He won the North Pole Marathon the week before taking third place in the Master’s division at the Boston Marathon. He holds Guinness World Records for fastest marathon with a jogging stroller, fastest marathon on an indoor track, fastest marathon on a treadmill and fastest marathon dressed as a superhero. He’s run multiple marathons in one day. He was IAU Ultra Runner of the Year in 2010 and a four-time USATF Ultra Runner of the Year. He’s got a wife and two sons to travel the world with him.
But still, his dream list grows.
“I’d like to qualify again for the Olympic Trials. I’d like to win the Spartathlon. I want to set the fastest time for the marathon majors and I’d like to set the record for seven marathons on seven continents in seven days,” he says as if he were naming items on his grocery list.
But most important to Wardian? “I want to inspire people to do more than they think they can.”
For Wardian, that means anything from running your first marathon to throwing expectations out the window and taking on something totally out of the box — as long as you’re pushing yourself, you’re winning.
In his two decades of ultra running, Wardian has had his ups and downs — including five pelvic fractures and five hernias at once — but it’s the way he thinks of those downs that sparks his motivation to take his not-so-traditional journey of running even further.
“Running is a great sport because it really is about how much time and effort you put in,” Wardian says. “As long as you keep working, you can continue to get better. I continue to keep working until this day. I don’t ever want to not do that.”
Wardian wasn’t always a runner. He picked up the hobby when he stopped playing Division I lacrosse at Michigan State.
“It was fast, efficient and cheap,” Wardian says with a laugh. “Perfect for me because I was poor like a lot of college kids.”
He fell in love. His first real running goal was to run the Boston Marathon. He qualified in 1996 at the Marine Corps Marathon and from the moment he stepped on the course in Boston, he was hooked.
“The crowds were amazing,” Wardian recalls. “I felt like everyone was cheering for me. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. I remember thinking: ‘I want to do this every weekend.’”
But Wardian wasn’t satisfied. Although he loved the energy of race day, he wanted to push himself further.
“Someone told me I couldn’t do three marathons in one month, so I ran Chicago, Marine Corps and New York and then the JFK 50 miler,” he said.
His days of the simple marathons have passed and he’s moved on to — well, any challenge you throw his way, regardless of mileage, location or what anyone else has to say about it. Throughout the journey, people have always recommended that he do the one thing not on his bucket list: Stop.
“I don’t think anybody means anything mean by it — it’s all coming from a good place,” he says. “But you have to do things your own way. You don’t have to be limited by what other people think is the best way to do things. Explore it for yourself and see. Maybe you can do more than you think you can.”
Once he proved to himself that he didn’t have to listen to naysayers, he saved up all of his money to participate in one of the toughest races on the planet, the Marathon Des Sables.
The race is a gruelling 156-mile, multi-stage adventure through the Sahara Desert where temperatures soar over 100F. Runners carry everything they need to survive on their backs.
While he had the determination to get through the race, he says he wasn’t totally prepared. “I didn’t even have gaiters,” Wardian laughed. “I just showed up with grocery bags to tie around my shoes. I kept stopping to have to dump sand out of them.”
But it didn’t stop him from coming in third. It’s not just running — any endurance event piques Wardian’s interest.
“I even threw in a three-mile open water swim last year just to keep things interesting. I love keeping it exciting. There is this nine-mile swimming race that completely freaks me out but I am interested in.”
There is no doubt that Wardian’s accomplished list is impressive, but what’s even more inspiring is his attitude. With all of those races, especially those in challenging conditions, some days are bound to be rough. “When I race poorly, I take it hard. But if you want to keep improving and you want to be the best possible athlete you can be – things won’t go as you expect. You have to take a hard look at what you’re doing, be critical and make changes. But never stop pushing yourself.”
The Sharing Your Journey series is presented by Nathan Sports to shine a light on incredible runners and the motivation that keeps them pursuing the lifelong journey of running.
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