Arlington, perhaps, is best known for its world-famous Marine Corps Marathon. If Michael Wardian continues on his current running streak, this bustling city might be become known in more for its best marathoner.
The 33-year-old father won his third straight SunTrust National Marathon on Saturday in Washington D.C., blasting past more than 5,000 runners, including D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty and rival Samuel Gebremichael. Five miles into the race, the two-time-U.S. Olympic hopeful ran past all challengers, and completed the 26.2-mile course in 2 hours, 24 minutes and 57 seconds — five minutes ahead of Ethiopia’s Gebremichael. A late addition, Gebremichael had defeated Wardian two weeks earlier at the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach.
The finish set a new course record, and was almost two minutes better than Wardian’s 2007 time of 2:26:35 and more than five minutes better than his 2:30:55 finish in 2006.
Did Wardian stop to celebrate? Hardly.
Immediately following the win, Wardian, flew to Knoxville, Tenn. to compete in the fourth annual Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon on Sunday.
There, he led for the first 23 miles, before (maybe exhaustion?) relinquishing the lead to Stewart Ellington of Knoxville and Justin Gillette of Niles, Mich. between the 23rd and 24th mile.
Wardian stayed with Gillette up until the final half-mile, but admitted after the race that he “got a bit tired,” and that he “didn’t have as much left as the guys who were a little bit fresher,” according to a local newspaper report. He finished in 2:29:50, good enough for third, and 20 seconds back of the top finishers.
<b>FOR THE RECORD</b>, that’s 46.2 miles in less than five hours of running, at two events nearly 500 miles and less than 24 hours apart.
For Wardian, though, running — and more importantly trying to win — back-to-back marathons was a “test of endurance.” The first and third-place finisher won the inaugural Knoxville Marathon and was second last year despite fighting the flu.
Wardian is no stranger to running repeated marathons, having finished double-digit marathons in 2007. But what drives a 33-year-old former Michigan State lacrosse player to abuse his body for the thrill of running?
“My favorite race is always my next one, I love competing and being given the opportunity to test myself,” Wardian told The Connection in June. “My least favorite race is one when I don't perform up to the goals I have set for myself. However, these races when you fail are sometimes even more important than the races when you do well.”
His training regiment begets that of a hard-lined Olympic runner more than a middle-aged recreational runner. Wardian gets up daily before 5 a.m. in order to complete his first run, and then trains again on his lunch break from Potomac Marine International, Inc. in Alexandria, where he’s been the past 12 years.
In fact, Wardian loves running so much that he named his son Pierce Miler, and after watching a competitor in Toronto, decided to incorporate his then-10-month-old son. Wardian soon thereafter set a new Guinness world record in the Fredrick (Md.) Marathon for running while pushing a stroller.
In May of 2007, on a day with 35 mile per hour gusts, Wardian broke the previous record, set in 2004, by finishing in two hours, 42 minutes and 21 seconds — all while pushing Pierce in a stroller.
“I think that Pierce did have some idea that we were going for a long run but don't think he knew that we had set a world record,” Wardian said.
Unluckily for Wardian, the stroller had a plastic wind cover over it, and it acted like a parachute, creating drag. The Oakton High alum maintains it was one of the most difficult races he has ever run.
“My mind was focused on the task at hand, just like it always is during a race,” Wardian said. “I had mile goals and I was determined to hit them, even with the wind battering us. I was concerned that something could happen during the race and I wanted to make sure that Pierce was comfortable.”
<b>SETTING GOALS</b>, winning races and breaking records are becoming commonplace.
But Wardian hardly had a natural start. After not running competitively in college (he played lacrosse), Wardian became interested after hearing that a friend’s mom had run in the Boston Marathon. So he bought a running-based book, introduced himself to the sport and ran a 3:08 in his first-ever marathon. The Marine Corps Marathon time automatically qualified him for the Boston Marathon.
“My first marathon was terrific but hard, I had trained but it was still a challenge and I will never forget it,” Wardian said.
He hasn’t stopped running since.
Four years ago, Wardian set a world record for the fastest marathon on a treadmill—2 hours, 23 minutes—at a Pacers running store in Arlington. (Eric Blake has since lowered the record to 2:21.)
In 2007, he ran in over 10 marathons, including six marathons in a seven-week span. He won three of them and finished in the top three in all but two.
Wardian has run in two Olympic trials, first in 2004, when he finished 33rd. In November, he ran a 2:30:54, placing him 92nd, but well off the top-finishing time of 2:09:02. The Olympic trials were overshadowed by the death of colleague Ryan Shay, who collapsed and died during the race.
Nevertheless, the Pacers/Brooks-sponsored runner continues to press on — and now in different ways.
Wardian has now turned his focus on trying to make the United States’ 100-kilometer world team. He has also said publicly that he wants to train for a 100-miler and complete the famed Ironman competition in Hawaii.
Earlier this month, Wardian set a record in the USA 50-kilometer Road Championships held March 2 in Huntington, N.Y. He established an Open championship record by 49 seconds, finishing in 2:55:05 and surpassing Richard Holloway's 27-year-old record.
What’s next? If a 52-plus mile weekend squeezed between two marathons in 24-span was any indication — it’s probably plenty of running.
“I hope to continue to be healthy and run for a long time to come,” Wardian said.