Michele Graglia competes in the gnarliest running races on the planet. When he’s not competing against others, he’s setting records and racing himself. To that end, he’s set Guinness World Records for running across the Atacama Desert in Chile (600 miles in 8 days) and after that, the Gobi Desert in Mongolia (1100 miles in 23 days).
Mickey won the Yukon Arctic Ultra in temperatures below -40°C (-40°F), and he won the Badwater 135 in Death Valley, with temperatures above 54°C (130°F), making him the first person in history to win both the hottest and coldest foot races on the planet.
It would be an incredible feat for someone who had cut their teeth — or rather, their feet — on trails from a young age. So it’s even more impressive given the fact Mickey was more familiar with runways than running as a former top fashion model and only took up trail running at 27 years old.
We caught up with Mickey to officially welcome him to the Lé Bent team and figure out how he keeps putting one foot in front of the other.
LB: Hey Michele, what’s up! We’re stoked to finally be able to share with the world that you’ve joined the Lé Bent trail team. Welcome!!
MG: I really appreciate and super excited to join the Team! I'm looking forward to see what we can achieve together!
We almost didn’t know where to stop when it came to listing your achievements above. We reckon you’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive ultramarathon resume than yours. There are so many to choose from but can you tell us which race or races in particular have left a lasting impression on you?
I always found the most extreme races to be the most memorable. It's never really about the results for me and I love the challenge of course though the one thing that truly keeps me going back for more is the opportunity to connect with the most pristine, untouched and raw side of Nature. The senses are heightened and when I feel the most alive.
Following these thoughts, and to answer your question, Tor des Geants, this September!! It is the hardest ultra trail race in the world: 330km through the most rugged trails in the Italian Alps.
In addition to the many races you’ve competed in, you’ve also achieved a number of solo world records and FKT’s. How do these projects come about and how do they differ from racing for you?
I love both racing and explorations as they all allow to stretch our boundaries and grow, although I found personal expeditions to offer a much deeper and personal experience.
When the competition is removed they become unique opportunities to truly connect with oneself, to feel completely submerged in the experienced and fully present in the moment.
Now, help us settle an office bet. Was it harder to run across the Atacama Desert or the Gobi Desert?
Not just by distance but the Gobi was a way greater challenge than the Atacama.
The Mongolian desert is ruthless and only gave hard blows. Facing strong, gutsy, incessant winds for days on end through a seemingly endless vast steppe.
We went from desert dunes to high mountain passes and temperatures that could range daily between -10C to +40C. It was by far the hardest challenge I have faced up until then.
We’ve got a fair few deserts here in Australia. Maybe we’ll have to get you down under to see how they stack up!
It is a life dream of mine to cross Australia! I have always been fascinated and cannot quite honestly wait to start planning the crossing!
Now running across deserts is a far cry from strolling down a runway. What drew you to trail running and made you leave what we can only imagine was a pretty cushy lifestyle as a top fashion model?
Modelling began as my American Dream though the perks of that fast lifestyle soon showed their ugly side. While being at the top I had fallen to the bottom. I felt disconnected, lost and alone. During the most critical time in my life, I discovered trail and ultra running. Running through Nature showed me a new way of life. A new perspective.
As cliche as it may sound, running did save my life and became an opportunity to reconnect with myself at the deepest level.
You’ve developed a reputation as someone who can handle any environment, terrain and temperature. Did this happen naturally or did you seek out events with completely opposite temperatures like the Yukon Arctic Ultra and Badwater?
I was drawn to them in a very primal and simple way. I wanted to feel for myself the power of the most extreme sides of Nature.
There are some similarities with Lé Bent there as far as, cold and hot, snow and sand. What attracted you to Le Bent?
The outstanding quality of the products!
How have you enjoyed running in our Signature Merino Blend socks?
I certainly love how comfy and soft they are! Also, I felt like the "wrap around" perfectly fits and supports the arch and the ankle too. I love them and keep them on all day, running or chilling. The breathability is an outstanding asset too as I can go for hours on end with perfectly dry feet!
How valuable is something like a fresh pair of socks when you’re running for over three weeks straight as you did in Mongolia?
Keeping the feet happy in long traverses is fundamental and a fresh pair always rewards you with a sense of renewed energy and light feel! Most valuable!
So, if there was ever to be a Mickey Pro Series sock, what would it look like?
Some cushion on the heel and a tight wrap around the plantar (mid foot). Definitely mid/low calf and with a tight fit on the ankle. The colours would need to be very natural, yet powerful.
We think that could be arranged... Leave it with us!
While we get to work on the Mickey sock, what else can we look forward to from you this year?
I am going to run the Lavaredo Ultra Trail at the end of June, part of the UTMB circuit. In September I am going to face the Tor des Geants, in Valle D'Aosta, in the heart of the Italian Alps. I am then running the Gran Sasso, OneHundred World Series Final in October.
I also have a couple of expedition options for the end of the year, but that's still a secret. ;)
Hometown: Sanremo, Italy
Nationality: Italian / American
Sponsors: Le Bent, TransPerfect, LaSportiva, Garmin, SaltStick, ShPlus, Vespa, NW Curve
Favourite Le Bent gear: the Terra Ultra Light 3/4 Crew Trail Socks or the shorter Ultra Light Mini Trail Socks.
Follow Michele here: Instagram