isn't in a hurry to race such an event (Jon Olsen told me that this year's event which was finally scheduled to occur in Dubai at the end of December has been cancelled anyway). Ian stated that the IATF World events were not as competitive as other events such as Western States, UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) which drag the best ultra runners from around the world.

The event was advertizing Ian as "Pro Ultra Runner." Don't get mistaken, our ultra running sport still doesn't pay much and certainly not anything close to what's needed to support a family. But Ian lives from his running coaching business, with clients from many countries around the globe. He works with them mostly by phone and email and reports great success for his mentees. Here is his coaching business web site.
I enjoyed learning from Ian, thanks to Sports Basement for this opportunity! It was a busy morning for me as I squeezed a hilly 28-mile run this morning (Rancho San Antonio, Black Mountain, Foothills Park in Palo Alo, Rhus Ridge). It had run the night before, just in time to celebrate the first day of the Fall, and the smell of the trees and grass was amazingly wonderful. I saw quite a few deers who enjoyed the new weather. We missed rain so much last winter, keep it coming now! I actually made it on time for the presentation at noon, after a shower and quick lunch at home, except that I drove to the wrong store, Sports Basement in Sunnyvale, ouch! At least I discovered a new running store, in Campbell, where Barnes and Noble was used to be. 68 miles this week since my Headlands 100 win last weekend (certainly quite more modest event than Ian's estival hundreds), with more this Sunday. I know, I'm not following the tips from the master... Next weekend will be busy with Stevens Creek 50K on Saturday and Trailblazer 10K on Sunday. Then I'm invited by Brooks to compete in the Rock'n Roll San Jose Half Marathon the following weekend. Then it will be time to leave for 4 weeks in Senegal for a humanitarian project in Dakar sponsored by the IBM Foundation, as part of IBM's Corporate Service Corps. This is still an ultra life... ;-)

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