Ultramarathoner Michael Wardian is determined to go as far as he can, as fast as he can

Though running takes him as far as Africa, Michael Wardian trains before working in D.C., often with sons Grant and Pierce by his side.
Though running takes him as far as Africa, Michael Wardian trains before working in D.C., often with sons Grant and Pierce by his side. (James A. Parcell For The Washington Post)
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By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 30, 2010

When Arlington's Michael Wardian removed his running shoes during a presentation in his son's preschool classroom last week, the children pressed forward eagerly. Nearby adults winced.

On the plus side, Wardian said, his toes aren't entirely black anymore. But most of his toe nails haven't grown back and blood blisters populate his feet. Wardian explained that his lower extremities don't feel as bad as they look.

Or maybe he just doesn't notice the pain anymore. That would be a good thing, given the activity he's lined up for Sunday.

Six weeks after finishing third in a 151-mile, six-day race across the Sahara Desert, toting food, supplies and bedding on his back, Wardian, 36, will compete in the world's most popular ultramarathon, a 56-mile sprint from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, South Africa.

It will be his 13th race of the year at or beyond the marathon distance of 26.2 miles, and he's a favorite to win a medal, an achievement that would cement his growing stature as one of the very best in the world at ultra-distance running. Wardian has finished first or second in five of the nine marathons in which he's competed this year, and recently won the 2010 USA Track and Field 50-kilometer title.

"The most remarkable thing about Michael is he is, from all casual observation, a perfectly normal guy; he's got a job, a couple of kids," said Keith Powell, Wardian's boss at Potomac Maritime LLC in Georgetown. "But he's anything but a normal person."

On a typical weekday, Wardian rises at 4:45 a.m. and pushes one or both of his early-rising boys, ages 4 years and 18 months, in a jog stroller for his day's first training run (usually 7 to 15 miles), or watches over them in the basement as he pounds out miles on the treadmill. Then he heads to his job as an international shipping broker at Potomac Maritime, taking a midday break for a second training run (another 7 to 15 miles) through Rock Creek Park, followed by lunch at his desk.

Upon arriving home, he dives into the evening's child-care challenges: diaper-changing, book-reading and bath-administering. "When I get home, I'm a dad," Wardian said. "That's how I make it work."

On Thursday afternoon, after spending the morning trying to meet a work deadline, he caught a flight to Durban.

"I guess there are times that I'm tired, but for the most part, I'm just excited to be able to do all of these things,' Wardian said, standing outside the Kinhaven School after Tuesday's preschool presentation. "I enjoy being productive, I guess."

'I love racing'

Ultra runners may be some of the world's most indefatigable athletes, and Wardian stands near the top of the unfathomably pain-resistant group. His resting heart rate is 31 beats per minute. He looks like a javelin with long, bushy hair; he stands 6 feet tall and his weight hovers between 138 and 142 pounds.

He destroys two or three pairs of running shoes each month and strives to run 100 miles a week, though he would log 160 if he had more time. He is a vegetarian. He says he almost never gets sick and, other than possessing grotesquely messed-up feet, he has no health problems and does not struggle to get out of bed in the morning.

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