Gold Story: Racing The World, Breaking Records, Running Across The Country, Michael Wardian Hopes To Inspire Others With His Feats
What started off as something he wanted to do because he saw his friend’s mom running the Boston Marathon over 20 years ago, has turned into a lifelong obsession for Michael Wardian to see how far he can go.
“I’m always trying to see what I’m capable of,” 46-year-old Virginia native and professional runner Michael Wardian said. “I try to find things that are exciting or a little scary, outside of what I’ve done in the past, something I’m not quite sure I’m going to have success at. Those are some of the most valuable things you can do because if you just keep doing the same thing, that’s not as exciting as if you continue to find your boundaries.”
Michael Wardian is the only person who has ever won both the full marathon (in 2011) and the ultramarathon (in 2019) distances at the San Francisco Marathon, but his track record of amazing accomplishments is much longer than that!
He played lacrosse when he was young and was even a Division 1 lacrosse player in college at Michigan State, but then he picked up running to stay fit. He didn’t start running competitively until after college.
It all started because he went to dinner at a friend’s house and his friend’s mom was going to be running the Boston Marathon.
He thought that sounded like fun and he wanted to try it out too, not knowing that you had to first qualify for the Boston Marathon.
So, he decided to train for and run the Marine Corps Marathon that year. He ran 3:06 and qualified for the 1997 Boston Marathon, which would be the first of many Boston Marathons for Michael.
“I just got hooked,” Michael said. “I completely fell in love with running.”
He’s now run the Boston Marathon 18 or 19 times, he says, and it’s a big part of his life.
An Impressive Running Resume
Since he started running in 1996, Michael has run nearly 300 marathons and about 100 ultramarathons all over the world.
In 2019 alone, he ran 20 marathons, including setting a world record for running 10 marathons in 10 days on seven continents.
“I think I might be one of the only people to win a marathon on all seven continents and the North Pole,” Michael was quoted as saying.
Also in 2019, Michael ran across the entire country of Israel in 10 days, breaking the previous record of completing the Israel National Trail in 15 days.
During that adventure, he ran about 100 km per day, completing all 1,100 km of the trail, going from one end of the country to the other.
After that experience, Michael was quoted as saying, “For me it was one of the most life-changing experiences I ever had. It gave me an unbelievable amount of confidence but also belief in humanity. … The opportunity to get to share experiences with people and learn about them and the culture of Israel was life-altering.”
He’s competed in the marathon Olympic Trials three times, in 2004, 2008, and 2012, and he says he loves the Olympic Trials.
“Man, I’m so excited for everyone that’s competing in the trials this year. It’s one of the most special days on the calendar as an athlete,” Michael said before the Olympic Trials happened on Feb. 29. “I would get goosebumps when I was running in the trials, just knowing that someone you’re standing here with, that you’re competing with, is going to the Olympics.”
He even considered heading down to Atlanta to watch the Olympic Trials this year, except that he was going to be competing the next day in the 50k National Championships.
He has won the U.S. National Championships in the 50k (several times) and 100k, as well as the U.S. 50 mile championship.
This year, on March 1, he was third overall in the USA Track & Field 50k National Championships. He broke the age 45-49 American record in the 50k and he won the Masters Category at that race too.
The list of marathons and ultramarathons that Michael has run (and won!) is very long.
And he has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
Trying To Break 29-Year-Old Course Record
Michael makes it a point to seek out new adventures, new exciting opportunities that will challenge him and push him to new extremes.
This week’s new adventure: trying to break the 29-year-old course record at the Catalina Island Marathon.
On Saturday, March 14, 2020, Michael will attempt to beat legendary Bill McDermott’s Catalina Island Marathon course record of 2:39:58 that was set in 1991.
Bill McDermott has run the Catalina Island Marathon all 42 years that it has been running and he has won the race 13 times, but for the first time in the history of the race, he will not be running this year due to a pending surgery, according to Run Catalina Island.
Michael is going to attempt to beat Bill McDermott’s record on this trail marathon with rugged terrain and more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain.
“It’s going to be a pretty tough race,” Michael said.
On Saturday, we’ll be able to see if Michael was able to add this record to his list of accomplishments.
The San Francisco Marathon Is Super Special
Even with Michael’s adventures and races all over the world, there are some races that he loves to compete in over and over again, and the San Francisco Marathon is one of those races.
“I’ve run the San Francisco Marathon eight or nine times,” Michael said. “It’s one of those events that’s super special. I love the city of San Francisco.”
In 2019, it was the first time Michael competed in the ultramarathon, and he won the race with a time of 6:17:31.
The San Francisco ultramarathon is 52.4 miles, running the full marathon course twice. The first loop starts at 11 p.m. on Saturday night, running the marathon course in reverse through the night.
The second time around, runners join the rest of the full marathon racers and start at 5:30 a.m., this time running during the day.
Michael also won the San Francisco full marathon race in 2011 with a time of 2:27:06. He’s the only person who has ever won both the full and ultramarathon races at the San Francisco Marathon.
When asked why he keeps coming back to San Francisco, Michael said, “If I can be a part of it, I will. I love the organization, the people, the city.”
“I didn’t think there was anything cooler than running across the Golden Gate Bridge, but Golden Gate Park, all the different neighborhoods — it’s all amazing,” Michael said.
He also loves that motorcycle clubs help with the traffic control during the race.
“You run by the stadium, the water. The weather is amazing. It’s an awesome city. The beauty is second to none. It’s such a metropolitan area, but then you also run through nature in the park,” Michael says.
So, what does professional runner Michael Wardian who’s run all over the globe think of the San Francisco Marathon course?
“It’s a great course. It’s not easy, but it’s fair,” Michael said. “If you’re fit and running strong, you definitely have a chance to do well.”
He loves the San Francisco hills too.
Michael says, “That’s one of the great things about it. You get those hills. You have to climb a bunch, but you also get those really beautiful downhills — long downhills, where you can really fly if your legs are up for it. And then there’s some flat as you’re coming into the finish line, so if there’s not wind, it’s great (but there can be wind, so you have to be ready for that)!”
He loves San Francisco so much that he’s even planning to start in the city for his next big goal later this year.
Current Goal: Run Across The U.S.
“The biggest goal this year is to run across the country,” Michael said. “Probably starting in San Francisco and hopefully ending at the Atlantic Ocean. It’d be really cool to run from one ocean to the other and I’m planning on doing it this summer.”
He ran across Israel last year, so he’s upping the ante this year and doing something even bigger by running across the United States.
The motivation behind this newest goal, this newest adventure, is the same as Michael’s entire running career: “Just to see if I can do it.”
He knows it’s going to take a toll on his body — he plans on running about 30 to 50 miles a day and he’s hoping he can do it in less than three months.
“It’s going to change me probably forever,” Michael said. “It’s going to allow me to go to places I’ve never been before and hopefully learn even more about myself and what I’m capable of. Hopefully that will allow me to do even bigger things.
“After I run across the U.S., I think it would be awesome to run across Africa, Australia, New Zealand. I still want to do the Appalachian Trail.”
Michael has a lot of plans for the future. He’s going to keep pushing himself to the edge and see how far he can go.
Inspiring Others, Giving Back
One of the main reasons that Michael keeps pushing himself to new heights and ever greater challenges is because he wants to inspire others to push themselves too.
He’s in his mid-40s, but he’s still running and winning races, setting new records. He says he tries to say yes to every opportunity he’s given and he feels extremely blessed to have the opportunities he’s had.
Michael has a wife and two boys, ages 13 and 11, who get to go with him on many of his wild adventures. He says they’ve been to five continents and to 25 countries.
“As a professional runner, I try to bring them along as much as I can,” he said.
Michael is also trying to help other runners and give back to this amazing community which has given him so much.
He’ll be running the Boston Marathon this year as a pacer for a visually impaired runner who is trying to qualify for the Paralympic Games. He’s also run as a pacer for a double amputee in the past and he says tries to do this as much as he can.
Michael is also raising money for charities, including World Vision, which helps provide clean water and support for children and families in underserved communities.
He’s running the Comrades Marathon in South Africa later this year to raise money for World Vision.
“I’m super lucky. I have so many blessings and running has let us do all these amazing things,” Michael said. “I’m hoping that people will see me and be inspired and think that maybe I can do it too.”
In honor and celebration of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games that will be happening at the same time as the 2020 San Francisco Marathon, we are telling runners’ Gold Stories.
For many, running in the Olympics may be a far off dream, but we know you have your own goals and achievements that we want to hear about and celebrate, because everyone can have their own version of a Gold Goal!