A veritable running machine, prolific American marathoner and ultramarathoner Michael Wardian constantly is pushing his limits.
His test today not only will be to complete two 26.2-mile marathons — in San Antonio at 7:30 a.m. CST and in Las Vegas at 4:30 p.m. PST — but also to contend in both races with elite times of less than 2 hours, 30 minutes.
“That’s the challenge, not just running them but trying to run them pretty fast and to be in the mix to win them both,” he said. “Running sub-2:30 is hard in itself. To do it back to back, if I was able to do it, would be pretty quick.”
Wardian, 39, has run marathons on consecutive days several times and completed a plethora of ultramarathons — up to 156 miles — but he never has run two marathons in one day.
“I never knew of a nighttime marathon, so this is a really cool opportunity to have a race in Vegas and on the Strip at night,” he said. “What can be cooler than that?”
Well, how about winning a marathon in a full Spider-Man suit, complete with mask and gloves, to set a Guinness World Record for fastest marathon as a superhero?
Wardian did that — in 2:34:56 — in 2011 at the Lower Potomac Marathon.
He also has set world records — some since broken — for fastest marathon and half marathon on a treadmill, fastest marathon pushing a jogging stroller and fastest indoor marathon, which he did four days after finishing the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley.
“It’s super important for me to run really well and really competitively, but it’s also fun for me to try to do stuff that’s a little bit different and a little bit interesting,” said Wardian, an international ship broker from Arlington, Va.
He said running in a Spider-Man suit helped prepare him for the searing heat in the Marathon Des Sables — a six-day, 156-mile race in the Sahara Desert in Morocco.
“Iron Mike,” as Wardian is known in running circles, placed third in the 2010 event — which is equivalent to six marathons and considered one of the toughest footraces on earth — in 23:01:03, the best time ever by an American.
“Doing the marathon in the superhero costume was incredible heat training,” he said. “When you get it wet, the muscles get heavy, and it’s hard to breathe because there’s just a little hole in the mask and you can’t take the mask off.
“Dealing with different things makes a normal marathon that much more challenging.”
Wardian set the jogging stroller mark with his 7-year-old son, Pierce, before settling for second (2:34:37) with his 4-year-old son, Grant, in a showdown with Zac Freudenburg, the new record holder (2:32:10).
“I thought it would be neat to share it with my kids,” he said.
Along with his quirky running records, Wardian has compiled some serious accomplishments. He won the U.S. 100k (62 miles) title in 2008 and earned a silver medal in 2011 at the 100K world championships, helping the Americans to their first team gold medal.
He claimed the U.S. 50k (31 miles) crown three straight years (2008 to 2010), and the three-time U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier also is a six-time winner of the Rock ’n’ Roll USA Marathon in Washington, D.C., among many others.
In his best back-to-back effort, Wardian ran the 2012 Olympic Trials marathon in 2:21:50 on Jan. 14 and then the next morning ran the Houston Marathon in 2:31:17.
Wardian’s relentless pace finally caught up to him last year, when he suffered five stress fractures in his pelvis and five hernias that sidelined him for six months.
To stay fit as he recuperated, he swam, biked and walked on a treadmill — for four hours at a time at the maximum grade.
“It’s been a pretty cool kind of comeback year for me,” he said. “Last year was my first major bout with injuries, so it’s been cool to come back and start running really well.
“I’ve had a pretty good run.”
Over the past month, Wardian won the Freedom’s Run marathon in West Virginia (2:33) on Oct. 12, took second in the 80k Endurance Challenge in Chile on Oct. 19 and finished fifth in the Oct. 27 Marine Corps Marathon in 2:27:05 — which would have won last year’s races in San Antonio and Las Vegas.
The event in Chile featured a climb of 13,000 feet.
“I know I’ve got the ability to suffer because I suffered in that one with the altitude and climbing,” he said.
A former lacrosse player at Michigan State who didn’t start running competitively until after college, Wardian warmed up for today by taking third Nov. 10 in the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon (1:10:19).
Wardian expects to cross the finish line in San Antonio by 10 a.m. CST. He’ll then take a quick shower, put on compression gear with ice in it, eat, hydrate and head to the airport for his 12:15 p.m. direct flight to Las Vegas, which is scheduled to land at 1:10 p.m. PST.
If all goes according to plan, he’ll cross the finish line near The Mirage by 7 p.m. — possibly as a double winner on the day.
“It’s going to be a cool challenge. I’m really excited about it,” Wardian said. “Hopefully I can inspire people to do more than they think they can.”
Rather than rest after his grueling day, Wardian plans to run the JFK 50 Mile in Maryland on Saturday and the 50-Mile Championships near San Francisco on Dec. 7.
“I’m always looking for the next adventure,” he said.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.