At 05:40am on Saturday, August 1st, Chaski Coach and HOKA pro athlete Mike Wardian set off for an attempt at the un-supported Fastest Known Time (FKT - an unofficial record on a common trail) across the Shenandoah National Park stretch of the Appalachian Trail. The route covers over 107 miles (172 km) of rough, rocky, rooty trail with approximately 20,000 ft (6000m) of elevation gain.
He finished successfully a non-stop 36 hours later, saying “it was for sure one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
Ty and Mike caught up on Instagram Live. The full video is here (33 minutes), with our 5 quick takes below that.
1. Always find new ways to push yourself
At 46-years-old and having raced everything from the 1-mile to the 273-mile Quarantine Backyard Ultra, Mike is still finding ways to push his own limits.
“I’d never done an unsupported FKT [EDIT: meaning, a record attempt with no outside assistance; Mike had to carry his own food and purify water from streams] this long before, but I really wanted to just go out there by myself and now seemed like the right time to do it. It’s a totally different experience; I’ve had such a great crew for so many races that there are things you take for granted. I probably lost 3-4 hours and many miles just getting water!”
2. Make it logistically impossible to back out
Mike left his house at midnight on Saturday morning, arrived at the finish of the trail, dropped his car off, and then was driven to the start, over 100 miles away. As he got into the middle miles, he had no real choice but to keep going.
“When it gets really hard, it’s almost nice to not have an easy way out. You have no points where you’re meeting your crew and getting support. It’s like, I would have had to call someone and wait like 5 hours for them to come get me and it would have been a huge pain in the ass for them, so it honestly just seemed easier to keep going, even when things got hard.”
3. Know your gear
An unsupported FKT means you need to bring EVERYTHING with you (except water). Mike’s bag weighed nearly 25 pounds and included 10-15 pounds of food, 7 pounds of water, 3 headlamps, two phones with a charging pack, and more.
“I definitely overpacked, but that’s the problem with the unsupported way of going. There’s no way to just drop stuff off that you don’t need. The biggest life-saver was a random throw-in: some KT tape. I had some terrible chafing on my shoulderblades from my backpack and the KT tape was a godsend. I really didn’t think I’d be able to make it more than 15 miles, but that stuff saved the day.”
4. Run for something bigger than yourself
Mike was inspired to tackle this challenge as part of the #RunWithRivs fundraiser, an effort to support fellow ultra-runner Tommy Rivers Puzey who was recently and very publicly diagnosed with a rare lung cancer.
“There were a couple times where it got really hard and I just thought to myself ‘why am I complaining about my shoulders being sore or my feet being wet, this guy is struggling for his life right now…. Tommy is one of those guys that’s just genuinely cool and kind. I wanted to find a way to challenge myself that would accomplish more than just my own personal fulfillment but also raise money to support Tommy and his family when they really need it.”
5. Have something on the calendar to look forward to
When asked what was next, Mike said he’s already got more races and FKTs lined up, including the Kodiak 100 Miler on Sept 12, but that he wants to try to do another big effort this very week.
“I actually want to try for a swimming PR. I’ve never swam more than about 3 miles, so I’m going to try to swim 6 miles for Tommy this weekend. It’s been a bit of a hassle to arrange with the pool and everything, but I think I can do it in like 5 hours. I’m not a great swimmer though, so it might take a while!”