American ultra-runner, Michael Wardian, sets a new Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the Israel National Trail, covering the 631-mile journey, south to north.
10-days 16-hours and 36-minutes (tbc)
The un-planned stop at Arbel last night proved to be a blessing in disguise. It had been a tough call to re-work logistics and abide by National Park rules and not enter from Arbel after darkness. However, after a discussion with Mike, it was absolutely clear that we must do the FKT by the rule book.
Mike had felt rough all day and arriving at Arbel 2223 after a very tough day allowed time for a nap, then dinner and a good 4-hours sleep.
When we woke at 4am, he had that fire in his eye and it was clear he was feeling good. He relaxed preparing his kit, hydrated and then had a hearty breakfast. At 5am, Roman arrived to pace Michael and at the first glimmer of daylight, the duo departed into a technical section within the National Park.
At Hokuk Bridge, Mike and Roman arrived at 0640 and now the duo had increased to nine. The level of support that Mike has received from the Israeli community, is nothing short of wonderful – this journey would have been so much harder without them!
The first 40km of this day involved technical sections and a great deal of climbing. This group navigated and set an incredible pace that just increased Mike’s mood, particularly after the previous day’s efforts.
HaPitul at 1035 and then a climb through a dense section strewn with rocks and flowing river. I ran with them here and the pace was hot, for Mike to be running this fast so far into this FKT is nothing short of remarkable. He was being pulled by the energy of the group and almost pushing them to go faster. On all the steeper section, he would drop to a walk and use his poles to maintain a good speed. The banter within the group was special. At all times they talked to Mike,
“Are you ok?”
“Do you need anything?”
“Can I get you anything?”
“Dude, keep pushing, you are killing this today…”
At Mt Meron top Parking, 1139, the major technical section was done and what followed was an open, exposed and non-technical climb followed by a fast descent to Hamama Ruins – they arrived 1234.
Ramon had been pacing since the very start, but he could not resist another additional 9km to the next meeting point. Avi was also back, if you read my earlier daily posts, Avi paced in the desert on the more technical days.
With approximately 50km’s of the INT left, it was clear that Mike was starting to smell the finish. I asked, “Is the pace too high Mike?”
His reply, “Am gonna take all the fast pace I can get, who knows when I am gonna feel bad again, look at yesterday…”
And with a ‘Thank you everyone,’ Mike pushed off for the next leg to Nahai Dishon. The group arrived at 1400 and the pacers looked worked, “He is running so fast, it is unbelievable,” more than one exclaimed. Mike slumped in a chair and for the first time in the day I could see a little cloud appear. The heat of the day was punishing him and a sore right thigh (from a Cactus needle) was irritating him. He ate, drank and looked around with a hollow gaze. His eyes had an empty look.
“How far to go?”
“Don’t worry about the distance Mike, focus on getting it done, the end will come!”
“Darn right, we are doing this!”
He left with Avi and Uri at a walking pace, a sandwich in one hand, poles in the other. The following 6km were no doubt going to be a pivotal point in the day, a good section making good time and Mike’s mood would lift, a tough slow section may send him the other way.
At Wadi Dishon, the three arrived and Mike looked in a better place. He refueled, changed socks and shoes and left at 1515. The next section of 14km’s included the last significant climb of the day, once this was over, it was a relatively ‘easy’ run to the line.
But nothing is easy after 10-days and 600+ miles!
It’s worth noting that Mike has been so positive during this FKT. Despite the lows he has remained positive, focused and polite – he is a true gent!
As daylight finally started to leave us for the last time on the Israel National Trail, Mike and his pacers arrived at Yesha Junction. The past trail section had been ‘crazy technical’ in the words of Mike, but from here the run to the end was considerably more relaxed.
Sitting in a chair, another sandwich was devoured in seconds, coconut water was consumed, and a few mouthfuls of Coke were followed by, “I will have no teeth left after this FKT!”
From here, the final push would come, Zoli had reworked the schedule to facilitate three checkpoints before the finish in Kibbutz Dan.
The small group of five left and `mike looked eager to be done with the final miles as soon as possible. Dropping down to river bed, climbing up and finally the running was good. in the night sky, the glow of ‘Qiryat Shemona’ and ‘Krar Gil’adi’ would eventually lead to the finish of the INT in ‘Dan.’
The journey was completed in a wave of emotion.
it’s difficult to put into words a 10-day journey of 631-miles. Especially when someone has run the whole distance. I have to say, mine was one of relief. Mike had done it. He had achieved his target of running the INT in 10-days and to be part of the journey is beyond rewarding. I witnessed intense highs and lows. So, to finally watch Mike touch ‘home’ and finally be able to stop, I had relief and immense satisfaction of a job well done.
I truly believe Mike, and maybe us all will need more than a few hours to comprehend the new record, for now though, Michael Wardian is the new record holder of the FKT for the Israel National Trail.
A huge congratulations Mike from myself and the team!
On a personal note:
This record has been more than a running adventure. It has been an incredible journey that not only allowed us to cross from one end of a country to another, but it has opened our eyes to the beauty of Israel. It’s a diverse landscape all compressed into a very small area. The deserts of the south were truly mind-blowing, the best deserts I have witnessed. The green and stoney trails of the north provided a stunning contrast to the red of the south. And throughout this journey, the people of Israel have welcomed us, supported us and helped Mike in a way that none of us could have predicted. But the help has not only come from trekkers or runners, the story of Mike’s journey has spread throughout Israel and made multiple news channels and in doing so has created awareness. People have come out to offer best wishes and even offer a place to sleep or provide food.
This journey has stirred an awareness and challenged people to ask themselves, ‘What can I do to challenge myself?’
Of course, Mike’s journey is extreme. Only a few people in the world can take on a challenge like this. But the INT and a trail near your own home, is there to be explored. It doesn’t matter how far, Mike has always said, that if he can inspire more people to get active, push a boundary, to test themselves, then he has achieved something worthwhile.
Needless to say, Mike has been an inspiration. I have known and interviewed him for many years, but on this adventure, I have come to know him like never before. His focus, powers of recovery, his ability to endure pain but most importantly, is mental strength is off the scale. This ‘package’ often results in arrogance and ego. Mike is neither! His warm and open heart has been a pleasure to be around and ask anyone who met him in Israel, they only have good words to say.
Finally, a challenge like this takes a great crew and Zoli Bihari pulled out all the stops to make this 10-days a magical, awe-inspiring adventure of sleep deprivation. Mike could not have achieved this FKT without the dedication of a super slick crew. There are many people to thank and I will say here, a BIG thanks to all who turned up and helped. In particular, Erez, Uri and Regina.
I will write more of the full 10-day journey when I have time to digest the emotions. It has been a truly exhilarating moment in my life and to witness Mike achieve this goal and set an FKT makes me super proud.
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