Mike Wardian Runs Fastest Known Time on the 184.5 Mile O&C Canal

(Re)-Introducing Mike Wardian

Mike Wardian was not born a runner, nor did he grow up a runner. This fact is hard to believe, since he has been a household name in the ultra-running community for a decade. However, Wardian began running competitively after graduating as a D1 lacrosse player at Michigan State University. If you’re thinking, “that’s an odd transition,” we agree. But his accomplishments speak for themselves, as he has collected a plethora of accomplishments since trading in the lacrosse stick for running shoes. Here are just a few of Mike’s world records and highlights:

  • Fastest time for 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days
  • Fastest marathon and 50K on an indoor 200-meter track
  • Fastest Marathon as Spider-Man & Elvis
  • Four-time USATF Ultra Runner of the Year
  • 2016 ran all the World Major Marathon Majors (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York) in average time of 2:31
  • Eight-time member of USA 100K World Team, 2011 silver medalist
  • 2010 IAU Ultra Runner of the Year
  • Participant in the 2004, 2008, and 2012 U.S. Olympic Trails Men’s Marathon
  • Raced 1,610 miles over 51 events in 2017
  • Notable Ultras Completed: The Badwater Ultra, Marathon des Sables, UTMB, UVU North Pole Marathon, Buff Epic Run, Western States, UltraGobi 400K, Barkley Marathons, Hardrock 100, Leadville 100 Run

His Costco-sized list of records just got another addition. On September 1st, 2018, Mike set the Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Ohio-Chesapeake Canal. This 184.5 mile/300km trail spans from Washington D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, marking the borders of three states along the way. Although Wardian has a tremendous list of historic runs, this one was quite possibly the most difficult and unlikely to happen.

36:36:03

Wardian achieved this record in 36 hours, 36 minutes and 3 seconds. It was a close one, as he narrowly beat Park Barber’s record from 1976 by a mere 12 minutes.

That’s equivalent to winning a mile race by less than one second, or racing a 100-meters and winning by 0.05 seconds.

But nature did everything it could to prevent Mike from getting this one. “We faced incredibly tough conditions with heat, humidity, detours (some as long as 1.1 miles with crazy climbs and one detour where I had to cross a railway bridge), ankle-deep mud, non-working water pumps (had to go 33 miles on 3 bottles of water), and enormous blisters.” We spared the photo of his blisters, for everyone’s sake.

"I had to dig so deep, much deeper in mind and body that I have ever been before, every step felt monumental and that my body would give out at any moment.”

Even more inhibiting than nature were Mike’s own battles, as he felt the record slipping by at several points throughout the course. “I just didn’t know if I would be able hold [record] pace as I was hurting so bad and so tired, but I kept pushing and believing. I had to dig so deep, much deeper in mind and body that I have ever been before, every step felt monumental and that my body would give out at any moment.” Mike continued, “I also started to believe that everything was uphill…my mind was trying to trick me. I just had to ignore and override my head and use my desire and heart. It worked, I just put my head down and ran. I shut off everything but moving forward. Nothing else mattered and nothing was going to stop me.”

We caught up with Mike to discuss the details of his FKT. From describing the most demanding points to listing the foods that he ate, Mike paints the picture of what proves to be an unforgettable day and a half straight of running.

GU Energy Labs: Which miles were the hardest to complete, and what made them so difficult? 

Mike Wardian: I think there were a few sections that were super hard for me. I really struggled from about 30-60.5 miles. My legs were just getting tired and I was without my crew, but I got a bunch of trail love from a random cyclist who gave me a bottle of water after I was out for over 1 hour and then had a few new friends come out and run with me. It was really powerful but so hard as I knew I had over 120 miles still to go. 

Then again around 23-24 hours into the run I was around 120 miles and had been running at night for hours…I was just feeling really tired and hopeless to get the record, and thought, “Why am I still doing this?” But then I had some more friends around and they had dedicated time and energy, and I feed off that and rallied. 

The hardest miles though were the last 44 as I thought the chance to get the record was gone. But then we did the math and realized it was possible if I ran faster than 12 mins per mile.

GU: What inspired you to do this run?

MW:  I was inspired to do this run as I became a runner on the C&O canal. It was a huge part of my training since I started running and I had always dreamed of seeing what it looked like from end to end. I have run sections of it but never the whole thing. I also day dreamed at times of what it must have been like for the miles of pulling the barges along the canal to Cumberland. This was one of those things you hope to do someday but you are not quite sure you can accomplish. It was outside of anything I had done before and I knew it would push the boundaries and limits that I had previously established. I was shocked that so many people came out…I was hoping to see some friends but I never expected the support that we got. It was over the top awesome

GU: Can you explain what happened that resulted in a mile+ detour and bridge crossing?

MW:  We have been having severe weather in the area and lots of rain the last few years, and this year we had so much that the rain washed out sections of the trail and that caused some of the detours. And then there was construction in some areas and in Williamsport there was a hilly 1.1 mile detour which cause a delay of approximately 20 mins. I was cursing as we got closer and closer to the record. 

GU: Did you sleep at all? If not, how did you stay awake for 36+ hours?

MW:  I did not sleep. I was running at one point and shut my eyes for a few seconds but never fell or feel asleep. It was crazy. I have never been so tired but I took in some calories in the form of an apple sauce and felt better. Then I drank some coke. 

GU: Aside from our products, what other foods/drinks did you consume?

MW: I ate a bunch of GUs, waffles, chews, and Roctane drinks, but besides GU I ate:

  • Pizza (just red sauce)
  • Apple Sauce
  • Pickle juice
  • Pickles
  • Cookies
  • Egg McMuffins (no meat or cheese)
  • Coconut water
  • Coke
  • Gingerale
  • Soup (vegan)
  • Water
  • Almond Butter
  • Avocados
  • Tortilla
  • White bread
  • Crackers
  • Seltzer Water
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Mandarin oranges

GU: What else would you like to say about this run?

MW: I would really like to thank my family, my crew, W. Richard Wardian & James Whiteside, all the incredibly cool people that put their time and energy to work to help me achieve this goal. It is something that I never would have been able to do without that support. I also would like to thank my sponsors because without them none of this would have been possible either. 

wrap up

On the same weekend as UTMB, the premier trail running event of the year, Mike set out on his own trail. Without thousands of people by his side or any coverage other than the occasional bleep from his Instagram account, Mike embarked on a dark journey up the Chesapeake-Ohio Canal. He dug to the bottom of the barrel and then some, and came out on top by a margin of twelve minutes. 

Nature had its say and runners were tested from the Alps to the Appalachians, and Mike Wardian showcased the spirit of the ultrarunner by conquering this bold and unlikely dream. Now the question is: does this make Mike the best lacrosse player to ever run ultras, or the best ultrarunner to ever play lacrosse?  

To learn more about Mike Wardian, visit his website here or follow him on Instagram @mikewardian

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