Michele Graglia, who is not only an ultra-racer but also an ultra-author too.
Starting from his introduction, let me describe this famous personality. He is a top model and he's currently one of the world's top ultra-runners since 2011. He has competed in more than 30 ultra-marathons all over the world, often winning and setting records. He set the Guinness World Records for his runs across the Atacama and Gobi deserts. His wins in the Yukon arctic ultra with temperatures below minus 40 Fahrenheit and the Badwater 135 miler in Death Valley with heights above 130 Fahrenheit made him the first person in history to win both the hottest and coldest foot races on earth. His new book titled “Ultra'' has just been released.
A few days ago, we had an interview with him. Let’s have a look at few questions, answered by him.
GRR: Are you a tennis fan?
Mickey: Somewhat, I used to follow more when I was in Italy, but every now and then, I watch the big tournaments. I actually have a good friend Fabio Fognini, we're from the same town. We used to play as kids in our hometown so, it's fun to see that he's playing in the major league. Now, Mateo Beretini just got his way into the final and now our Canadian player is playing Djokovic. So it's a big day in Tennis.
GRR: We have heard your interview with Billy Yang where you were discussing the book and yeah but the book was only available in Italian and since then I’ve been bugging you every six months. When's it coming out in English?
Mickey: I remember that, oh thank you so much you know it's been it's definitely been in process to get to this point and we will be able to adapt the manuscript to English and finally get it out. It definitely took a solid couple of years of work. It wasn't just a translation. It was the adaptation of a certain way of saying, you know needed to be smooth, you know kind of smoothed out to English and all of that to make it more understandable but I’m very happy and very proud that finally it's out and so far, we're receiving great feedback and I am thankful.
The Early Years
GRR: So, you were born in San Remo Italy, which is on the western border near France and you ran a little bit in school but not so much
Mickey: Yeah, when I was 12 to 13 years old.
GRR: But that was about post-secondary so after high school you went into pre-law but you didn't stick with that for too long and you worked in your family business as a floral exporter which allowed you to travel around the world. You were travelling a lot at that time and you had a lot of responsibilities and when you came to the US to expand the business within the first week in Miami you were assigned to a model/ modelling contract with one of the top agencies.
Mickey: Yep, you put it pretty smoothly, pretty nicely and better than I could.
GRR: There's a lot of detail in the book which is great because it sort of sets the tone as to how you got to running in a pretty short time. It's fair to say as you do you were completely immersed in the world of high fashion and it was sex, drugs and rock and roll right.
Mickey: Pretty much.
GRR: The first thing that popped into my mind, when I was reading that section in the book was, how did your parents and how did your family react to your sudden change in direction when you were in the states to work on the family business and then this amazing opportunity came up. It sounds like they are a very supportive family but how did they react to that sudden switch. Now you're not going to promote their
Mickey: You said it right, I have a very wonderful relationship with my parents which I’m extremely grateful and they've always been very understanding of my choices and I wasn't the only sale person in the company and we've been working on different markets from Japan, Korea, China, all over Europe, South America, Canada all of that. And I was a piece of the puzzle. The modelling opportunity/modelling career came as a wonderful opportunity not only on a financial level but also on a personal level. It opened up the opportunity for myself to follow a path that was my own which ultimately was what I was looking for all along and coming to the states and expanding the business almost represented that opportunity to me but then being scouted by a modelling agent and being catapulted thrown into this whole new world that at the very beginning kind of materialized the opportunity for me to create that path that I was looking for even though it wasn't necessarily what I was dreaming and it was never my dream but that doesn't happen often right exactly so I’m like I’m gonna take this wave and see where it takes me so I got to tell you for the following, you were talking about fall 2007 for the following two three four years he did represent and he did indeed with something special.
Life As A Model
GRR: When I read the book and the part just for the people who have not read your book yet the part where you're dancing on tables with P Diddy and Madonna comes up to you and presses your abs as it goes but that just gives the idea of what lifestyle you're actually living here.
Mickey: I tell you I come from from a very safe and small environment I grew up in this five thousand souls little town in the inlet of Italy and from a clean environment and I get thrown into this and I come to Miami, I get thrown into this industry where you're sweat off your feet by the social life and the socialites and the celebrities and everything that comes with it because at that point, becoming a model you represent something and people want you here, people want you there and I was 24 25 years old and I am like, this is like a movie, this is like things you see in the movies. And I started going to the fanciest clubs, the fanciest restaurants, everybody wants to hear, everybody want you there, I got friends sending me Rolls-Royce to pick me up to go to the top parties and stuff like that I’m feel like the king of the world
for a minute you feel like you got everything at hand and you're just living it up. There is a downside to that after a while though you know it becomes, I don't know at least for me it became so sucking completely like it was depleting my spirit on a materialist and physical level it was pleasing at all levels, if we want to get in details but it was pleasing at all levels but it came a point where I started to kind of get back into myself and reevaluate what I was doing with my life and that brought me to my breaking point.
GRR: If we fast forward to 2009, when you decided that this is it, I'm gonna look for something else in life something more meaningful and you came across ultra-marathon man by Dean Karnazes
and then a couple of years later, your first step out the door is New Year’s Day, so you get home from that run and
in typical you're not an ultra-runner but in typical ultra-runner fashion what do you? You sign up for a hundred miler and when is the hundred miler? In five months? You had the mind of an ultra runner.
Mickey: Exactly he just spoke to me. Change is always difficult, there's no denying it but we all know it's necessary to evolve and grow. I found myself in a most critical time of my life
and as you said you know yeah it was a golden ticket but that lifestyle really brought me to the bottom of the pit and at that point you know it came a very critical night a very critical situation where I had to literally pick myself up and needed to find something different so when i read dean's book, I mean
it wasn't the first thing I read; I knew that my calling was towards nature, exploration and adventure, so there was already a sense of direction but I didn't know what it was. So, I was very much fascinated about all these adventures, big mountain climbers and so on and in all different directions but none of them spoke to me when I read Dean's book. It was like a lightning bolt and the bubble lighting was lit up and I’m like okay but I gotta try this out. I gotta be part of this. I wanna see what he's talking about because of course at the time he was talking about the end of 2010, I knew about marathons, I knew about iron man’s and about all of that stuff but I never heard of ultra-marathons. I never heard about this, guys running two three four five six plus marathons in a row non-stop I mean that obliterated, all the constant, the limitations and the boundaries that that we set for ourselves at least in the past right and so to me was so fascinating so inspiring that I’m like okay, I’m not a runner but I’m gonna try it. It’s talking about the fact that ultra-running is beyond running so, if I’m not a runner I can do it. It makes sense right? So, I did sign up indeed for that hundred miler and in just the four five short months, I got it out because I went through and I started ramping up my mileage recklessly and I started running 120 to 140 miles a week just before the race. I got a total line already tired pretty much but I was ready physically at least in a way that I didn't know though what I was getting myself into and if you want me to fast forward 84 miles into the race I passed out cold, my family cried and I woke up in an ambulance, my dad was trying to take my tongue out of my throat because I was choking and my mom, my sister my wife were out there crying begging me to stop and that's where it all started so now we're here.
GRR: Did you ever get a chance to tell Dean Karnazes that he was your inspiration?
Mickey: Absolutely, many times I even just mailed him a copy last week with a very nice note and I had the opportunity to meet the guy a few years ago and we've been somewhat in touch throughout the years and it’s still my greatest inspiration.
GRR: Does it hit you yet that you're now going to be inspiring a new generation of ultra=runners because it's inevitable and it's going to happen?
Mickey: That’s what I think is the biggest blessing. I’m beyond grateful to be able to share my stories get the book out because I just realized what like how powerful inspiration can be absolutely you know backing back 10 years ago, the power of inspiration not only changed my life but he actually saved it and so now being in this position I find it to be an absolute privilege the sport of ultra is for everyone where the woman could beat the men the and the old can beat the young and no matter of the time. Everyone has the same experience because you did the same course so that's exactly right some can be a little faster some can be slower but we all went through the same thing and experienced the same thing so that's why I think he creates so much camaraderie too. We all know what we endured and we don't want to say sympathize but we support each other through that and that's beautiful because it destroys the concept of competition and the concepts of cutthroat competitiveness that you can find other in other sports or in most sports so he makes a share, party of course and some people go faster and some people go a little slower but we all went through the same.
Nothing Like The Yukon
GRR: You've achieved some pretty amazing goals in races in extreme heat and extreme cold. How are you able to thrive in those environments because I assume at the time you were living in California you could visit Death Valley to get the heat training but there's nothing quite like the Yukon
Mickey: I can agree today yes there's nothing like the Yukon, when you hit sub 30 sub. Now there's nothing you can replicate and train through the winter here, we have some big mountains but nothing that goes below zero Fahrenheit. So, it gets freezing but when you go into teens already it's considered freezing cold out here and when the Yukon is dipping in sub 20 sub 30 sub 40 Fahrenheit that's the completely different kind of environment and I think that going into this. I approached that challenge the same way I do with all the other ones accepting the fact that I’m going into the unknown and accepting that I’m there's gonna be struggle and accepting that things are gonna go wrong and accepting that I’m not in control and just going with this mindset and perspective allows me to open on my mind and be present on what needs to be done and what I need to take care of in every single moment so it's almost like a circle and it creates presence and allows you to live in a present moment because you have to be present otherwise if you make a mistake you're going to die.
GRR: I want to ask you about the Yukon then specifically because would you ever put yourself in that situation again because that was a serious trouble there or the after effects of the Yukon race.
Mickey: I certainly was well that was I gotta tell you my very first experience in that type of environment. I’ve explored my boundaries a little more in the past few years. I definitely took a lot of knowledge from that experience and mistakes that I wouldn't make again. It was definitely horrendous that I finished with my cornea was frozen, my throat, trachea, my stomach was frostbitten inside and I couldn't eat properly for two or three months. Afterwards, I only started eating like baby food and smoothies and stuff like that because everything that went down my throat was just like terrible and painful and it took me like a couple of months to start eating solid foods again and that in a way is what I signed up for and I paid a price for my first race. I did in the keys for my ignorance in the matter, I wish I had known more people that have done stuff like that. I don't want to say teach me but open up the door and tell me okay this is what you need to pay attention to and this is what you need to be careful. And you know that the following year, 2017 the year, an Italian guy, an Italian friend of mine, whom I ran a few races with in the past was inspired by my race and so he signed up and he went up there he had a lot of troubles. Then, he was evacuated after being stranded for 17 hours in the ice and he was evacuated with an airplane and two weeks later they cut both his arms and both his legs.
GRR: Do you plan on doing the other two desert crossings?
Mickey: Thanks for the question and that’s a great question and that's a whole exactly finger cross. It was a huge setback of course last year for everybody. Everything was closed so we had to postpone after the Atacama and the Gobi, I had in mind to do the Sahara and Antarctica but because of political and religious situation in the center, especially Niger, Chad those areas were very heated up at that time and so I had switched my focus towards Antarctica but they're basically still shut off because Antarctica I think is the only continent that hasn't had a case and they want to keep it that way. I was thankful that I was able to at least nail the Moab and get a run in but this year still things are uncertain and I decided to set up on a new journey and so in October this year, I would like to go for a transcon running from San Francisco to New York. So that's going to be the next challenge hopefully.
These are some questions answered by Michele Graglia. If you want to listen more from him, just click on the link below and enjoy the free podcast. The Rapid Fire questions at the end are worth listening to.
Or check out our shorter version of our chat on our Youtube channel here: