Chasing the Light: Maggie Guterl

I lived in the same house my entire childhood. My parents still live there. Even something so familiar as the place you lived for over half of your life can be looked at in different lights. As you grow older, your surroundings morph. The bedroom you called your own for 19 years doesn’t look as big as you remember it. The woods behind your house are not as mysterious. It is all still comforting and recognizable just in a different way.


This is how I think of my running journey very often. I think about how it has evolved and grown with me. From the beginning, I was much like a child going to Disney World for the first time. Everything was shiny and new and foreign. I wanted to experience it all and absorb as much of it as I could. But so much of it seemed out of the realm of possibility back then. Or so I thought.


This feeling of the unobtainable and the bright-eyed “newness” also dissipated as my running journey progressed. It’s a sort of trade-off. Not too much of it is strange to me anymore, yet the focus continues to look further and further ahead. The joy of running hasn’t dulled, it just looks different. Yes, the passion ebbs and flows at times as I am sure everyone can relate. What keeps the passion going is the continuing goal of seeing what this human body can accomplish.


To understand where this shift in mentality came from, I have to ask myself; What was the turning point for me? When did I begin to focus my running on goals I had not dreamed of when I started running as opposed to wandering around in this blissful amusement park of ultrarunning.

It was a humid Texas day in February 2014. I was running my first official trail 100 miler. I had run one before, the previous August, but it was a fat ass race on a rail trail. Although still 100 miles, the race was low key and very small. Rocky Raccoon was the 100 USA Mile Trail Championship. Real elite runners were there. I met Pam Smith and was star struck (now we are best friends!) I cheered Connie Gardner as she ran by (legend) and she just looked at me with what I think was a sneer (we are also best friends now!!) I really was immersed in a world I only read about in Ultrarunning Magazine.


And then, shortly after starting my third lap, a freight train blew by me. No, it was Michele Yates. Newly crowned ultrarunner of the year for 2013, I recognized her from the picture in my Ultrarunning Magazine. No way anyone runs that fast in a 100 miler!??! But she was! Unfortunately for Michele, she began to have some medical issues and was forced to walk. Fortunately for me, that was enough for me to eventually catch up to her. We chatted briefly and I asked her if she was ok. She didn’t wallow or go deep into her issues. She was concerned I keep moving. So I did. I went on to eventually finish my first sub 24 hour 100 miler.


I had been toying with the idea of a coach since the beginning of 2014. I had previously thought it was for elites only. But a friend Rob Goyen recommended Michele Yates to me as a coach. She coached him and he was not elite. So maybe this was a thing for regular people too? I sent her an email. I didn’t expect a response so quickly and half expected her to say she didn’t have room for me or maybe I wasn’t coaching material. But she answered rather quickly and asked me many questions about what my background was, what races I had planned (one ultra a weekend I told her!), and my goals. Despite my lack of direction, stupidly ambitious, and rather pointless race schedule she took me on as a client.


Upon receiving my first month of training I was astonished at how low mileage it was. Did she not think I was capable of running far? I quickly realized that low mileage didn’t mean it was easy. After my first few days of training, I was like, “ohhhhh.” No super slow mid-week 17 milers for me. Speedwork and strength work became the mortar to my bricks.


My speed improved rather quickly. I became more durable. I started to wonder if maybe a pipe dream that had crept into my brain was possible. When I brought it up to Michele she didn’t bat an eyelash. It’s almost as if she was waiting for me to bring this idea up to her all along. She knew I could do it and she made me a plan. This was the summer of 2014.


Long story short, I toed the line on a crisp November day in 2014 at the NJ One Day. A 24 hour race that was certified as a team qualifier for the USA 24 Hour National Team. I succeeded in qualifying beyond my wildest dreams. I not only qualified for the team but ran 142 miles which would safely land me a spot to go and compete with my 11 other teammates in Italy in April of 2015.


In Italy, I assisted the women’s team in winning a gold medal and just missed a podium spot placing fourth in the world (my teammates Kati Nagy and Traci Falbo won individual gold and silver respectively). I felt I pulled off one of the grittiest performances of my life. It wasn’t pretty and I threw up for the first half but I gutted it out for 146 miles in those 24 hours.



Shortly after, I turned my sights to a Western States qualifier. I placed second at Georgia Death Race and earned my spot at States. Ultimately, placing top ten at States. My focus shifted to the even more impossible to races like Barkley (a work in progress) and Bigs. In 2019, I was the last person standing at Bigs Backyard and the first woman to win Bigs. I had more in the tank and was ready to go beyond the 60 hours (250 miles) we had gone. I don’t say all this to be braggy but to show you the evolution in both training, mindset, and with it the results.


And just as my running has evolved the one constant has been Michele. Her plans and training evolve with me. I consider Michele as big a part of my own running journey as the shoes I have worn on my feet. Except there have been many pairs of shoes and only one Michele. I guess the moral of this story is don’t ever count yourself out. The mind is a powerful thing, but it has to be backed up with the proper skills and training. It’s ok if your outlook on running changes. Go with it and seek new challenges. Chase your light! (OK that was corny but it came full circle!)

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