When you are a husband, a father with two young sons, an international ship broker and a world-class marathoner/ultra-marathoner with some zany accomplishments, you multitask.
So, for an interview covering a range of subjects leading up to Saturday’s United Airlines Rock ‘n’ Roll Washington D.C. Marathon and Half Marathon, 42-year-old Michael Wardian stepped on the treadmill in his D.C. office/garage during lunch hour, set it on a 12-percent incline, and chatted away.
The Arlington, Va., resident, began the day with a 10K jog to the office. His commute would include a return run home. He’s a six-time winner of the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Marathon and will lace up the kicks again on Saturday.
“What I like about running is I don’t care who you are, where you come from, what you’ve done in the past, it’s very finite,” Wardian said. “You do the work, you get the results. There’s no hiding. Running is really pure.”
The list of that-can’t-be-possible feats Wardian has pulled off stretch longer than any ultra course. The Cliffs Notes highlights: former world record for fastest marathon pushing a stroller; former world record for fastest marathon on a treadmill; former world record for fastest marathon on a 200-meter track; pending Guinness world record for fastest marathon wearing an Elvis costume; three-time U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier.
In January, Wardian achieved arguably his most impressive accomplishment. He won the World Marathon Challenge, completing seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. Running first in Antarctica, then Chile, Miami, Madrid, Morocco, Dubai and finally Sydney, Wardian averaged 2:45:56 per marathon, crushing the previous record of 3:32:25 per marathon.
Wardian attributes many factors for his ability to run-run-run without melting into the pavement. At 6 feet, 140 pounds, he’s fanatical about his diet. He’s a vegetarian, loading up on organic fruits and vegetables.
After suffering five stress fractures to his pelvis, plus five hernias in late 2012, he has adopted a less-is-more philosophy. He used to train more than 100 miles a week. Now, it’s sometimes “only” 80.
But he thinks his mental state plays as much a role as physical factors.
“I’m really committed and passionate about it,” he said. “I love it. I love all aspects of it. I love being interviewed about running. I love the training. I love waking up early. But I really think it helps having the right mindset. And I’m really careful.”
Knocking off the World Marathon Challenge required a couple years of planning and tremendous sponsorship for an undertaking that cost $45,000. Starting in Antarctica, Wardian was exposed to temperatures that dipped to negative 22 Fahrenheit accompanied by winds that whipped to 30 mph. He credits wearing proper clothing, plus the experience of winning the 2014 North Pole Marathon helped him deal with the frigid cold.
“I was prepared mentally, and I had a really good kit,” he said. “With the right kit, a lot of things are possible which you think are really challenging.”
Five days later in Dubai, Wardian was running in triple-digit temperatures. “That kind of change,” he said, “is a huge ask of anybody.”
Hardly one to be consumed by the clock, Wardian appreciated memorable moments along the seven-continent journey. There was the time in Antarctica when the sun dipped behind the mountains amidst massive gray clouds and sunbeams began shooting between through the clouds.
“No one was around me and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, who gets to do this?’” he said. “It’s one of those moments I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
There was the moment on South Beach in Miami when he was dodging strollers and bikes and stopped for a selfie with a spectator, who happened to be the guy Wardian barely beat in a race years ago.
There was Dubai, “Running by people who had no idea a marathon was going on, but by the end, they were connecting and cheering for us.”
He’ll be running closer to home on Saturday, where he won the event’s marathon in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012, and ran last year’s race in a Spiderman costume.
About running on home soil, Wardian said, “It’s terrific, man. It’s one of my favorites. It’s a beautiful race, a great way to reconnect with the local culture, the running people in D.C., and a chance to see all the sites.”
With the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority metro system undergoing accelerated maintenance, there are a few changes to this year’s races.
Previously, the marathon and half marathon both started together at 7:30 a.m. On Saturday, the marathon kicks off at 7 a.m. and the half marathon at 8:30. Several blocks on 14th Street between Madison and Jefferson have been set aside for shuttle service.
The half marathon and marathon courses feature a slight change from about 1.5 miles through Mile 4. That route used to be off Memorial Bridge. Now it’s on portions of Rock Creek Parkway and the Potomac River Freeway.
Course director Keith Dowling, a former 2:13 marathoner who was a top American-born finisher at the 2002 Boston Marathon, feels the United Airlines Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon is an excellent prep race before the Boston Marathon. The D.C. course features some early hills, and like Boston, allows runners to make up for any lost time with late descents.
“The mantra for runners is they have to keep the word ‘steady’ in their head,” Dowling said. “Keep that mantra, ‘steady effort.’ At 7.5 miles, you’re at the top. By Mile 8, you get a release to the downhill portion. You’re going to get all that time back if you’re patient.”
Between the 5K, half marathon and marathon, nearly 25,000 runners, walkers and wheelchairs have entered Saturday’s races. The Family Stone will serve as the finish line headliner of the Toyota Rock ‘n’ Roll Concert Series.
As for Wardian, when asked if he feels blessed to do what he does, he didn’t miss a beat while walking up the 12-percent treadmill incline.
“Especially after getting hurt,” he said. “Every day is something I cherish, and I do not take any day for granted that I’m able to do these things.”