Saturday, June 27, 2020

Touring DC with a Grandmaster: thank you Michael Wardian!

I love this title of Grandmaster or Grand Master, it denotes so much wisdom and skills! And I find it's a perfect fit for Mike. Not only does he excel at both classic and ultra running, collecting podiums from 5Ks to 100-miles or longer events, he also has a unique mix of professionalism with multiple notable sponsorships but also the boldness for attempting all sorts of challenges such as FKTs (Fastest Known Times) while remaining super cool and humble about his running. Then his age makes him a Master and he blows his age group, another objective reason for a Grand Master title! ;-)

I first met Mike in December 2018 at the North Face 50-mile in San Francisco where Mark Gilligan and I paced him to the finish and actually helped save his day. Mike had missed a turnaround and lost quite a few spots in the mishap, still finishing in 9th (no, I don't have such a great memory at all, but that's the cool thing about having more than 600 posts to find these details back. Like the fact I started using Vespa Power in races 12 years ago already!).

Then we met again at quite a few other events, from Marathons (Marine Corps which he has run 17 times as far as he recalls, Boston 2017, Big Sur 2019) or USATF Nationals (e.g. several Caumsett 50K) and other ultras (e.g. Miwok 100K in 2010, Western States 2009,

In 2015, Ian Torrence, another ultra runner stud, interviewed both of us on the topic of high volume racing and recovery for iRunFar (Post-Ultra Downtime: How Much is Enough?). While Mike associated me with such heavy racing, his level of consistency can't be matched. For instance, in 2014, he ran 54 races while I only did 20 (18 ultra races). Granted, I'm 10 years older, but still.

Anyway, all this to introduce Mike in case you hadn't heard about him and aren't one of his 14K followers on Facebook!
I was in town (Arlington, VA) for less than 2 days and decided to ping Mike to see if he'd have time for a run. We met at 6 am this Friday at the Iwo Jima Memorial. With the sun rise and a nice breeze making our American flag float, an opportunity for a few special shots of such a symbol of the heroism of our soldiers, and the Marine Corps in particular, in World War II against Japan.

From there we ran across the Potomac on Key Bridge, through Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, then toured the entire Mall, around the White House in the North, passed the Capitol on the East Side, the Washington Monument in the center and the Jefferson Memorial on the South. Unfortunately the Ohio Drive bridge was closed so we weren't able to come back through the Rock Creek Trail but had to cross the Potomac again on the busy and aerial 14th Street bridge, then the Mt Vernon Trail (18-mile long which, of course, Mike owns the FKT for the 36-mile out and back).
I had run similar loops before, not to mention quite a few sections with the Marine Corps Marathon, but Mike made it super special by including a detour through the Black Lives Matter Plaza, just behind the White House (writing this I realize about the irony of using these two colors next to each other...). While the area was desert at this early time of the day, but for a video filming set and crew, it was moving to see all the signs and murals around the many surrounding blocks. We also passed in front of St John's church, behind the White House, the place of Trump's very controversial visit.

A new series of road warning signs, so appropriate, with the White House in the background...
This sign in particular stroke a special chord: 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Think about it, how much oxygen we get while running one mile or more... And which suffering it would be to be chocked and gasping for air for this entire mile... I can't breathe is such an obvious slogan and insane cry for social justice. So terrible our country is still so divided on such a basic right for all, and in particular with those fighting the movement claiming they own or better understand the Constitution. Appalling!
Between photo stops, we talked about our jobs, our kids, the impact of the pandemic on our respective lives, schooling, travel and race plans and, of course, we talked running shop (equipment, shoes, sponsors, running buddies, races or lack thereof, FKTs, virtual races). Speaking of virtual races, Mike shared something new for him: to stop his watch when stopping for traffic at road crossings. For the sake of logging distance and times in such virtual races (like SingleTrack Running's 100 Miles to Auburn which I'm participating to and first ran over three days). With that, I have to apologize to Mike's teammates for slowing him down. We ran at a 7:20 min/mile average, which is definitely on the slow side for Mike... He is going to soon run across Delaware, to set yet another FKT on 135-mile distance in one shot, he can make it up then! ;-)

And the weather was ideal, below 70F and a nice breeze, perfect for this early bird/matinal half marathon around the famous Washington D.C. Mall. Here is the 3D aerial view of our run (click on the picture or this link):
What a cool opportunity to run with such a celebrity in our sport, thank you Mike! After giving a tour of Silicon Valley to Mark Godale back in May, maybe we can call this... running buddy tourism? 6-feet apart that is...

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