Husband; father; international ship broker; partner in a humanitarian aid organization; chess player; pickleball aficionado; record-breaking marathoner and ultramarathoner; past, present, and most likely future Guinness World Record holder… There are many ways to describe Michael Wardian.
He recently ran the entire length of the United States to raise money for World Vision’s clean water initiatives. In November, he’ll be running the New York City Marathon as a guide, because, he says, “For me, one of the best things is crossing the finish line, but doing that helping somebody else is even better.”
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On May 1st, Michael set out from San Francisco with the intention of running to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, in 75 days. He covered the 3,234 miles, spanning 13 states and with 132,000 feet in elevation change, in only 62 days. That meant being on his feet for between 11 and 15 hours a day, running an average of 52 miles each day. Looking back, he says, “I’m stoked that it actually happened. It seems like a dream. And it was a dream; it was a dream for years and years, like a 20, 25-year dream or something. So to have it come to fruition and to have it end up going as well as it could have, yeah, I’m unbelievably excited about it.”
Michael was running to raise money for World Vision, which helps people around the world get access to clean drinking water. He wanted to raise $100,000. Halfway across the country, he’d raised around $40,000 and was questioning if he’d reach his goal. He discovered, though, that the project built on itself. “Someone would be like, ‘I donated five bucks,’” he explains, “and then someone else would be like,’ I donated ten bucks,’ and then a friend of mine who owns a company was like, ‘I want to donate the most.’ And so he put in a couple thousand bucks and then somebody else was like, ‘Well,somebody put in 3000, I’m gonna put in 4000.’ And then all of a sudden we got to the goal of $100,000 and it’s been crazy; it’s over $121,000 now.”
Of course he’s happy about the amount of money that was raised, but, he goes on, “One of the coolest things, and this is something that I’m really proud of, is that we have the most individual people donating of any of the World Vision charity people. So that’s really cool to just see how many people decided this was worthwhile and got interested.”
That interest that Michael generated is making a huge impact, as every $50 changes one person’s life. “It’s really tangible when you think of it that way,” he observes. “It’s like, wow, this is not just a temporary thing; it’s a lasting impact that has a lot of downstream benefits. They’re the largest non-governmental provider of clean water in the world, so World Vision is helping people all over the world have access. It’s pretty insane and it’s not me, obviously, it’s the running community and the people that are part of this. So I was just the catalyst and I think that’s what’s really cool.”
Michael never doubted that he would be able to run coast to coast. “I knew I was gonna make it because I was just dialed in; I was doing everything right. I wasn’t allowing myself to make mistakes, and I had a great team in place, and my body was 100% just fine. I mean, every day I was exhausted and the last 10 miles were like,ripping my soul out. But I knew that I could continue to do that and I had no doubt that if nothing changed, I would be fine.” He was “annoyingly anal” about ensuring that he could finish. “Every hour or so I would stop, drink, put on sunscreen, put on lube, switch socks, take off my shoes, and I knew I needed to do that to be able to keep going, and if I pushed a little bit too fast, it would just be bad for the next day.”
The only thing that nearly derailed his run was outside of his control. One day, drivers pushed him off the road shoulder three times. He tweaked his hamstring the last time, and had to walk that day’s final ten miles. “I would still make it; if I had to walk the last 500 miles, I was gonna do it,” he says. “It’s just that’s not the way I wanted to do the run.” He tested his leg out the next day and was able to run, making sure to take it easy. “And then by the end of the day, it was just fine, but it was so scary, man. Like, I’ve been mad a lot in my life, but never as mad as I was at that point.”
At the end of the run, Michael says that he felt as if “I could have kept doing that for the rest of my life, like I was so strong and just honed for that ability and that kind of volume each and every day.” He realized, though, that he had put himself through a tremendous strain. “I’m trying to be kind to my body and, you know, come back as quick as I can, but also being mindful that I did a big thing and need to recover from it.”
However, just as he was starting to feel fully recovered, he got Covid. “It destroyed me; I was very sick for a week and a half, two weeks, and then it took about another three weeks and I just started to feel good,” he recalls. He had to drop out of a few races, and he’s very mindful of not pushing too hard and risking getting long Covid, but he has plenty of plans for the future.
He wants to break the world record for playing pickleball (currently 24 hours, 13 minutes), which he thinks would be a great way to raise awareness for the game and for World Vision. Considering that he can run for days and days at a time, he doesn’t think it should be too difficult – the hard part is finding somebody who can play with him for that long. He plans to run the Los Angeles Marathon – and break the world record for running a marathon dressed as Forrest Gump (currently 2:36:28). But before any of that, he’s doing something that’s more important to him than breaking records – he’ll be running as a guide at the New York City Marathon.
Michael loves to run as a guide for visually impaired and adaptive runners and encourages other runners to serve as guides because, as he says, “You’re gonna help somebody achieve their dream. A lot of times, the people that are really fast have trouble finding guides that are that quick. Especially if you’re a fast runner, it’s hard maybe to dedicate your race to someone besides yourself, but there are some people that are needing guiding that are at the sharp end of the spear and need somebody to be with them. So if you’re one of the elite runners and you’ve thought of this or considered it, please do.
And if you’re a regular, you know, non-elite runner and you are thinking like, ‘How can I use my running for good and a chance to give back to the running community?’, there’s even more people that need guides probably in that aspect. It’s one of those things where it feels like you’re helping somebody else, but it really helps you. That, for me, is one of the coolest things; it’s made me a better athlete. It’s life changing and there’s so many people that need help. And without guides, it’s not possible.”
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“Thank you” to Michael. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.