For some ultra runners, the quest is to go longer to push their limits. Others are inspired by destinations for their races or runs. Others seek out qualifying for prestigious events.
Maggie Guterl is motivated by an individual race’s specific challenges. And it doesn’t have to be an ultra distance.
“I love all distances because they all offer their own challenges and rewards,” she says. “I know that sounds corny but a 5K can be hard if you give it your all. In fact, they are super hard and I would rather run something much longer but it is a nice barometer to see where you are at speed and fitness-wise. I love the longer stuff the most though because it's never the same experience. There seems to be more strategy and problem solving involved and I live for that stuff.”
Guterl’s ultra experience includes iconic 100-mile races, 24-hour track events and much more. She has come a long way since 2007 when the lifelong runner decided to train for her first specific race, a 10-mile road race in Philadelphia. Two years later, she trained for her first marathon.
“It was a major lifestyle change for me,” she recalls. “From the bar life and coming home early mornings to early morning long runs.”
The trails are calling
Guterl’s running journey snowballed after that first marathon. She signed up for marathon after marathon. She was curious about ultras too.
“I would have signed up for my first ultra but a friend talked me out of it,” she says. “I read on the good old Internet that it was a bad idea to run an ultra if you were not running marathons for X number of years.”
Then by accident — literally — she found trail running.
“I was running the path at Valley Forge one day and wandered onto a trail,” she remembers. “Not sure that I made a conscious decision to sign up for trail races but gradually those became more numerous and roads less so. I still have no aversion to road ultra or marathons but the things that speak to me most these days are the trails.”
Finding and redefining her ‘why’
Like many ultra runners, Guterl’s personal “why” has evolved over the years.
“My reasons for running have changed a lot and the motivation that drives me to get up each morning to train or just run for pure joy hasn't,” she explains. ”It has always been to be outside my comfort zone. And more and more it becomes what I am comfortable with. I don't feel my best unless I get in a good run in the morning. Some days I just don’t want to get out of bed for whatever reason. On those days I ask myself, ‘Why?’ If there is an ultimate goal, like lately the last two winters my goal was Barkley, the thought of that goal was enough.”
Guterl admits she packed in a lot of ultras between 2014 and 2017. That led to feelings of burnout. But it also prompted Guterl to seek adventures that spoke to her.
“For four years straight, I went from one race goal to the next,” she says. “By that fourth year, I was so burnt out. That was not sustainable and it became a chore. I loved running less but felt compelled. So last year I chose adventures and goals that spoke to me and that I was excited about. And to my surprise, I was choosing things waaay outside of my comfort zone. Types of races I wasn’t good at or had never done. And now I am excited about running again.”
Last runner standing
Scrolling through Guterl’s page on Ultrasignup, there are races and finishes that jump out. A top 10 finish at Western States. A second place at the Georgia Death Race. And last year, she did Big Backyard Ultra / Last Man Standing — "the most intriguing of all because of all the unknowns,” she says.
Guterl found what she was looking for at Big’s last October when she finished second among women with 183.3 miles. (In the absurdity of such races, she finished about 60 miles ahead of third place and nearly 100 miles behind first-place Courtney Dauwalter.)
“I slowly stopped experiencing firsts in ultra but when I got to the last lap on day two and passed 146 going on to 150 that was the farthest I had ever run at once,” she says. “Two nights without sleep was another first. One I need to work on. Lots to improve and learn from. I’m not sure I have the training figured out for this race.”
She says that her hip eventually forced her out of Big’s. Her takeaway: more yoga.
“My coach, Michele Yates, is constantly helping me push the envelope in training but also reeling me back to earth and telling me to not overdo it,” she says. “I don't think there is only one training solution for this race. As long as I can keep my body working and know that it will be in pain regardless then it’s all just a mental game.”
This year she is headed back to Big’s and aiming to learn from her first experience. But, of course, Guterl has adventures planned to keep her body fit, mind focused and heart filled.
“To be my best is always the goal,” says the fairly new Colorado resident.
“I can't always make my goal a podium because it really just matters who you run against on race day for that. What excites me lately though, is the idea of long exploration treks in my new home of Durango. Mainly the San Juans. I just want to see what the view looks like from every peak. I am currently planning some epic backpacking (and some less epic overnight trips). Then next summer I would love to do one long big loop linking together a few peaks in the area.”
Name: Maggie Guterl
Hometown: West Chester, Pa., now residing in Durango, Colo.
Number of years running: About 10 to 12 but off and on my whole life
How many miles a week do you typically run: 55 (just casual) to about 90 (typical peak in training)
Point of pride: Competing in the 2015 IAU 24 Hour World Championships in Turin, Italy — We won gold!
Favorite race distance: 100 miles
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Tailwind Endurance Fuel during - all day!! Before racing ... oatmeal and peanut butter.
Favorite piece of gear: Nathan VaporMag 2.5 L pack ;)
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Nine Inch Nails - Just Like You Imagined is great for speed work! Otherwise I don't often listen to music while I run anymore.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: If I can't finish this, I can't finish Barkley.
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