(Updated at 12:40 p.m.) Famed local ultramarathoner Michael Wardian is going full Forrest Gump and running across America.
The 48-year-old Arlington resident and noted athletic adventurer has a new running challenge: to run from sea to shining sea.
The journey begins this Sunday (May 1) at San Francisco City Hall. Wardian will follow U.S. Route 50 to Arlington and, then, onto Dewey Beach, Delaware. His mission is to dip his toes in the Atlantic Ocean on July 4. That’s 3,184 miles in 65 days.
“With no planned rest days,” he tells ARLnow on the phone from San Francisco. “At least, that’s the plan right now.”
Wardian is doing this to raise money for World Vision, an organization that works to provide clean and safe drinking water to families across the globe. His goal is to raise $100,000.
It will be his longest run ever, an attempt inspired by his run across Israel back in 2019.
“It’s something I’ve never done before. I’m looking forward to it,” he says. “But also a little nervous.”
Wardian is known for incredible feats of the foot. That includes running seven marathons on seven continents, setting treadmill records, and logging 260 miles running loops around Arlington Forest. He also has recently set his sights on mastering pickleball.
He was actually planning to run across the country back in 2020, but the pandemic pushed those plans back two years.
“This has been my dream for, like, 20 years. And now it’s finally coming to fruition,” he says.
With him running nearly 50 miles per day, Wardian acknowledges the effort will take a physical and, crucially, a mental toll. This will be the longest he has ever been away from his family, he noted.
But Wardian is not doing this alone. He’ll have support alongside him the whole way, including someone very special. Trailing behind him in an RV will be his dad, there to prepare meals, do laundry, and just be supportive.
“This is a chance to reconnect with my dad… this is the longest I’ve ever been with him since I moved out 25 years ago,” Wardian says. “He’s going to be cheering for me the whole time.”
There are several ways to keep pace with Wardian on his months-long journey from coast to coast. There’s the normal social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. There will also be real-time tracking along with a detailed day to day schedule (including endpoints).
For those who get the bug, runners can also join Wardian on his journey at any point and for any distance — yes, much like Forrest Gump and his running entourage — by reaching out to [email protected].
About 40 people have already committed to joining him at some point one the expedition, including a few Arlington pickleball buddies.
“Hopefully, I can pop in on some [pickleball] games along the way,” he says. “I’d also like to play chess at various places too.”
Oh, Wardian is an avid chess player as well.
Wardian understands why he’s sometimes compared to Forrest Gump: the beard, the long hair, and the jogging across America.
“I have been called ‘Forrest Gump’ about a gazillion times… over the years and across the planet so I completely understand and embrace that,” he says.
But there’s one difference, he says, between him and the fictional character.
“Forrest Gump, to me, wasn’t quite sure why he was running at first but eventually he found what he was looking for,” Wardian says. “Which is different than me.”
“I’m super into it. I just won my first tournament last weekend,” Wardian says, taking a breather from playing and a sporting a pink T-Mobile shirt and hat.
The 47-year-old Wardian is probably most well-known to area residents for his running feats, including completing seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, running more than 260 miles in a loop around the Arlington Forest neighborhood, and winning the inaugural Marine Corps 50k in 2019.
But now, he’s on to pickleball.
“There’s a sense of newness and beginning something [with pickleball],” Wardian says. “With running, if I want to do something I haven’t done before, I’ve got to do…something pretty huge to have some freshness. It’s fun to be a newbie at something.”
He only started playing the sport a few months ago, in May, when a friend asked him to join a game while in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. He ran out to Walmart, grabbed a paddle, and played five games.
“And I just fell in love with it,” Wardian says. “I was like, ‘man, this is like the coolest sport ever.’ I thought it was an old person’s sport.”
While it’s true that pickleball began as a preferred sport for older adults due to its low-impact on joints, it has since grown in popularity with younger adults and, even, kids. There are now more than four million players nationwide, according to the USA Pickleball Association. That number includes Wardian.
“I had no idea how much skill was involved or how addictive it could be,” he says.
While there isn’t complete overlap, Wardian’s ultramarathon skill set has come in handy on the pickleball court. His discipline, endurance, and tall stature all have come in handy.
“I cover a lot of ground,” Wardian says. “I can get to almost any ball. I’m tall and long, so I have good reach.”
One of the pickleball skills he’s working on is controlling his shots and not hammering the ball so hard so it goes out of bounds.
But he’s learning quickly. He estimates he’s invested about 150 hours into the sport so far and is already doing well in tournaments. In fact, Wardian is considering becoming a pro pickleball player. The top players can make tens of thousands of dollars in winnings, not to mention sponsorship dollars.
Because of his running, Wardian has sponsorship deals with local businesses District Taco, Pacers, and MedStar Health as well as T-Mobile (hence, the shirt and hat). Now, he’s looking to get some for his pickleball prowess and is speaking with online retailer Pickleball Clearance about opportunities. He’s also hoping to become an ambassador for the sport through the US Pickleball Association.
“I just want to grow the audience and get more people excited about the sport,” he says.
Pickleball hasn’t been the only thing filling Wardian’s time in recent months. He’s also an owner and partner of Potomac Maritime, working with carriers and ships carrying humanitarian aid and food cargo, which is his main source of income.
Unsurprisingly, Wardian is good at chess too and plays in chess tournaments. He’s also part of several clubs (including the Arlington Chess Club), and coaches the game to younger players.
At one point, he compares chess to pickleball, saying both are about placement, strategy, and knocking the opponent off balance.
“You set up your shot,” he says. “You hit one shot to knock them back and, then, when they’re back, you can put the ball somewhere else.”
For Wardian, no matter what he’s competing in, he is always striving to be at a high level. There is a sharp competitive edge to it all, but his hardest opponent is himself.
“I like seeing what’s possible,” he says. “I like challenging myself.”
When asked what’s the next sport or activity for him to master, he rattles off cycling, surfing, open water swimming, and deep sea fishing. It’s clear he’s already thought about the future.
After talking and a few photos, he heads back to the pickleball court. An average game of pickleball takes about 20 to 25 minutes, but he’s still harping on the last game he played that lasted only about ten minutes.
“We got our asses kicked,” Wardian says. “But we will get the next one.”
No Citations for Mass Gatherings in Arlington — “Gov. Ralph Northam is limiting social gatherings to 50% of event space capacity, or 250 people, whichever number is smaller. A spokesperson for Arlington County says ‘there have been no reports of social gatherings of this size’ in the locality. Arlington County’s police department has not issued any citations for mass gatherings, and has not levied any fines for people who flout rules regarding mask-wearing.” [DCist]
Prosecutor Explains Fight With Judges — “Taking the court to court to preserve the discretion of this office is the only way I know to protect the will of the voters who elected me. This is how we weave the quilt of criminal justice reform: each locality using its voice to demand change and put its values into elected offices. Town by town, county by county, we must fight to shape the communities in which we want to live.” [Washington Post]
Wardian, District Taco Donate to School — “Ultramarathoner Mike Wardian, who recently ran a 62-mile run to all 12 DMV-area District Taco locations, asked District Taco to donate the proceeds of the run to Barrett students and families in need. District Taco employees made and delivered 200 burritos to over 100 Barrett families.” [Press Release]
Parking Blocked Off For Clarendon Bar Lines — A number of nightlife hotspots in Clarendon have been working with the county’s Arlington Restaurant Initiative to better space out patrons waiting in line. This past weekend, the county blocked off portions of lanes and some parking spots around bars to allow more physical distancing around the lines. [Twitter, Twitter]
Thousands Left Behind at DCA Security Lines — “A new… Transportation Security Administration report gives the amount of coins and bills left behind at security checkpoints at airports around the country, including Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport. The amount unclaimed at checkpoints at National in the last fiscal year was $13,207.46.” [Washington Post]
Armed Robbery Near Courthouse — “The victim was sitting inside his parked vehicle when the suspect vehicle, which was occupied four times, pulled alongside him. Suspect One approached the victim, displayed a firearm and commanded the victim to exit his vehicle, lay on the ground and empty his pockets. Suspect Two then stole the victim’s personal belongings. Suspect One entered the victim’s vehicle and rummaged through items. The suspects fled the scene after an unrelated vehicle drove by the incident.” [Arlington County]
Local Man Killed in Crash Near Shirlington — “At approximately 7:44 p.m. on July 3, 2020, police were dispatched to the area of Walter Reed Drive and S. Wakefield Street for multiple reports of a crash with injury. The preliminary investigation indicates that the motorcyclist was traveling southbound on Walter Reed Drive at a high rate of speed when he lost control, struck a pole and was thrown from the vehicle.” [Arlington County]
Yorktown Grad Entering Third NFL Season — “The upcoming NFL season, if it is played, will be M.J. Stewart’s third, and the Yorktown High School graduate is more than eager for this month’s training camp then the 2020-21 season to start. ‘I just want to get to training camp,’ said the 5-foot-11, 200-pound defensive back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.” [InsideNova]
Ethiopian Community Facing Dual Challenges — “The Supreme Court on June 25 okayed the Trump administration’s policy of limiting the number of asylum seekers in the country… Most likely to feel the impact locally is the Arlington-based Ethiopian Community Development Council Inc., the refugee-support and State Department-authorized transition agency with offices just off Columbia Pike… this sub-sector of Arlington’s diverse population is among those hit hardest by the coronavirus lockdown.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Why Galaxy Hut is Not Opening Indoors — Updated at 9:10 a.m. — “We just decided ultimately that the questions are too many. Too many questions about how safe it is to be out and dine. And we didn’t feel like with our small size in particular that we would be a good candidate for trying this out. We didn’t want to take the risk.” [WJLA]
River Rescue Blocks Chain Bridge — From Sunday afternoon: “River incident the Potomac River vicinity Fletchers boathouse. Injured 18 year old who fell approximately 20 feet from rocks. Will require patient to be lowered to shoreline and transported by boat.” [Twitter]
Wardian Completes Delaware Run — “Ultrarunner Mike Wardian ran the length of the state of Delaware, starting the 130-mile (209-kilometre) route on July 2 and finishing 26 hours later. He began the run in the afternoon, just north of Wilmington, Delaware’s largest city, near the state border with Pennsylvania. He ran in [93 degree] weather straight through the night and next morning, and 26 hours, 19 minutes and 43 seconds later, he crossed the state’s southern border and ran into Maryland.” [Canadian Trail Running]
Photo courtesy Eliana Carreño
Rep. Beyer: Stay Home This Weekend — “In the nation’s capital we finally managed to slow the spread of COVID-19. The people in our region sacrificed to make these gains, and we should do all we can to hold on to this progress. Staying home on July Fourth and avoiding large gatherings is the best way to do this. Those who go out should absolutely wear a mask, and social distance without fail.” [Press Release]
Local Unemployment Rate Improves — “The local employment picture in May crawled back slightly from the abyss of April, according to new state data, with most parts of Northern Virginia seeing modest improvements in unemployment rates. In Arlington, May’s jobless rate of 6.1 percent was a comeback from 7 percent in April, although it remains far above norms of the past decade.” [InsideNova]
Wardian Running Through Delaware — “With most major races wiped off the calendar, professional ultramarathon runner Michael Wardian was asked to run 96 miles — the length of Delaware — over the course of a month as part of a virtual charity event. ‘I was like, ‘It’s 96 miles, I’ll just do it in one day,” Wardian said.” Wardian said in an Instagram post that his route will actually take him 135 miles over the course of about 24 hours. [Delaware Online, Instagram]
Ballston Company Makes Big Donation — “Today The AES Corporation (NYSE: AES) stepped up to provide immediate relief to hundreds of families who are struggling to put food on their tables as a result of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. A $25,000 contribution… will allow [Arlington nonprofits APAH and AHC] to provide $100 grocery gift cards to a combined total of 250 low-income households in their apartment buildings. This grant is the first tranche of a $75,000 total commitment from AES to the Arlington Community Foundation.” [Press Release]
Good News on ARLnow’s Instagram — Arlington Community Federal Credit Union is sponsoring a month-long series of “good news” stories posted to ARLnow’s Instagram account. The innovative partnership will further ARLnow’s journalistic mission and give our Instagram followers something to feel good about near the end of each day. [Twitter]
Reminder: Road Closures Tomorrow — “Road closures are planned from 4-11 p.m. Saturday around the Air Force Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial and Long Bridge Park. Street parking will also be restricted in the area.” [ARLnow]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
D.C. Now More Expensive Than Arlington — “D.C. has bumped Arlington County, Virginia, from the top of the most-expensive area jurisdictions by county for median home-selling prices — at least for the month of May. Long & Foster reports the median price of a home that sold in the District in May was $656,000, 10% more than May of last year. The median price of a home that sold in Arlington County was $646,000, up 4%.” [WTOP]
Lower Census Response Rate Than 2010 — “In 2010, 74% of Arlington households filled out their Census form and returned it by mail, which was the only option at the time. In 2020, despite being able to fill out the Census online, by phone and by mail, Arlington’s self-response rate is hovering at just over 70%.” [Arlington County]
Missing: BLM Banner — Someone took a Black Lives Matter banner that had been hanging on a pedestrian bridge over Route 50, and its creator wants it back. [Twitter]
JBG Wants to Improve VRE Station Plan — “JBG Smith Properties could soon play a key role in a second major transportation improvement project in Crystal City, performing design work to beef up plans for a new Virginia Railway Express station there. The developer is advancing a plan to manage the construction of a second entrance for the nearby Crystal City Metro station, and this work on the VRE designs would be closely tied to that effort.” [Washington Business Journal]
Another Unique Feat for Wardian — Arlington ultramarathon runner Michael Wardian ran 62.3 miles to every District Taco in the D.C. area, eating tacos along the way. [Instagram]
Schwartz Presents New Capital Plan — “County Manager Mark Schwartz has proposed a $277.5 million one-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The County Manager, rather than proposing the traditional 10-year plan, is presenting a short-term proposal until the County better understands the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus of the one-year CIP is on projects that are already underway, those that improve failing or end-of-life infrastructure, and those required by legal or regulatory obligations.” [Arlington County]
Juvenile Court Reeling from Coronavirus Cases — “An outbreak of covid-19 in the clerk’s office of the Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court has forced the court to close the office to the public and has concerned lawyers who practice there daily. Four of the seven clerks in the office have tested positive for covid-19.” [Washington Post]
Small Business Grants Announced — “Arlington County today announced 394 businesses are receiving the Small Business Emergency GRANT (Giving Resiliency Assets Near Term). The GRANT program provides financial assistance to Arlington’s small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The GRANT funds were designed to bridge the gap to provide near-term relief for businesses and nonprofits, some of whom have experienced delays or limitations with federal relief initiatives.” [Arlington County, Arlington Economic Development]
Va. Not Ready for Phase 3 — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that statewide Covid-19 numbers ‘continue to look favorable,’ but that he will not move the commonwealth into phase 3 of reopening this week. ‘I want to have more time to see how the numbers look before we make changes, especially as we see surges in other parts of our country,’ Northam said.” [Washington Business Journal, InsideNova]
Wardian to Run to Every District Taco — “This is Mike Wardian, a Guinness-World-Record winning runner, who is partnering with DT on Saturday, June 20 as he runs to ALL 12 DMV LOCATIONS (just about 60 miles)! If you see Mike on his run, snap a pic and use #whereswardian for in-app credit for a free taco!” [Twitter]
County Offers Free Trees and Tree Maintenance — “Arlington County loves trees, and knows trees are critical for our stormwater infrastructure, environmental and human health benefits, and through its Tree Canopy Fund EcoAction Arlington offers grants to plant or maintain trees on private property.” [Press Release]
Arlington’s own extreme endurance athlete Michael Wardian is comfortable on a treadmill. Comfortable enough to play Madden while running. Comfortable enough to do an interview while running. And, he hopes, comfortable enough to reclaim the 50K treadmill world record tomorrow.
Starting at 6 p.m. Saturday, Wardian says he’ll start running with an aim of breaking the 50K record (around 31 miles) in around two hours and 57 minutes.
For Wardian, it’s an attempt to take back a record he previously held, but one that he says has been broken a few times since quarantine started and more runners looking for records to beat have taken to treadmills. Wardian says he’s not worried.
“I’ve set a bunch of world records on the treadmill, I’m pretty confident,” Wardian said with a laugh. “There’s nothing you have to worry about other than picking your feet up.”
It would not be the first record Wardian, 45, has set during the pandemic. In April, he ran 262.52 miles in a loop around his neighborhood as part of a quarantine ultramarathon challenge.
Wardian said he enjoys the treadmill because it feels like the most “fair” kind of running, without other factors in the course that can give runners an advantage or disadvantage. He noted that at marathons people only usually see the runner at the start and the finish, but on a treadmill run they can watch him or her the whole time through the race.
“There’s going to be a live stream,” Wardian said. “We’ll send a link out later today and people can Zoom or they can go to my Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and can make requests during the run. I think it will be awesome. We’ll have announcers and people there going for other records.”
For aspiring treadmill runners, Wardian also offered a little advice.
“Like a lot of things, it takes a lot of practice,” Wardian said. “A big part is just knowing where all the buttons are and changing the inclines. If you are running, you may want to put it at one percent grade because it mimics being outside. I also recommend changing the incline if you’re on a long run so your feet don’t hit at the same place every time.”
Photo courtesy Michael Wardian
County Forms Hunger Task Force — “In anticipation of increasing need, County Manager Mark Schwartz and APS Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson have created the Cooperative for a Hunger Free Arlington (CHFA) and tasked it to help coordinate efforts to make sure that every Arlington resident who needs food has it during the pandemic.” [Arlington County]
ACPD, Bayou Bakery Distribute Free Meals — “Yesterday, ACPD assisted with the distribution of over 100 meals and school supplies to families in our community. This successful event was a collaborative effort by Real Food For Kids, Bayou Bakery, Abingdon Elementary PTA and private donations.” [Facebook]
Del. Lopez Celebrates Va. Dream Act Signing — “After years of work in the legislature — and decades of activism from educators, students, and advocates across the Commonwealth — the Virginia Dream Act has finally been signed into law, expanding in-state tuition to undocumented students for the first time.” [Press Release]
Wardian Went to Work After 63 Hour Race — “Q: How much did you sleep when you were done with the race? A: I didn’t sleep at all. I came right back from the race and I had a work deadline Tuesday morning at 11 a.m. I work from home, so I came right to my desk. I started working until I passed out on my keyboard. I told everyone to please double check all my work.” [New York Times]
County Again Encouraging Clapping Tonight — “Join us in saluting healthcare workers on Monday night! At 8 p.m., clap in front yards, balconies, windows and cars to show gratitude.” [Facebook]
Rosslyn Couple’s Very Mini Golf Course — “When your fiancée sets up a 9-hole mini @TheMasters for your quarantine birthday, you want @Buck to call play-by-play on the disappointing 9th hole.” [Twitter]
Arlington’s resident extreme endurance athlete has pulled off another improbable feat.
Michael Wardian was among the participants in the “Backyard Quarantine Ultra,” a virtual race conducted via Zoom and social media. The race kicked off Saturday and attracted worldwide attention for its unique format — it challenged runners to run about 4.2 miles on the hour, each hour, and broadcast it via the video conferencing app.
What started with 2,300 runners from 50 countries quickly became a battle of attrition. By day two, it was down to just two: Wardian, 45, and Czech runner Radek Brunner.
A TV crew from WJLA showed up to film the spectacle as Wardian repeatedly ran the same loop around the Arlington Forest neighborhood, where he lives, to the cheers of neighbors.
With the round-the-clock race dragging into its third night and surpassing the 250 mile mark, the audience grew.
Finally, at 11 p.m. last night, Brunner — who was running inside on a treadmill — made a mistake: not starting in time when the horn sounded. He was disqualified and Wardian crowned the champion after he completed his loops. He had competed for 63 hours, had not slept, and ended up running a total of 262.52 miles.
“It was a real honor and privilege to be a part of something beyond my imagination,” said an exhausted Wardian, who came a few hours shy of a world record after the race ended.
Congratulations flowed in from all corners of the globe, including from his hometown.
— arlingtonva (@ArlingtonVA) April 7, 2020
Arlington’s resident running superhero Michael Wardian is preparing to attempt another outrageous athletic feat.
Having already run 10 marathons in 10 days, nearly qualified for the Olympics, run across Israel in a record-breaking 10 days, won a marathon while dressed like Elvis, set a world record for running back-to-back marathons on all seven continents, and set another world record for fastest indoor marathon, Wardian is planning to go full Gump and run across the continental United States this summer.
Wardian, 45, tells ARLnow he’s hoping to run the roughly 3,000 miles from coast to coast — potentially from San Francisco or Los Angeles to one of the Mid-Atlantic beaches — in 60 days.
For the record, Wardian noted, that would not be a record-setting pace. Setting the record would be difficult since, between his daily ~50 mile runs, Wardian intends to telework for his day job as an international shipbroker.
Accompanying Wardian on the journey will be a small crew, who will help document the feat and provide logistical support, and perhaps some other runners. Attempting the run, including a stretch through the desert, at the beginning of the summer “is probably going to be terrible,” he said, but he’s excited about the “big, epic” challenge.
Though the exact route is being worked out, while Wardian conducts more research and talks to other people who’ve done the coast-to-coast run, one possible path is to take the Lincoln Highway all the way across the country.
Wardian did not totally rule out turning around and running back across the U.S. after completing the first transcontinental run, like the fictional Forrest Gump, though he said “my wife would probably disown me if I did that.” Another possibility, according to Wardian, should this run go well: attempting the same kind of coast-to-coast run on all seven continents, including Antarctica.
As for how he’s managed to continue running ultra-marathon distances at a seemingly impossible pace for the past 25 years, Wardian credited clean living, a vegetarian diet, and a bit of luck.
“I’ve taken pretty good care of myself, avoiding injury,” he said. “I know when something doesn’t feel right.”
Photos courtesy Michael Wardian