How did I get the chance to run with a superstar like Mike Wardian? Thanks to a mutual friend who passed along his email, I contacted him for an interview. He answered back nonchalantly, “sure this month is a little busy (busy with Two Oceans Marathon (56K)-Cape Town, South Africa-April 5, 2012-3:18:28-20th place,IAU 100K World Championships, Sergeno, Italy-April 22, 2012-6:48:59-8th place,) but next month will work.” So, we set up a soft date for late May meeting at his home for a 5:30 a.m. run.
I have met quite a few runners and they are generally a great breed of people, but let’s face it, there are crazy people out there and Michael is a celebrity. I thought it was pretty cool that Mike was so laid back that he would suggest meeting at his house. I live about an hour and a half from Mike. My friend Stein wanted to come along to meet Michael. Stein met me at my house at 3:30 a.m. to drive down to Mike’s house. We hopped into the Westy in the early morning and sputtered out into the sleeping streets. On the way down we were thinking “what nuts get up at 3:30 on a week day to drive an hour and a half, to go for a run with a stranger?” I am guessing Mike was thinking the same thing. As we pulled up to his neighborhood, I couldn’t help but wonder if Mike’s neighbors know that they live next to such an amazing athlete. If Mike was a pro football player I bet they would know which one is his house.
Sometimes you hear people say wow, you look so different in person. Mike looks exactly like all of his photos. He has a lean runners build, long hair, and long legs. He is instantly recognizable. When we arrived at Mike’s house he was sitting in the dark tapping his leg. I asked “Is that a normal thing?” Mike replied “no it’s like completely abnormal.” With the big back to back runs Mike does on a consistent basis a lot of runners want to know how he stays injury free and able to compete at such a high level. Mike explained that he tries to keep moving in between the races if they are back to back. He uses “the stick,” gets isle seats on the plane, makes sure he gets up and walks around, tries to get a little run in, hydrates, and refuels by eating. The dude is literally a non-stop running machine. While we were talking I couldn’t help study Mike’s form. He looked like he was gliding effortlessly. At the pace we were going he probably was. As we talked about some of Mike’s past races I began to feel my breath get away from me. I felt like we were running fast but when I checked the Garmin I was well within my normal pace range. I told Stein and Mike I would need to slow down a bit. Mike said “no problem we can slow it down.” I have to admit I was a little embarrassed.
As we ran along the path Mike kept us entertained with stories from his travels. Most of the stories were positive and revolved around the camaraderie surrounding the running events. Stein has gotten on a big vegan kick the last couple of months and he asked Michael about his eating habits. Turns out Mike is a vegetarian but not extreme. “Didn’t eat red meat. Got sick on salmonella on chicken once,” Mike tells us, and that pretty much convinced him to drop meat. He also mentioned that when he goes to restaurants often people will tell him what is on the menu he can eat. Michael let us know that he is a vegetarian for no other reason than “it just works for me.”
“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other,… but to be with each other.” ― Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. I also realized that quote works for runners like me. For competitors like Michael, he is there to beat everyone. when he steps to the line, he is there to race and win. I asked Mike several questions about what it was like to line up with tough competitors thinking there may be people you dread to see at a race. Mike made it clear he loves to see tough competition at the starting line. It doesn’t seem like he is intimidated by anyone.
One of the things Mike told us about was how cool it is to be sponsored by The North Face. Not so much for the gear, but for how inspiring it is to be connected to amazing outdoor athletes from so many sports. When they have an event he is surrounded by other top talents like Dean Karnazes, Alex Honnold, Kasha Rigby, and many others. Check out their current TEAM. It sounds like when they all get together they are inspired and in awe of what the other athletes can do. It has to be amazing.
As we ran we continued to talk about the normal things, how many kids each of us has, how old they are, how to juggle a full running schedule with work and family. There isn’t much that separates us other than pace. The overwhelming thing I took away from the run was how amazing our sport is. What other sport can you line up with the best of the best and participate in the same event. We get to run with our heroes. A special thank you to Michael for taking the time to slow down and run with us and answer our questions. Thanks to Stein for getting up at 2:30 in the morning to ride shotgun with me down to Virginia. Linda Giampalmo, I couldn’t have met Michael without you, thanks for the connection. Mike often makes himself available to the running community, if you get a chance to meet him, hear him talk about running, or actually get to run with him, do it. He is a genuine good dude.