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Runners are doing all sorts of things to get in their miles while in partial or total lockdown. One runner I followed last weekend was Michael Wardian. He started running at 9 a.m. on April 4, running a 4.2-mile loop around his neighborhood in Arlington, Va. Then, at 10 a.m., he did it again. At 11 a.m., he did it again. And again. And again.
In total, he ran 262.5 miles in just under 63 hours to win the Quarantine Backyard Ultra. Runners had to run at least a 4.167-mile loop every hour, starting exactly at the top of the hour. They checked in with race marshals (all volunteers) via Zoom.
A total of 2,413 runners from 65 countries started the race, then stopped either when they hit their mileage goals or couldn’t go on anymore. Wardian won when the only other competitor left by that point, Radek Brunner, who ran his laps on a treadmill, was disqualified for failing to start running right at the top of the 62nd hour.
His prize: a golden toilet paper roll trophy, handmade by Personal Peak, a husband-and-wife team who decided to put on the race when they saw races around the world being canceled.
Wardian is no stranger to putting himself through brutal tests of endurance.
He is a professional ultrarunner who has done physical challenges that make my legs cringe: he’s run 10 marathons in 10 days (hitting all seven continents in that stretch). He’s run the Ultra Trail of the Gobi, a 400K race where runners find their way from checkpoint to checkpoint with a compass, GPS device and a map. Before races started to shut down because of coronavirus, he ran a 83K trail race in Saudi Arabia, and he had planned to run across the United States later this year. He’s also an international shipbroker at Potomac Maritime LLC, and works with vessels carrying humanitarian food aid.
I talked to Wardian from his home, which was also the start and end point of the laps he ran for the ultra, which was his first time doing a “last man/woman standing” race. Our interview has been edited and condensed.
What races were you supposed to run this spring?
I’d just won the EcoTrail 83K Ultra in Saudi Arabia in February. I was supposed to be running the Catalina Island Marathon in March and hoped to break the course record. That was the first of my races to get canceled. Then a week after that I was supposed to be running a 250K race in Sri Lanka, then the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in Washington, D.C., then I was supposed to be pacing my buddy Charles Davis, a Paralympic athlete trying to break two hours and 30 minutes in the marathon, at the Boston Marathon. And then I was going to be racing the age group world championships at the London Marathon.
Why did you decide to do this ultra?
The week before, I ran a two-hour, 33-minute marathon on the same route, just for fun and to entertain my neighbors. They asked me what I was going to do next. Little did they know I’d run 260 miles.
It really was an opportunity for running to have a moment because there’s nothing else going on. People were invested. For my whole neighborhood, this was the best thing that happened.
What was your route like?
It’s not super hilly, or I didn’t think so. At the end of the ultra, someone used my Strava to figure out I’d climbed about 8,500 vertical feet.
About how long did each lap take?
For the first 175 miles, I was averaging between about 45 and 50 minutes. After 175 miles, I had a mini breakdown and didn’t want to go on, but my wife told me to get over it. After that, I was coming in around 42, 43 minutes each lap. I was getting a good 15 minutes of rest to go to the bathroom, talk to my family and eat.
What did you eat?
All kinds of stuff. I had four pizzas. I would have had five but my dog ate one. I had some sushi, soup, slurpees, popsicles, avocado with salt, hummus, almond butter, honey, sweet potatoes, lots of steel-cut oatmeal. I’m also sponsored by Gu, so I had Gu Energy Gels, their stroopwafels, and sports drink. I had pasta made up but I never ate it. I don’t usually drink caffeine, but I drank Coke and tea.
That being said, you know how it goes when you’re in a race like that. You get two bites here, two bites there. It wasn’t like I sat down and put a bib around my neck and chowed down. I was trying to get in 300 to 400 calories on every lap and stay up on my fluids. The other thing too was when you finish a lap, if you have to go to the bathroom, you have to do all that and get back to the start line just to get going again. Time gets tight.
So you didn’t sleep at all during the race?
No! I was really excited about that. I’m pretty good at staying awake, and I’ve been able to stay awake for long periods of time. I wasn’t sure how that would manifest when you’re doing that much exertion. Just being able to stay awake and watch a movie or 20 movies is different than having to remember to eat and remember to drink and remember to get to the start line.
How much did you sleep when you were done with the race?
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.
What did your neighbors think of all this?
They were incredible. I saw people I’ve never seen before standing outside of their house or in their windows. I saw little old ladies in their window at 2 a.m. waving, and little kids who were up at 4 a.m. to just sit on the corner and cheer as I went around the block. Kids drew “Go Mike!” in chalk on the street. I don’t know how so many people found out about it. But circumstances are that there’s not a lot of stuff to occupy people’s time and this dude’s still out there running.
And how are all the rest of you coping? If you’re observing Easter tomorrow, we wish you a happy Easter — here are some of our Cooking section’s best recipes — and some thoughts on making digital celebrations meaningful.
Want to hear more about what’s going on in running right now? The Times has two digital events planned this week. On Thursday at 4 p.m. Eastern, Lindsay Crouse will host “Olympics, Interrupted.” She will talk with the runners Emma Coburn and Aisha Praught-Leer on how Covid-19 has affected professional athletes who had been working toward the pinnacle of their careers and what can we learn from them. And on Saturday at 1 p.m., the assistant sports editor Talya Minsberg will talk with Alexi Pappas about how amateur and elite athletes should adjust their training and strategies for staying in shape, even indoors.
Join us for other free live calls, streams and virtual events to help you better understand the world outside — and make the most of your time at home. See more events here.
Jen A. Miller
Author, “Running: A Love Story”
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