Running Without Regrets

Mike Digirolamo

A spotlight on the guy who writes the spotlights By Whitney Heins

Mike running on Boylston StreetIf you could trace a line back to the origin of Mike DiGirolamo’s passion for running, it would probably land at the time he spent as child playing outside, riding his bike, and being with family—some of who suffered from cerebral palsy.

According to Mike, he realized at a young age that not everyone was given the same opportunity and able body to run and be active.

“I became hyper aware of my mortality and learned that to be able to get out of my chair, to walk, to run, is a gift,” shared Mike, a native of Ohio. “And, it would be a crying shame if I did not use this gift.”

Mike finishing the Boston MarathonWhile Mike was an active kid, he didn’t pick up his running “habit” until after he completed graduate school in Illinois. He’d sandwich 4 mile runs on the streets of Chicago between his two jobs—one in a health care call center and the other on stage at the Steppenwolf Theatre alongside Tony Award winners. Mike ran on days he wasn’t weight lifting and found it to be the perfect way to destress.

While Mike was an active kid, he didn’t pick up his running “habit” until after he completed graduate school in Illinois. He’d sandwich 4 mile runs on the streets of Chicago between his two jobs—one in a health care call center and the other on stage at the Steppenwolf Theatre alongside Tony Award winners. Mike ran on days he wasn’t weight lifting and found it to be the perfect way to destress.

In 2013, the aspiring actor moved to LA in hopes of meeting the right people and launching his career. His days were spent going to auditions and networking with casting directors. His nights were spent running in Griffith Park which serves as the backdrop for many films. Mike pursued acting in hopes of contributing artistically to the medium and making a living but found himself needing to find an additional source of income that he could find fulfilling.

“Acting is not just about entertainment. It’s about learning about the human condition. It’s about empathizing,” he said. “It’s not like ‘Look at me, I want everyone to love me.’ I did it because I was told I was good at it. And because I had an internal desire to do it.”

After a couple years in Los Angeles, Mike decided to move to Knoxville where his parents were living at the time with a goal of obtaining a clearer focus for his career path. After several internships, that focus sharpened—Mike found a niche with writing. After an internship for an environmental news agency where he wrote about things like animals fleeing devastating earthquakes weeks before the event and scientists saving animals from poaching in Tanzania, he found a sense of service in environmental news that clicked for him.

“I care about the long-term sustainability of humans on the planet,” Mike shared. “The planet is getting warmer[…]it won’t be hospitable to us and things living on it [if we don’t change something]. I think about the kind of world we are leaving our children and it scares me.”

Mike finising the Strawberry Plains half marathonAs Mike continued to gain writing experience, he also honed his focus for running.

In 2017, Mike wondered what it might be like to run a marathon. He stumbled upon the Knoxville Marathon site and realized the race was happening in two days. He signed up.

Mike ran a 3:52 and admits those last 6-8 miles of the marathon weren’t pretty.

“I remember sitting on the side of the road after the race, eating a Papa John’s pizza with salt caked on my face,” he reminisced. “My girlfriend joked that I looked pathetic, and was like ‘okay, that was fun. Are you done now?’”

But Mike wasn’t done. In fact, he was just getting started. He ran the Erie Marathon about a half a year later, clocking in at 3:24—a vast improvement but short of his goal. That’s when he sought the help of Bobby Holcombe. He had met Bobby while filming a video for his internship about people who were at the Boston Marathon in 2013 during the bombing. He found Bobby and his coaching style refreshing.

“I remember interviewing him and thinking, this guy is legit,” he said. ‘He didn’t find running, running found him. He latched onto it, heeded the call and stuck with it. He didn’t have this elitist attitude that I see with some coaches. Bobby is ‘come one, come all’ and I like that he has this mindset that you can teach anyone to do anything.”

Indeed, Bobby is now helping to teach Mike to run faster and faster. Less than a year after joining Knoxville Endurance, Mike ran Erie again, clocking a blistering 2:58. Now he has his sights set on a 2:45 this fall. Because for Mike, he knows if he doesn’t use this gift he has—the ability to run—he will regret it.