Michael Wardian was sitting in traffic on I-495 20 years ago when a thought crossed his mind. He was on his way to work — a job he had just started in Old Town Alexandria — and was trying to exit near the Wilson Bridge. It was tedious.
“I just started thinking like, ‘Wow, I could run to the office faster than sitting in this traffic,’ ” Wardian said. “And then I started thinking I could probably run around the entire Beltway. And then it just became, ‘Well, how do you actually do that?’ ”
On Saturday, Wardian found out. The ultramarathoner ran a nearly 90-mile loop around the Capital Beltway, the latest milestone in the more than 400 marathons and ultramarathons he has completed, from the traditional to the bizarre.
Given safety concerns, Wardian wasn’t able to actually run along the Beltway’s outer loop, which measures 64 miles. So he and his crew — which included his father, Richard Wardian, and his friends Phil Hargis and James Whiteside — charted a 89.9-mile path that loosely followed the Beltway’s path.
The journey began in McLean at 1:30 a.m. and ended east of Carderock in Montgomery County. It took him 17 hours 54 minutes 59 seconds to complete, and it involved zigzagging along local roads. Not only was the path unconventional, but it was the hottest day of the summer so far, with the temperature reaching a high of 96 degrees Saturday.
“It was terrible,” Wardian said. “It was not the best weekend, as far as the weather goes, but I’ve already been racing so much. I’ve already raced over 1,300 miles this year, so I knew I had good fitness.”
Wardian’s physical feats have made him a local legend and even pushed him to international prominence, but perhaps equally impressive is the 45-year-old’s ability to juggle his personal and professional duties while undertaking an intensive running regimen that makes adventures like the Beltway run feasible.
“I hope it’s inspiring for my kids to know that this is possible, and same with my co-workers,” said Wardian, a father of two. “Everyone I work with is supporting me and following along and knows what I do. That’s really cool.”
In addition to being physically prepared, there was another reason Wardian wanted to make last weekend work: His wife, Jennifer, had taken his sons, 12-year-old Pierce and 10-year-old Grant, on a trip to the beach Thursday. That meant the Arlington resident could temporarily shift his focus to his 90-miler.
“[Jennifer] kind of knew what she was getting into when we got together,” Wardian said with a laugh. “She's seen how it's grown, and it’s been great. It's a great way for me to explore my limits and what's possible.”
Wardian said his typical weekday includes waking up between 4 and 5 a.m. to squeeze in an early-morning run or a personal training session. He runs an average of seven miles to his office in Northwest Washington, where he is a partner for an international brokerage firm. Wardian then runs back home, and once there, he’s “just kind of a dad.”
But he continues to raise the bar. In 2017, he set a record at the World Marathon Challenge, in which he ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, beating the previous year’s time by more than 45 minutes. This year, he completed that challenge again before tacking on three more marathons in the United States to set the record for most quickly completing 10 marathons in 10 days. He also has finished the Boston Marathon 18 times and holds multiple distance running world records. Last month, he traveled to Wales to race against 60 horses.
For Wardian, the Beltway run was just his latest endurance test as he works toward some of his bigger, long-term goals.
“[I want to] run across the United States if I can get the support and funding, and the time from work to do that,” Wardian said. “And then eventually I want to run across all the continents and the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.”
Until he can get the time off work to chase his dreams, he is proving you don’t need to change continents to make history. In fact, Wardian said his next goal is to run from his home in Arlington to his in-laws’ place in Rehoboth Beach, Del., a journey of a little more than 100 miles. He also said he would like to run the Cross County Trail in Fairfax County.
Wardian credited his crew and the local running community for his ability to pursue such feats, and he said social media has allowed him to connect with more people about his races and stunts. Many of his friends cheered him on online and in person last weekend, Wardian said, and he received support from Montgomery County Road Runners.
“It takes a village to do these types of things,” Wardian said. “Without the support of the people that came out, and my sponsors and my family and the people I work with, none of this is possible.”
Wardian also used his latest venture to confirm what he has long suspected: Beltway drivers could indeed find a faster means of transportation.
“I think, for sure, at some points with the backups, I definitely think [running] could be faster,” he said.