A True Goal Needs to Become an Obsession
Michael Wardian thought he’d broken a world record. Then, in the middle of the night, a tweet stated otherwise. His response will amaze you.
It started with a tweet at 2:04 am.
Technically it started seven hours earlier. The true story of grit though – the story of guts and resilience, the one worth telling - started at 2:04 am. Just ask Michael Wardian.
His mind was still racing. His legs finally at rest. He’d just ran the fastest 50K on a treadmill – 3:06:24. A World Record. Or, so he thought.
I met Mike on a near-perfect Saturday afternoon. We were aboard the Spartan Race cruise ship destined for the Bahamas. An accomplished ultramarathon runner, Mike decided to try a Spartan Race. With his busy schedule, this was an ideal chance to race and simultaneously take his family on vacation.
After placing top-50 on a gorgeous and challenging Spartan course, Mike decided to go for a run. At first, he ran around the perimeter of the island. Then, in Gump-like fashion, he decided he wanted to keep on running.
Mike had heard about a woman going for the 50K Treadmill World Record and decided he’d go for the men’s record. When I got word of the idea, I had three words: “How’s 7pm work?” Mike was in.
So that night, Mike, wearing his signature oversized shoes, stepped onto a treadmill. A large group of Spartans, including myself, ran alongside him (at a less aggressive pace) and did burpees on the hour. He ran it in 3:06:24 and left the overheated gym with a place in the record books.
Back to 2:04 am. Mike woke up hungry. His phone was blinking. A tweet. It had come from London and read: “awesome effort as always! We have a 3:05:37 over here…”
“I was so mad at myself… I could have beaten it. I just didn’t know,” Mike recalled. He had missed it by a minute. 53 seconds, actually. “I can do it. I had to do it again,” he told me when I saw him in the morning. His biggest obstacle was not fatigue but the fact that he wanted to spend the day with his family.
I asked: “How’s 3 am work?” Mike was in.
The next day it was déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say. Mike stepped onto the treadmill. A significantly smaller crowd gathered. And sure enough, 3 hours, 3 minutes and 56 seconds later, Mike had the 50K Treadmill world record.
“A few times I thought it was going to slip away again but I did it with the help of all the Spartans on the cruise…the Spartan spirit,” Mike said afterwards, before heading off to the buffet.
It’s amazing, really. Mike could have called it quits after the first run. After all, no one would doubt that he could have beaten the record. It would be a gut-wrenching story but an instant classic among his friends. Not to mention, second place in the world is nothing to be ashamed about.
But could is not in Mike’s vocabulary. If he could have done something, he understands that he damn well should. Offered every excuse in the world, Mike chose to put it on himself: he had set out to break a world record and nothing was going to get in his way. Soreness. Frustration. Fatigue. To run a 50K at a sub-six-minute mile pace once is unbelievable. Attempting it twice? Ludicrous.
I interviewed Mike for Spartan Up! the Podcast while he was breaking the record (twice!), and we spoke again a week later so I could further pick his brain. I asked what Mike, someone who runs hundreds of miles at a time, thinks about when he wants to stop.
“I think about my goals” he said. “Don’t give up because it gets hard or something goes wrong. It’s the middle that’s tough. People cheer at the starting and finish line. The middle miles need mental toughness.”
We discussed the importance of the mind and, through shared experiences of putting our bodies through hell and back, agreed that the body always, without fail, gives up before the mind. That’s why it takes a strong will to convince your body to keep moving forward.
In The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champion's 8 Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life, Travis Macy, a speaker on the cruise who I also interviewed for a podcast, shares his secrets to succeeding. He calls the attribute, "the Ultra Mindset." Macy says: “If you’re doing something you really care about, something that you know aligns with your true self and highest purposes in life, don’t quit because you fear what will happen if you continue. Fear will be there, and that’s just part of the deal—keep going anyway.” (The book, by the way, is an inspiring read and comes out April 14.)
I asked Mike if failure scares him. The moment he stepped on the treadmill at 3 am, he was committing. To come up short would have broken him and everyone following his story.
“Definitely," he said. "Every time I step to the line, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. Uncertainty. That’s what drives me.”
Like I said, the real story began in the middle of the night. At 2:04 am, Wardian found out that he hadn’t broken a record. He knew immediately, he needed to get back on the treadmill. When you want something – and I mean really want it – everything else becomes second nature.
A true goal becomes an obsession. Sleep is merely a means to dream of it. Food is replaced by endless hunger to complete it. The only way to break this spell is to achieve your goal. I’ve experienced this many times in my life. And when Michael came to tell me he had not in fact broken the record, he had a look in his eyes and I knew he was a man on his mission. He would not fail.
“I want to inspire people and I draw on that,” Mike said, as we ended our conversation. “Stay after it. Always stay after it. Before I race I think to myself: Why not me? Why not today?”