[Editor’s note: Michael Wardian ran the Boston Marathon in 2:31:39 and finished second in the master’s division on April 18 and then ran the London Marathon in 2:27:37 on April 24. On Sept. 25, he ran the Berlin Marathon in 2:28:19 on Sept. 25. He’ll run Chicago and New York City marathons in the fall in his quest to finish all six World Marathon Majors races in 2016.]
Michael Wardian’s passport is starting to look like a worn-out phone book.
OK, it’s not quite that thick and tattered, but he did send it away to the U.S. Passport Office and have it officially expanded by 24 pages last fall. It was a smart—and probably very necessary—move, considering the well-traveled runner from the Washington D.C. area has flown to Iceland, China, New Zealand, Japan, Cuba and Paris for a variety of running races and adventures in the past five months and has several more international plane tickets booked for the next five.
Mixed into his busy schedule is a quest to run all six of the World Marathon Majors races this year. He ran the Tokyo Marathon on Feb. 28, the Boston Marathon on April 18, the London Marathon on April 24 and the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 25. To complete the circuit, he’ll also have run the Chicago Marathon (Oct. 9) and New York City Marathon (Nov. 6).
Wardian is known for being a prolific racer in events from 5K to 100 miles, often with multiple races in a short period of time or even the same weekend. In 2013, he won the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Marathon in 2:31:19 and then hopped on a plane to Las Vegas and later that same day placed 10th in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon in 2:57:56. (That’s 52.4 miles at an average pace of 6:15 per mile, by the way.)
The 42-year-old international shipping broker was gung-ho to try the World Marathon Majors circuit last year, but he started the planning process late and couldn’t get into several of the races.
“The Majors have been around for several years and I’ve often thought it would be a cool thing to try to do them all in one year,” he says. “I first thought about doing it in late 2014 but I had trouble getting into Tokyo and London last year so I had to put it off until this year and plan ahead a little more.”
To assure he’d get an entry into London this year, he joined the London-based Serpentine Running Club and also became a member of England Athletics, the governing body for competitive running in England (similar to USA Track & Field in the U.S.). He earned a race bib because his recent marathon times qualified him for the England Athletics Marathon Championships that is held in conjunction with the London Marathon.
Once he knew he had a spot in London, he reached out to the Boston Athletic Association about running the Boston Marathon. He’s run Boston numerous times in recent years, frequently as part of the Boston to Big Sur marathon doubleheader on back-to-back weekends. (He’s won Boston to Big Sur several times and set the cumulative time record of 4:51:17 in 2014.)
After he got accepted into Boston, he got help from Mike Peroni, the elite athlete coordinator for the Boston Marathon, in getting connected to the right people at the Tokyo Marathon. That race is exceedingly hard to get into, but race officials gave him an entry in the B starting wave. He turned in a solid effort in that race, as his 2:28:14 effort placed 98th overall and fourth in the Masters division.
He then nailed down a spot in the Chicago Marathon with help from race director Carey Pinkowski and the New York City Marathon via elite runner organizer David Monti. He received confirmation of his entry in the Berlin Marathon a few days before the Boston Marathon.
“It’s been a really complicated process and it’s taken quite a bit of time, but I think it’s all going to work out,” Wardian says. “It’s definitely not an easy thing to organize.”
Believe it or not, the World Marathon Majors doesn’t offer any way for runners to enter all six races—whether it’s in a single year or over the course of several years. However, the WMM did recently award a new six-pointed Six-Star Finisher’s Medal to the roughly 600 runners who have accomplished the feat to date.
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But Wardian isn’t running all six races just to get the special medal. He’s hoping to become the fastest runner to complete all six in the same year. Japan’s Yutaka Fukuda holds the current mark with a 2:46 average, set by running six consecutive races in late 2013 and early 2014. The mark for running all six races in the same calendar year was set in 2013 by British runner Andrew Bass, who averaged 3:06.
Wardian ran 2:28:14 in Tokyo, followed by a 2:31:39 effort in Boston, 2:27:37 finish in London on April 24 and a 2:28:19 in Berlin on Sept. 25, which equates to a 2:28:26 average.
Wardian is aware of the World Marathon Majors lifetime record, but admits that might be a tall order. Between 2006 and 2015, Italy’s Hermann Achmuller averaged 2:22:05 for the six races, which included a 2:18:56 in Berlin in 2012.
“That might be out of reach, but I think the real awesome twist with what I’m doing is that I’m not just running these six races, I have a pretty vast range of races on my schedule this year,” says Wardian, who will also run the B.A.A. 5K blindfolded with a guide on April 16 in Boston to help raise awareness for people with vision impairment.
Vast range? That might be the understatement of the year in the world of distance running. Already this year, Wardian flew to China to run in the Vibram Hong Kong 100K, followed by a trip to New Zealand two weeks later to run in the Tarawera 100K. A week after running the Tokyo Marathon on Feb. 28, he flew to Cuba for a week of trail running on a cultural exchange tour. A week after that, he flew to Paris to run the La Verticale Tour Eiffel (a race up the stairs of the Eiffel Tour) and two days later ran the 80K EcoTrail Paris race.
After Boston and London, he’ll fly back to Japan to take part in the Red Bull-sponsored Wings For Life World Run on May 8 in Takashima. Then he’ll be off to the Spanish island of Menorca to run the 185K Trail Menorca Cami de Cavallas on May 20. On June 3, he’s planning to run the San Diego 100 Miler, followed by The Great New York 100 Miler on June 18.
He’ll head back to Iceland in mid-July to run the 55K Laugavegur Ultra Marathon and then cap off his summer by running the 167K Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in Chamonix, France.
Wardian estimates the cost to run the six races (including travel, lodging, entry fees and food) will approach $10,000. He has numerous sponsors—including Hoka One One, Vitargo, Nathan Sports, Compressport, Injinji, Julbo and UVU—and a gazillion airline miles to help ease the burden, but the six-marathon quest will be a big amount of his own resources. (By the way, he’ll fly and drive a total of 31,800 miles to be able to run 157.2 miles in those six races.)
“It’s going to be a pretty epic year,” Wardian says. “It’s not going to be cheap, but I think it will be inspiring and something that people can kind of relate to, at least from the point of view of the interest in running in some of the most iconic cities and some of the best marathons in the world.”
Money aside, that kind of rigorous travel schedule isn’t something most people could pull off month after month. Staying healthy, being smart and efficient about packing, planning out meals and snacks and understanding the nuances of international (and domestic) travel are some of the challenges Wardian regularly has to meet.
But you also have to be willing to endure ridiculous scheduling scenarios and the inevitable logistical nightmares that arise.
For the Tokyo Marathon, Wardian left Washington D.C. on Thursday afternoon, connecting in Toronto with a direct flight to Tokyo. He touched down at Haneda International Airport at about 9 p.m. Friday night., and after a good night’s sleep at his hotel, he went for a short shake-out run Saturday morning and picked up his race bib at the expo. He ran the race at 10 a.m. Sunday morning, showered and zipped back to the airport to catch a 4 p.m. direct flight back to Washington D.C.
“I cut things pretty close sometimes,” he admits. “In Tokyo, if I didn’t finish in time, I wasn’t going to make my flight a little more than 2 hours later. I had to run to catch a train so I could get my bags at the hotel, but I was hypothermic and wound up vomiting because I was so destroyed. I wound up being fine and I made my flight and was able to be back at work on Monday morning, but that’s just an example of how crazy it can be at times.”
Wardian says one of the best aspects of his travel has been taking his wife, Jennifer, and his two young boys, Pierce, and Grant, on some of his trips. They joined him Paris and will be in Boston this weekend and will likely also go to Iceland, Chamonix, Chicago and New York, too.
“I’m grateful to be lucky enough to be able to do what I do, and if I can inspire people to do things, that’s a bonus,” he says. “Our family has really enjoyed our trips, both because of the educational aspects and because they’re a lot of fun. And we’ve been able to share life experiences with many others who might not be able to do this kind of thing at all.”