Maggie Guterl of Durango wasn’t an elite athlete when she was young. She said she ran track in grade school and did some other team sports, but in high school she didn’t compete.
After discovering ultra running, however, Guterl has excelled in the endurance discipline and won some huge races.
“I picked it up later in life,” she said. “I was in my 30s when I did my first ultra.”
She said it was the curiosity factor and the unknown that made her want to try the endurance sport. After she ran her first marathon, however, she said to her self, “Never again.”
But the curiosity returned and she wondered if she could run could two marathons in a row, and after she did, she continued upping her mileage.
In 2019, Guterl became the first woman to win Big’s Backyard Ultra last-man-standing race, running 60 hours straight and covering 250 miles.
In the competition, runners had an hour to complete a 4.167-mile loop, and Guterl and Will Hayward of Hong Kong competed head to head for the final eight hours of the race. After she finished her 60th lap, she prepared to head out again. Hayward, however, was unable to complete his 60th lap in the allotted time, so Guterl claimed the victory.
Last year, at age 40, she won the inaugural Cocodona 250 in Arizona in 85 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds.
At 6 a.m. Friday, she’ll join runners from around the world in Silverton in the Hardrock 100. She applied once before, in 2018, but this will be her first time competing in the race.
“It’s definitely a daunting race,” she said. “It’s not the vertical, which is over 30,000 feet, it’s the fact that the altitude is so high it makes it very challenging, even for people who live at high altitude.”
Guterl, however, said she has run the entire course while training.
“I’ve done it all during training, but I can’t wait to experience it in a race,” she said. “I’ve been doing a lot of runs up high, and with the early snowmelt I was able to start running the course the first weekend in June.”
Guterl also trained with a Hardrock veteran, Meghan Hicks of Silverton, who will run in her fourth Hardrock 100 this year.
Guterl qualified for the Hardrock 100 by running in the High Lonesome 100, which takes place in the Sawatch Range near Buena Vista.
“It was pretty rough for me,” she said, adding that she experiences exercise-induced asthma. “I need to be a little more diligent with my inhaler regimen.”
In addition the altitude and mileage and climbs, the competition at this year’s Hardrock also will challenge her.
“The field is awesome,” Guterl said. “I know a lot of the women and in the last six weeks, I’ve seen a lot of people training here.”
Last year’s women’s champ, Sabrina Stanley of Silverton, was planning to try and defend her title, but had to pull out at the last minute.
Plenty of other strong women, however, remain.
Darcy Piceu, an eight-time Hardrock finisher with multiple championships, will part of the field, as will Courtney Dauwalter. Dauwalter won the Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc last year in Chamonix, France, the largest 100-miler in Europe.
Angela Shartel and Stephanie Case also will compete with Guterl for the women’s title this year.
“Hannah Green is another awesome local girls that got in,” Guterl said. “She doesn’t race a lot, but she has the potential to be up there.”
For the first time, the percentage of women who applied to run in the Hardrock, 18%, was equal to the number of women who got in, 27.
“I really feel if they had not increased the number of slots for women, I may not have gotten in,” Guterl said. “I think it’s a great step.”
She did say, however, that the sport has systemic problems, and more women need to qualify and apply.
In the men’s division, four-time champion Killian Jornet is back this year.
Last year’s champ, Francois D'haene, also will return. D’haene won last year’s Hardrock in a record 21 hours, 45 minutes and 50 seconds. He then went on to win the Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc for the fourth time.
“Killian and Francois will be a pretty epic race,” she said.
Daniel Jung, Jeff Browning, John Kelly, Luke Nelson and Nick Coury also will challenge for the men’s title.
Durangoans Drew Gunn will be going for his eighth finish, and Neal Matosky his first.
This year’s race will go clockwise, heading from Silverton to Telluride first, then to Ouray and Lake City before finishing in Silverton. The runners have 48 hours to finish.
To help her along the way, Guterl has two pacers: Whiley Hall will join her in Ouray, and Zach Miller will join her at Sherman.
Guterl’s goal, however, isn’t to win.
“I would really like to finish on Saturday,” she said. “My boyfriend and dog are crewing me, and I don’t think they want to do it two nights.”
To finish, the runners need to complete a little more than 2 miles per hour, which sounds easier than it is.
“Some of the climbs will be punishing, so it’s important to take care of yourself and move forward,” she said.
“I talked to my friend Nikki Kimball (the 2018 Hardrock runner-up) and her advice to me was to have fun,” Guterl said. “The rest will come if I have fun.”
Guterl, originally from Pennsylvania, moved to Durango in 2019 to work for Tailwind Nutrition.
“I used it for a while and then I heard they were hiring,” she said. “I told them I would move here. I don’t want to leave.”