Treadmill Diaries: Interviews With Treadmill World-Record Holders Denis Mikhaylove, Gemma Carter, And Michael Wardian

Interviews with treadmill world-record holders Denis Mikhaylove, Gemma Carter, and Michael Wardian.

By on March 18, 2015 | Comments

The probability of three different individuals in three different places each setting world records—two official records, pending Guinness approval, and one unofficial record—within a 60-hour span is infinitesimally low. The probability that one of those three individuals would attempt the world record twice within that same 60 hours is lower still. Yet this is what happened two weekends ago: on March 6, Brit Gemma Carter established a women’s treadmill 50k world record in London at 3:55:28; on March 7, Michael Wardian, ran a 50k time of 3:06:24 on the treadmill of a cruise ship returning to the United States from the Bahamas, missing the world record by 47 seconds, but the racing fanatic had tireless resolve and 36 hours later, he quite amazingly bested the record with a 3:03:56; on March 8, Russian citizen and U.S. resident, Denis Mikhaylove, covered 80.54 miles in 12 hours on a treadmill in New York City, thereby setting a new treadmill 12-hour world record.

In the following interviews, Mikhaylove, Carter, and Wardian disclose their strategies, discuss the various difficulties associated with running on a treadmill for so long, and detail the requirements that must be met in order to establish an official world record.

Denis Mikhaylove

iRunFar: Where are you now, New York City?

Denis Mikhaylove: Yes, right about—right next to New York City.

iRunFar: What do you do there?

Mikhaylove: Now I’m running full time, since last year, that’s all I’m doing. I’m coaching as well—I’m a certified running coach, I have certification in plant-based nutrition. I am a raw vegan for the last five years and there are lots of people interested in that. It’s a pretty unique combination: being a strict raw vegan and at the same time being a competitive ultrarunner. There are a mix of people who work with me: some athletes who want to improve their performance and some people who just want to feel better, who want better health, who want to lose weight and get in shape. I’m lucky that I’m able to sustain myself so far in doing that. Before that it was six years of pretty intense office work in Manhattan doing financial analysis. I was a hardcore finance guy. It’s quite a change, I’m still adapting.

iRunFar: Yeah, I’m sure that’s a big change. Let’s talk about the world record—congratulations, by the way!

Mikhaylove: Thanks! I’m still waiting for the official confirmation. I’m not being too public about it so far; I’m a little superstitious. There is a ton of paperwork involved. One half of the record is to run, the other half of the record is to get all the requirements met, to get all the paperwork, to adhere to all the strict rules.

iRunFar: Can you talk a little bit about that—what the rules and regulations are for a world record on the treadmill?

Mikhaylove: For all Guinness records, there are two ways you can do it. One way is to invite an official judge from the Guinness book. They aren’t always able to make it and it’s a pretty complicated process and expensive. The other way is to do it yourself, but you have a huge list of rules you have to adhere to. Some of the most important ones: the whole event, from the start or ideally before the start and after the end, has to be videotaped completely—every second has to be videotaped and clearly in focus in the camera. They are very strict about that. They are very strict about taking photos in preparation and of the event itself. On top of that, there is a lot of paperwork. You have to have official witnesses that can’t be related to the place where you are running on the treadmill—they have to be independent witnesses. They have to give a lot of information and keep a logbook of what they witnessed.

And Guinness checks. They call up the people, they ask who they are, what they do, they ask for business cards. They look at their statement—it’s called a witness statement. And to complicate things, you can’t have just a couple people for witnesses, you need a lot of people because the event is long and [Guinness] says, No one can be a witness for that long of a time. They want you to break it up and also at one time there should be a minimum of two witnesses. Basically, overall, I had to have 12 independent witnesses who had to submit paperwork. The paper stack was thick.

iRunFar: You must have good friends; that’s a lot of help!

Mikhaylove: The other thing is the treadmill calibration. They need to make sure that the treadmill is properly recording the distance, obviously.

iRunFar: Does that mean you have to use a particular type or model of treadmill?

Mikhaylove: They don’t give you the particular model. They say it has to be a particular type of exercise machine. They do require proof of certification by the manufacturer. It’s been a pretty long journey to actually prepare all the logistics to even try to break the record.

iRunFar: That’s incredible. It’s been noted that people have gone further in 12 hours on the treadmill before, so people have wondered why this is a Guinness world record and I take it that, if it’s true that people have gone further before, they haven’t taken the steps to get the performance certified by Guinness.

Mikhaylove: Yeah, sure. I do understand it’s a pretty soft record. Eighty miles in 12 hours is not that far. People have gone way farther on the road and track. Obviously, to make it official, there have to be some kind of rules; otherwise it would just be a mess, people just saying, Oh, I did it.

Denis Mikhaylove - treadmill 12-hour world record

Denis Mikhaylove and his world-record witnesses. Photo courtesy of Denis Mikhaylove.

iRunFar: What was the previous record—the official record?

Mikhaylove: To the best of my knowledge it was 79.6 miles.

iRunFar: Your goal then was simply to be greater than 79.6 miles?

Mikhaylove: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I know in my best shape I could do much better but it’s been a pretty terrible winter in New York and I wasn’t in my best training environment, so I didn’t come to the event in my perfect shape. But the date was set so I had to do it and I’m pretty happy with the result. By mile 70 I knew I could push and do 80-something miles, but at that point—I had had some cramping going on between miles 40 and 50—and I just didn’t want to risk it. I wanted to safely get to the record and maybe in the future attempt all out to see what I can do.

iRunFar: At what time elapsed did you reach your total of 80.54 miles: right at 12 hours or at 11.5 hours?

Mikhaylove: No, no, exactly at 12 hours. I was timing myself pretty diligently to get to that point, but I never got off the treadmill—I never even stopped the treadmill. I spent 12 hours without evening pausing it. I slowed it down a couple times to stretch a little but it was always spinning, it never stopped and I never got off the treadmill. That was pretty brutal.

iRunFar: I was going to ask about that—if you ever took a break. Did you have any issues with pulling the safety tab that shuts the thing down?

Mikhaylove: No, we definitely prepared for that. We taped the thing down. We tried to account for any unusual situations that can arise. Myself, my team, the organization where it was happening, New York Sports Med, we all put a lot of effort into it so we wanted to make sure, logistically, that everything was sound and we tried to account for contingencies that can occur.

So, we taped the emergency plug. We had a back-up treadmill standing by so that, whatever happens with [the one I was using], we have this other treadmill, also certified. There was a lot of thought that went into that day.

iRunFar: What was your pacing strategy going in and then were you able to stick to that strategy?

Mikhaylove: The longest I ran on the treadmill before was about 35 miles, so I was able to notice that it is quite different from running on the roads. First of all, I’m not a road runner. I’m not a treadmill runner. I’m a mountain runner. I only did this record because it seemed like it was doable. I’ve done a couple road races and they definitely aren’t my specialty. I’m not fast; I’m not fast on the road at all. I’m in [the] Hardrock 100 this year—that’s my kind of thing.

From my limited time on the treadmill I understood that it’s different from regular running outside because first of all, there seems to be a little bit different muscles involved and, second of all, mentally, after a couple hours your brain gets confused because your legs are moving but your scenery doesn’t change. It’s a very different kind of situation—you have to keep your mind sharp the whole time, to know what’s going on. Many times in road racing, or any kind of ultra racing, it’s a very good thing mentally to just zone out and run on autopilot. The problem here is that you cannot do that. Once you turn autopilot on, automatically something will happen: you will stop and slide off the treadmill or you will grab the handles accidentally or something will happen. Considering that, my pacing strategy was very conservative. I didn’t want to—I know I have a tendency of going fast in the beginning so I had a friend Elena Makovskaya who knows me pretty well—she was pacing me at several ultra events.

So, I let her handle my pacing completely—she knows my weakness of going out too fast and she didn’t let me do that. I’m happy for that: the first 30 or 40 miles were pretty effortless. Then I just started to suffer but was able to pull it off. My pace was still a little faster in the first half but not dramatically. I was able to have a smooth pace, which is probably how it should be on the treadmill.

iRunFar: Was she pushing the dials?

Mikhaylove: Exactly. The rules were a little unclear. They say you are allowed to change the speed, obviously, but they also say that you aren’t allowed to make a lot of contact with the treadmill. Just to play it safe, I had someone else pushing all the buttons for me. I was just asking someone to bump it up or take it down a little. Mentally it was absolutely destroying: having to watch the numbers doesn’t let you relax. You have to call out every mile. All these papers have comprehensive logbooks where you write every mile and the time, so I had to call out every mile I did. I had to pay attention to all the numbers.

You can’t distract yourself; you have to stare at all the numbers. You can’t escape the thinking process of, I have another 10 hours to go; I have another nine hours to go. The whole time you can’t escape from it. Mentally, it’s pretty tough. That might be one of the reasons the official record is so soft.

Denis Mikhaylove - treadmilll 12-hour world record 1

Denis Mikhaylove on his way to a treadmill 12-hour world record. Photo courtesy of Denis Mikhaylove.

iRunFar: Given what you’re telling me, it doesn’t sound so soft!

Mikhaylove: [laughs] Yeah!

iRunFar: You mentioned running 35 miles on the treadmill previously—was that in training for this particular event?

Mikhaylove: Yes, yes, in preparation for the event, otherwise I pretty much avoid the treadmill at all costs.

iRunFar: How often were you on the treadmill every week?

Mikhaylove: My training for this event was—I couldn’t resist going to the mountains, so I was going up to the mountains up until three weeks before the event. Then I did a solid 100-mile week on the treadmill two weeks before the event. The longest day was 35 miles, I believe, and the others were a little shorter, and this was it. I trained on the treadmill only for one week. The rest of the time I was outside even though there was a lot of snow here.

iRunFar: If you had spent more time on the treadmill in training, you might have decided not to attempt the world record at all.

Mikhaylove: [laughs] Well, it was too late to pull out. This Guinness record process is very lengthy. It takes about six weeks just to get approval to do the record. After that, it might take, who knows how long, to get it finalized. I really didn’t have the option to pull out.

iRunFar: What about nutrition: did you fuel similar to how you would for a 100-mile mountain race, for example?

Mikhaylove: After all that negative stuff about treadmill running, this is actually one positive thing: you can have your nutrition ready for you, whenever you want and whichever you want it as well, which was amazing for me because trying to stick to the fruitarian nutrition regime is very hard during the ultra races, logistically. After years of training and running, the thing that my body is most adjusted to during the races is orange juice. It can’t be commercial orange juice though; it has to be fresh squeezed. That’s a huge pain for my crew. Luckily, here, we had a kitchen, we were blending bananas with water; we were having the juicer for fresh orange juice. In terms of nutrition it was fantastic, it was heaven. I had whatever I needed, whenever I needed it.

As far as nutrition, there were three components to what I had. I had mostly orange juice, I had bananas blended with water, and I had some coconut water.

iRunFar: All liquid?

Mikhaylove: Yeah. They did throw a few salt pills in my orange juice closer to the end of the run, but I think I would have survived. I had some pretty severe cramping in the middle of the attempt. We couldn’t tell what was causing it but I think it was pure dehydration; I don’t think it was anything more than that. I think I tried too hard not to have any bathroom breaks so I dehydrated myself a little bit.

iRunFar: But you were successful in not having to go to the bathroom?

Mikhaylove: Actually, yeah. It felt pretty natural. I know in my previous experience with ultra racing that it’s pretty doable—to run the whole thing without bathroom breaks and if I do everything smart I can pull it off.

iRunFar: What was the strategy there, if you had to go?

Mikhaylove: Obviously they had the bathroom, but I would have to pause the treadmill and run to the bathroom and lose a few minutes, which wouldn’t be ideal.

iRunFar: It was within the rules?

Mikhaylove: Yeah, the rules clearly say you can stop the treadmill, you can pause it, you can do whatever you want—the time doesn’t stop obviously, but you can stop the treadmill and rest.

iRunFar: How do you feel now, six days later?

Mikhaylove: The next day I felt pretty good but the day after I was completely destroyed. Maybe my body was still in adrenaline running mode [the next day]. But I feel okay. I had another race scheduled—68 miles in Georgia, the first in the [U.S.] Skyrunning series. But I didn’t think I would bring my best game there so I had to cancel that. It’s exactly my specialty: long, brutal, lots of climbing—pretty much up and down. That’s what I like, but I figured the Guinness record would take priority. I’m still planning on lots of mountain races this year.

iRunFar: Best of luck at those races and congratulations again on your world-record performance!

Mikhaylove: Awesome, thanks, Eric!

Gemma Carter

iRunFar: Gemma, you now have the treadmill 50k world record. What was the impetus for the attempt? Was there a previous record you knew about?

Gemma Carter: There wasn’t—there were two women, I don’t know how you call it, an unofficial attempt? They had done it but it wasn’t verified because to do a Guinness world record you have to apply and have the whole thing videoed… when I did it, I had a big book with the rules you have to follow. I researched to see if there was an official record and there wasn’t, but I knew there was a sponsored athlete called Tracy Dean, in the U.K., who had a go a couple months before and she did four hours and 15 minutes.

But, interestingly, I had been thinking of doing it since Paul [Navesey] had set [the previous male treadmill 50k world record of 3:05:37] back in November. I was like, Okay, I could do one, I could go for the record; I could set something. Tracy had done the 4:15, so I was like, Okay, it’s on now—I need to do a good time! When I applied to Guinness, they put the time at four hours, which means that there was no official record yet. In order to get an official time, as acceptable for a world record, it had to be under four hours, which is a time I was shooting for anyway.

iRunFar: I was speaking with Denis [Mikhaylove] earlier and he explained the paperwork and logistics that he had to go through. It was the same story for you?

Carter: Yeah, exactly. I’m kind of the person who, if you want to do something, you should do it properly. So, if you want to say that you’re a world-record holder, you need to back it up with a piece of paper or whatever. I wanted to make sure no one was like, Yeah, yeah, well prove it!—that sort of thing.

I got my application through. It said, You have to run it in under four hours, and it had all the rules: witnesses, and officials, and time keeping. That was a mad rush—buying all the cameras and stuff. Then, we just did it. My training has been, for a month and half, specific to the treadmill. I say specific, but it was just my long run every week that was on the treadmill. I started with a two-hour run on the treadmill, then three hours, then three and a half, and then I knew I was good to do it.

I tried to make [running on the treadmill] as boring as possible. I found—there is a basement gym and I found a treadmill in the corner of the gym, facing a white wall, and I covered up the treadmill front and just ran for three hours staring at a white wall.

iRunFar: You must enjoy suffering a great deal.

Carter: [laughs] I think just enjoying the preparation. You know it’s going to be hard for the real thing. Going in confident, knowing that if I can stare at a white wall for three hours, then I can do it. I mean, I don’t like treadmills and I don’t like staring at white walls for three hours—I would really prefer to be on a trail, but I guess when you set yourself a goal, you structure your training for it. You make sure you can execute the plan.

iRunFar: What is your 50k personal best on the road or trail?

Carter: Never done a 50k [on the road or trail].

iRunFar: Really?

Carter: I have done 50 miles—11 times I’ve done a 50 miler. I’ve done loads of marathons, but I never focused on the marathon. I started marathon running at 18 or 19, kind of following the cliché, Oh, I want to do a marathon; I’ll have a go! I did loads of those. I didn’t really focus on them. Then I just jumped up. I did a few 50 milers and went, Hey, this is fun!

iRunFar: Then I guess you just set your personal best at 3:55.

Carter: Yeah, I guess it is actually!

iRunFar: Although you say you didn’t focus on it, what was your best marathon time?

Carter: 3:15. Yeah, it’s crap! I could do faster. It was ages ago, I think five years ago, in London.

iRunFar: So since you’ve turned to ultras, you’ve not gone back to the marathon?

Carter: To be honest, most marathons, which you could get a personal best from, are road marathons and it’s just… they’re just boring! I live in London, probably a mile away from the London Marathon [course]. I’ve done that race three times and I wouldn’t go back and run it again when I run on the course every day. You know? It’s my training route. So there is no, Wow, I’m doing the London Marathon! I would only go back to the marathon to get a good PB and I was training for the Valencia Marathon at the end of last year, 2014, but there was so much going on that I couldn’t fly over, I had too much work [going] on.

iRunFar: Well, you were training for a marathon, so you were fit for the marathon distance when you set this world record.

Carter: Yeah, right. 50k is just five miles more.

iRunFar: The day of the world record, what was that like, how did it go? What was your plan going in and did it work out?

Carter: The attempt started at 4 p.m., which is really a bad time because it was in a performance lab—it had to be in a public place with a treadmill and stuff. I did it at 4 p.m. at this place called CHHP, which is a performance center. They’ve been helping me a lot with my training: physio, nutritionist, and a sports psychologist—it’s an athlete’s dream. Olympians go there and stuff. It’s a one-stop shop. I’ve been working with them; they offered to help me out.

That was hard because through the day you get up and you don’t want to do anything—you don’t want to waste your energy. So I was sitting on my sofa twiddling my thumbs, waiting to start. It was really good; we practiced all the video cameras and all that so we were prepared. It was really about getting my fueling right on the day. I went with high carb, low fiber. I spoke to my nutritionist the week before and he said, “As long as you have a good meal three hours before, and 500 milliliters of liquid two hours before, then by the time you start you’ll be fully hydrated but not needing to go to the loo.” We did all that. I felt like I was on fire going in—really fresh and tanked up with energy. The biggest issue with treadmill running is that you’re worried about eating for drinking too much before. You want to make sure you’re hydrated but not too hydrated, fueled but not too fueled. There is that fine line. I think I carbed up too much so then halfway through the run I had GI issues, so I had to take a three-minute break. There are rules for that: you have to wait until the treadmill slows all the way down, someone has to say you can get off—it all has to be videoed; then you go, you come back, you get on and you have to wait until it starts back up. It cost me about three minutes and it was a bit stressful.

Then after that I was too scared—because I was having a bit of cramps and it was really painful—to take all my gels and fluid. So basically for the whole run I had one and a half gels and 400 or 500 milliliters of fluid. It wasn’t what I was aiming for. My nutritional strategy going in was four or five gels, three-quarters of the way in, one caffeine gel, and about 750 milliliters of water.

Gemma Carter - treadmill 50k world record

Gemma Carter, treadmill 50k world-record holder. Photo courtesy of Gemma Carter.

iRunFar: Just water?

Carter: Just water. That’s what I’ve been practicing with. The gels have electrolytes in them. So that was perfect. It was just—that worked well with water and gels [in training]. My preparation was okay but then there were a few issues [during the world-record attempt]. The lesson, for anyone wanting to do this, is to be careful [with fueling]. When you’re going for a time—as we all know gut issues can ruin a race. When you’re on a treadmill, you are kind of stuck there. When you are on a trail you can nip off and then get back to it. When you’re on a treadmill going for a time, [something like that] can ruin it. You can still finish a race with quite a few pit stops. When you are going for a time that tight, you can’t risk having an issue that can affect your speed and fueling. It’s hard enough as it is staring at a wall—you don’t want to be in agony as well!

iRunFar: Yes, right.

Carter: That was the biggest thing: I wasn’t worried about the physical element because I trained well for it; it’s the practicalities of it—and the heat. We brought a fan in, making a bit of wind. It was in a basement so it was pretty hot.

iRunFar: Well, what were you hoping to run exactly? You said less than four hours but what exactly?

Carter: 3:45 to 3:50. My last hour, I had been doing my runs where I started at 12.8 kilometers per hour and I’ve been training to do my last hour at 13 or 13.5 and then go up to 16 at the end. I had been training to catch up those minutes at the end. With the cramps, I just stayed at 13 kilometers per hour. So, [if I had stuck to my plan], it would have come out to around 3:45 or 3:50. Without the three minutes I lost going to the bathroom, it would have been close to 3:50. That is what I was aiming for but, ultimately with all the practicalities and the cramps it was just about getting under four [hours] at the end.

iRunFar: Did I congratulate you yet? Congratulations! We just jumped right into the interview. But very impressive, that’s really great. What next?

Carter: I’ve been knocking big chunks off my PB’s and this year the goal is to qualify for the Great Britain (GB) team. There is a British trail championships in the summer and my big goal is to podium on that and that gives you guaranteed entry onto the GB team. I’ll aim for the IAU 100k team or the trail team for next year. That’s my big focus. I feel like I’m hovering just below the selection criteria. Last year in the British championships I came in 5th/6th and they select the top three or four, so I’m right there. But that’s the big goal—to get a GB vest. And then, fundamentally just keep on improving and see how far I get—to work hard and keep getting better and better.

iRunFar: It sounds like with a world record under your belt, you are on your way. Hopefully more to come! Thanks so much for chatting and congratulations again.

Michael Wardian

iRunFar: Mike, what’s going on? You’re looking good.

Michael Wardian: Yeah, yeah, I feel good.

iRunFar: Not too tired?

Wardian: Nah, I got some sleep last night and, yeah, it’s been pretty awesome. It was a busy weekend.

iRunFar: Why were you on this Spartan cruise?

Wardian: I think I was there to get beaten by the Spartan guys. So they can say, “Look, these elite marathon runners have good running skills but we can still beat them into submission.” It was cool. I had done a Spartan race before so I was trying to get my upper body stronger. I only failed four obstacles and the last time I failed five. So I figure each time if I can improve by one, then by the end I’ll be doing really well.

iRunFar: But it wasn’t on the cruise ship—the Spartan race?

Wardian: No, I’m sure they could have done that because they are crazy like that but we sailed out to the Bahamas and they had an obstacle course set up there. They incorporated a lot of the local environment. They had three different swims we had to do; a bunch of trail running that was like bushwhacking. That was really good for me, on that part, because the Spartan guys aren’t the best runners on roots and rocks.

iRunFar: So, first thing: how did this work out? Did you know about a treadmill world record and you wanted to beat it while you were on the cruise—like you had it planned in advance?

Wardian: No planning at all! I did the Spartan race and I knew that Gemma [Carter] was going for the female record because she had sent me a tweet. I thought, Oh, that’s pretty cool, maybe that’s something I should do some time. Then I thought, Well, I’m on a ship for a whole weekend and I bet they have treadmills, but I didn’t know. I was inspired by the Spartan attitude, they’re just go-getters. I finished the race and I was feeling pretty good—my arms were dead and I was exhausted but I bounced back quick. I was hanging out with my family and I knew Gemma was going for the record and I knew I was on the ship for two more days. I thought, maybe tomorrow, it would be cool—I could show some street cred to the Spartan racers and set a world record, why not?

I went up to Richard Diaz from Natural Running Network, he has a podcast, and he had approached me about coming [to the Spartan race] and getting my butt kicked. So, I said to him, “Hey, I have an idea: I want to try to set a 50k world record.” And this was maybe an hour after I finished the race. He said, “Let’s go talk to Joe [De Sena]—the founder of the Spartan races.” We go see Joe and Richard say, “Hey, this guy has an idea.” Joe didn’t really know who I was—I didn’t win the Spartan race or anything. I don’t know where I finished, maybe in the top 50. It’s not like I impressed him or anything. He probably thought, Oh, there’s this skinny guy over here.

I walked up and said, “Hey, I’m thinking about trying to set a 50k world record, maybe on the ship. Is that okay with you?” Joe was like, “No way, that’s cool! How about 7 p.m. tonight?” And I’m just kind of like, “Uhhhh, okay? Sure!” Because I was thinking I would do it Sunday night or afternoon or something and have a chance to rest and get over the race and I was playing hard with the kids—I wasn’t just going to sit on the beach all day and not go in the water and throw the kids around and do all the stuff you’re supposed to do because you’re on vacation with your family. So, he says, “7 p.m., on the treadmill.” I said, “Okay, sure. I guess it’s going down tonight!” I told my wife Jennifer and she said that was fine and so that’s what we were going to do.

I did a little bit of research but the internet was sketchy. I found a road record for the 50k and Josh Cox’s record and a track record but I didn’t find a treadmill record. I knew that Phil Anthony had run a 100k on the treadmill in 6:24 or something so as long I was under 3:10 or so, I figured I would be faster than his [50k] split and that would be good enough. So I thought I could do it, no problem. Even with the Spartan race and the sun and all that stuff.

I got to the gym and it was super hot in there. I figured we could open a window once we got started but you’re on a cruise ship and they don’t want anyone opening windows, so that you can’t fall out. There was no ventilation in there at all—it was really stuffy. I start running at 7 p.m. and 15 minutes in I’m—it looks like I’m at mile 23, I’m pouring sweat. And I had started at 5:40 [minute per mile] pace. I had thought, Oh, this won’t be too hard—I’ll just run fast.

You can’t fine-tune the treadmill—you can’t scroll it back a little bit. Twenty minutes in, I dial it back to six-minute per mile pace and that helped a lot. Some guy then brought a fan in and it was only hitting my legs but at least it was blowing air. Then, my temperature starts to come down more and then we found ice. We didn’t really know what we were doing. Joe was there and someone else to record splits.

Then, of course, I didn’t jinx proof the treadmill and so I go to put my water down and I’m all sweaty and I knock the [emergency plug] off and I lose like a minute there re-cycling the machine. Then you have all this: Okay, we were at this point, and you have to do the math to know, This is where we were so when it turns here, this is a new mile, but you still have to count the time—the time doesn’t stop. It wasn’t anyone’s fault but mine. So we get the treadmill going back again. I’m running six-minute pace. I’m feeling pretty good. It just gets so hot, though.

iRunFar: What was it—80 degrees out?

Wardian: You are inside and it’s enclosed. And Joe had told people to come watch so people start coming in—like 100 people filling this thing. It got even more stuffy and tougher. I’m fighting and drinking and trying to stay hydrated. Over the last couple miles, I thought, Okay, six-minute pace is good enough, I’ll run 3:05 or 3:06—I don’t care because it’ll be under 3:10.

I finished and we were all pumped and I put something out on social media saying I thought I had set a record at 3:06:24. I go to bed and two hours later I wake up, and I check my phone, and I see this tweet from @centurionrunner saying, “Oh, you ran 3:06, good job, that’s really cool, but my friend ran 3:05:37 and better luck next time.” Then they sent a link to an article showing it had been established. Of course, if I had been able to do proper research I would have known that there was a time. But, of course, since there was sketch onternet and it wasn’t on the first page of Google, I didn’t see it.

So I was like, No waaaaay! I had that in me! I could have just dropped the treadmill to 5:30 [minute per mile] pace and beat it! Of course, I didn’t, because I didn’t know—it was my own fault. So then I feel like this scam-fake.

iRunFar: You were 45 seconds off of the world record—only the second-fastest time ever!

Wardian: Yeah! Exactly. Second-fastest time. That’s not right. I was bitter, man. I felt like a fake. I just wanted to do it again. I wanted to do it in the morning. Then I was like, Wait, that’s super selfish, we’re here on a family vacation. We were supposed to go to the beach again the next day. I didn’t want to take another four-hour block out of my family’s trip for me to be able to get this record back because I had been stupid. Then I wanted to tell Joe—I wanted everyone to know that it wasn’t, I didn’t set a world record. I didn’t want to seem like I had set a world record when I hadn’t.

I woke up Sunday morning and wanted to find Joe. I had to redeem myself. I didn’t know where he was or how to find him and it was so serendipitous—I walk upstairs, turn the corner, and he is sitting there having breakfast. I was like, YES! How lucky is this! I told him, “I thought I had set a world record and I was corrected—I didn’t, I was the second fastest and I missed it by a minute.” He was like, “No! You could have done it; you had it in you!” I said, “I know.” And he said, “You know what we have to do?” I said, “I know—we have to do it again.”

I figured I would come to a Spartan race somewhere again and he was like, “Yeah, we have to do it again.” I said, “But my family, I don’t want to hose them, but maybe we can do it early on Monday before we dock?” He was like, “Yeah, let’s do it at three o’clock in the morning!” I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it!”

iRunFar: How did it go that second time? You had worked some of the kinks out having done it already?

Wardian: Yeah, there were a lot of things better about the second time. We had a big—there was a big ice chest the second time. We had two fans that were pointed at my chest. I didn’t run in a singlet. I ran, basically like in a loincloth. It was just way too hot. The only problem was that I went through most of my fuel. I was only going for a Spartan race so I didn’t have a ton of Vitargo. I didn’t bring all this stuff. So I’m collecting gels and Vitargo and Coke from random people. I’m like, “Hey, you got a gel, you have any salt tablets?” I just had this hodgepodge of nutrition. I had some leftover Vitargo in the fridge from the first attempt, random gels, salt tablets. I was really fortunate that other ultrarunners were there with stuff in their bag.

iRunFar: Your stomach held up okay?

Wardian: My stomach was perfect. It got a little dicey at the end. I was sweating so much again that I had slimed up the treadmill. I had another glitch. I duck taped the start/stop button so I wouldn’t have another mistake. But 14 miles in I put something down and the treadmill shut down and then we had to turn it back on and re-calibrate it again. But that was fine, whatever, we had it all marked and that. I lost like a minute. I had been about a minute and a half under pace at that point—I was running 5:53 [minute per mile] pace up until that point. Then I had that glitch, so then I started running 5:50 [minute per mile] pace to get that minute back and then five miles later I was back well under it and I was taking like 12 seconds a mile from the record time every mile. But then by like 27 miles I was so hot again. I could feel my temperature rising. Then Bart Yasso comes in and says, “You’re making that 5:50 pace look so good.” I was maybe four miles from the finish but I was like, “I can’t run this pace anymore.” I slowed the treadmill down to 6:07 [minute per mile] pace and after half a mile my core temperature dropped and it felt so much better. You do that naturally when you are running outside but on the treadmill you don’t naturally get those breaks.

So, I slowed it down. I caught my breath. I go to start it back up but it wouldn’t accept my commands because the dials were all slimy. My fingers were all wet with sweat. I was trying to wipe it and push it like crazy and it’s not working. Then I start worrying that I’ll miss the time because I’m losing 15 seconds per mile and I still have four miles to go and that was going to add up. Then I’m worried it’s going to cycle down and I’ll lose a minute. I’m pushing it like crazy and I’m like, Please, please, don’t do this to me! Then Joe reaches over—I don’t know how he does it—he pushes it and gets it to go down to six-minute pace. With two miles to go I get it back to 5:56 per mile pace so I know I’m going to get the record. But those last few miles were hairy and I was getting really nervous and I needed calories and so I crammed in another gel with a mile and half to go. I was trying to dig so deep and not let it happen again.

I was thinking: I don’t want to have to do this again on Tuesday. I didn’t want to blow it twice. I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. Then I was super emotional once I finished. I’ve set records before but… I don’t know why, I tried to make it too dramatic. It was way more harrowing than it had to be.

iRunFar: I can see why it was so emotional at the end: you had so many variables to overcome and account for in order to set the record—more so than you have for past records.

Wardian: Yeah—and just to be so close on Saturday night and to be so pissed at myself for not knowing that I had to beat a certain time. It’s one of those times you want to shake yourself. But it was also kind of cool because I knew [Paul] was probably thinking, He’s not going to do it for a while.

iRunFar: Your legs probably weren’t feeling fresh on Monday morning.

Wardian: No!

iRunFar: It’s been great chatting. Congratulations again and rest up!

Michael Wardian - unofficial 50k treadmilll world record

Michael Wardian celebrating after his unofficial treadmill 50k world record. Photo courtesy of Michael Wardian.

Eric Senseman
Eric Senseman runs far to explore what’s possible and in pursuit of the good life. It will likely keep him running forever. Find out more about him at Good Sense Running.