Ultramarathons are grueling events that can range from 50 kilometers (just over 31 miles) to 160 miles in distance. To compete in such long, intense events, an athlete must not only be in top physical and mental shape, he or she must also maximize their fueling prior to and during races. Ultramarathon runner Ian Sharman, who started racing in 2005 and has completed over 200 ultramarathons and marathons, has mastered his training and nutrition strategy for endurance races.
The Grand Slam of Ultramarathon record holder is calling upon his nine years of racing and four years of coaching experience to educate athletes of all abilities to help them accomplish their goals. In CLIF Bar’s “Eat Like an Athlete” video series (in the video player above), Sharman shares seven key endurance tips for athletes looking to dominate their next event.
Below, we’ve pulled out the highlights to help you get started.
1. Eat What You Love
Sharman’s favorite food is avocados. He puts them in almost every meal. Avocados are full of healthy fats called monounsaturated fats, the good fats, which are an important part of an athlete’s diet. To eat like an athlete, you need to find healthy foods you love so you have a go-to option whenever you need to fuel up with crucial nutrients. This will also help you enjoy sticking with healthy foods.
2. Prepare Your Race Food Ahead of Time
When running 100-mile races, Sharman has to make sure he gets enough calories so he doesn’t run out of energy. He does this by eating small amounts of food very frequently. Sharman always carries snacks to nibble on during a race.
Practice race-day fueling with CLIF SHOT BLOKS or other easily digestible snacks during your long training runs. This will help you craft the perfect racing nutrition strategy and ensure that you know what foods power your performance without upsetting your stomach.
3. Challenge Yourself (But Don’t Jump in Headfirst)
Sharman became interested in ultramarathons by accident when he saw a TV show about a race in the Sahara called Marathon Des Sables. At the time, he was in an exercising lull, and although he previously thought running was boring when he played team sports, he decided to give it a shot. During his first ultramarathon, in the Namib Desert in South Africa, he drank too much water and was unable to finish. He called it “drowning himself in the desert.” He had no idea such a thing was possible.
Two years later, Sharman returned to Marathon Des Sables and finished what he started. Since his first ultramarathon, he hasn’t looked back, becoming one of the best long distance runners in the world.
Be motivated to try new training techniques and challenges, but make sure to do your research and follow an expert-created training and nutrition strategy.
4. Don’t Overdo Carb Loading
Based on his past nutrition mistakes, Sharman has learned how to eat right. His biggest mistake was eating a huge meal the night before a race. The conventional wisdom for runners has been to carb-load with a massive pasta dinner the night before a big race. But Sharman said it made him feel bloated and heavy by start time the next morning. He now eats a lighter meal the night before; he eats his big meal two days before the race.
Provide your body with enough nutrients, but don’t overdo it with a mega-meal the night before a race.
5. Find Your Inspirational Song
The most inspiring song on Sharman’s running playlist is “Shosholoza,” a South African mining song that is chanted at the beginning of every Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa. Comrades is the largest ultramarathon in the world, and the song has significant meaning to Sharman, whose life has dramatically changed since he discovered the sport. Whenever he hears the song, he gets choked up, and he uses it for motivation when racing.
Use your training runs and workouts to find a song that gives you an extra boost. Fire that song up when it’s go time.
6. Be Mentally Strong in the Face of Adversity
Sharman’s longest race was a 150-mile, multi-stage event that took an entire week to finish, but his longest continuous race was one in which he ran a mile loop over and over for 24 hours. He got injured within the first three hours, then walked the rest of the time because he didn’t want to set a precedent of throwing in the towel. He refused to quit and finished the race. He knew that giving up then would make giving up easier in a more important future race.
As legendary NFL coach Vince Lombard once said, winning is a habit, but so is losing. If you make coming up short a habit, that’s what you can expect to happen when things get tough.
7. When in Rome, Eat a Pickle
The strangest things Sharman ever ate during a race were gherkins, a German variety of pickles. Racing all over the world, Sharman gets to see many cultures and learn what other runners use as good fuel for races. Toward the end of the Berlin Marathon, he was offered gherkins. Although the pickle didn’t go down smoothly, Sharman believes the German running trick of consuming something salty late in the race paid off.
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