“there is no second place in the backyard.
it is all or nothing.”
– Lazarus Lake (Big’s Backyard Ultra Race Director)
A race with no finish. For most people, even seasoned runners, the thought is mind-numbing. “I knew I could win,” said Rugged Runner, Maggie Guterl.
Maggie was the first woman to win Big’s Backyard Ultra, the World Championship of Backyard Ultras, running for 60 hours and a total of 250 miles. The race is “last man standing” format (or “last person standing”, as Maggie has proved). Runners must complete a 4.166667 mile loop in an hour or less until only one runner remains – the winner. It’s a mental game. There are no divisions based on age or gender, and speed is not a factor, which is what first drew Maggie to the race.
Maggie, 39, currently resides in Durango, CO, but grew up in Pennsylvania. “I ran around the neighborhood with all the other kids. I liked to run fast but not long. A mile seemed like a long way. My first race that I can remember was the Brian’s Run 1 Mile Fun Run. I don’t remember what year it was. I was maybe 9. My dad was always a runner and would go on long runs. I always wanted to go with him.” As Maggie grew older, she continued to dabble in running but nothing serious, claiming to be much more focused on her social life and party career.
In 2007, she ran the Broad Street 10 Miler in Philadelphia and was hooked. “Eventually, I found myself at the start line of the 2009 Philadelphia Marathon with a Boston Qualifier goal of 3:30 in mind. I pulled it off. At mile 17, I figured I was ‘one and done.’ Eighty ultras and marathons later, I still find that thought mildly amusing.” In 2011, she ran her first ultra – a 24HR race, but it was not until 2013 that she really started to find herself in the sport.
In 2014, she met Michele Yates (2013 ultra runner of the year) during Rocky Raccoon 100 in Huntsville, Texas. According to Michele, “I was lapping her. It wasn’t pretty. I was mumbling to her that I was really dizzy and going to pass out. She wouldn’t even hear it. She continued to encourage me all the way to the aid station.” Maggie said, "we just clicked right away. Afterwards, I contacted her about her coaching. I figured I would try it for a year and see where I could improve.” Maggie went on to confess, “I wish I had the idea to get a coach when I first started. It took me 3 years of ultras before I realized coaches are not just for elites. I may have never realized my potential without the right training.”
In 2018, Maggie made her first appearance at Big’s. She ran for 44 hours and a total of 183 miles before dropping. “The 2018 Big’s thing stung. I thought I was stronger and smarter than that. I thought that being able to adapt and overcome on the fly was my thing in races. That race humbled me and at the same time was the most fun of any race I have ever ran. I was inspired by the five runners who went way farther than me. I knew I could do better,” she explained.
This year, Maggie’s training for Big’s Backyard Ultra didn't look any different than training for a 100 mile race. “I added in a few longer races, like a tough mountain 38 miler (that took almost 11 hours), and I completed a 61 mile training run (15 hours) around Durango (I had fun planning and running this route around my new home). I still did the speed workouts Michele gave me (even though Big’s doesn't require a ton of speed). Michele is a big advocate of strength workouts, and I didn't cheat on that.” Maggie works full time for Tailwind Nutrition and travels a lot for work – many of her weekends are spent working long events where she stands all day. She often runs twice a day to get in the volume. “Getting runs in before or after long work days was brutal but valuable. My legs never felt tired the entire 3.5 days of Big’s. I could never have survived this race on my old ‘Maggie training plan.’”
When asked how she kept her focus throughout her training and during the race, Maggie said, “I knew I could win. I kept this in mind in training until I was totally consumed by it. I knew it was truth. That truth never wavered and I kept that single minded focus the entire race.”
Now, Maggie is enjoying a bit of recovery. “I took two weeks off and basically did nothing. I am biking (MTB and Gravel), lifting/circuits at The Vault (our awesome gym in Durango) as well as a mix of ‘riking’ and hiking.” She’s still basking in the glow of her achievement. “My parents, brother, friends and co-workers were all so excited. My mom likes to brag to everyone she meets about how far I ran at Big’s. It's very cute. But I am also glad I am not there in person when she does because that would be very embarrassing. At work everyone is some kind of athlete there. They are very understanding in terms of training. My boyfriend thinks it's dumb, but secretly, I think he is proud of me,” she joked.
Her next big goal is to run the Barkley Marathons for the third year in a row, this year having earned an automatic entry from winning Big’s.
For aspiring ultra runners, or even beginner runners, Maggie offers this advice, “choose the race that speaks to you the most, even if people tell you that it is ‘too big a race to start with or too far a distance for your experience level.’ Don't let failure be a deterrent. But after you sign up, you should learn everything you can from every runner you meet. I have learned from runners of all abilities and speeds. And if there is one thing Coach Michele has taught me, it’s to find the highest goal and then aim higher. ”