Maggie Guterl Brings Her Mental A-Game To Hardrock
Maggie Guterl has earned a reputation as one of the toughest athletes in trail running. This weekend, she'll take on one of the toughest 100-mile races.
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The Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run has a reputation for being one of the toughest mountain 100-milers, but first-time entrant Maggie Guterl is grateful that one component of the run will be a little easier than some of her other races.
At least this time, she knows when the run will start, and she knows exactly how many miles she’ll need to cover. That hasn’t always been the case for Guterl – who’s earned a reputation as an exceptionally tough athlete through performances at races with no set start or finish times.
Like when she snagged the outright win at the 2019 edition of Big’s Backyard Ultra, a last-person-standing competition on a 4.16667-mile loop course. She ran 250 miles over 60 hours to outlast 72 other competitors, becoming the first woman to win the race. And the 41-year-old from Durango, Colorado has attempted the Barkley Marathons three times, which infamously has no official start time. Competitors simply get a one-hour notice when race director Gary Cantrell (aka “Lazarus Lake”) blows a conch shell.
“You don’t even know if you need to have a headlamp ready,” Guterl says.
While Guterl is grateful for the set start and known race distance this weekend, she in no way thinks Hardrock will be an easy run. Runners must be prepared to face extreme challenges like high altitude, steep scree climbs and descents, exposure, unpredictable weather (including lightning storms and hail), and challenging wilderness navigation. All on top of the 102.5 miles and 33,197 feet of elevation gain. They call it a “graduate-level” endurance challenge for a reason.
But Guterl is physically – and mentally – ready to tackle whatever Hardrock throws her way – from 6 a.m. on Friday morning to whenever she runs back into Silverton to kiss the famous rock.
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Guterl has been training on the Hardrock course since it started melting out in late May, and has covered just about every mile of the rugged tour of the San Juan Mountains. She’s climbed to every single one of the race’s 13 high points, the passes and peaks that crest 12,000, 13,000, and 14,000 feet. She’s used every ounce of daylight – and some night hours, too – to complete long point-to-points on the course, and she tagged five 14,000’ summits in a single training run a few weeks ago.
With just days to go, she’s feeling antsy and ready to run.
She has ambitious goals, but Guterl stops shy of proclaiming that she’s going for the win. “I’m rooting for Courtney!” she says. Guterl is good friends with fellow entrant Courtney Dauwalter and supported Dauwalter’s Hardrock attempt last summer before stomach issues took her out of the race.
But, she is still gunning for the best day she’s got in her – and that day could be a standout one at Hardrock.
“A sub-30 would be super cool,” says Guterl.
A sub-30-hour finish would put her among the race’s top female finishers in its 27-year history. The fastest women’s time at Hardrock is 27:18:24, set by Diana Finkel in 2009, and historically, a sub-30 hour finish guarantees a woman either the win or second place. Guterl is, again, rooting for her competitors and hopes to see more than two women finish under 30 this year.
“The women’s field is so strong!” she says. “I’d love to see a bunch of women under 30 hours.”
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With an average elevation of 11,000’ and a high point of 14,048’, one of Hardrock’s greatest challenges is altitude. And since Guterl deals with exercise-induced asthma, she got up high as much as she could during training, using days off from her job with Tailwind Nutrition to run back-to-back days at altitude. The time up high seems like it’s paid off, as she’s gone from feeling the lung-squeezing altitude to feeling strong on the highest parts of the course.
She’s also been working on strengthening the already-impressive mental game that’s helped her win races like Big’s Backyard and the Cocodona 250 – and post 88 finishes to UltraSignUp.
On one of her bigger training runs this summer, Guterl tagged five 14,000’ summits in a single run, including Handies Peak, the course’s 14,048 foot high point – twice. On her way back to Handies for her final summit of the day, she could see weather brewing over the mountain. By the time she got back to the peak, a cold wind was whipping around her and dark clouds were pelting her with snow.
Unlike many of her training runs, which she ran with friend and 3-time Hardrock finisher Meghan Hicks, she was alone. She saw it as an opportunity to hone her ability to get through whatever lows hit without anyone around to support her.
“You’ve got to be able to talk yourself through the hard things,” she says.
Guterl has a quiver of mental tools that she draws upon during hard moments – as well as a playlist of 90s dance hits. She says she reminds herself that she’ll feel better eventually, that every hard thing is temporary and will pass, and that she’ll look back on her hard moments with fondness – because she got herself through them.
She also credits her friend Dauwalter with helping her deal with the rollercoaster of highs and lows that hit during many long-distance trail runs.
“I used to try and push through the lows and go harder when I felt terrible,” she said. “Now I think about riding the highs and lows. When a low hits, I chill out, let it happen, and keep moving forward.”
Which is exactly what she did when she got hit with snow at the end of a long and hard training day on Handies.
“I told myself just keep moving forward, whether it’s hard or easy.”
That may be easier said than done for some runners facing a blizzard on a 14,000-foot peak. Some might be tempted to bail and take the fastest route back to the car. But Guterl practices building her mental strength until she feels like she can say it, believe it, and do it, like when she won Big’s Backyard with the help of the mantra “don’t quit.”
“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “But I spent months working on believing it.”
By the time race day rolled around, her brain was ready to persist until she was the very last woman standing.
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Guterl’s got a new set of mantras for Hardrock – and they largely center around gratitude. As a Durango local, the San Juan Mountains are in her backyard – and they’ve burrowed themselves into her heart as one of the most magical mountain ranges on Earth.
She raves about the bright yellow old-man-of-the-mountain wildflowers, the lush descent into Telluride from Oscar’s Pass, and the legendary Kroger’s Canteen aid station, chiseled into the rugged saddle of Virginius Pass.
To train and race in the San Juans feels like a dream for Guterl, and she plans to hold that close throughout Hardrock during the highs and the lows. She’s been practicing that gratitude and has felt its motivational power during her hardest training lows, like that snowy day on Handies.
“When I was in the low and grinding back up Handies, I knew I had to think about something positive,” she said. “And I looked around, and was like, ‘holy shit, I live here and I’m training for Hardrock.’”
She knows it’s a privilege to start the run, especially since it takes many runners years to score an entry, and she won’t take her spot in the race for granted, no matter how ugly things get.
And when the inevitable lows of the rollercoaster hit, she’ll be ready to ride them out with 90s dance hits and her go-to mantra.
“I get to do this.”