7 Questions for Maggie Guterl

Get to know one of Colorado's top endurance athletes

In addition to sharing my stories, I’ll periodically use this space to spotlight some favorite Colorado runners who are doing interesting and inspiring things. Today, it’s Maggie Guterl.

When I crossed paths with Maggie Guterl in the 2017 Run Rabbit Run 100, I thought, Uh-oh. What is she doing here?

I was running in the average-Joe “tortoise” division. She was competing in the elite-level “hare” division, going for prize money. We were passing each other on an out-and-back segment of the mountainous route near Steamboat Springs. She should have been way ahead with the other women, but instead, she was toward the back.

I had previously interviewed Maggie, when I used to co-host UltraRunnerPodcast, and met her in person at the 2016 Western States 100, where she earned a top-10 finish. I liked her and wanted to see her earn a podium finish. When I spotted her and gave some words of encouragement, she looked up with a face of suffering. She appeared both vulnerable and determined, drained by fatigue and nausea.

I think of that moment sometimes when Maggie, 41, blows my mind with her next-level toughness and speed. Like her good friend Courtney Dauwalter, Maggie’s appeal is not just her athletic prowess; it’s that she seems so normal and relatable, and sometimes suffers and slows as much as the rest of us.

In 2019, she won the last-person-standing Big’s Backyard Ultra in Tennessee; she ran the 4.16-mile loop every hour at Big’s for 60 hours and 250 miles, becoming the first woman in the event’s seven-year history to finish on top. This year, she won the inaugural Cocodona 250-mile ultra in Arizona. Then she struggled and had a disappointing performance at the High Lonesome 100 near Buena Vista last July.

Earlier in life, in Philadelphia, she was an art-school party girl and bartender who turned to running to get healthy. (For details, see the iRunFar profile I wrote about her.) She went on to compete in the 2015 24-Hour World Championships, earn 8th at the 2016 Western States 100, and that same year run a blazing 14:47 at the Brazos Bend 100 to win it outright and set a sizable course record.

I’m impressed by how this East Coast woman has embraced Colorado mountain adventures after moving to Durango in April of 2019, while training for ultras and holding down a full-time job as Athlete and Events Manager for Tailwind. And I’m captivated by Instagram photos of her mountain outings (see @maggatronruns).

Maggie on Snowdon Peak in the San Juan range, with friends Meghan Hicks of iRunFar and Eszter Horanyi (pictured in back), an accomplished mountain biker and photographer. Photo by Meghan.

I got in touch with Maggie to ask about how she’s doing since this year’s Big’s Backyard Ultra, held October 16, where she and Courtney dropped out together after 175 miles. (The last person standing, Harvey Lewis, won with 354 miles and 85 hours, a world record for the format.)

You just finished your fourth Big’s, and you said after the event, “This year I just couldn’t hit my groove no matter how long I hung in there.” Why do you think that was? 

I don't know, and I may never know. Probably a few outside life factors and nothing to do with the race itself. I love that race and will be back.

What are some of the reasons you love it and want to do those loops over and over again? 

There is no other race like it. I went into it thinking it may be this fierce competition between runners, and I wanted to see if I had what it takes. It was so much more of a team effort, and anyone who runs an ultra understands the friendships you can form by running with someone. You run with most of the people for days. It is just such a cool vibe and is this constant puzzle to figure out.

Your 2021 races are behind you, and you said on Instagram you’re taking a break from training until you receive notice if you’re in Barkley. [Maggie has participated in the notoriously brutal and bizarre Barkley Marathons three times.] What does a break from training look like for you?

I did pretty much nothing since Big's, but that was mainly because the whole summer/fall caught up to me and I was sick. My immune system just felt shot. So I will keep resting but try to get back to full swing by the end of November if not earlier. I got a new mountain bike, so I will focus on more riding until then. 

What does “full swing” look like for you for Barkley training?

One to two workouts a day. Tempo runs (gotta keep the speed... or find it), vert days a.k.a. hill repeats, mostly on Hogsback [a short and steep hill climb above Durango, gaining about 650 feet in .4 mile], and strength.  A peak week would typically be 85 miles and 25K of vert, although last year my peak week was 140 miles and over 40K of vert.

Earlier in your ultra career, you ran fast 100s; then you got into more fringe and extreme ultra-long events. Do you have any desire to go back to racing speedier 100s or shorter distance ultras?

I do! Every time I run one of these long multi-day races or am lost in the woods, I think, well, I could be done by now, ha ha. But seriously, I didn't switch to these because they are harder necessarily. Running fast is super hard. I just wanted to try new things that seemed impossible, and I sure have gotten my fill of failure. I do have a desire to perhaps do some speedier stuff and often toy with the idea of aiming for another 24-hour race. It's tough to go from Barkley and then to something flat and fast. And the terrain here in Colorado in the summer is so fun and not fast, so I haven't really wanted to sacrifice summer mountain time to do speedwork on pavement.

Me with Maggie checking into the High Lonesome 100 in late July, along with my friend & pacer Clare Abram on the left, and filmmaker Billy Yang on the right.

This past year, you raced just one Colorado ultra, the High Lonesome 100. Are there any Colorado races you want to do in the coming year? I’m guessing you’ll mention Hardrock if you get in; if you don’t get in, then which others? 

I was toying with the idea of trying to create my own little Colorado Slam. I will have to see about Hardrock of course, but maybe something like High Five or Ouray. High Lonesome was amazing, and I did my best by finishing, but I had some hiccups and would love to come back and do that much better. The lungs, as you know, are really the tough thing for me at these high-altitude 100s.

Has living in Colorado for the past 2.5 years changed you in any significant ways?  

For sure. My lungs suck now. … I could have gotten exercise-induced asthma living in Pennsylvania, but I think sea level is much kinder on the asthma. I think I’ve become a stronger hiker because I am forced to do so more often here. I also think it’s made me more patient and willing to slow down and enjoy the views and the moment.

Thank you, Maggie!

She said, “I just wanted to try new things that seemed impossible.” Have you had that impulse and if so, what new thing did you try? Please share your experience in the comments below.

Related post: “From Trail to Mountain Running”

I hosted the first Zoom meetup for paid subscribers last Thursday, and we talked about, “What’s standing in the way of better running or better wellness for you?” Some of the issues that came up and that we tried to problem-solve were: time management, obligations to others, feeling isolated, lack of spouse/partner support, poor nutrition habits, bad weather, and lack of sleep and energy because of trying to fit so much into a day.

I hope with these monthly meetups to create a community and provide a space where we can share struggles, ideas and encouragement on aspects related to running and healthy living. The next one will be Thursday, November 18, 5:30pm Mountain (4:30 Pacific/7:30 Eastern). Please subscribe at the paid level if you’d like to join and receive additional bonus content.