“The man is a freak of nature, unlike anyone I’ve ever met…he’s just amazing,” even Rich Hanna was at a loss for words, grappling with the right ones to fully express just how impressed he was with Michael Wardian.
Let me back up a bit and set the backdrop for you. I was working on an article centered around treadmill running and how it could best be adapted for trail runners. A high number of the magazine’s readership were ultra marathoners and so I went to Rich Hanna, an ultra marathoner that I’d met back in high school while working at a running shoe store. Like many runners, his passion for the sport spilled over into his ‘real job,’ which meant coaching and heading a highly successful race marketing business. He’d regularly come in and out of the Fleet Feet Sports I worked at.
So I contacted Rich, told him about my article and the first words out of his mouth were, “Wait, I have the perfect person you have to talk to, I met him at a marathon in Hawaii and the guy is a beast…literally, he’s got to be the most talented ultra runner I’ve ever met!” This led me to Wardian. (Silver 2011 World Championships 100k, USATF Ultra Runner of the Year 2008/2009/2010)
I’d read about him actually, and he’d already impressed me. He raced an inhuman amount (think 100 milers then come back a few days later and running a marathon), didn’t believe in any kind of taper, and unlike many ultra runners he still possessed the speed of an elite level marathoner. He’s going to be lining up in Houston for the Olympic Marathon Trials this January with a time of 2:17:49.
He crisscrosses the globe on a weekly basis for races. Rich went on to detail how for the race in Hawaii he had flown in the morning before and barely made it to the starting line on time…Michael went on to win the race and further begged Rich to join him for another 13 mile hellacious hill climb. He told Rich before the gun went off, “I’ve got to fly out later this afternoon, so after I finish, grab your car, I ran this mountain trail during my honeymoon and I’ve been dying to come back.” Boom, the gun went off.
Yet, he still makes his family his top priority. How so? He’s there most mornings babysitting his children while doing his training downstairs, “I use a treadmill because I need to be close to my family and we got our treadmill the day our second son Grant was born…they still wake up and go down to the treadmill to find me and I hope off and make them their snacks and get their milk, then jump back on.”
The allure of those additional 13 mountain miles can be explained as such, “I love being outside and pushing it and trails are a great way to see a lot of amazing things in a short amount of time. I also like running to places that are hard to get to because I feel like they are just mine, if only for a few minutes.”
I’ve heard many other runners relate, whether it’s the solitude of a trail or the pulsing pace of a track race. In the end are we not alone with ourselves, reaching for a goal, pushing against the pain? That moment is all yours and up to you whether you dig deep and keep going or stop and relent.
Wardian got into running later than most and only ventured past the marathon on a dare. “Someone told me it is not possible to run 3 marathons in a month so in 1998 I ran Chicago, Marine Corps, and then New York City in four weeks and then they said, ‘Well, you couldn’t do a 50 miler on top of that,’ so I ran the JFK 50 Miler two weeks after NYC and it was hard but I finished. Still really proud of that.”
Beastly. Like Hanna, I am lacking for a better term. Many have begged Wardian to conform to some kind of taper, even Hanna recounted to me, “He won’t do it, but I’d love to see what he could do if he actually rested for one of these races.” But the Beast won’t, he just enjoys running and racing too much to cut back, and ultimately he doesn’t believe resting would yield him any better results.
How does he beat treadmill boredom? “I tend to use the treadmill like I am outside and that means I use my imagination, I pretend I am coming up to a tough section of the race and then increase the incline or speed, or then I am crushing down the hill and I might speed the treadmill up. Treadmills are great because they allow you to get everything you want whenever you want it. You just have to remember to change the variables.”
Mix things up, keep your legs guessing, challenge your weaknesses. “I am trying to do hills a few times a week, that is a weakness ,or has been, so I want to fix that,” acknowledges Wardian, “for me that means hours of running up vertical inclines, sometimes fast, sometimes just a long grind, but always pushing to get better.” Words to live by.
We all may not log 120 miles a week but there are plenty of things we can take away from this inhuman human.
•Don’t let others set limits for you. Further, don’t set the limits yourself. Instead, embrace the seemingly unattainable and try it; live to prove them wrong.
•Make your training fit your life. If you don’t have access to trails don’t think you can’t win a 100 mile trail race. If you have a job that doesn’t allow you to run outside during daylight hours, don’t think the treadmill isn’t a viable option. The same for family; you don’t have to sacrifice one or the other.
•Still include variety in your workouts. “I try to do a few really quality workouts, so hills, tempo runs, speed play, a track workout, long run and then a race or two.”
I could go on, but instead, I think I’ll follow Rich’s lead and leave you with this, “The man is a freak of nature…but in the best possible way, he’s a beast.”
Be sure to root for Michael Wardian and all of the other racers competing in the Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston January 14th.