PERRY HALL, Md. — Mike Wardian reflects with befuddlement on one of the most memorable moments of his non-stop run across America.
Fifteen minutes after starting his daily 50 mile run, he's cruising down a road at 6:15 a.m. when a little old lady in her car flashes Wardian her middle finger. She's clearly upset he's in the road, despite there being no sidewalk.
Who could be that angry so early in the morning, he wonders.
None of that was on his mind, however, early Friday morning, July 1st, as he chased the sunrise while running down the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
At around 6 a.m. surrounded by family, friends and curious onlookers, Wardian crossed onto the beach, turned to bow towards the assembled crowd and then headed for the shallow surf of the Atlantic Ocean.
He waded knee deep into the water 61 days and six hours after leaving the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco on May 1.
Two days earlier, he announced to me that the final leg of his run would double his normal daily mileage.
He left the Conowingo Dam in Havre de Grace, Maryland at 6 a.m. on June 30th and ran more than 100 miles in 24 hours to reach Rehoboth Beach.
"I've got people who are going to run with me all through the night and so it'll be a great way to finish," said Wardian.
As of Friday morning at 6 a.m., Wardian had raised over $104,000 for World Vision, a charity that provides clean drinking water for children and families across the globe.
Back to the little old lady with the early morning rude gesture; its had no effect on his mood -- at least not in a way he's projecting around others. He's cheery, healthy and completely unfazed by cars and box trucks whizzing down Route 1 in Perry Hall, Maryland just feet from him and his 'Baltimore crew' comfortably jogging down the sidewalk.
He's two days away from completing the goal of a lifetime.
"This is something I've been thinking about for 20 years and planning for," said Wardian. "It is something I've dreamed about for a long time, but I have a lot of dreams. So once this is over, there will be another one."
Somewhere, Wardian's wife, Jennifer, is reading that and raising an eyebrow.
Pausing for a quick break, he stops to talk with me just northeast of Baltimore and reflects on the past two months.
"I'm so 'Team America' right now. We have a really beautiful country," said Wardian while a group of fellow runners are assembled behind him.
From Colorado's Monarch Pass along the western Continental Divide to the Gateway Arch shimmering over the Mississippi River and the Eastern third of his trek -- its less of a run and more of a calling that's lured Wardian to America's trails and highways.
He's been able to stay healthy along the run. Aside from some "severe blistering" he mused about and a close-call on some uneven pavement, the run has been injury free.
"If someone said you had to run 50 miles every day until the day you die, I think I could right now," Wardian said. "I know I could keep going but I'm also excited to get home to my family and our dogs."
Arriving in Northern Virginia this week, Wardian's family dogs, two vizslas named Rosie and Bash, mobbed Wardian along his route after seeing him for the first time in two months.
"I think his butt almost shook off," said Wardian of Bash.
In addition to the angry old lady who flipped Mike the bird, there have been other less than desirable experiences along the way.
"Someone threw a hamburger at me," Wardian explained with disappointment. "I was running with a couple people and it hit a lady right next to me in the chest."
Not being able to run to the DelMarVa across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was another let down, albeit not un-expected. The out-of-the-way route added at least another day to Wardian's run.
Closed to pedestrians, the bridge is the most direct route and after communicating with Maryland officials Mike learned he'd be unable to utilize it along his journey.
Earlier in his run, during day nine of Wardian's's newest and most intense challenge -- he's on Highway 50 in central Nevada, he's run just shy of 52 miles and climbed 3,400 feet.
He reports to his followers on Facebook that he "felt good and bad today but mostly good."
Not since the fictional Forrest Gump's epic run back and forth across America has a U.S. athlete tackled such a bold mission.
There was a guy who recreated Forrest Gump's 15,000+ mile run, but he's British. So, does it really count? (Joking! HERE is his story.)
Mike Wardian is one of the most accomplished ultra-marathon runners in the world. He's won multiple championships in races 50 miles and longer. He ran across Israel in 10 days. He also ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.
In 2020, he outdueled a fellow from the Czech Republic to win the 'Quarantine Backyard Ultra', running 263 miles in 63 hours.
Wardian also ran the 90-mile distance around the Capital Beltway in 2019 in 96-degree heat.
"I saw Forrest Gump and I said that looks amazing I would love to do that someday. But I really didn't have the fitness yet," said Wardian.
On May 1, at 48 years old, Wardian briefly dipped his foot into the Pacific Ocean, stepped off a San Francisco beach and stepped into his biggest challenge yet and a lifelong dream.
"I've been working toward this my entire life. I feel like all the miles I've put in, all the experiences I've had have gotten me ready to go. So now, it's go time and I just have to go out there and execute," said Wardian when we met up outside his Arlington, Virginia home on the day before he flew to California.
Wardian is using the run to raise funds and awareness for World Vision, a group that's focused on ensuring clean water gets to impoverished children and families across the globe.
As of day nine, Wardian has helped to raise $21,700 of his $100,000 goal.
Wardian is hoping to set foot in the Atlantic Ocean around the 4th of July holiday weekend.
"Most people who do it (trans-continental run), they quit their job and their life," said Wardian. "I've worked at the same brokerage for 25 years and I have a wife and kids. I'm coaching people. So I didn't know how to make this work. Eventually, I figured out how to make it work and I think I've kind of done that now."
In April, Wardian participated in an ultra-marathon event in Sri Lanka, ran in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and then paced a para-athlete across the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
He promised to take a few days of rest before heading west and beginning the run.
I asked him to participate in a lightning round of questions as we ran around his neighborhood.
"What pace will you be running at," I asked.
"Anywhere between eight and 15 minutes per mile," he replied.
"How many miles a day will you run?"
"Fifty miles per day," he responded.
"How many pairs of shoes will you burn through?"
"That's actually a bet, so I don't know if I can give the amount of shoes. There's an over/under of 20 if anyone wants to play along," he said.
"What are you most looking forward to?"
"I'm most excited about meeting people," he said.
"What's the thing you're most afraid of?"
"Cars," he replied.
Wardian sketched out 62 anticipated segments for the run, the shortest is 42.5 miles and the longest is 63.5.
He'll climb a total of 123,000 feet which is more than four times Mount Everest in Nepal, the world's tallest mountain. He'll consume anywhere between 5,000 to 10,000 calories per day.
Wardian has sought out advice from other ultra-marathon runners and his two biggest takeaways were to take care of his feet and go slower than you think you need to.
You can follow Mike's run and donate to World Vision HERE.