Life After Lax: Michael Wardian, Ultrarunner

PHOTO COURTESY OF TREADMILL MARATHON

Michael Wardian played attack at Michigan State in the 1990s.


This story appears in the February 2020 edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Head to USLacrosse.org to subscribe.

There are runners. Then there’s Michael Wardian.

In February 2019, the 45-year-old international ship broker and prolific ultrarunner from Arlington, Va., won the World Marathon Challenge, which consists of seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. His average time was 2:58:30. It was the second-fastest average in the event’s history. Wardian set the record mark in 2017.

Wardian wasn’t done after he ran a 2:53:03 in Miami in 2019. He completed an additional three marathons over the next three days around Hains Point in Washington D.C. and set the world record for the fastest 10 marathons in 10 days. 

“The man is more than a unicorn,” Washington City Paper wrote after Wardian’s achievement. “He’s a mythical creature unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

Wardian, who raced 1,729.96 miles in 2019, developed his endurance on the lacrosse field. He played attack at Michigan State in the 1990s, before running his first Boston Marathon in 1997.

We managed to catch up with Wardian in December to talk about his lacrosse past, his journey into running and the “audacious goals” he still wants to pursue. 

What was your first lacrosse memory?

I started playing in the fifth grade. I moved to the D.C. area from West Virginia. I decided to try something new and found lacrosse. I was taken pretty early with it. It combined a lot of aspects of other sports I had played, but was unique. I wasn’t a very big kid, but it was a sport where you didn’t really need to be big. One of the things I love about lacrosse is that it’s not a sport where size defines you. It’s similar to running in that aspect.







What were your ambitions after you started playing lacrosse?

My goal was to play in Division I. I went to a camp at the University of Maryland, and the coach there said, “If you throw 50 times against a wall righthanded and lefthanded between when you hear this and when you’re ready to be in college, I’ll give you a scholarship.” 

From that point on, it’d be Christmas and I’d go out and throw the ball against the [house] siding. My parents would ask ,“What are you doing?” I was really dedicated, man. My goal was actually to score in the Carrier Dome. I thought I’d play for Syracuse because when I was growing up, there were the Gait brothers and [Tom] Marechek. I wanted to be like those guys.

What led to competitive running?

I went to a fraternity brother’s house, and his mom had just ran the Boston Marathon. It was a seminal moment in my life. That was the first time that I had seen a marathon runner that looked liked an average person. The people that you see on TV look like Bill Rodgers, or [Eliud] Kipchoge, or someone rail thin. She was just my friend’s mom. She said it was pretty straightforward. If you can do the work and do the training, then you can do a marathon. That’s all I needed to hear.

How did your background in lacrosse carry over when you started running? 

There’s dedication, resilience and overcoming obstacles. Time management skills. Balance. That demand for excellence and that high achievement is something I learned through lacrosse. You can’t fake working on your left hand. If you want to be the best, you need to do all the little things that can give you an advantage and continue to allow you to evolve and really master your craft.

How has your path in running compared to what you thought it would be?

It’s insane, man. I never expected anything. It’s an honor to be a professional athlete in something that you like to do. Running has helped me balance working full time as an international ship broker and being a dad and helping coach the kids’ teams and being on a bocce ball team and trying to become a Grandmaster in chess. I’m not afraid to fail and grow through it. Lacrosse helped me in that aspect. You’re only as good as the last time you played, and if you don’t keep up with your skills, then there is somebody there to replace you. That is true is life too. You have to keep reinventing yourself.  

What advice would you give somebody who is interested in running might be intimidated?

 That is the cool thing about running. We all have the ability to define what success looks like for us. I used to be worried if I could even just do it. I still get that feeling. I line up now, and I’m pretty sure I’ll finish a marathon, but if I line up for a 400-kilometer race or even a 100-miler, there are so many things that can go wrong and so many challenges that can come up.

Instead of being worried now, I embrace that, and I look forward to the point where it’s not going to be fun anymore and I’m going to need to dig and go to the pain cave. I’ve been able to shift how I think about that. 

What plans for 2020 can you share with us?

My big goal is to run across the U.S. I want to run from San Francisco to City Hall in New York. That’s the traditional route if you want to try to set a world record. I don’t know if I can beat Pete [Kostelnick’s] time of 42 days, but I want to put myself on the right path. I’ll be 46 next year, and I think it would be cool to finish in under 46 days. But if I could go for a chance to get that record, that would be incredible.

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