Michael Wardian is one of the best ultrarunners in the United States, if not the world, but he’s not run a great trail 100 since before he was the Mike Wardian we know today. In the following interview, find out why that might be the case, how plantar fasciitis has hampered his running since last December’s The North Face Endurance Challenge, and why he always goes into a race thinking he can win.
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Michael Wardian Pre-2012 Western States Interview
iRunFar: Bryon Powell with iRunFar here with Michael Wardian before the 2012 Western States 100. How are you doing, Michael?
Michael Wardian: Very well, man. How are you?
iRF: Very well. You’re hitting the trails for the first time this year—any trail races so far?
Wardian: No, I haven’t done any trail races so far.
iRF: But you’ve been doing a lot of trail running in [Washington,] DC, correct?
Wardian: Yeah, I’ve been doing tons of… you know the trail, the Potomac Heritage Trail… cranking on that every week like 4:45 am with headlamp blazing, poles, all that stuff.
Wardian: Yeah, on the rocky sections and everything. [iRF: (laughing)] Yeah, man! I’m trying to get ready for UTMB later this year and this race. You know some of that’s kind of technical near… Potomac Heritage then Potomac Overlook Park, that part where you have all the dicey footing.
iRF: Totally. So you’ve really been working on your trail running?
Wardian: Yeah, once a week. Then, I do the trail running every day at lunch, but it’s not super technical.
iRF: Yeah, but you’re out there every day. People think of you as a road runner, but you run every day on trails.
iRF: Have you continued, you know we spoke last year at The North Face 50, and you said you’d been doing a lot of uphill training. You’ve really added that to your…
Wardian: Yeah, I’ve added tons of that this year. I just did the little hill climb before the race this year and felt pretty strong. The climbing’s been going pretty well this year, so hopefully that bodes well for later in the year and tomorrow.
iRF: You have had some setbacks this year, some plantar fasciitis? When did that come in?
Wardian: Yeah, I have. At The North Face race, actually, about 25 miles into that race. I have a lot on my schedule, so I’ve just been gutting it out and it’s been really tough. But everybody I know that’s a runner has had an injury at some point, so this is my time to be a pledge and do my… [iRF: suffering?] yeah, do my time being not 100% and just doing the best I can and trying get it healthy and get it fixed.
iRF: Aside from your pain, how has it affected your training and your race itself? How does it affect your performance on race day?
Wardian: It’s frustrating. Like I’ve told some people, I didn’t think it was a real injury until I got it. It’s kind of a superficial type thing, but it’s really painful. It definitely takes away a lot of the way that you can run as aggressively as you want, but also it doesn’t allow you to push as much as you want. You can manage it, or at least I’ve been able to manage it. I’m not running at the level that I’d like, but I’m still doing okay. I’m just looking forward to being able to push like I want. In training, it’s limiting in that it’s hard to do some of the workouts I enjoy.
iRF: What kind of workouts have you had to cut back on?
Wardian: Speed work and stuff like that. It just makes it really hurt. It’s been great because I’ve been doing a lot of climbing, and it doesn’t seem to make it hurt as much, which I don’t know if that’s normal or not. For me, that’s been the case – landing more like this versus really slamming it down. Actually, I heel strike a little bit on my left foot. That actually adds to the pain a little bit. But yeah, it’s causing me to do some things a little different in training, but it’s fine. I’m going to be stronger for it. I already feel like I’m stronger for it because I’m still having to train, and it’s not always as much fun as it could be. It just makes you appreciate… there are some days when I run and it’s pain-free and it’s like, “Oh my gosh, it’s the awesome-est day ever.” So I’m excited about it.
iRF: You’re still finding some joy in it.
Wardian: Oh, man, I find joy every day. It could be worse. It could be a broken foot or a stress fracture or something where you have to take time off. I haven’t had to take any time off.
iRF: You definitely haven’t cut back from your race schedule.
Wardian: Yeah. It’s just frustrating not to be able to run at the level that you feel like you should run at. I think everyone ebbs and flows and hopefully I’ll be… it’s a long year and there are lots of races in front of me. It will be fine.
iRF: You ran second at the 50k US Championships. You gutted it out and were eighth at the World 100k Championships, coming back at the end. You had a decent run at Two Oceans.
Wardian: I didn’t run great at Comrades, but I still came through 50 miles in something like 5:25.
iRF: Which is faster than any American ran last year in a 50-mile race.
Wardian: Yeah, it’s still fast; it’s just compared to everyone else there, it’s not fast. You gotta look at it… well, in the 50k I ran a 2:21 marathon the day before, so I was pleased to be able to run at 3:02 50k after running a 2:21 and running pretty much in a lot of pain. I think that will bode well for a race like tomorrow where there are going to be points where it’s really, really painful and… I’ve been doing a lot of that.
iRF: Unless tomorrow’s one of your days where it’s not painful.
Wardian: Yeah, like today. Yesterday it didn’t feel great and today it feels amazing. I’m hoping that holds true for tomorrow.
iRF: Pretty much any race I see you enter you say, “I’m going to win.” Is that your strategy for tomorrow?
Wardian: Ehhhh, there’s so many guys… and all these guys have so much respect for each other, and I have a lot of respect for them, so it’s hard to say that. I want to be in the mix. I think to do that you’ve got to think that you have a chance to win; you’ve got to go out there to win. You’ve got to run the best race you can. I’m here and I’ve got a great crew lined up and some pacers lined up. I’ve got a sweet little hydration pack that I’m all jacked up to use.
iRF: You’ve used it twice?
Wardian: No, three times! I got it last week, but it’s pretty sweet. The North Face made us these little cool hydration packs that you’re going to see for Western States and also for UTMB. I’m doing that one later in the year. Yeah, that’s been fun to run in.
iRF: So you’ve run a couple 100’s. Maybe everyone sees you as a road specialist, but you’ve run a ton of trail races. Your best 100 was your first 100, Vermont, years ago, before you were “Wardian.”
Wardian: Yeah. I was just a normal guy. My wife now, she was my girlfriend then, and we had 10 people and we made up little t-shirts. It was awesome. No one knew who we were. It was so cool. It was fantastic. I think the course has actually changed. I think it’s a little bit harder now. I ran pretty fast and actually didn’t get chicked. I was like, “No girl is going to beat me.” But actually it was Ann Trason. So I ended up beating Ann Trason, which was cool. I mean, I didn’t know who she was, but I was just, “I can’t lose to a girl.” And then, I’ve lost to plenty of girls now. Ellie almost beat me at Comrades this year; she was flying.
iRF: Yeah, maybe you could stick with her tomorrow. That would give you a decent race.
Wardian: Yeah, if I could stick with her that would be pretty sweet.
iRF: In terms of 100’s, you had that great 100. You haven’t really had a 100 that you’ve nailed since. Is there anything going into Western States that you’ve changed? Is there anything you can do to have a better result in a trail 100?
Wardian: Yeah. I think working on the climbing is going to be helpful. I think I’ve done some longer races now, like I did Badwater last year. I had my nutrition pretty good in that race. My crew may differ in what they say, but I felt like I was pretty good for 18 or 19 hours, which was a long time for me. I’d only ever run … I think last time I did Western States I did 19:30 or something like that.
iRF: The longest you’d ever run.
Wardian: Exactly, at the time. I think nutrition in a 100 is almost as important as pace.
iRF: So what is your nutrition plan generally?
Wardian: It’s pretty easy. It’s going to be gels and Succeed [electrolyte] tablets.
iRF: Pretty regimented schedule?
Wardian: Yeah, pretty regimented schedule. Pretty much on time, every time, even if you don’t want it. I’ll be making sure I’m staying up on my fluids. It’s going to be super good weather, so it should be a pretty fantastic race.
iRF: It will be cooler than it is at 4:45 am on a [Washington,] DC morning.
Wardian: Right. It’s over 100 degrees F right now. So it’s been hot. But you know, that’s been good training for this. I did sauna training, which I guess can’t hurt.
iRF: Well, hey man, best of luck to you out there.
Wardian: Thanks a lot, man.