WSER100 Preview: Mike Wardian

We’re big fans of Mike. He’s an extremely genuine, salt of the earth type of guy who gives us the time of day. Simple as that. There’s no pretense about him, no agenda on the cards. He just loves running and you can tell he’s hugely passionate about the sport.

So with Western States just around the corner, and Mike just about to head West, what a wonderful opportunity to catch up with a guy who after 18 years, still rocks the top end of the competitive scale.

For those of you not in the know, Mike is a racer of serious quality, and it was the flexibility in his work, along with an extremely understanding and enthusiastic wife that saw him move from being an OK runner to someone who can mix it with the elite guys and girls at the top. He’s got some serious racing calibre and credentials too. Last year alone, he raced 14 ultras including Tarawera, UTMB and Comrades.

Mike started running and competing in triathlons in 1996 after finishing his lacrosse career at Michigan State University. He has since completed more than 150 marathons, and 60+ Ultra Marathons on 3 continents, as well as 20 triathlons.

Mike has collected a lot of medals in his running career.
Mike has collected a lot of medals in his running career.

Mike is one of those guys whom I would place in the ultrarunning ‘old skool’ camp, but he’s also someone who embraces the sport as it is today and the changes that have taken place. Quite simply he’s moved with the times too, but not to the extent where he’s a full-time runner. Just like everyone else, Mike holds down a regular job as a shipping broker, as well as having a family too. As he put it on the call just now… “While I’m lucky to be able to get out and train with a great deal of liberty, when I get home from work, I’m just a regular Dad.”

So I asked him what he thought about the changes in the sport over the years since he ran his first ultra back in 1997.

“The explosion and grow has been fascinating to watch and be a part of too. There’s heaps of sponsorship opportunities for people now who might not have otherwise been fortunate enough to take advantage of it. I regard myself as being extremely fortunate to have been one of the early people to venture into it.

“What I love is that we have more eyeballs on the sport and technology has advanced things hugely, particularly online where people can follow races now. New athletes are able to come onto the scene as different companies explore the ultra running world. From a technology standpoint, my sponsor, Hoka has given people who have had injuries (like me for example), a chance to run very competitively again.”

While Mike has been a seasoned ultrarunner for the last 18 years or so, it was in 2012 where a lot of his training and racing caught up with him, suffering five stress fractures and a couple of hernias to boot too. Couple that with having a family, not sleeping and trying to run 100-120 miles a week, his body inevitably ‘broke’.

How have you kept your body in shape after all these years and post injury?

“I’ve certainly got a better balance in my running and have added in a lot more cycling to and from work for example. I started doing that four years ago, after much cajoling from my sister. You get the cardio workout without the pounding. Running in my Hoka’s too has helped to take away a lot of the impact on my body.

“I’m also a big believer in getting back into training and just ‘moving’. I don’t like to let things linger and want to make sure that I don’t go into a period of inactivity. Quite simply, I lead a healthy lifestyle.” 

How’s the lead up been for Western States?

“I feel really good for this and the prep has gone well. While I’m diligent about what I’m doing training wise, I have done 22 events already this year, in fact up until yesterday, it was the longest I’d gone without racing – three weeks! I ran a nice little 5km race very comfortably for a 15:59, so the body is in good shape and I have all the race experience required for something like Western States. 

Moving to Hoka has given Mike a new lease of life
Moving to Hoka has given Mike the ability to carry on running at the high end

“The only variable I can’t control however is the heat, which is a bit of an unknown for everyone. In the last couple of weeks I’ve tried to get as ready as I can for it by putting the treadmill on a 15% gradient, wrapping myself up in a bubble suit and just sweating. 

“I’ve also done a lot of downhill running to get the legs ready for this race, given the downhill nature of the course. I live on a hill, so it’s handy for me to train on and scream the downhills! I’m not too worried about the distance of the race. Of course I’m respectful of the distance, but my experience at UTMB last year where it took me 30hrs gives me confidence.”

How do you think you’ll place? What are your goals? 

“I’d certainly like to be in the mix for a top ten place. But then again, there are probably 40-50 guys all thinking the same thing. But based upon my fitness and experience right now, I’d say I was in for a good shot at it. My ‘A goal’ would be to run around 15-15:30, but with the heat, it could probably be more like 15:30-16:30. I know I can be close to the leading guys until around Forest Hill (around 100kms). From there the course is highly runnable which plays to my strengths. I have a great crew and pacers with me so the signs are looking very positive I’d say.”

As a bit of a ‘serial racer’, what’s next for you?

I have plenty coming up after and that is one of the highlights for me as an athlete , is the ability to travel and go to so many amazing places. I’ll be lining up for Spartathlon, which for me will be the longest distance I’ve ever run and also the trip of a lifetime. I’m also head to Spain for the Buff 105kms epic and as well as the infamous Diagonale Des Fous over on Reunion Island. I’m also still trying to get into Hardrock.”

This is what I really love about Mike. Despite his clear strengths being on the road and the faster, flatter tracks, he’s not afraid to throw himself into any race. It’s a reflection of just how much he simply loves to run. 

“I’m not one of those guys who will only race if I’m 100% ready for it. I love any type of racing and it doesn’t matter to me if I’m ready or not. If you start you’re there to race. No excuses.”

Despite racing all over the world, family is everything to Mike.
Despite racing all over the world, family is everything to Mike.

It’s this attitude that also carries over into his whole outlook on life. Despite being ‘normal’ like everyone else, Mike is a big believer in just making things happen.

“If you want to get good at something, you’ve got to put in the time and effort. It’s as simple as that. I was an ‘OK’ runner 15-18 years ago. I decided to do something about that and make myself into a leading runner. I have a family and a job, so if I want to run, I get up early before the family wakes up and do my running then. After the birth of our second child, I bought a treadmill so that I could train in my home and be with my family too.

“My wife, Jennifer is extremely supportive of what I do and it’s a reflection how great she is. We’ve been together a long time and she’s been able to see my progress, it simply wouldn’t be possible without her. She does say no to some of my races from time to time, but that’s a good thing as she keeps me honest and accountable.  She has her things that she likes to do like bootcamp, but as a family unit we make it happen.

“I think for any aspiring athlete, elite or not, it’s about how bad you want it and how you balance that with everything else you have going on. Most people have real lives and stuff, how you respond and react to the things going on around you will determine how successful you are.”

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We’d like to thank Mike for his time. He’s truly an honest, genuine and easy-going guy who will give his take on just about anything and is highly appreciative of the opportunities he’s been given. We’ll be gunning for him for sure from down under and wish him all the best for his race on Saturday.

Dan on Twitter
Dan
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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