Running down a dream

Michael Gagliardi was proud to finish the Tahoe 200. PHOTO: Scott Rokis

Some people might find driving 200 miles in a weekend challenging.

Michael Gagliardi didn’t drive it, he ran it.

Gagliardi took part in the Tahoe 200, a 205-mile race around Lake Tahoe.

The race began on Sept. 13 and was complete four days later. It included 252 people, and 170 finished the race. Gagliardi came in 27th.

“It’s grueling, you don’t get any sleep, you just run,” said Gagliardi, who finished Sept. 16 around 1:17 p.m., about a day before the race was complete. “I slept once for 45 minutes. Then I took three power naps. One for five minutes, one for 11 minutes and one for 14 minutes. Power naps worked much better for me. I never did one of these before so you have to see what works for you.

“It was fun, but getting done was a sense of relief. I’d say about 199 of the miles were run in great weather, about 70 degrees during the day and high 30s at night, and in the end, you’re running at a high elevation, so the last 6 miles I was running through freezing rain and then snow. It was pretty brutal.”

Snow and freezing rain were little challenge for Gagliardi, a Somerton native who graduated from Archbishop Ryan in 1993. The 200 miles and no sleep were the real challenge, but it’s one Gagliardi enjoys.

He decided to take up running about a decade ago and ever since he first started, he’s loved it. In 2012, he took part in his first 10K, and he was hooked.

“About 10 years ago, I was 240 pounds and I was on the cusp of health problems,” Gagliardi said. “I was shopping at the big and tall shop and I would get out of breath, so I decided I needed to make some changes.

“My wife and I joined the (YMCA), and I wanted to make changes. I wasn’t living my best life, so I started working out and I really liked it.

“I started off just going to the gym and running on the treadmill. I started off slow but I really enjoyed running. And once I did my first 10K, I fell in love.”

He started off slow, but he certainly picked it up fast.

But competing in an event like the Tahoe 200 is something that takes quite a bit of training.

Not only is it hard because you’re running 200 miles, but you’re doing it on no sleep and you’re literally eating on the run.

“There were chefs every 13 to 22 miles, and they would cook you whatever you want,” Gagliardi said. “You’re burning 25,000 calories, so you’re trying to eat. My favorite was scrambled eggs, avocado and cheese.

“I think the biggest key to the race wasn’t the sleep but it was staying hydrated. I’ve learned that you have to stay hydrated. By the time you feel like you’re not hydrated, it’s too late to recover, so you really have to be smart.”

Gagliardi was smart about running, but he credits his team for helping him finish the race he spent more than a year training for.

The most important member of his crew is Shannan, his wife. She didn’t run this one, but she was there every step of the way supporting him. Another crew member is Amy Hollister, his friend who helped him along the way.

Adam Kimble paced him from mile 123 to mile 155. Jeff Rauenhorst paced him from 155 to 195. And his wife joined the fray for the last 10 miles.

“A pacer is someone who is permitted to run with me late in the race,” Gagliardi said. “There’s many reasons why pacers are necessary in a race this big, but their primary role is to make sure that I’m safe. As you can imagine, your mind and body aren’t functioning properly in the later stages of a 200-mile race.

“I’ll say this, I couldn’t have done this without my wife. She was with me 1,000 percent. I couldn’t have done this without a great woman in my corner. She was really there all the way.”

He didn’t represent just his team and his family, which also includes his sons Leo and Dante, while he was competing in the race.

The Philly native also did his best to show off his pride in the city by wearing a bib that proudly displayed our 215 area code. He also has a tattoo of Rocky and another of the Liberty Bell.

The probation officer is very proud of his roots, but he’s also happy that he was able to battle and defeat the difficult course.

And he’s ready to do it again.

“I feel great after doing it,” Gagliardi said. “I feel so good. It’s little steps. It’s a way of life. I never thought I would do something like this, but now that I did it, I can’t wait to do it again. It was a challenge, but one I loved doing.”