Mike Wardian is a marathon runner, and as a result of this, world traveler. When he isn’t training for his next big race, he’s holding down the ports of Arlington, Virginia as an international shipbroker.
- You’ve done some great work with the MPN Research Foundation. Are there any big plans on the horizon for that charity work, and/or are there any other charities you’re working with?
I do a little with the epilepsy foundation of Northern Virginia. Our youngest son, Grant, has epilepsy, and there’s an epilepsy summer camp that we help raise money for.
I also did some work for the Ethiopian marathon with kids in Ethiopia who are AIDS orphans. It was a race called race4ever and I plan to work with them again. We put together this first race in early June, and I hope we can go back next year and grow it bigger.
It was my first time in Ethiopia, and it was interesting for me to see what it’s like for the recipients of the programs that are sending food there. It’s something I talk about all the time, but to see it on the ground was really powerful. In my head I had a preconceived notion, and it completely shattered it.
The neat thing is race4ever is not tied to a specific charity; it’s not specifically tied to these children each year, but based on everything I saw, I think we’ll work with them again.
- What’s the most intensive preparation you’ve done for a marathon?
Besides 100 mile weeks, and speed work, and trying to kill yourself everyday!
Actually it’s going on right now. I had my first race where I dropped out in Germany three weeks ago.
I’ve been trying to add to my miles, add in a lot more vertical gain and ascending and descending. I pulled out the old heart rate monitor to make sure I’m staying in that intensity. I’m planning on being really smart and cognizant and smart about these next races. I just want to be super dialed in when it comes to the race so there are no surprises.
The other thing I’m doing is next week I’m participating in an open water swim, which I’ve never been done before. I’m trying to decide between the 9 mile race and the 3 mile race. The 9 mile race is pretty scary, you’re in the open ocean, you can die.
- What is dropping out like?
I got sick to my stomach, it’s just a bad place to be in. The course was very challenging, almost 3,000 feet of vertical ascent. It was starting to get to the point where I was dangerous not just to myself but also to other runners. I was really kind of wobbling on the trail. I thought when I got to the aid station, I’d get some fluids and eat, but every time I put something in my mouth, it just ended up coming back out. It was one of those things where everyone was looking at me and being like, “you’re not in a good spot.” I talked to the medical team and they were like, “you’re done,” but I was like, “I don’t know.” They tried to put some IV in me, but my veins kept collapsing because I was so dehydrated. So I got carded off and ended up going to the emergency room, my family came and picked me up and I was fine the next day. It’s one of those things where if you put yourself out there and push your limits enough, eventually something isn’t going to go your way. It’s just part of the game.
- If you had to give up one your five senses, which one would it be?
Dude, I would give up taste so I can chomp down the gels. That would be awesome for racing. Everything would look good at the end of 100 miles. Instead of it looking like razor blades, it would look like your favorite thing in the world.
- Which is your proudest official run. Which one did you strive the hardest for and whose completion tasted the sweetest?
It was really satisfying the first time I qualified for the Olympic trails. It really made me feel like I was a legitimate, elite athlete, and gave me hope that there was a future here. It felt really real—that I could expand on this and grow. Since then, I’ve had some amazing experiences and runs. That gave me a lot of confidence. It made me know that if you do the work you get the results.
The cool thing about running is that it doesn’t care what your background is, it doesn’t care anything about hype or talk, it’s completely contingent on what you’re able to accomplish on the day. If you do the work and everything goes well you can win the race that someone else like Ryan Hall is supposed to win; just because he’s supposed to win doesn’t mean he will win. The cool thing is anyone can do that if they’re willing to put in the time and make the commitment, it’s not contingent on anything other than your passion for it.
- What do you do with all of your medals and trophies?
There’s a big part of [my family and I’s] basement that has a lot of our medals and trophies in it, but the other charity that I do that’s pretty cool is Medals4Mettle. When you have a gazillion medals like what runners’ get, you can take them to kids who are battling cancer and various illnesses at the hospital. They particularly like the Disney ones. It’s pretty cool to see their faces light up when they get a big honking Dopey medal.
- An international shipbroker is an interesting career. How did you get into that?
I have to thank my sister, she’s the reason why I was able to weasel my way into a job in this industry. I was an intern as a high school kid and thought it was a cool occupation, I had never really heard of it. I thought, that looks like a cool job: they talk on the phone, push around papers, and talk to people from all around the world. I went to school for International Relations, and when I gout out and asked for a job, fortunately they took pity on me, and I’ve been here ever since.
I’m really passionate about it. I’m lucky I have some key accounts. My boss, Keith, is one of the coolest dudes and I get to work with my sister. It’s one of those things that I hope I get to do for as long as possible.
- How Many Languages can you speak?
I can’t really speak anything. We’re fortunate that most people can speak English. That’s one thing that I wish I could tell my 15 year old self, to work harder on languages. I still work on them to this day, but I’m not one of those people who picks up on language easily. I pick up enough to get by, but I wish I could be better at that.
- You’re quite the traveller, can you tell me anything about that?
I’m living a dream right now with the ridiculously amazing places that I’m getting to visit and experience, and how I share journeys with people. Just this year I’ve gone to Costa Rica, where I got a pretty up close view of 150 miles of it on foot); New Zealand; the North Pole, which was unbelievably surreal; Germany; Italy; I’m about to head to Canada, but a part of Canada I’ve never been to, the end of Quebec, Land’s End area; France, and Chamonix, which I hear is magnificent; and finally I’m going to Copper [Mountain] for the 50k and 100k world championships—and that was just this year.
Last year I was able to experience Central and South America a little with trips to Chile and Ecuador, and I’m hoping to go back. I’d like to really explore Antarctica now that I know I’m not going to die in the cold.
There are lots of places left in the world. For instance, I’ve never been to Australia, and next year friends of mine are talking about going to Bhutan, which would be interesting. Life is full of cool places to explore, and hopefully I get to do that.
Morocco is one of those places that if you haven’t been, it’s a real eye opener; kind of like going to India, it’s so different from anywhere you’ve experienced in the U.S. But I don’t know which is my favorite place because I haven’t been everywhere yet.
- How many countries do you think you’ve been to?
That’s a great question, I’ve been trying to figure that out. It’s like when people started to care how many marathons I’ve ran. I didn’t keep track for a long time until people started to ask.
- Do you get to travel with your family often?
Actually, yes, quite a bit. They prefer to go to the nicer destinations, somewhere more exotic or Disney. It’s always a pleasure when they’re able to come. I hope to show them how the world doesn’t always work like it’s supposed to, that there’s other ways to do things, and there’s lots more to the world than Arlington, Virginia. It’s neat for them just to know what the Eiffel tower is and to have seen it, the canals of Venice, and just experiences like that. It’s something that I wish I had had when I was younger, so it’s great that we can give them that.
- What is your proudest achievement?
Being able to provide for our family. That’s the thing that makes me the proudest.
I personally hope to one day travel around the world as Mike Wardian has. If he does decide to go for that 9 mile open water swim, I wish him the best of luck. If anyone can do it, I believe out of everybody I know he is the man for the job because of both his physical prowess and positive mental attitude and determination.