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Update, June 28: Gagliardi appears to have reconciled with race organizers, and is in conversations about working together moving forward.
Philadelphia’s running community is in an uproar over what people see as the Philly Marathon’s appropriation of a resident’s cool idea without giving him credit. An apology issued after organizers were called out only served to inflame the situation.
At center of the controversy is the Philadelphia 76 Challenge, a new event from Philly Races, the umbrella nonprofit that oversees the marathon and the Broad Street Run for the city.
The event challenges runners to log a total of 76 miles throughout the month of July. That number has obvious connections to Independence Day (and plenty of other things in Philly). But when the race was first rolled out on Tuesday, it highlighted one factor in particular.
“Did you know the perimeter around Philadelphia is 76 miles?” read the landing page and social posts announcing the event.
Waves of criticism immediately followed. The original Facebook post garnered more than 200 comments, nearly all of them furious.
Why? The idea that the border is exactly 76 miles came from ultrarunner Michael “Gagz” Gagliardi. He was neither credited nor consulted about the new event, he said.
“Actually the perimeter is closer to 105 miles, but I would have let you know that had you consulted with me before stealing my idea,” Gagliardi wrote in a comment on FB. “Also would have asked to be included in this project as I’m developing a similar idea.”
That idea was being developed in conjunction with Christopher Plant, where Gagliardi recently launched a podcast called “Running Times with Gagz.” They had recently discussed approaching the Sixers as a presenting partner for a potential 76-mile-themed community event, Gagliardi said.
The Sixers know of Gagliardi from his viral run earlier this year.
A native of Northeast Philly, Gagz made a viral splash in April when he traced the city’s border in a 76-mile route that he spent weeks working out. “A lot of time and effort went into devising that route,” Gagliardi said at the time. “I’m calling it the Philly 4 Corners run.”
After being covered by Billy Penn, the fun stunt went viral. There were articles in tons of local publications, and running organizations all over the world posted about it on social media.
One of those admiring posts came from none other than the Philly Marathon. At the time, Gagliardi was thrilled. It had been his first big race back in 2013 and holds a special place in his heart.
“I LOVE the Philly Marathon,” Gagliardi said on Tuesday. “It literally changed my life.”
Now, he’s incensed.
“I’m not looking for money,” he clarified, noting that he’s a huge supporter of Back on My Feet, the nonprofit that’ll benefit from the $45 registration fee for the city’s event. “But the least you could do is throw me a lousy crummy little shoutout to [my Instagram handle] @bdg123.”
Meanwhile, references to the length of the city’s perimeter have since been scrubbed from the Philly Marathon website and social media posts.
According to Leo Dignam, the city official who acts as executive director of the marathon, Broad Street Run, Mummers Parade and other outdoor activities, the challenge was conceptualized back at the beginning of the year.
“We’ve been planning this for months,” he told Billy Penn. “We would have come out with it earlier, but with all the stuff with the COVID and the protests and the riots, we decided to wait.”
Dignam described Philly Races’ planning process that outlines an event for each month in the calendar. July was pegged for something to do with Independence Day, and “we considered the number 1776, but that’s too many miles, so we went with 76.”
Advised that the idea of the 76-mile border had to have come from Gagliardi, Dignum said specific wording is not under his control, and that it’s up to the PR firm and social media Philly Races contracts with.
“I approve it, yes,” confirmed Dignum, who’s worked for the city nearly four decades. “When somebody told me it’s 76 miles around the perimeter, I believed them. We just want to encourage Philadelphians to get out and exercise.”
Is there a solution that’ll please everyone?
When Philly Marathon representatives reached out to apologize, after their social media was flooded with indignant complaints, Gagliardi told them to knock off, he admitted.
But he is open to partnering — if the organization makes amends.
It would take pulling the current promos and rethinking them, he said. “Then I’d be amenable to discussing how we can work together for our community to promote a healthier lifestyle in Philadelphia.”
Gagliardi said he hopes that’s the outcome. “I love the Philly Marathon and am definitely not trying to battle with them. Just the opposite.”