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wired differently: an interview with philadelphia ultra runner, gagz

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mister loopy looper ultrarunner racer himself - meet Gagz

Michael Gagliardi is a proud Philadelphian, accomplished Ultrarunner, and Host of Running Times with Gagz, a podcast that features exceptional human stories filtered through the prism of running and inclusion. He’s also a 2020 Best of Philly recipient who continues to inspire and motivate his local community. To connect with Gagz, please visit him on IG @bdg123.

Ian Campbell is the founder of eseo (every sport for every one). Ian interviewed Gagz about endurance, mindset and all things ultra running. Read on to learn what they discussed. 

Who is Gagz?

That’s kind of a loaded question. 

I started all this running stuff a little over ten years ago. I still know what it’s like to train for your first 10k. I know what it’s like to show up to your first running group. In my mind, I’m still “fat Gagz”, you know? I really just enjoy being part of this running community and giving back.

What makes you tick?

In ultra running, there are a lot of people who are wired differently. Joining ultra running was the first time in my life where I felt like I belonged. 

What makes me tick is learning about myself. I think that happens through reflecting, but also by learning about your community. You can see yourself reflected in other people. I’m always trying to work on myself— I don’t think that’s ever gonna change. I’m doing what I love with passion in a community that shares this drive. That type of energy’s cyclical. I feed off that. 

I realized there are a lot of people with some really cool backstories who are coping with life through running. To me, that’s fascinating. So when the opportunity presented itself to start a podcast, I saw a chance to connect deeper with my community. 

I’ve often thought to myself while running that if I actually knew the reason why I’m doing this— if I actually had all the answers— I’d probably stop. So I’m taking it piece by piece. It’s all a work in progress. 

How do you train for upcoming races? 

Like a lot of marathon runners, I’ve been marathon ready for years. After 48 Ultras and 13 races with 100+ miles, I have “muscle memory” at this point. 

I’ve won this Loopy Looper 12-Hour Race every year since its inception in 2019. This year, I’m coming off an injury. I had surgery at the end of March. But I’m motivated, hungry and driven to defend my title with honor. I’m ready.

When you do these kinds of distances, it’s a very mental thing. You have to be relatively well-conditioned and trained. You also have to be wired a certain way. Like, I don’t stop at a 5k. I keep going and going and going. I’m all in. That mindset is like an addictive personality. I’ve learned how to channel that energy into running. 

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Do you do anything special to train mentally?

I don’t have any mental fortitude training or anything. But at the same time, I’m constantly talking to myself. When I’m out on a bridge run I tell myself I’ll stop at two. But then I think, no, I’ll keep going. Because when I’m in the race after nine hours and I still have three to go, I want to be ready. 

I try to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s how it should be in life. You gotta stay in the moment. And you can’t run from the pain. I can’t imagine coming home and looking my kids in the face and saying, “Dad’s tired today.” That’s just not going to happen. 

I do a lot of runner’s math: I think about my splits, my paces; how much time is left on the clock, loop and lap. That keeps me pretty focused. 

Lastly, this might sound insane, but I love Ric Flair. As a kid, and even now as an adult, it’s almost like I hear this Ric Flair voice in my head: “Keep going. Get it done.” It keeps me going. I kind of take on that champion persona. 

What would you say to someone interested in ultra running?

The dirty secret is there’s a lot of walking, especially in mountain and trail races. 

And look, there’s only a 5-mile difference between a marathon and a 50k. If you can do a marathon, you can be an ultra runner.

Also, the ultra running community is extremely welcoming. You’ll find lots of support. Go for it. It feels good to push yourself. Challenge yourself. Break the routine and see what you got. You owe it to yourself. 

How can people get involved with what you’re doing?

You can follow my Instagram, @bdg123, and check out all the links there.

Listen to the podcast: Running Times with Gagz.

If you’re in Philly, join the Midnight Mile Summer Series. Our next one is on September 14th, 2022 and is music-themed. 

In honor of the bridge runs I've been doing, I’m putting out a T-shirt. Proceeds are going to the Legacy of Hope and the remaining proceeds help support the podcast.

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mister loopy looper ultrarunner racer himself - meet Gagz