Mike Wardian, 44, of Arlington, Virginia (near Washington, D.C.) is an incredibly prolific racer who excels on the roads and trails alike, and has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments that includes China’s 400K Gobi Ultra, the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, the Pikes Peak Marathon/Leadville 100 double, and multiple ultra-distance road championships.
In 2016 Wardian set a record for the fastest finishes in all six World Marathon Majors (2:31), and the following year he won the World Marathon Challenge, which is seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, setting the world record for the fastest average finishing time (2:45). This year he did the challenge a second time, following it up with a further three marathons in the next three days on a loop near his home in Arlington, Va., setting the world record for 10 marathons in 10 days. All this after competing at Hawaii’s HURT 100 in January, where he finished in the top 10.
Unbelievably, Wardian ran his 10th marathon in 2:44, faster than all nine previous marathons.
On Saturday, February 23, just for something to do, he ran the 45-mile (72K) Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail in northern Virginia, setting a new FKT (fastest known time) of 5:06:10.
Wardian’s next big project is appropriately epic: on March 8 he will travel to Israel and prepare to set an FKT on the 631 miles (1,009K) of the Israel National Trail, likely starting on March 11 or 12. He hopes to complete it in 10 days.
A runner must run with dreams in his heart. Great is the victory, but the friendship of all is greater. Emil Zatopek.
Today I achieved a dream. I had the incredible good fortune to run the entire 44.9-45 miles of @WODTrail in 5:06:10 for a new @fastestknowntime 🙏🙏🙏🙏 pic.twitter.com/hV4oi5f2Lq
— michael wardian (@mikewardian) February 23, 2019
“There’s some dispute as to whether there’s a record,” Wardian told us. “People have attempted it, but the trail has changed since people have finished. He hopes to cover 100K per day, but he’s limited to daylight hours, since the local authorities would prefer he not run at night.
Wardian will be supported by Zoli Bihari of Canaan Running Adventures, who is familiar with the trail, and who will take care of logistics. It was Bihari who suggested the adventure when both men raced Costa Rica’s Coastal Challenge last year (where Wardian finished third). Wardian travelled to Israel in December to compete in the 80K Hirus Ultra in Jerusalem, mainly to see what it was like to run and race there. (He finished fourth.)
“Everybody I met was unbelievably nice, and the culture was vibrant and cool and accepting,” says Wardian. “There wasn’t any fear–it was just not even a thing, like what you see on television. I know that from travel, but… I just wanted to make sure that things were what Zoli had said they were. Everything was even better than I expected.”
Wardian adds that one of his concerns was around fuelling for a multi-day ultra. “Being vegetarian and almost vegan, sometimes it can be difficult to find fuel. For a marathon or even a 100-miler you can bring a lot of what you need… but if you’re going to do something for 10 days, I wanted to see what do the grocery stores have, what can I stomach, and everything was terrific. There are huge grocery stores, delicious food… just knowing you can eat, that you can get almond butter, honey etc. A lot of the food is grown on kibbutzes. The produce is unsprayed, organic and amazing.”
Besides his gear sponsor, Hoka One One, Wardian is also sponsored by several nutrition companies, including GU, Big Spoon Roasters out of Durham, N.C. (which makes calorie-dense, hand-crafted nut butters), and TB12 Sports which, in partnership with the Purple Carrot, will supply him with high-protein, plant-based food. He has also recently partnered with Territory Food, Jrink, and the salad company Sweetgreen.
But Wardian wasn’t always the superhuman running machine that he is today. He played lacrosse at the University of Michigan, and didn’t start running competitively until after he graduated. The year his son Grant (who is now 10) was diagnosed with epilepsy at around age 3 (he is now seizure-free), Wardian had five stress fractures in his pelvis and five hernias.
Wow, wow, wow! This is what I love about our sport: the display of what the human body and mind is capable of doing. While I know I will never be able to do what @mikewardian is trying to attempt, I take this as a reminder that we should always strive to push our limits. https://t.co/uND9zakJ1Y
— Carsten (@_c4rsten_) February 28, 2019
“When it first started happening, we didn’t know how severe it was, or how to deal with it. We would take shifts watching him sleep, and I was still training, running 100 miles a week and competing all over the world… We were not sleeping, and it became so much that my body just broke down… I thought I’d just pulled something, and my entire pelvis girdle was busted in little fragments.
“I’d never really had any injuries in 23 years of competing at a high level, never had to deal with big injury that kept me out for more than a couple of days. This was four months of not being able to do what I loved to do. You kind of lose your identity as a runner, and you’re not sure you’re going to be the same runner you were. I’m also in my late 30s at this point, and wondering is this the end of being able to be a sponsored athlete? All those questions.”
Wardian ended up appreciating the time to reflect and to re-evaluate his personal goals. “I promised myself that, while still pursuing my obligations to my job and my family, I’d explore what I was capable of. It left me free to pursue things that maybe I hadn’t before because I wasn’t sure I had enough money, or I wouldn’t do as well as I thought. It was liberating and freed me up to think about how to train differently. Before that I was running 100 miles a week. Afterwards, I realized I didn’t have to hit triple digits every week to still have success.”
Wardian works for a shipping brokerage company, helping US and foreign-flag oceangoing vessels carrying (mainly) humanitarian food aid from American ports to various problematic destinations. He’s been with the company since 1996, and the relationship allows him the flexibility to train, race and travel. “I’ve been lucky to have a lot of opportunities and still pay for my kids’ food, pay for college, all the stuff that goes with being a responsible member of society,” he says.
After his injury experience, Wardian started doing strength training in earnest with trainer Jessie Fuller. “I was fearful of doing any kind of core stuff after the hernias, and worried I was going to tear out the repairs, but I worked on getting over that phobia and getting stronger in general… Definitely the increased strength and power have helped me after 80K. In 100K and 100 mile races I start feeling better and better. I have the ability to maintain, a lot more strength in climbing and being able to maintain my posture and push when other people are starting to fade. It’s a real handy thing.”