It had been three days post-Quarantine Backyard Ultra when Mike Wardian and I got on the phone. I am half expecting to hear him talk about all the sleep he has gotten, but then again, it’s Wardian. He is actually walking around his neighborhood, which does not surprise me. He hasn’t slept more than four hours a night since being up for over 63 hours, running 262.5 miles and “winning” the event.
Race cancellations were swift and unexpected in late March. In fact, Wardian, the sport’s most regular high-level racer, had flown across the country for the Catalina Marathon only to turn around and come home in the hectic shutdown of the country. The buzz started with a few races moving to “virtual” options early on, but no one could predict what the Quarantine Backyard Ultra would create. The weekend prior to the “race,” Mike had mapped out a .4-mile loop around his neighborhood. He ran a marathon using the same loop, so he was all set to run 4.1667 miles that would make up his official Backyard “loop” every hour.
By Wednesday on the week of the race, Mike was signed up and casually mentioned to Jennifer, his wife, that he would be doing the event. Jennifer has not crewed for him in about 10 years, so it was not unusual that Mike was going to gather what he needed to do the race on his own. His initial plan was to have a box (literally an old shoe box) of gels and chews, and then come back to the house for other food items and fresh drinks. Note: the loop he had created was not exactly out their front door but just up the street, so he would have to manage his time back to the house, gather what he needed, and be on his “start line” each hour.
On the morning of Saturday, April 4, Wardian walked outside before 9 a.m. EST with his box in hand and started the Quarantine Backyard Ultra with over 2,000 other runners from around the world. People on complete lockdown ran loops around their homes or on treadmills, others ran a mix of treadmill and outdoors, and Wardian and others opted for an outdoor loop. Folks checked in via their phone or computer on Zoom, or just had their entire run on Zoom by keeping it “live.” As he was heading out with his box of fuel, Jennifer noticed on Instagram that Maggie Guterl had an entire table set-up with her fuel and drinks. She took her phone out to show her husband the set-up and shortly after 9, when the race started, Jennifer got to work setting up a table in front of their neighbor’s house at the start/finish spot of Wardian’s loop. In reflecting back on what they would have done differently, Jennifer laughed at the fact that her husband went to the grocery before the event to purchase items for his parents but left huge gaps in his own purchases for the duration of the event. She said that when she looked over his initial setup, “Mike put out a pile of stuff that would in no way reflect what he would actually request over those three days.” When thinking back to this time and the fact that people weren’t just hopping in and out of the grocery store for additional race fuel, it makes the coming together of his neighborhood even more special.
As the hours and days progressed and Wardian showed no sign of stopping, neighbors came out with their lawn chairs to watch the show, put up a tent and offer up an essential extension cord. He never slept the entire time and didn’t rely on a stream of caffeine to stay awake. He ate avocado, chips, nut butter and carried fuel bottles with him each loop. He got tired of eating, but never felt sick throughout the entire event.
Running is truly Wardian’s purpose and he thrives on every aspect of it: the adventures, the interactions and the travel. But in this time of staying in, he also found love in this .4-mile loop with his kids, leading a PE class with the neighborhood kids and exploring what is right out his front door.