Michael Wardian runs from San Francisco to Rehoboth Beach
It was a well-deserved reward for the professional ultramarathoner from Arlington, who had just completed a 61-day race covering 3,200 miles across the United States. The journey, which took Wardian through 13 states, was inspired by “Forrest Gump.”
“That’s when I knew people were doing this stuff,” Wardian, 48, said of the 1994 film, which won the Oscar for best picture. “When I became a runner, I thought at one point in my life that it would be cool to try this. Life gets in the way of me, but 20 years later I put a plan in place.
Wardian’s plan was to raise at least $100,000 for World Vision to help families around the world access clean water while taking no more than 75 days to complete his run. He surpassed his fundraising goal and ended his trip with two weeks to spare.
After leaving the steps of San Francisco City Hall on May 1, Wardian averaged more than 80 miles a day while running mostly along Route 50 for the next two months. His crew chief, Eric Belz, helped organize the race and drove the RV that served as Wardian’s sleeping quarters. (Belz also saved Wardian’s iPhone and AirPods from ruin when he reminded his friend to put them back before his post-race dip.)
Wardian’s first run across the country is considered the longest of his career, but he’s no stranger to creative feats and pushing the limits of endurance. He has twice completed the World Marathon Challenge, which requires participants to run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. In 2019 he completed a nearly 90 mile loop around the Capital Beltway. The following year, he ran the equivalent of 10 marathons in just over 2.5 days – circling the block in his Northern Virginia neighborhood.
“Luckily, I have an amazing family who know I like to do ridiculous efforts and support it,” Wardian said with a laugh. “The people I work with also support me. I feel really lucky and I’m so grateful that we were able to do this for a good cause and change the lives of so many people.
Wardian, a partner in an international shipping brokerage firm, answered the occasional call from a client while crossing the country. He ran through 35 audiobooks at twice the speed, including Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and “North,” a memoir by his friends Scott and Jenny Jurek about the Appalachian Trail speed record. He supplemented the audiobooks with podcasts, including “The Fantasy Footballers,” and an eclectic mix of music ranging from AC/DC to Taylor Swift.
A low point in Wardian’s two-month trek came in Indiana, where he honed his hamstrings while dodging an angry driver who tried to push him by the shoulder. Wardian said this was not the only incident where he was targeted, but his trip was an extremely pleasant experience.
“There is incredible beauty in the United States,” he said. “Right now, I’m super ‘Team America.’ For every person who tried to run me off the road I had 10 people stopping their cars and offering to drive me or hand out snacks I felt so lucky to get to see parts of the country that I had never seen them before and learned a lot about the different places.
Wardian said some of the highlights of the past two months have been all the people who have joined him on different stages of his run, playing pickleball on top of a mountain in West Virginia with friends who came to surprise him and spending a night with family at his home in Arlington. last week before continuing to Delaware.
After his dip in the ocean on Friday, Wardian ran another few miles to Dewey Beer Co. for a party with his friends and family. Then he rested ahead of Saturday’s Seashore Striders Firecracker 5K. Wardian joked that he could post a worse personal time; instead, he nearly averaged a six-minute mile.
What’s next for the real Forrest Gump? A pair of 100-mile mountain bike races in Colorado next month.
“I have to change direction to prepare for this and start running fast again,” Wardian said.