Philly’s coronavirus response

Philly ultrarunner traces the city’s entire border with a perfect 76-mile run

Michael “Gagz” Gagliardi hopes the Philly Four Corners route will become a local institution.

Left: Finishing the George C. Platt Bridge, one of the mentally toughest stretches of the route

Left: Finishing the George C. Platt Bridge, one of the mentally toughest stretches of the route

Courtesy Michael Gagliardi
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Not many people can check this one off their quarantine bucket list. On Saturday, Northeast Philly native Michael “Gagz” Gagliardi completed a run that traced the entire perimeter of the city. Route length? An appropriate 76 miles.

“A lot of time and effort went into devising that route,” Gagliardi told Billy Penn. “I’m calling it the Philly Four Corners run.”

He’s almost more proud of the turn-by-turn directions (available here) than the miles, he added. That’s the kind of thing you can say when you’re an ultrarunner who gobbles marathons like candy and has successfully completed the grueling Tahoe 200 endurance challenge.

But the Philly Four Corners route is for anyone who jogs, walks or bikes, Gagliardi said, noting it doesn’t have to be completed all at once.

“If you usually run a 10k, you could click off a section of this every weekend for the next four months,” he said. “If you plan it right, you could even hit a Wawa or two.”

Gagz himself hit up no fewer than three Wawas along the way when he ran the route, he said, putting a mask on when he stopped for Gatorade restocks and bathroom breaks. Clocking an impressive average 12.49 minutes per mile, he started at 4:38 a.m., a full hour and a half before sunrise. He arrived back at his starting point at 8:52, just as the last glimmers of twilight faded from the sky.

No complaints from his wife Shannen, who’s a member of the Torresdale Beer Runners club and has supported Gagliardi through several 100-milers and other endurance feats.

“We’re living our best life right now,” Gagliardi said, explaining that they’re enjoying spending time with their sons, 11 and 13. What’s it like living with two tween boys in quarantine? “It’s not exactly ‘Mad Max’ over here, but let’s say things are pretty lax.”

Any fun is of course tempered by the nagging horrors of the COVID-19 crisis.

During regular times, Gagliardi works as a probation officer in the city court system, and the coronavirus situation there is anything but encouraging. He’s been off from work since mid-March, and said he isn’t slated to return until at least the beginning of June.

The forced time at home is what allowed Gagliardi to plan the run around the city limits, which was inspired by an astronaut’s post of a pic of Philly from space.

In his research, he found some others who’d traveled the path. There was someone who biked a boxy approximation, he said, and then the group who wrote about their perimeter walk in Hidden City in 2016 — something they accomplished over the course of five and a half days.

Gagliardi’s route hewed slightly less closely to the city’s water-defined borders than the Hidden City one, he said, because “it’s really hard to run next to a creek bed.” If it had been for a registered race instead of fun, though, he would have done anything it required.

Now 44, Gagliardi discovered the sport about 10 years ago, and fully gave himself up to it.

“I have somewhat of an addictive personality,” he said. “Becoming a disciple of running and giving myself up to the process turned down the noise in my life, and allowed me to become a better man.”

He credits the 2014 edition of the Rocky 50k with really changing his life, because it was during that race he discovered the whole ultrarunning world. He’s now thinking of creating his own “fat-ass” race (no official sponsorship or swag) that goes through the Northeast called the Liberty County 50k.

He also hopes the Philly Four Corners can become a similar institution.

If you try it out, there are two points Gagliardi says can be tricky. The first is an easily-missable turn, off the Schuylkill River Trail onto Manor Road (look for a creaky wooden staircase).

The second is the daunting stretch that is the George C. Platt Memorial Bridge. Connecting South Philly to Southwest, the truss bridge spans nearly 3 miles and looms ominously over the Schyulkill River, with only a metal grate below your feet.

“You can feel the vibrations, and you can see right down to the water,” Gagliardi said. “My friend Eddie [Gieda] ran that stretch with me, and let’s just say we were happy to get to the other side.”

Otherwise, just keep an eye out for the Wawas to help as you navigate the 76 miles of outdoor fun.

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

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