It almost sounds made up, but it’s not. Key West local award-winning filmmaker Quincy Perkins was contacted by National Geographic last summer to create a documentary about distance runner Michele Graglia. Why would a long distance runner warrant hours of footage and months worth of work for a film? The truth is almost too incredible.
Michele Graglia at 34 is one of the best “Ultra Marathoners” in the world. Ultra marathons aren’t about hundreds of people running at the same time, the same distance. They are about running distances under extreme conditions regular athletes don’t normally endure. For Graglia, a regular daily run is 100 kilometers (62 miles) and if that’s nothing, ultra marathons have to be everything.
Italian born, Graglia is a former top fashion model (2% body fat and a face everyone can love) who happened to see a book on ultra marathoning and decided to give it a try. By 2018 he had won Badwater in California’s Death Valley: a 217 km/135 mile course that takes place in the heat of July, and he did it in 24:51:47. It’s billed as “the world’s toughest footrace.” But that honor wasn’t enough for Graglia, who has set his sights on the “4 Deserts,” the reason why National Geographic wants Perkins to film every moment of Graglia’s journey.
Graglia will be running the prestigious “4 Deserts” that include the Sahara (Africa), the Gobi (China), the Atacama ( Chile) and The Last Desert (Antarctica). His goal is to break the record for each. He has already done it running the Atacama in 8 days, breaking the previous 20 day record.
“The intensity and depths of emotions we shared was unparalleled! I ended up running 925km (roughly 575 miles) in 8 days, 12 hrs and 50 mins: averaging 67.5 miles a day (the shortest day was 54 miles, the longest was 71),” said Graglia on Facebook afterwards. “It was by far the most challenging endeavor I have ever undertook but what I learned is that only pushing the envelope you allow yourself to live fully, to find out how far you can actually go, and that there are no boundaries to what the human spirit can envision and ultimately achieve.”
“Nobody has ever run that many miles back to back. He he only slept two hours a day, it was equal to three marathons a day, it was insane,” said Perkins. The conditions included high altitude, sandy roads and leftover un-exploded landmines from the Pacific war. A team of doctors and nutritionists followed Graglia, checking him every few kilometers while Perkins filmed. Perkins, who trained beforehand, ran with Graglia to keep him entertained upwards 8 k at most. A little perspective on the Atacama? This is where NASA trained the rover for the Mars landing.
“It was really an amazing adventure, watching what the human body can do, like watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon, “ said Perkins. At present Perkins has two terabytes of footage from only one race. Next up: the scorching conditions of the Sahara Desert, and eventually, an amazing documentary.