Mike Wardian #FKTIsrael 2019 – Day Nine

Finishing before 10pm, having a warm shower, a good dinner and a sleep in a real bed can work wonders… It did! After a difficult day-8, Mike needed everything to click into place over the night to make day-9 manageable.

At breakfast, he confirmed it was the best night’s sleep for a long time and definitely the best night during the FKT.

It was a short drive to Aqueduct Beach where the previous day’s endeavors had finished (at 12km’s per hour!) Mike got rolling at 0722 with a pacer and along the way he picked up and lost pacers for the duration of his run.

Let’s be clear here, the Israeli run community are rallying around this FKT in a way that has never been seen before in this country. There is a buzz, an excitement going around. In one way or another, people want to be involved in history being made. I get it! In years to come, when stories are told about the crazy American guy who ran from the south to the north in ‘x’ days, they will be able to say, ‘I was there!’

Day 9 for me will be remembered as the ‘Green Tunnel’ day. Miles and miles of green provided a backdrop to the challenges the Mike and the pacers faced. Dense and overgrown sections of forest that had hidden markers and narrow path less than a body width. In the first two thirds, it was climbs, descents, mud and technical sections. It was no easy day!

As the day passed and the miles clicked by. It was clear to see that Mike was finding the heat and the endless terrain difficulty a challenge. I think it was frustration more than anything. Miles were meant to pass quickly today, be finished as early as possible and then rest and recover for the huge final push to get the FKT done. But the terrain was not playing ball. It was slowing Mike to a pace that could only lengthen the day and reduce recovery time. Zichron at 0923, then Offer 1150, Meaeot Creek at 1355 and then at 1600.

This last technical climb and descent coming at 1600 would finally see a gradual end to the days tough terrain and change to more runnable trail.

Mike was consuming many calories all day, he is really feeling the impact now of all the time and distance. He basically cannot eat enough to compensate for the losses. Sandwiches, Pringles, bars, the occasional gel, bread, avocado, egg, omelets – to be honest, providing it was vegan, he would pretty much eat it.

All the time, despite his fatigue, despite his aches, pains and despite his frustrations, Mike never lost his cool. He was composed, constantly chatting with his pacers and always giving thanks.

When he arrived at Isfiya at 1805, there was a change in him. The runnable terrain had woken the competitive edge inside him and the ability to run excited him. He was now clicking of the km’s. Yagur came at 1900 and with approximately 15km to go, a 10pm finish was on the cards. 

For the final sections of the days trail, he had an entourage of runners, all keen to embrace an opportunity to say, ‘I was there!’ They left the final checkpoint at 2125, the final km’s of the day would soon pass and before long, Mike would be showering, eating and preparing to sleep.

As day-9 concludes. All eyes turn to day-10. We urge you all, come and find a moment, be it on Thursday or Friday, to run with, cheer, clap, smile or basically send a message to Mike to encourage him to his goal.

I have seen the depths Mike has gone to, to make history.  

I have seen the pain, witnessed the smiles and the agony. I have captured the moments from morning to night in images and in the future, when someone says,

‘Do you remember that crazy American who ran from the south to the north of Israel in ‘x’ days?”

I will be able to reply, “I was there!”

#iwasthere

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Mike Wardian #FKTIsrael 2019 – Day Eight

It may have been 1100pm, but Pizza is what Mike craved and Pizza was our mission. Thank goodness for Google maps and the opportunity to find out what options are available close by. Of course, finding a vegan Pizza does makes things a little harder but we did it.

Mike was in his tent when we arrived at our stop camp, cozy tents all in a line and Erez at his 4×4 with a spread of food laid out. Pasta, salad, pancakes and more options. This is life on the road and working on an FKT.

A shower would have been nice, the last one was 3-days ago. But hey, we all smell as bad as each other. Day-7 had been a good day and we all went to sleep as soon as possible. I have to be honest, I was the first to climb in my sleeping bag, I was wasted!

Morning and our 5:45 alarm soon came. Breakfast was laid out for us, once again Erez excelling at camp life and life on the road. Without a doubt, Mike is feeling his runs now. It takes him a little longer to prepare in the morning. It’s understandable, very few people are able to do just 1-day of this FKT let alone string 10 of them together.

At 0725 the day started with several pacers, one in particular, Refael, had aced Mike in the desert and he was back for more.

The transition from the desert today achieved a new level, the arrival of Tel Aviv mixed city and trail together. This is what is so wonderful about the Israel National Trail, it is the variety that a runner or trekker can experience while travelling the length of the country.

 Channel 5 News also joined us on the route today and did an impromptu interview midway through the run.

Green vegetation moved over for paths and roads. Trees were replaced by buildings and then the beach and the sea arrived. Today was truly a pot pourri of visual experiences that contrasted against the first 5-days of this FKT wonderfully.

Mike was joined by runners all day, at times, 20-people were with him. It was wonderful to see Mike chat, laugh and share the journey with so many. The miles clicked along despite muddy conditions early in the day. The sun came and at times it felt much hotter than the 25 degrees displayed on our watches. Mike is attentive to the heat and when possible, we supply ice to cool him.

 He arrived at Tell Afek at 08:25, Tel Aviv beach 12:18, Hertzella Siri Beach 13:22 and then the wheels came off… At Poleg Beach (16:47) disaster almost struck. Mike was freezing cold as the wind whipped in off the sea. Wrapped in blankets, he could not get warm. Adding layers including two jackets and woolly hat also didn’t seem to help. He finally decided to move and left at a slow pace looking more like a polar explorer that a runner departing to set an FKT record.

 Moving slowly with Refael by his side, he finally raised his core temperature and like Lazarus, he rose once again to start back jogging and then running.

The duo arrived at Bet Yani 19:20, picked up more pacers and then pushed on to Give Olga arriving 20:50.

The final push of 12km to Aqueduct Beach in Caesura would round out 105km for the day – he finished before 10pm. 

Job done!

Day-9 tomorrow and the plan will be to cover, once again, approximately 100km. It’s all about management now and getting Mike ready for the final day-10 push when it looks like he will travel approximately 100-miles.

I have witnessed many great runs and many great runners in my time as photo/ journalist. Mike on this FKT has continually blown my mind.

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Mike Wardian #FKTIsrael 2019 – Day Seven

If you read my day-6 report, you will remember I said:

“Now the delicate balance of when to carry on and when not to carry on must be considered. To continue covers miles and leaves less distance for the overall target, but it also means less rest. Not enough rest and the pace the following day may well drop substantially.”

“Ask yourself, what would you do?”

“It’s a tough call.”

Well, at 10pm on day-6, Yarom (who had run with Mike all day) and Mike decided to push on for another 12km. It was a touch and go call, but the duo said they felt good and therefore we all agreed to allow a final push and get 120+km.

Turned out, that 12km was a really tough challenge. The trail was overgrown, route markers were hidden and the two of them got lost. They eventually finished 30-minutes past midnight, and they looked broken.

Had we snapped the elastic? 

Mike said he felt nauseous. We wrapped him in a jacket and immediately departed for Yoram’s house – he had kindly offered a bed for Mike and the floor for me, Zoli end Eres. 

Mike showered and ate. We were all asleep by 2am having agreed on a 7am wake-up and Mike starting the day at 0830! 

Running an FKT is a balancing act and in retrospect, the additional 12km on day-6 was a mistake. It would have been better to stop on a good note. Have a good sleep and start the next day with the sun. 

Lesson learnt!

I have to say, I was worried waking at 5am. Mike was the first to rise and when I asked him, ‘How are you?’

His reply, ‘I feel awesome man, so good!’ 

I keep saying this, but he really is a freak of nature.

At 0829 he was on the trail with a pacer and if day-7 will be remembered for anything, it will all be about the Israeli run community. They came out in force to join Mike on the trails and look after him.

He was accompanied throughout the day, at times it looking like a scene from Forest Gump. Mike loved the company and relished the opportunity to switch off and let others find the trail markers. It was a huge boost. It was also a notable day for passing through the Jerusalem mountains and gently touching the outer edges of the city. The sun shone, it was a hot day and it everyone was relishing the #fktisrael

Day 7 times:

  • 8:28 Atziona
  • Tzur Hadasa 10:30
  • Jerusalem 1247
  • Sataf 14:45
  • Mesilat Tzion 17:05
  • Latrun 18:22

A marathon was soon covered. Then 50km. At 61km Mike was still saying how good his legs were and at 73km darkness came and for the first time in the day he was alone on the trail.

 

Zoli and I were a little worried to leave him out there alone, so we tracked him closely and then 45-minutes later, at a trail head, he was met by two runners who agreed to pace Mike to the end of his day. At 9:15pm, he had covered 89km at ‘Mitzpe Modiin’ and then he departed for a final leg to close out the day at 100km.

In regard to planning and daily distances, after day-6, lessons have been learnt and as a team we are going to ensure Mike gets adequate rest. Therefore, we are more flexible on the distance covered per day, but equally, we will also be more flexible on the following day start time.

Mark my words, from Thursday morning, Mike will be in for one big push to achieve the FKT in 10-days and ‘x’ hours and minutes.

I have never seen anyone so mentally strong and committed to the challenge. 

One thing is for sure, Mike will need all the help he can get for that big final push – we know the Israeli run community will come out and help.           

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Mike Wardian #FKTIsrael 2019 – Day Six

The rain, mist and cold of yesterday did not disappear! To say we were disappointed is an underestimation. But Mike smiled regardless. “I slept so well, I feel fresh and I am ready to go!”

How does he do it?

Last night we were hosted by a family and we need to give a huge thanks to David and Mira for a wonderful meal, warm shower and a bed for the night, this gesture personifies our experience on our Israel National Trail adventure. We have received such warm support throughout our journey, it really is a great feeling.

Mike departed for a big day at 0629 with two pacers, Uri and Yarom, the latter would run the whole stage with Mike. A huge challenge and one that Mike really appreciated.

For the first 30km or so, conditions were a challenge. Intermittent rain, cold temperatures and grey mist made it feel very much like the UK. The red and warmth of the desert was soon a distant memory. Now trees, green and lots of mud would accompany the runners for day 6.

From 30km, Mike and Yarom pushed on alone and the duo were setting a solid pace. Zoli and myself wondered if it were not a little too fast? But the duo confirmed all was good.

The grey slowly disappeared, and patches of blue penetrated the grey mass above us. Slowly but surely the balance of the sky started to change and white was replaced with blue, the warmth of the sun a welcome return.

As in all previous days, food is an important element of a successful FKT run and Mike is pushing noodles, sandwiches and soup to a whole new level! Ice cream even made an appearance.

Today felt very different to the first 5-days. Not only because of the terrain but mostly due to the amount of support Mike received. Throughout the day runners joined him. At no point was he left alone. The boost this makes is remarkable, it allows Mike to ‘just’ run with the pressure of navigation taken on by a pacer.

From 50km. Mike picked up 3 additional runners, one of them ‘Yair’ aged 74yrs! He clicked off the miles with Mike and Yarom and made it look effortless. Yair finally left the duo to it and was replaced by 4 runners who had travelled from Jerusalem to run with Mike over the latter stages of the day in support #fktisrael – this FKT is becoming a ‘thing!’

For the support team. The previous days rain had caused endless problems making getting around the course extremely difficult. Standing water made certain sections of the trail difficult to pass and finally, Zoli and myself had to make a detour to miss a river crossing. It was a tricky time causing us to miss a checkpoint to provide support for Mike. We did the best we could to minimize the damage but of course, all the time, we were stressed that we were leaving Mike without the valuable support he needed.

Darkness soon came and Mike pushed on through the mud with the support of 5 runners, including Yarom. At ‘Beit Govrim’ he had completed 98km by 8pm. He took a longer break, changed socks, ate soup, noodles and multitude of other items and then left for another 12km.

Before 10pm, 110km had been completed in 15.5 hours. 

Now the delicate balance of when to carry on and when not to carry on must be considered. To continue covers miles and leaves less distance for the overall target, but it also means less rest. Not enough rest and the pace the following day may well drop substantially. 

Ask yourself, what would you do?

It’s a tough call.

Weighing up the pros and cons, it was decided that Mike would push on at 10pm from ‘Mitzpe Mesua’ for another 12km making for a daily total of 122km. Yes folks, 122km!

Think about it.

I have been saying all along that Mike is a machine, to be honest, I cannot find the words to express what Mike is achieving here in Israel.

Go Mike!

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Mike Wardian #FKTIsrael 2019 – Day Five

We camped about 2-minutes from Mike’s day 4 finish. Several 4×4’s, small tents, a roaring fire, a BBQ, a few beers and the stars shining in the sky. What a way to end a tough and long day! It was 2130 when Mike finally came off the trail and nobody was asleep until 2330. That allows for approximately 5-hours sleep.

Running a ‘FKT’ is no easy task. The days are 24/7 and nobody switches off. Mike says he falls asleep with visions pf the ‘INT’ marker before his eyes.

Day 5 morning was cloudy, cold and windy. We were aware of some bad weather that would hit us during the day, and we were also aware of flash flood warnings, so, it was important for all of us to be alert.

 

Despite a tough day 4, Mike was on the trail just after 6am and was clicking off the miles. It was his last day in the desert and although there were some difficult sections to slow him down, it was nothing like what the first 4-days had thrown at him.

Word on the trail is getting out and now Mike is being met by more-and-more runners who are specifically coming out to cheer him on or run with him for a short while. We expect this to increase and increase over the latter five days as we move north and into more populated areas.

 Today, the weather was the challenge. Constant gusting wind and very heavy rain showers. One shower in particular drenched Mike to the bone and he was pretty cold for a while. He eventually warmed up.

Despite the challenge, the conditions and the sleep deprivation, Mike is always positive. His determination and commitment blows my mind. His inner belief and strength are truly astonishing and confirms that only a select handful of people are capable of running such an epic challenge.

Having multiple pacers has helped Mike relax and switch off from worrying about finding the trail markers. It’s a huge relief for him.

As the hours passed throughout the day, so did the miles. Mike is like a machine. The only rest comes at our planned aid stops and here he rarely sits. Standing is preferable and today, his diet needs have changed. Hot soup, noodles and sandwiches have been a preference. I think the cold has impacted but also the previous 4-days. His body is now craving calories and he must keep putting them inside him.

Darkness soon came and Mike pushed into the night from ‘Arad’ with Chanan and David to ‘Del Arad’ (an ancient city within a national park). The rain poured down at times, the wind gusted and buffeted, and I thought aloud, “I do not know how he does this!

Del Arad marked 91km’s for the day.

Day 6 will mark a new chapter of the #FKTIsrael – we have now left the desert and move to new experiences and new scenery.

Running an FKT is all about management and efficiency. You need to tick off the miles, but you also need to rest, recover and look after yourself. The whole team is constantly making ‘on the go’ decisions to help Mike achieve his goal and also to protect Mike… When you have been running for 12, 14 or 16 hours, the runner is not always the best person to make a decision. Mike is very self-aware and understands the requirements he must place on himself to achieve his desired FKT. Day 5 or 6 are not the days to push over the edge, as a team, decisions will be made on day 7 on what is needed over the final couple of days. Mike is prepared for that and quite simply it may well come down to one or two very long days and then a big rest. As Mike says, ‘I can push because when it is done, it’s done!’

Mike has an incredibly positive mindset. The saying that ultra-running is 90% in the mind and 10% in the head is very true, especially on an FKT like this. But Mike’s physical ability and powers of recovery is blowing the minds of the whole crew supporting him.

Go Mike!

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Mike Wardian #FKTIsrael 2019 – Day Four

Last night was a late finish and normally, the priority would be all about getting off the trail, eating, getting clean and sleeping. However, Mike’s finish was in the middle of nowhere and that required a lengthy drive out. The plus side, the team had dinner with a Bedouin family (quite an experience) and then a night in a ‘real’ bed with a shower – luxury!

The following morning, we had the lengthy drive back to Mike’s day 3 finish point before he could start day 4. Time is precious in a FKT and this was eating in to Mike’s run time.

A cloudy and dull start soon cleared though to reveal blue skies with patchy white and fluffy clouds.

 I am continually blown away by Mike’s attitude. He never seems tired, always positive, gives continual thanks to the team helping and is always prepared to add 1 extra mile to his day if he can. Barring injury, I am convinced Mike will get this FKT! Quite simply, if he needs to move for 24-hours towards the end, he will!

 The first three days of this journey really have been truly spectacular. I spent a long time on the trail with Mike today (37km actually) and we discussed how we had both been surprised and impressed by the daily surprises Israel has provided. It’s fair to say, we knew very little before this FKT and our eyes have been opened.

 Mike was once again metronomic in his running, however, a troublesome stomach in the first hour or so irritated him and also a pair of shorts was just not working out! Once he solved both of those issues, the miles clicked along.

There were two incredible highlights today and both involved technical challenges, Hod Akev and Karbolet. The first had a steep climb and wonderful single-track descent with ladders and via Ferrata.

The latter, Karbolet, is known as the hardest and most challenging section of the whole Israel National Trail – it was stunning. It involved a long technical climb with rungs, exposure and technical sections. Once at the summit, the trail went up and down, mostly on angled slabs of rock. To the left, a drop to the valley below.

Karbolet was brutal. Both myself and a pacer ‘Avi’ joined Mike for this long, almost 20km section and it took us almost 5-hours – the latter hours in complete darkness. A highlight though, without doubt, was sunset on the ridge.

Once down, Mike then continued on for another 5km with ‘Uri’ to conclude his day at 2130 in the evening, over 13-hours on the trail.

 Tomorrow will be an 0600 start and will be our last day in the desert. From day-6 we head north with new scenery and experiences.

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Mike Wardian #FKTIsrael 2019 – Day Three

Mike had a sleepless night. He woke often and found the need to stretch his legs, surf on his phone and hope that the morning would come quickly. I am convinced that he is a freak of nature? The rest of the crew were desperate for sleep, slept like babies and didn’t wake up – especially at the 0430 alarm.

The winds came in last night and sand was blowing everywhere. We were expecting a really tough day and yes, rain was possible.  

At 0620 Mike was moving and early on he said he was, ‘feeling great!’

 With 10km covered, the fog like sand disappeared and the sun started to burst through the clouds and then disappear. It would remain that way all day. The wind however persisted, at times this was a blessing keeping Mike cool. At other times it was a pain as it made running difficult and, on the ridges, potentially dangerous.

The stage was stunner, with incredible terrain and majestic views. Trust me folks, this is one of the most remarkable deserts I have visited. It is a spectacular wonder of surprises.

Early on, the region of En Rahel provided a stunning backdrop as Mike climbed and the sky cleared with bursts of sunlight. Later Har Yahav was spectacular providing a stunning climb, exposed ridges and wonderful descent to the riverbed. Har Sharonim was void of sunlight but no less spectacular and then later in the day, as darkness started to approach, the climb from the Ramon River, up to the ‘The Green Backpackers’ and then Mitspe Ramon was a great way to almost bring a day to a close.

 Mispe Ramon towards Mahmal Fort brought a conclusion to the day at  1900 hours. Mike, as the previous day, was robot like. He maintained a consistent pace. At no point did he say he was tired, on the contrary, at all times, he said, ‘I feel so good!’

He clicked the miles off, and go the day done!

Despite the early morning predictions of bad weather, the day was a good one. Cooler than the previous days and intermittent sun, but this all helped Mike. It was a tough day for crewing as access is limited and the easiest way to capture images was to run along on key sections.

There were little changes to Mike’s nutrition today. He seems to have found a strategy that works for him, but a huge salad sandwich was a welcome kick late in the afternoon. Another change came with Pitta filled with Pringles – have to say, they are good!

As with all the day’s, anything of this length requires a long-term view and recovery is key. Mike has the most amazing powers of recovery – he defies logic. There is still a long way to go, but Mike is getting the job done and he is getting amazing support from the run community, not only in Israel, but worldwide. That really boosts him, so, keep that support coming!

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Mike Wardian #FKTIsrael 2019 – Day Two

Mike slept like a baby last night! I have known Mike for years and we have often laughed at his typical 4-hours a night sleep… He was in his sleeping bag not long after 8pm after day-1 and then had the ‘best sleep ever!’

The first day of the #FKTIsrael had been a tough one – far tougher than Mike and the crew had anticipated. However, doing any challenge, nothing is guaranteed and to be honest, one has to expect curve balls. The secret is all about how you bounce back.

Day 2 was a planned 103 (ish) km and that was pretty daunting after a long day 1 covering just over 80km. The plus, there is always a plus! Was that the terrain today was considerably more runnable and in principal, would suit Mike.

We immediately had a curve ball to the day! The ‘INT’ route early on passes through a military base and we were told late the night before that the route would be closed between 0730-0900. Bad news for any early start to make up time. However, it did allow the whole team more sleep. A plus for all.

Mike started his day at 0720 from the place he had finished the night before. It was clear, not only had Mike recovered well, he was motivated for the day. He started setting a good pace and maintained consistency, like a finely tuned metronome.

In contrast to day 1, the first marathon was relentlessly boring and featureless, a test for the mind as much as the legs and lungs. But Mike has an ability to switch off and get the job done. Today, we really witnessed why he is such a great ultra-runner.

Mile-after-mile clicked off and at each checkpoint he relaxed for 5-10 minutes, drank coconut water, ate avocado, hard-boiled egg whites, some Pringles, a little bread, hummus, vegetables and then he would fill his bottles and go.

 At one point, he received a call from home, greeted his wife and wished his kids a ‘g’day’ before they left for school.

The highlight of the day came at Vardit and Barak Canyons. These natural wonders are truly spectacular, no, mind-blowing. Here Mike was accompanied by Uri, a good-friend of Zoli’s and an ultra-runner. The main reason being for safety as there are many water pools that require you to swim, ladders, via Ferrata and other technical terrain.

Once out of the final canyon, it was flat miles all the way to the end. But Mike at no point lost pace or commitment. He was a man on a mission, and he completed the day in darkness before 20hrs (1945 tbc)  having completed the target distance for the day. The final section under strong winds and sand storms.

Mike impressed the whole team today, not only for his powers of recovery, his skill as a runner but by his generosity for all those who helped him, all those who said hello, and anyone who showed an interest. He is a true gent!

It’s Groundhog Day now, eat, wash, prepare kit and recover. It’s all to do again tomorrow.

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Mike Wardian #FKTIsrael 2019 – Day One

One year of planning finally came to fruition today, when US based ultra-runner, Michael Wardian departed Eilat at 0546 to head north covering a total of 631-mile on the Israel National Trail in a target goal of 10-days. 

It’s a huge undertaking and the man who came up with this idea, Zoli Bihari of Canaan Running Adventures knows only too well. He did a similar route over 3-years ago, it took him 23-days.

Michael is a legend in the ultra-running world and his reputation precedes his prolific achievements and his desire to run. Just recently he won the World Marathon Majors, running 7-marathons on 7-Continents. He then added 3 additional marathons so that he could set a world-record for the fastest average time for 10-marathons in 10-days.

Never one to refuse an adventure, Michael and Zoli met at the 2018 The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. The duo chatted and the idea for #fktisrael was created.

It is normal for trekkers to travel from the north and finish in the south. However, there are restrictions on the trails (in terms of movement in darkness) in the south, therefore, Zoli and Mike decided to start in the south and then if required, they could run in to the night later in the challenge and gain extra miles and time.

For a couple of days, Mike and the team explored the trails in advance of the FKT. It allowed some adjustment, planning, photo opportunities and also gain some relaxation time before a huge challenge.

Placing his hand on the metal post with the ‘INT’ markers, he looked eager and motivated for the challenge ahead. For several days he had been saying he felt good. He was off…!

The landscape and scenery on day-1 is truly spectacular. I would go as far to say, that it is some of the most impressive I personally have witnessed. Beauty comes at a price though – the trails are technical, have plenty of climbing and descending and then add some intense heat.

 Mike was always going to play a, ‘Let’s see?’ Scenario on day-1 and he was keen not to get too carried away, starting at a crazy pace. With 50-miles to cover, it seemed a sensible target.

Throughout the day Mike moved steadily, always looking relaxed and in control. However, it was clear from the outset that Mike’s ‘hopeful’ target time for day-1 would be extended. Not a problem! After all, this attempt is going to last 10-days – one needs to think of the long game!

 At each check-point he arrived, smiled, said he felt good and then stocked up on ‘Tailwind,’ drank some Coconut water, snacked on food, re-filled his bottles and off he went. Rarely did he spend longer than 10-minutes at any one stop.

 A highlight of the day came at Timna Park. The trails, the landscape and the views here are truly spectacular – for sure, it is a bucket list location. I joined Mike for a second time in the day to climb over the key mountain, run the technical trails and the descend to our feed point at 51km covered.

 Mike was moving well, using poles when required and maintaining a good pace. At the feed, he went through a similar scenario as with all the other stations and then moved on.

At the final feed point, Beer Matak at 61.5km he was notably looking tired and fatigued from the day’s efforts. He was also feeling the heat from the last big climb of the day. It was time to dig deep and push on for a final 18km.

 It was here, as darkness came that disaster struck. Mike followed the marker of the ‘INT’ but unfortunately missed the turn to our bivouac which was off the INT route. He pushed on, following the markers and it was our support runner who notified us that he was ‘missing’ after hearing from another trekker that he passed some 30-minutes early. Our camp no cellular connection, so, we departed following the approximate route that Mike would take, It was here that technology took over. We managed to liaise with Mike via WhatsApp, we shared ‘live locations’ and we were able to navigate to him a long way down the ‘INT’ route. The route that he should have done on day-2!

 Mike was surprisingly in good spirits, but he had been out on the trail for almost 13-hours and 20-minutes, it was a tough first day! The only plus side coming that he had eaten in to tomorrow’s mileage.

 Back in camp, it was all about recovery. He hydrated, ate some snacks, wiped down and put on fresh clothes. He soon needed a nap. It had been a very long day, both physically and mentally. The priority was good rest, some quality food and then focus the mind for the challenges that day-2 would present.

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Michael Wardian #FKTIsrael – Pre FKT Interview and Photos

We are here in Israel ahead of Michael Wardian‘s #fktisrael attempt, a 631-miles in Israel running the Israel National Trail.

The team arrived in Eilat March, 9th and 12th to prepare. Zoli Bihar and Erez Ganescu are providing planning and essential back up and support for this record attempt.

The Israel National Trail, is a hiking path that was inaugurated in 1995. The trail crosses the entire country of Israel. Its northern end is at Dan, near the Lebanese border in the far north of the country, and it extends to Eilat at the southernmost tip of Israel on the Red Sea, a length of 1,015 km (631 mi).

The idea for this FKT was created by Zoli Bihari of Canaan Running Adventures @CanaanRunning on FB and IG

The Israel National Trail has been listed in National Geographic’s 20 most “epic trails.” It is described as a trail that “delves into the grand scale of biblical landscapes as well as the everyday lives of the modern Israeli.”

Michael will start his FKT attempt on Tuesday March 12th at sunrise. Ahead of his departure, I caught up with him to find more about this epic challenge.

IanMichael we have been out there to do a little bit of recce on the course, it’s stunning so far, really incredible! What is it that fired you up about running over 600 miles from one end of Israel to the other?

Michael: I met a guy named Zoli at a race that you’re very familiar with (The Coastal Challenge) and I love, last year in Costa Rica. At first what fired me up about it was just Zoli’s passion for Israel and the trail running there and I have to say I knew nothing about that. I didn’t even have that on my radar. It was something that just wasn’t even a thing for me. My sister has been a few times….

She has some Israeli friends that she’s visited, and I remember freaking out like the first time she went just because of the media here in the US. When she returned, I said,” Wow” – It opened my eyes.! She told me how great the food was, the people were so interesting and the countryside sobeautiful.

It peeked my curiosity. Ithen met Zoli and he told me that there is a re al trail running scene.

I visited in December and I ran a few days. Weird really, I didn’t even know they had ultra-marathons there. It was just like a blank spot on my consciousness. It was something else, I had listened to the media, “That place is dangerous, that place is somewhere that if you are an American you want to avoid.” I’m sure Iran is amazing and there’s probably beautiful parts -for example!I went to Cuba a couple of years ago and that was the same thing. I was like, “This place is incredible,” It’s too bad we don’t get to explore that part of the world and so when Zoli mentioned Israel, I was like, “Wow that’s really interesting”.

Importantly, in my progression as a runner, I want to do some longer, bigger things and I’ve been inspired by people that have run across the country (USA). I work full-time and have a family, so, to disappear for a month or more is not possible. However, the opportunity to sneak away for hopefully 10 to 15 days is a little bit more manageable at this point in my life. The FKT is going to be a bigger undertaking than anything I’ve ever done and its nerve wracking and exciting – it’s something where I’m always looking for the opportunity to evolve as an athlete.

I’ve been really embracing the FKTs and that kind of way to explore what one Is capable of. It is an opportunity to explore a different way of challenging oneself. It’s also a building block to further challenges, “Yes, I definitely want to try to run across the US. Then if that goes well, it’d be fun to run across other continents and maybe ultimately doing a run across Antarctica – that would be amazing.”

Ian: One thing that’s great about running and hiking or just moving via foot is that it’s about the journey. Travelling from one end of a country to the other or travelling across a country or basically travelling on a trail, there’s something really, really satisfying about making that journey in a semi or self-sufficient manner.

I like you was contacted by Zoli and he asked would I document the FKT.

Of course, my initial reaction was yes. Then I thought, “Hold on a minute, Israel. Okay. There’s Syria at one end, there’s Jordan, there’s Egypt, there’s Saudi Arabia, there’s the Gaza Strip. What have I just let myself in for?” [I’ve had a few messages from people since we announced that the FKT was going ahead and they said, “Hey, are you going to be okay? Is it safe?” Of course, my answer was immediately, “Yes of course it is.” Then I thought, “Actually, is it?”

I went on the on the UK embassy website and put in Israel, I asked, “is it safe to travel?”

They basically said, “Yes, there’s nothing to be scared of.” Obviously, as in any of these countries, they say you need to be logical and sensible and don’t do anything silly, but effectively if you’re missing out the Gaza Strip or one or two of the red areas then everything’s fine.

The Israel National Trailwas created by, Avram Tamir, actually, he got the idea because he hiked the Appalachian Trail in the US.

Michael: Yes, that’s true, yes.

Ian: There’s a really nice connection there, the fact that somebody goes to the US, does the Appalachian Trail, and then basically wants to take that concept back to Israel and creates a trail that goes from one end to the other.

It seems as though most people, if they’re going to do this, start in Kibbutz Dan and then go down towards Eilat. We’re actually going do this FKT the opposite way around, we’re going to go from Eilat to Kibbutz Dan.

Michael: Yes, that’s the way that we’ve designed it in. I’ve researched it both ways and it is Zoli’s suggestion to go south to north. I did a recce in December and checked out the terrain and it makes a lot of sense.

The northern end, where you were talking about, Kibbutz Dan, that’s a little bit more urban and it’s less restrictive as far as travel, so, if need be, we can run into the night.

If you start in the north, one is tempted to run bigger miles at the beginning, and I think that’s what a lot of people try to do. Then they end up getting to the desert and they’re more restricted by the night. The south is more challenging too and hence slower.

We’re thinking that it’s better to tackle, the harder part at the beginning when you’re a little fresher. Ialso think that actually having the restrictions of moving at night should be a good thing, it’’s almost like a governor. I cannot get too excited and run too much!

The route finding is maybe a little bit more difficult in the South too from the looks of it. It piggybacks on local trails, so, I need to make sure I don’t get lost. He based it on the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail does a similar style where there is the Appalachian Trail that’s 2,000 miles or something. Offshoots of that are just local trails that everyone uses. Also, you can jump on the Appalachian Trail for 10 miles or 20 miles or 40k.

You’ve got to make sure you know which marker you’re looking for. You’ve just got to know where to look. I think that’s going to be something – to try to stay on the trail. Luckily, with modern technology I can use GPS for back-up.

As I move forward, I want to try to embrace the Israeli running communion and I think we’ll be able to draw more people out and be part of the journey as we move North rather than South. It’s more populated. It’s easier to get people out on the trails to be a part of it.

IanIn terms of logistics Michael, it’s interesting if you look at the distances for the trail because they don’t seem to be some varying distances. I’ve read on one site, it’s 693 miles, I’ve read on another 631. Let’s estimate that it’s going to be somewhere in that ballpark. It seems as though most people like to try and do it in 30 or 40 days, and you’re going to go for 10, which is effectively 100k a day. It’s quite a challenge. How many hours a day early on do you think you’re going to be able to play with? Obviously, should you get behind later on in the attempt, where the flexibility is greater for running during the night, you can obviously extend your time. Originally what sort of time frame are you working on the early days?

Michael: I think that it’ll be interesting because some of the terrain is challenging. You’ve got some climbing, soft sand, I don’t know, people think of the desert and they think it is like beach sand. Most of the time, it’s not really like that. The deserts that I’ve been in so far, like the Gobi or the Sahara or the desert in Israel, it’s more of hard crusty dirt and rocks.

Some sections I should be able to run pretty quick. One section is really interesting that is 50 or 60 kilometers long where one is running between two military training areas. It’s pretty cool, but it’s basically just like this gravel road, almost. I have done my research with runners like Scott Jurek, Karl Meltzer and others – I will look to break my day down with say a marathon, a break for food and then another marathon.I will also add miles depending on time and how I feel.

“I just want to keep moving the whole day,” I have a crew to look after me, so, let’s see! The local run community will be key too.

It’s similar I feel to the community spirit you get in the UK when you’re trying to do like the Bob Graham Round or the Ramsay Round, local runners love to get involved. Or even like here in the USA when you’re doing the Appalachian Trail or the PCT or the Continental Divide Trail – you have trail angels that come out and maybe drop some food, cash, some water for you or just come and run with you for 10 miles…

I was surprised when I did the FKT here in DC. I ran basically a little around 300 kilometers in 36 hours. I had no impromptu aid stations and then groups of like 15 or 20 people that would join with me for a bit. Other sections I was alone, but for the most part, it just became this thing and I’m hoping for something similar in Israel. I just did an FKT on a trail right by my house and I probably had 40 people that came out, it was awesome.

ZoliIs pretty detail oriented and he’s prepared this incredible spreadsheet with estimated times at all the places. It’s nice to have a target each day, but if some days I go more than 100K, we can do that, equally, I may need to do less?

IanYes. The thing is you have to have a time frame to work to otherwise, it just becomes an uncontrolled endeavor. It’s good for you to understand that maybe you need to try and cover X number of miles per day. Also, for myself Zoli and Erez, we need to have an idea of your ETA in places.I’m going to be documenting what’s happening, but also, I’ll be crewing as well, we’re going to double up. We need that timeframe to understand what your objective is and the speed that you’re moving.

Like you say, on something like this, there’s going to be times when you’re clicking along on good hard trail and then other times when moving slow.

Michael: That’s what I was going to say. Just from the little small part that I witnessedin December, some of it it’s like, ‘Wow, you can move pretty quick.” In other parts of it, you’re like, “Huh, this is going to be slow. I’m going to be going like 5k an hour here.”

IanAbsolutely. National Geographic,has listed it as one of THE most epic trails out of a list of 20.

Michael: Totally, yes.

Ian: It seems as though it’s definitely a hidden secret. Of course, you undertaking this FKT is certainly going to open up this trail to a whole new audience, and it will certainly come on people’s radars. I have to admit, I was a little bit like yourself. I was aware of the trail because I interviewed a guy who had done FKTs in the past, who attempted this, an Australian, Richard Bowles.

Michael: He had some issue. I don’t know what happened. I couldn’t figure out. You interviewed him about that?

IanNo. I interviewed him about another FKT that he’d done, but I knew that he tackled the Israel National Trail. I never quite got to the nitty-gritty of what happened. I loved one of the descriptions that I read. It says, “The trail delves into the grand scale of biblical landscape as well as the everyday lives of modern Israel.” I thought, “You know what? If anything made me want to go on this trail, it’s that.”

Looking at the map, you seeJerusalem, Tel Aviv,Bethlehem – they’re all places that have been on my geography radar for such a long time. I get to travel a lot. I’m very, very lucky. But I never thought I would go here! We’re on this epic journey crossing the country. It really, really fascinates me. I’m sure you’ve done a little bit of research. Are there any particular points that you’ve looked at and you thought, “You know what? This is going to be amazing going through this area?”

Michael: I think that that’s a really great description or introduction to your audience. There’s some stuff that’s actually not on the trail that’s actually interesting too. We are going to be running through terrain that I mentioned in the bible. That really excites me. It may feel quite Spiritual, I am not sure, but I am keeping an open mind.

Zoli did a really good job just teasing me with some really cool parts. Canyons, ridges, a section with waterfalls and evenVia Ferrata,

I got this sense of peace and calm while I was out there, and I’d love to get that feeling again at some point. I don’t know if that’s only near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but I felt it in the desert.

IanI was just going to say this because I was having a look at the breakdown of the route and some of the places that they talk about and there’s the Naftali Ridge, the Ramim cliffs, these Kadesh Stream.

Michael: Those cliffs are amazing dude.

Ian: Mount Tabor, Tzippori Stream, Shayarot Range, Judean Mountains, Yatir, Dragor quarry, Mamshit stream and then it’s mentioning words like Jerusalem and I’ve already got images in my mind…

Michael: That’s what I was going to say. You’re just like, wow, okay, I hope there’s room for us at the inn!

IanAbsolutely.

Michael:It’s like, wow, this is crazy.

Ian:It motivates the mind and of course until you get there and start to experience that you don’t really know what it’s going to be but certainly my anticipation is high.

From an ultra-running community and a trail-running community perspective, most people just seem to naturally think that Michael Wardian is the perfect person to try aFKTlike this, primarily because it seems though you just never stop running Michael.

I have interviewed you many times, but I think back to our interview a few years back when I spoke to you and basically you were just fractured all over from running.

You had stress fractures everywhere, almost to the point that, for a time, you didn’t quite know what running was going to be after. I remember having this chat with you and saying,“I future you’re going to have to run a little bit less and control yourself.”You replied, saying, “Yes, yes, yes, I’m going to be more sensible.” Then it just seemed as though within a couple of months, forget that. You were back to running a marathon one day, running an ultra the next day. Then once you finished an ultra, getting in your car and going running a 17-minute 5k at a park run or something.

What is it that is in your psyche, because you’re a family man, you’ve got kids, you’ve got a busy professional life, what is it that just makes you want to run so much?

Michael: I just love it. I love all aspects of it. I like the hard work that I put into it. I love the training. I love doing the little things. At 5am today I’m heading to my coach to do strength training, mobility and pliability, but I also think that the reward for doing all those little things and putting the time and energy in is the chance to compete against other people and yourself, the opportunity to be out there pushing the boundaries of what I think is possible for myself and the exhilaration you get when you toe the line. I don’t know about you, but when you have that brief moment before the race, when you have the expectation of whatever It is, you’re trying to do, you have this idea and then you actually go and prove it. It’s like solving a scientific problem!

I may say, “Yes, I’m going to run across Israel in 10 days and I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that.” But, to actually have the courage to stand there and try it is what fascinates me. I may fail, but I have to try.

Then once you start, that’s when actually all of the fun starts. I have to decide, “What kind of pace am I going to run?” It’s like playing a game. I have set myself a target of ten days, but I have no idea how I will feel. What the weather will be like. How my legs feel. Will I have stomach issues, and so on, and so on. It’s a complex game and that is what is interesting.

I love that aspect when one is not quite sure. I have a good idea of how I things will go, but who knows? For me, that’s the reason I like to be out there. It’s an opportunity, it’s real, it’s raw. There’s no subjectivity to it, it’s you either do it or you don’t, and it’s very binary.

You’re like, “I’m going to knock this out in a couple hours,” and all of a sudden it gets hard and you have got to decide how to proceed. There’s always that point in a race where you decide, “Am I going to give in? Or am I going to master this? Or am I going to be able to overcome this?” I love that experience that one has. It’s so many little binary decisions that you have to make, “Do I go faster? Do I go slower? Should I eat now? Should I stop? Should I change my shoes? Should I change my socks? Should I take on more water? Should I drink more?

All these little things one has to navigate.Even if one does this perfectly, it doesn’t necessarily mean I am going to end up where you I want to be. If I do it poorly, sometimes I can just overcome. The opportunity to be out there and learn something more about myself, that’s what I want to do as an athlete. I want to continue to evolve. I want to be able to do more things and bigger things, but I also want to do the things I do well and hone those and tweak those. I don’t know, it’s a craft to me, it’s part of who I am and what I do. Every time I go out there, I feel I become a little better at what I do.

I definitely like to be out there and racing. already this year I’ve done 13 or 14 events and I set a world record for the 10 marathons in 10 days. Last weekend, I just did an FKT and before that I did probably arguably one of the harder 100 milers in the world, the HURT100. It’s been a pretty big, amazing year already. This FKT will be that next progression for me.

IanAbsolutely. Our journey starts on March 12th. Target is 10 days for the FKT. Obviously, what we’re going to be doing is updating everybody as this happens as much as we possibly can, and the hashtag is going to be #fktisrael. There’s also a Facebook page which is FKT Israel. We’re going to put a link to all these below. Obviously, we’ll get uploads on Mike’s personal Facebook page. There’ll be @talkultra on Twitter. There’ll be @iancorlessphotography on Instagram and my feeds on Facebook.

We’ll put all these links in and of course Zoli and Canaan Running who are behind the organisation of this. There’s going to be hopefully plenty of media, of course folks this is reliant on the wonderful world of 3G 4G andInternet connections. We are going to be in some remote places, so, bear with us if there’s gaps in feeds and getting things out there and of course, to make this all official, Mike is going to be using multiple instruments to track his progress. One will be his Garmin inReach. I think you’re going to use a polar as well. Is that correct Michael?

Michael: Yes. I have a polar vantage. I’m going to try to upload all that data to Strava. That’ll be one way I do it and then I have a Garmin inReach that I’m planning to use, and I think Zoli is actually going to rent another one there just in case we have any issues with mine. But hey, Ian, I am hoping you will join me some days.It would be fun to share some kilometers and miles with you.

IanYes, I think most certainly, I’ll be on the trails with you at some point. We obviously have to balance this with my role to document what you are doing.

Michael: Yes, exactly. We can’t just hang out the whole time.

IanExactly. Running with a camera does take a toll but I’m sure there’s going to be opportunities for myself and Zoli to spend 5K with you, 10K with you. Now the FKT is imminent.

Michael: It has been almost a year ago now since Zoli first mentioned this. It’s been bubbling in the background. We weren’t sure it was going to happen. I have got to give a big shout out to Zoli and his team for helping to put this together and then for you for being able to make it fit your schedule because I know how busy it is.

Lastly, I want to also just put an invitation out there to anyone that’s reading, especially if you’re close to Israel or based in Israel. We are completely open to people coming out on the trail. I’d love for people to be a part of it in any way. If you want to run with me that would be amazing, or if you want to just come in and cheer, or set up an aid station, or just come out and heckle me that’s all welcome. I look forward to a being out there and sharing the amazing trail with everyone and the opportunity to see what is possible.

The entire FKT will be documented here on iancorless.com on Instagram at @iancorlessphotography and on Twitter @talkultra – I will be providing an extensive photographic story that will delve into the entire FKT showing the highs and lows of this epic undertaking. In addition, there will be regular stories and videos to help explain this journey across Israel.

More detail and information will follow every day. #fktisrael will have updates and information.

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#runningvacation
#canaanrunning
#trailrunning

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