Michael Gilgen – Imperturbable Willpower and Incredible Stamina

Michael Gilgen ran the world’s most prestigious outdoor footrace named 4-desert grand slam. It consists of 4 races, all consisting of a total distance of 250km. Each race is to be run in 7 days. In order to finish the 4-desert grand slam, all 4 races have to be completed within a calendar year.

The races take place in some of the toughest environments on earth: in the desert. The race is completely self supplied except for water. All food and equipment has to be carried by the runners. Michael’s backpack weighted 10kg at the beginning of each race. 

Until to-date, only 48 racers have completed the 4 desert grand slam and can call themselves members of the 4-desert grand slam club. 

We discussed motivational aspects, for example how he kept motivated and focused during a race even when things were going wrong, how he prepares himself for the races physically, what diet he uses to be fit and to prepare himself for a race, what equipment he carries and much much more. I have very much enjoyed this conversation with this impressive person and I hope you will, too. Enjoy!

You can also find it on iTunes and Overcast


  • Michael explains why he started running at the age of 16 and how he got to running his first marathon at the age of 25 (0:32)
  • describes how he caught fire with the idea that he wants to run the marathon des sables, his first ultra marathon and inscribed for participation in 2010 (1:55)
  • Why was he taken out of his first ultra marathon after 190km? (3:45)
  • And want happened at his 2nd attempt in 2010? (4:30)
  • What minor mistake in planning made him fail at his first attempt? (5:50)
  • What’s the secret behind ultra marathon shoes and how do they differ to “normal” running shoes? (7:05)
  • Does he carry several pairs of shoes for a 6 day marathon? (10:14)
  • What’s his favourite brand of shoes for ultra marathons? (11:30)
  • After crossing rivers in the jungle leaving the shoes on, how can he cope with shoes completely soaked? (12:00)
  • How long is the break from one race to the next during a several stage marathon? (13:55)
  • Michael reveals his own secret how to recover as quickly as possible after a stage to be ready for the next one the next day. (15:54)
  • How do you keep hydrated during a marathon? (17:07)
  • For a 6 stage ultra marathon Michael carries a backpack with a total wight of 10kg. He explains what he’s carrying and why. (18:00)
  • How was he instructed to treat potential snakebites? And do snakebites in these races happen? (18:35)
  • According to the race’s rules, he had to carry a minimum of 2’000 calories of food with him per day. What kind of food did he bring? (19:18)
  • Michael explains that the last thing you want during a race is running into a predator. Here is how this is prevented. (22:20)
  • Motivation takeaway #1: What rules does he adhere to to make it to the finish line? (23:20)
  • Motivation takeaway #2: How to motivate your body to continue even though it doesn’t want to. (24:50)
  • Motivation takeaway #3: How to change negative thoughts using the “my life” mind map. (26:18)
  • Michael is describing a situation when he ran out of water in the Namib desert and he got close to his limits. He concludes: It’s all in your mind. Your body will make it but your mind will break you. (30:20)
  • Racing marathons is not a team sport. Is there still something like a team spirit? (30:55)
  • Do competitors talk together during a 6-stage ultra marathon? (33:37)
  • Do you meditate? (34:20)
  • What 3 components does the preparation of a ultra marathon consist of? (34:55)
  • Michael explains his nutritional preparation for the races. (36:50)
  • How does he program himself for lucky moments? (39:33)
  • Motivation takeaway #4: His ultimate driver of motivation. (40:17)
  • Michael shares his insights on drinking coffee and alcohol before racing. (42:08)
  • Michael’s next challenge and in what aspects this needs specific preparation. (43:46)
  • His favourite brand of running shoes for running on tarmac. (44:49)
  • Motivation takeaway #5: How he sticks to the training schedule in difficult circumstances. (46:20)
  • Michaels sponsors and his fundraising for Theodora Children’s Charity that he supports with every step he runs. (49:32)
  • Michael experienced a key situation that ultimately drove him to be an active fundraiser for Theodora Children’s Charity. (51:37)
  • How a man of his caliber chooses his next challenge (54:27)
  • Are these extreme endeavours healthy? (57:05)
  • Michael explains how he brings job, private life and sport together (58:35)
  • Motivation takeaway #6: It’s about being smart about it, not about being hard about it (59:04)


2 thoughts on “Michael Gilgen – Imperturbable Willpower and Incredible Stamina

  1. Congratulations Michael and thanks! I throughly enjoyed your very lively interview with first Swiss to complete the 4 desert grand slam and definitely appreciate your show notes including the motivation take aways! I’m already looking forward to your next podcast!


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