The first day of the World Marathon Challenge was a surreal experience for Michael Wardian. Shortly after running 26.2 miles in a record time of 2:54:54 in Antarctica, Wardian boarded a private charter flight with 32 other runners, trading the endless stretches of snow and 20-mph wind at Union Glacier for the scenic views and moderate temperature of Puntas Arenas, Chile.
It was then that the challenge of running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days truly came into focus for the 42-year-old professional ultrarunner from Arlington.
“I was excited that we had finished the marathon [in Antarctica]”, Wardian said Sunday in a Facebook Live interview with The Washington Post, “but until the plane actually took off and we were on our way to Chile, that’s when it became real.”
On Sunday night in Sydney, Wardian completed the journey by running his seventh and final marathon in 2:45:31 on Manly Beach to average 2:45:56 per marathon, smashing the record set last year by better than 45 minutes. He won every leg of the race and ran each marathon in less than three hours. And after his final marathon, Wardian added another 16.6 miles to run exactly 200 miles over the course of the week.
By the end, he was sleep-deprived, sported a few fresh scars and was craving a large salad. But he had a better understanding of what his body and mind can handle.
“It’s a really special event,” Wardian said. “It really tests you. It made me question my sanity every day, which is always a good thing. It was something that scared me. … If I get the opportunity, I would definitely do it again.”
This was the largest and most elite group of runners that has attempted the challenge, which is in its third year under race director Richard Donovan.
America’s fastest marathoner, Ryan Hall, who retired from the pro ranks in early 2016, participated after minor training and finished fifth overall, with a 3:39:36 average. The top four runners all finished under the previous record average.
The World Marathon Challenge was just the beginning for Wardian’s packed race schedule. He will be in the Washington area this week to work a few days at Potomac Maritime, where he is a full-time international shipbroker, before flying to New Zealand with his wife, Jennifer, and their two young sons in preparation for the Tarawera 100K ultramarathon race.
“I’m glad I got some good training in this week,” Wardian said with a laugh. “I’m excited for what the future holds.”