“Running an ultra takes a little bit of your soul – but you get it back double on the other side.” -a friend of Gagz
Tailwind Trailblazer, Michael Gagliardi (aka Gagz), has got to be one of the most “Philly guys” you will ever meet. He’s got the accent, the spirit, and the work ethic. If you have ever gotten to know anyone from Philly, you may notice one common characteristic emerge – how proud Philadelphians are of their city.
One morning at 4:38am on a Saturday in April, Gagz took his pride of Philly to a whole other level. In his own personal “quarantine challenge” (you know we all have them), Gagz ran the perimeter of Philadelphia in a day. It was 76 miles and took just over 16 hours. That alone would have been satisfaction enough for him but what ensued afterwards was a media frenzy. Overnight, Gagz had become a hometown celebrity. New outlets like the Philadelphia Inquirer and Billy Penn sought out Gagz for interviews. Even the local news channels covered his story. Gagz says he is still getting called out during runs. People cheer and clap as he runs by. Gagz has even inspired some folks to go and try the run themselves.
Luckily, Tailwind fought our way into Gagz’s inbox for our very own interview. During these unprecedented times and circumstances, Gagz provides a ray of sunshine through his passion, honesty, and humor.
Q&A with Gagz
TW: How old are you?
TW: Where did you grow up?
Gagz: Philadelphia – born and raised.
TW: Where do you live now?
Gagz: I live in the Far Northeast section of Philadelphia, in Somerton (aka best neighborhood in the whole city) with my wife, Shannan, and our two sons, Leonardo and Dante.
TW: What do you do for a living?
Gagz: I’ve worked at the Philadelphia Adult Probation and Parole Department for 16 years and was promoted to Supervisor 5 years ago.
TW: How long have you been running?
Gagz: 11 years ago, I was on the cusp of shopping at the Big and Tall stores tipping the scales at 240 lbs. and consumed by alcohol and negative thinking errors. Started going to the local YMCA after a brief health scare in early 2011.
My first 10K was in July 2012. In my head I was training for the Olympics. But that’s when I learned to fall in love with the process and never looked back. I have somewhat of an addictive personality and running has provided me with a healthy outlet for which to structure my life. I have become a true disciple.
TW: What distances do you prefer?
Gagz: I’ve had a lot of success on loop courses and timed events, like 12 hr races, but the 100 mile distance (and beyond) is my true love. I’ve run 8, including Leadville 100, Tahoe 200, and most recently Long Haul 100, in Florida, this past January. Both of my summer 100s, Old Dominion and Vermont, have been rescheduled for 2021. The world is in a holding pattern right now, understandably, so I’m leery to even speculate on what my fall season will look like.
TW: What kind of training do you do?
Gagz: Adam Kimble (@adamkimble818 on IG) from Run on Dirt Coaching has been my coach since January of 2018. I typically run 5-6 days a week, and complement that with various body weight exercises and regular yoga.
TW: On average, how many miles do you run a week?
Gagz: I tend to hover around 45-60 miles per week, but that number will usually increase depending on where I am in my training cycle. I usually break 200 each month.
TW: What is your favorite thing about living in Philly?
Gagz: Philly is a gritty, blue-collar town, with a diverse population. Philadelphia is a major Metropolitan City, and people move here – but not with the same intentions of those that move to New York or LA. The hardworking people here are a reflection of that. There’s a true sense of community in each neighborhood and when the city pulls together for a common cause it’s something special. People here are real, and they’ll give it to you straight, whether you asked for it or not. Not only am I proud Philadelphian, I’m proud to be a Philly Runner. The running community here is vibrant. So for me to be a small part of that magic is truly wonderful.
TW: If you had to live somewhere else, where would you live?
Gagz: Italy, Tahoe, Hawaii – in that order.
TW: Who first called you Gagz?
Gagz: Gagz is an abbreviation for my last name Gagliardi (really hope that’s obvious). That’s pretty much what people have called me since I was 6 years old. I remember I was playing 1st base and was named the same as most of the kids in the infield. The Phillies won the 1980 World Series the year before, with legends like Pete Rose, aka “Charlie” Hustle, and Mike Schmidt, who everyone knew as Schmitty. So when coach first called me Gagz, I felt like a Big Leaguer! And that’s how that started… Not to mention my last name gets butchered all the time. Even the NYT recently misspelled it!
TW: What inspired you to run the perimeter of your great city?
On March 5th, Astronaut Jessica Meir posted a picture of Philadelphia to her Instagram account that was taken from the International Space Station. As soon as I saw that image of Philly from outer space, I filed it in my brain under “cool things to do when time presents itself.” A few weeks later my work closed until the beginning of June. So I took to mapping almost immediately.
TW: What went into creating the route? What things did you take into account and how long did it take you to plan it all out?
Gagz: I spent the first three weeks of April driving around the city taking notes and studying Google Maps. I even went so far as to record some runs to Strava privately so that my friends in other sections of the city wouldn’t wonder what I was doing running around their neighborhood!
I set out trying to run the actual perimeter of Philadelphia as defined by its vast network of creeks and rivers, but early on that proved to be too cumbersome with well over a 100 miles of bushwhacking. So I focused on roads and trails that were accessible to pedestrians and cyclists. The route is available on Strava by searching: Philly 4 Corners Run/Ride.
TW: What was your biggest challenge in completing this project?
Gagz: Connecting the dots. Oftentimes I had to work backwards, only to discover that I was incorrect, or I had missed a potential turn, or the road had taken me beyond the perimeter, or was unsafe for foot/bike travel. Then it was back to Google Maps. This was definitely a labor of love.
TW: How did you fuel?
Gagz: Tailwind of course! Copious amounts of Mandarin Orange and Colorado Cola throughout the day, and Vanilla Rebuild at the 10 hour mark. In addition, I had a few friends meet me along the way with some basic ultra fare, and I frequented a popular neighborhood convenience store called Wawa. Like Somerton, Wawa is the best!
TW: What was your favorite part of the run?
Gagz: Probably when I was about 15 miles shy of my start/finish point. I knew while mapping Philly4Corners that my total mileage would be close to 78 miles (2±). Obviously, being from Philly, hitting 76 miles would be supreme but I wasn’t going to mess with the integrity of the map just to hit a symbolic number. I knew at the 100k mark that if my mapping was correct, and I didn’t cut corners the way you would in a road marathon, that I would be very close to 76 miles. When I arrived back at my starting point, I was at 75.91 so I ran the extra .1 miles before I stopped my watch at 76.01 officially.
TW: What section of your route was your favorite?
Gagz: There were a few parts of the city that I had never seen before mapping out this run, and I thought I knew everywhere in the city! So that was cool. And conversely, because of the shutdown, there were many parts of the city that I was very familiar with that looked strange because they were vacant. Not a single runner, cyclist, or even vehicle in sight. So those moments were pretty unique.
But the most memorable part of the route, for me, is the infamous George C. Platt Bridge. Little wonder why I have yet to see a postcard of Philly from this vantage point. Driving over this thing gave me the creeps early on, so I knew running over it would be sketchy. The bridge spans nearly 3 miles with a pedestrian walkway that is barely 4 feet wide, and a railing that barely reached my hip. Thankfully, my buddy Eddie ran this section with me. Neither of us had ever run that bridge before. There’s no reason for foot traffic in that part of the city. It had such a Mad Max kinda vibe to it. Very desolate, industrial, forgotten stretch of city that consists of ship yards, oil refineries, and urban pollution. Single file we climbed and climbed feeling the traffic vibrations and eating the car exhaust. As we got to the middle of the bridge, we were greeted by metal grates that allowed us to peer down to the filthy Schuylkill River waaaaaaay down below. So we stopped for pics when we reached the other end.
TW: You have gotten a lot more attention from running this route than you ever anticipated. What has that been like?
Gagz: I had a feeling this route would be talked about within the local running community, but DEF wasn’t expecting all the hoopla that followed after my initial IG post (@bdg123). So the Philly love has been a nice surprise. Philly4Corners has made the rounds on every news outlet in and around Philly, been shared 100’s of times on social media, and I’m still getting stopped when I run. Bonus is that both of my boys pulled me aside in the days that followed and separately, unprompted, unsolicited, each told me they think I’m cool. They’re 13 and 11 – so that’s good enough for me.
I know this sounds corny but Philly4Corners is my way of giving back to a Philly running community that has embraced me over the years. They’ve helped mold me into a better man, husband, father, friend, and community member. I’m eternally grateful.
TW: When someone hears or reads one of the news stories about your run what do you hope they get out of it?
Gagz: When I created Philly4Corners I knew many of my running friends would not be able to run this in a single day. So I tried to make it as friendly as possible for walkers, runners, and cyclists, with the idea that this can be done in sections when their schedules allowed. The route is clean, safe, and accessible for all. Plus, timing is everything and let’s face it: There’s not much positive in the news these days! As a result my inboxes on every platform were immediately flooded for 2 weeks. Felt pretty good. I was just sitting back like WTF man…
A dear friend recently told me that running an ultra takes a little bit of your soul – but you get it back double on the other side. Still processing so much however that’s probably the biggest takeaway from all of this. That running can have such a positive impact on the community. So I’m flattered, humbled, and hungry to keep doing my thing. And if that helps others find their groove then I’m happy to help. Life is cyclical and we are all connected.
TW: How did you feel right after you finished your run? How did you feel in the following days?
Gagz: When my Garmin 945 loaded up and I saw the outline of Philadelphia on my watch, accompanied by 76.01, I almost fell over. That was surreal. In the days that followed a media frenzy ensued and that was overwhelming. I’m finally able to sit back and catch my breath now and reflect on a pretty cool experience.
TW: Got anything exciting on the horizon that you want to share? Or you just chilling?
Gagz: I’ve got a little website in the works to promote the route at philly4corners.com. And I’ve been planning a fatass 50k in Far Northeast Philadelphia for my run club, TBR Philly, called The Liberty County 50k. It will commemorate the folly of a 1980s city councilman named Hank Salvatore who foolishly introduced legislation for the FNE to secede from the rest of Philadelphia. His bill was basically dead before he even signed it, but my The Liberty County Fatass will trace his intended borders. Also, some very exciting opportunities have presented themselves to me. Nothing which I can share just yet, but I’m very, very excited about the future. IDK how to chill…
TW: Most important, polarizing, burning question – who has the best cheesesteak in Philly?
Gagz: I’m from Far Northeast Philly, therefore I have no choice but to say: I’m a loyal subject of Steve’s Prince of Steaks. But if I’m keeping it real I don’t like cheesesteaks, never have. Every once in a while I’ll do a chicken cheesesteak with pepperoni.
But my advice to people visiting Philadelphia is to check out the Reading Market Terminal in Center City. My favorite vendors there are the Little Thai Gourmet (broccoli & salmon), Luhv Vegan DelI (black bean burger), and anything from Condiment, Flying Monkey Bakery, Pearl’s, or Iovine Brothers Produce. But if you wanna be truly decadent you’ve gotta try the roast pork with long hots and provolone from DiNics. You’ll thank me later.
Try the Route Yourself!
If you ever find the opportunity to run this route yourself, Gagz wrote it all down here. Thanks for sharing your story, Gagz. If you have any questions for him, you can find him on Instagram at @bdg123 or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Now everyone go enjoy a “wooder ice!”