The 38-year-old defending champion is coming back from severe injuries.
Michael Wardian of Arlington, Virginia is a modern day running machine. A serial marathoner and ultra marathoner, the 38-year-old is famous for running–and winning–many races, some of them even taking place on the same day.
Wardian, a former lacrosse player at Michigan State University, is a three-time U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, national ultrarunning champion, and has even held the world record for marathoning with a jog stroller.
But the once smooth-running Wardian has dealt with some setbacks recently, including not one, but five stress fractures in his pelvis last summer. And if that weren’t enough, he also incurred five hernias.
“Last year was tough,” the typically laid-back Wardian admits with a chuckle, “there’s no doubt about it.” Most runners would hang up their racing flats after suffering through such an injury ordeal. Wardian, however, is not most runners.
To know him is to know what it means to persevere. Wardian says he was in such bad shape last year he could barely walk and needed to lean on his bike to get around. “I thought stress fractures would sideline me for 4-6 weeks,” he says. “But that wasn’t the case.” Wardian was out for six months due to the devastating string of injuries, and he didn’t start running again until this past January.
His own physical challenges aside, Wardian’s son, Grant, was diagnosed with epilepsy last year. Wardian and his wife would take turns at night checking on Grant while he slept to make sure he was OK. “He [Grant] was in and out of the hospital and when he was at the house, we had to set an alarm every few hours. It made things really challenging,” he admits.
Through it all, Wardian has never considered quitting—not for a second.
“There’s no way I thought about it,” he admits. “I love it. I love this sport. I will be doing it until I’m like 100 [years old].”
To stay fit while recovering from his injuries, Wardian says he swam, biked, and even walked on the treadmill. But his “walks” were hardly easy. “I would put the treadmill at its maximum grade, 15 percent, and walk for like four hours,” Wardian recalls.
Four-hour walks on a treadmill as steep as it can go while recovering from five stress fractures and five hernias sums up Michael Wardian in a nutshell.
Wardian has recently been ramping up his running mileage now that he’s healthy again. Once a 100 to 120 mile-a-week runner when he was at his peak, he’s now doing between 40 and 50. Last weekend, he “only” clocked a 2:42 marathon.
This weekend, he readies himself for the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon in Washington D.C., on Saturday. Previously known as the National Marathon, the race has been an almost entirely Wardian affair for the past decade.
“I’m not sure how I’ll do,” says Wardian, who has won the race six times, including last year’s edition in 2:26:35. “But I do know I will be running it as hard as I can for as long as I can. Why? Because this race is special; it’s been a part of my life for a really long time.”
Wardian says he doesn’t think he can hold close to 5-minute pace for the full 26.2 miles, and that doesn’t faze him too much. “It should be fun,” he says. “I love this race, because I love this city and look forward to run around it.”
Amongst the elites on Saturday, Wardian will be joined by Dutch marathoning great Harm Sengers, who owns a 2:21 personal best. Also expected to be in the hunt for the win is 25-year-old Jordan McDougal, a member of the 2006 U.S. junior team that competed at the World Cross-Country Championships.
Sara Vergote of Ames, Iowa headlines the women’s marathon with a top seed of 2:48:21. She will also be competing against a Dutch citizen: Janneke Videler, who is making her marathon debut.
In the half marathon, American Christopher Mills, who owns a 65-minute PR for the distance, is at the top of the start list, while on the women’s side, the returning champion from 2011, Christine Ramsey, hopes to be the first to break the tape.
About The Author:
Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first running book, RUN SIMPLE, was released in July 2012.