The ankle looks like an overripe plum, black and blue and bruised. Michael Wardian twisted it on a curb during last Sunday's Mad City 100-kilometer race in Madison, Wis., and had to one-leg it for the final four miles. "I had to run with it busted up," said Wardian. "I can't believe I tripped."
It was just a bump in the road for the 34-year-old Wardian, who still won by more than 17 minutes, finishing in 6 hours 56 minutes 57 seconds. As long as his foot is connected to his leg, he'll take the line in Hopkinton Monday for the 112th running of the Boston Marathon, which will be his fifth 26-miler in six weeks.
"I feel like I recover pretty quickly," said Wardian. "I'm usually ready to go for the next race. When I toe the line, I'm ready to run to win."
Wardian, who lives in Arlington, Va., and works as an international ship broker, makes Forrest Gump look like a lunchtime jogger. Last year, he ran 13 marathons, including his second Olympic trials. This year, he's already logged a half-dozen, two on consecutive days last month in Washington and Knoxville, Tenn., where he finished first and third.
"I just want to test myself and see if I can do it," said Wardian, who has only been running seriously for a dozen years and has done triathlons. "I like to try things that people say aren't possible. Sometimes they say they aren't smart, either."
The marathons are merely middle-distance jaunts on a running menu that is trending even more ultra. At the end of June, he wants to do the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile California trail race between Squaw Valley and Auburn that consumes more than 15 hours. "It's the Boston Marathon of 100-milers," Wardian said. "I'd like to show people I'm not just a 'roadie.'"
It's part of Wardian's evolution from a lacrosse player at Michigan State, where he signed on after his high school days in Oakton, Va. "The team went to the state championships and I was MVP and all that stuff," he said.
Wardian was an attackman at Michigan State, going up against powerhouses such as Duke and Syracuse. "I could score goals," he said, "but I wasn't an All-American or anything."
By his junior year, he was looking for something different. A friend's mom had run Boston and Wardian saw some pictures. "I thought, 'That looks like the coolest thing ever,'" he said. So Wardian entered the Marine Corps Marathon to get a qualifying time (3:08), entered the 1997 race, "and got hooked."
Since then, Wardian has become the most prolific and productive marathoner in the land. He usually wins and he's almost always under 2:30 and frequently under 2:25. "Obviously, I'd like to be faster," he said, "but it's nice to be consistent."
There's nothing remarkable about Wardian's training regimen (around 100 miles a week) or his diet. He's a vegetarian who drinks "a prodigious amount" of water every day. And his Madison pratfall aside, he's been able to keep bones and sinews in working order.
Still, even within the running community, Wardian's sheer output is bewildering. "You see it on the message boards," he said. "Everyone thinks I'm on -- what is it? -- EPO. I think it's funny. It's not like I'm winning the Boston Marathon. There's a lot of negativity, but a lot of people are helpful. They say, 'If you just trained for Boston, you could run 2:10.'"
But that would deprive Wardian of the weekly thrill of the chase, of toeing the line anywhere at any distance. "For me, it's the challenge to myself," he said.
Four years ago, Wardian set the world record for a treadmill marathon (2:23:58). When he heard that someone had made the Guinness Book of World Records for a "pram pushing" marathon, he put his 9-month-old son, Pierce Miler, into a baby stroller for last year's Frederick race in Maryland, placed third, and set a world mark (2:42:22).
"I had diapers and water and a cellphone in case anything went wrong," said Wardian, who'd gotten permission from wife Jennifer and their pediatrician. "If Pierce had started crying, I would have had to stop and it would have been all over. But he didn't make a peep."
This year, Wardian wanted to see if he could go the distance on consecutive days. So after winning his third consecutive National Marathon in 2:24:59 on March 29, breaking his course record by more than a minute and a half, he went directly to the airport and flew to Knoxville. "I was still in my running gear," Wardian said. "I know my seatmate wasn't all that excited."
The next day, he led for more than 23 miles until two men passed him. "I'm sure they were thinking, 'I can't let this guy beat me, he ran the day before,'" said Wardian, who ran 2:29:50.
That run capped a rubberlegged month that began with the US 50-kilometer championships in Long Island, where Wardian won by more than 16 minutes in 2:55:05, breaking a record that stood for 27 years.
A week later, he won the Lower Potomac River Marathon (2:34:46), then finished second (2:24:55) in the Shamrock Sportsfest Marathon in Virginia Beach the following weekend. Then, a fortnight later, it was the National and Knoxville. Four marathons, 22 days, four medal finishes.
Wardian may not be up with the sub-2:12 crowd, with the Ryan Halls and the Dathan Ritzenheins and the Meb Keflezighis, but he was good enough to lace up with them at last autumn's Olympic trials in New York.
"It gives me chills just thinking about it," said Wardian, who was 92nd in 2:30:54. "You don't get to play golf against Tiger Woods, but in running you get to line up with the best guys in the country. They're changing their shoes right next to you. Hey, it could be your day."
More often than not, it's been his day for road running's Renaissance Man, who is born again every weekend when the starter fires the gun. Wardian doesn't do it for the money. It's a side hobby, he said, that he happens to take pretty seriously. His employers at Potomac Marine International are accommodating and his wife is understanding, frequently crewing for his ultra runs.
"She's super supportive," Wardian said. "It's not like I picked up running after I got married, so it wasn't like she didn't know what she was in for."
Every week, it's "Where's Wardian?" "I don't really have an offseason," he said, "because I'm racing all the time." His travel plans from here include the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, the US marathon trail championships in Deadwood, S.D., and the World Cup 100K in Tuscania, Italy. On his to-do list are the six-day, 151-mile Marathon Des Sables across the Sahara in Morocco and the Comrades 56-miler in South Africa.
This weekend, though, it's his annual date with Boston, where he cracked the top 20 four years ago. "I'd like to put together a pretty good streak here," Wardian said. "Not as good as Johnny Kelley's, but you have to start somewhere."