“For me, when I’m in, I’m all in, when I make up my mind to do something, I won’t quit until I see it through.” -Maggie
Maggie Guterl, grew up in West Chester, PA. While Maggie has always been good at sports, the focus was never totally just on running. She found running as a source of revolution, to which I owe her my gratitude for inspiring me to pursue my own goals. Her perspective on the sport is both refreshing and revelatory, and I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed getting to know her better.
Maggie will speak as candidly to you as though you’ve been friends your whole life, her actions are honest, and her determination shines through all that she puts her mind to. Being creative is at Maggie’s core, and she uses her love of Art (after having attended Pratt Institute) and passion for creativity in her job as the Marketing Specialist for NATHAN, while also managing their impressive team of athletes. While not only being a stellar human being, she is also a phenomenal runner with highlights such as cracking the top 10 at the coveted Western States 100 to finish 8th female in 2016. Maggie has big plans for her running career, and I cannot wait to see what all she accomplishes.
Who is Maggatron!? If you could describe yourself using three adjectives, what would they be?
Stubborn, determined, witty (at least I amuse myself!)
You’re running resume is stout. You’ve completed numerous 24 hour races, placed 8th at Western States in 2016 and you recently undertook a massive adventure, The Barkley Marathons. What was the impetus behind signing up?
Barkley is the ultimate challenge--the holy grail of ultra running. It took me 8 years of ultrarunning to feel like I could finally tackle this beast, and it may take many, many more. I have dragged myself to the finish lines of many a 100 miler on sheer determination and stubbornness. But Barkley requires much more. And I want to find out what that is.
What did a typical training day look like?
I usually do my big run, be it a tempo run or speed workout in the morning and a strength workout after that. When I was training for Barkley I had a lot of incline sessions on my treadmill (it goes to 40% incline!) and would usually do those after work because by then it was typically dark out and all the parks here are closed when the sun sets. Then I would do some form of stretching or yoga stretches in the evening. I am lucky to have an awesome job and work from home, so some days during the week I don't have to go farther than Ridley Creek State Park one mile from my house. On weekends I would usually drive somewhere with gnarly hills and spend the morning going up and down and all around.
How do you balance being in a relationship with long training blocks?
My partner, Ryan got injured again just before I found out I was in Barkley. We had plans to do lots of vertical climbing together. Luckily he enjoys video games. He would play a lot of video games while I was out running. He also likes to sleep way later than me so sometimes I was back before he even woke up. For my 12 hour overnight run, Ryan dropped me off and came back to hike some hills with me at the end. He drove 3 hours round trip to and from our house so I wouldn't have to drive home after not sleeping all night. We also both work from home. Ryan only goes into an office 2 days a week, so we actually spend a ton of time around each other. So once in a while when we do our own running thing, it's nice break. Not that I need a break. But yeah a break is nice sometimes!
Ultrarunning is peculiar because most would characterize it as being obsessive, do you find running to be more of an addiction or a release?
I would say that it’s both. I would like to say I am not addicted to running but I was recently thinking about this during the week after Barkley when I was trying to ease back into running. I started to feel the effects of not being in my normal routine. Running for me is like a drug in that you need more and more of it to get the same effects. Ryan would say the opposite, that running can be seen as more of an obsession. For me, when I’m in, I’m all in, when I make up my mind to do something, I won’t quit until I see it through. So to others, it may seem like an obsession. I'm sure there are some appropriate internet memes out there to explain this phenomenon.
Signing up for such an incredible race (BM) puts you into a limelight of sorts. How do you navigate dealing with the criticism and backlash that is associated with it?
At first, I took it all to heart. Former finisher, John Fegyveresi, warned me that I would experience a whole gamut of emotions post-Barkley. That has in fact happened. Most people I know were very excited for me to even start the race but I came for so much more than that. The experience was unreal. I don't think any of the women that started this year gave some of the people the hard evidence they required, to prove that a woman can finish. But that's OK, I still believe it's possible
Do you find you are more sensitive to the feedback that is external, or would you say that you are your biggest self-critic?
I am definitely my biggest critic. That’s part of the reason that even in light of all the positive feedback and attention post-Barkley, it was all bittersweet. I wanted to be happy with my effort, and believe me, I am, but I just wish in hindsight I could have done some things differently. But I know what I know now and one day soon I hope to be able to use that knowledge to piece together a better result. I knew going into this it would most likely be a multi-year endeavor. If I wasn't willing to make that commitment then I would not have embarked on this journey in the first place.
I've thought about this question often, and it took me a while but eventually I realized that everything I love involves some sort of suffering. Once the suffering is over though there is this bliss that accompanies soon after. I figured out that's why I love camping. Honestly, sometimes camping sucks. It’s often cold and rainy (feels like that all the times I go at least), you sleep terribly, you feel grimy, but I end every camping experience feeling invigorated and satisfied. The same premise applies for a good race or run. There has to be some level of suffering for maximum enjoyment. I just feel more accomplished in the end.
If you could give a piece of advice, or a helpful tip to someone who is struggling with substance abuse, or just going through a low patch, what would you say?
It's easy to say to someone, "It doesn't have to be this way. Things can get better but you have to want to change." That person who's struggling is the only one that can make the decision to change. It won't be smooth sailing right away. It takes work and it’s not all peachy but it is worth it. And it doesn't necessarily have to be running that replaces whatever you spent your time doing before, but the important part is to spend that time figuring out who you are. And once you find what you love, immerse yourself in it. It takes a lot of time but it does get easier. I never thought 9 years ago that I would have this awesome job, a cool boyfriend (who annoys the crap out of me but makes me laugh anyway) and the best dog on the planet (Titus!). Not to mention all of the opportunities I have been offered because of ultra running. The most amazing part of my story though is that it's not unique. There are countless stories similar to mine within the ultrarunning community alone.
I think you’re totally right about that. The beauty of ultra running is that more often than not, there is a story behind all the miles we log. But often times failure can feel crippling. What motivated you to fight for yourself after having faced moments of insecurity?
It’s really just the passion for being outside and running. My running has evolved over the 9 years since I ran my first marathon. It will continue to evolve. So I ask myself, why am I doing this? The answer is often changing, but there is always a reason. I just focus on whatever that reason may be at the time and go for it. I also always remember that not everyone can do what I'm doing. Every run I go on is a gift. If I start a race and my A, B and, C goals go out the window there is always the goal of just finishing. It's humbling to trudge to a finish, fight cutoffs and despair when you were gunning for a top spot but who am I to turn down a lesson or two in humility. In the end, I feel much better about myself and the experience if I just suffered through it to finish. They say misery loves company and when I bomb a race I get to meet some awesome folks I wouldn't normally get to interact with if I was still in race mode. (Unless you spend hours all night alone like I did at Run Rabbit Run 100. haha) If I can still do this when I'm in my 70s that will be my goal and that's a good goal! Gotta practice now!
A handful of runners say they do it for the food...so if you could have dinner with anyone (alive or dead) who would it be, and what would you be eating? Starter, main dish and dessert included.
There are so many great choices!! But I've got to go with someone who I've admired since child hood; Jim Henson and I imagine it would be like having a conversation with Kermit the Frog! He is a creative genius with a super unique way of looking at the world. It's insane. The same guy who dreamed up Kermit the Frog and all the Muppets also created the Dark Crystal! That is someone I want to talk to. Maybe he can help me create my own puppet and I can bounce some ideas off of him? :)
Starter: Frog Legs ... hahahah just kidding,Kermit!
Main: Whatever the Swedish chef decided to THROW together for us.
Dessert: Would have been cookies but Cookie Monster was in charge of dessert and all that is left is crumbs!
Quick Fire Questions!
1. Absolute favorite place to run? I love running in Colorado but it’s hard to breath! Another favorite is the Black Forest Trail in Pennsylvania. It is a 43 mile loop and I have yet to do the whole thing but it has all the best PA has to offer! The other is Frozen Head State Park in TN where the Barkley Marathons is held. It's honestly very similar to the PA wilds where the Black Forest Trail is located. Just massive hills with steep grades. It has a mystery to it as well, which is hard to explain. Maybe it’s all the history in those TN hills, all the legends and stories that give it that feel. But those are the two places, I find myself day-dreaming about the most often.
2. Do you prefer to train in the morning or the evening? Morning
3. Chocolate or nut butter? NUT BUTTER - all day, e'ery day
4. Sweet or savory? Savory! I have always been a salty person. Haha
5. Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings (or perhaps neither?) LOTR!!!! Ryan concurs. Talk about obsession. Just check out my Barkley blog. You will see.
6. Last time you laughed so hard you cried? Every time I look at Ryan.
7. What's next for you!? I decided to make an attempt to qualify for the 2019 USA 24 hour team next year! I will do that May 12th in Sharon Hill, PA at D3. Then in October, I will do Big's Backyard Ultra (another race from the evil genius, Lazarus Lake). That's where everyone starts the same 4-mile loop on the hour every hour until there is one person left. Last year it went on for 2.5 days, and the winner, Guillome Calmettes ran an astonishing 256 miles.
To follow along with more of Maggie's adventures, you can find her:
She is sponsored by Rugged Running, NATHAN, Kahtoola, Drymax, Endurance Tap, Trail Toes, and RunPA.org
Feature photo credit to Anthony Stasulli.