Catching Up With Maggie Guterl

Last week, Maggie Guterl won the 2021 Cocodona 250 Mile in Arizona in 85 hours, 30 minutes, and 38 seconds. In this interview, Maggie talks about why she chose to race Cocodona, some of the challenges she faced especially with the heat and running out of water in one section of the course, how the days blended together, and how she’s feeling after such an effort.

Catching Up With Maggie Gutterl Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Maggie Guterl. It’s a couple of days after the 2021 Cocodona 257 Mile race. That’s just a lot for me to even say. Congratulations, Maggie.

Maggie Guterl: Thanks, Meghan. It feels like a week, but also just one day that I’ve been done.

iRunFar: Okay. For me as a spectator of last week, it felt like a week. Take us back to this time last Monday [when the race had just started].

Guterl: It all blends together. When you don’t sleep, it just feels like one long day. But I remember at the Walnut Canyon aid station with 20 miles to go, the [emergency medical technician] put a pulse oximeter on your [finger]… to just check everyone I think. And they ask what day it is. My crew said, “We don’t even know what day it is. That’s not a fair question.”

iRunFar: Literally, nobody does.

Guterl: No, it just all blends together.

iRunFar: That’s amazing. “Is she having heat exhaustion or is she just on day three of an ultramarathon with no sleep?”

Guterl: Yeah. He switched the question up to who is the President.

iRunFar: Did you nail that one?

Guterl: I said not [Donald] Trump and he said that’s fine.

iRunFar: Amazing. Okay. I want to backtrack to a teensy bit before the race. You’ve been on a roll with your racing, I don’t know, since COVID-19 started to wane, you ran Big’s Backyard last fall. Then you went to the Barkley Marathons. And now this. What’s your synthesis of the last six or eight months of your running?

Guterl: I got to participate in Big’s and it was a different experience, but as you know, I was struggling with a sacroiliac-joint thing and asthma all in 2020. It was just nice to race and my legs didn’t hold up, but it was still fun. I forget how far I made it, but not as far as I wanted. I felt like Barkley was the first time I was like, “I feel like I’m back.” I felt good even though we didn’t make it as far as I would’ve liked to. That’s the nature of Barkley.

I did the best I could physically to be ready. Not that Cocodona was a back-up plan, but it was in my mind as, “Barkley’s where I’m putting all my eggs, but there’s a big chance that you won’t get to fulfill the potential you put into it.” It’s funny. I was joking that the Wave 1 of Cocodona is like the Barkley reject wave. You had Andy Pearson and Pete Mortimer and Jamil [Coury] and Jeff Garmire and all these people lined up at Barkley and we’re like, “All right, here we go.”

iRunFar: That’s amazing. Did you all talk at the finish line of Barkley? “See you in a month and a half in Arizona.”

Guterl: Actually I didn’t really even see Jeff ever because he was still out there. I never got to talk to him. I kind of talked to Pete. We didn’t really get to chat about it, but it was fun. I think everyone was just antsy to put their training to use.

iRunFar: Yeah, especially post-COVID-19 and then to have Barkley cut short for almost everybody. I bet the antsy-ness factor was pretty significant.

Guterl: Yeah. It was just cool to be out there and see people you haven’t seen in a while. It felt like a safe setting and outdoors is totally fine supposedly. It was a pretty spread-out race too. Everyone’s an hour apart so the aid stations were never that crowded. It was just a chill experience just to be out there.

iRunFar: Now, I heard you say “Co-co-DOH-na” a couple of times. That’s the correct pronunciation of it?

Guterl: I think so. I think it’s Coconino County and Sedona mixed together. Coconino and Sedona.

iRunFar: Got it, right on. I feel like you’re getting good at these very long efforts. In my mind, 250 miles is this very intangible, far-out-there thing, but you’ve done it now multiple times.

Guterl: This is my second time going over 250. Well, I did 250 at Big’s the one year, which is totally different. People were like, “Oh, you have experience.” I’m like, this is choose your own adventure all in the middle, whereas Big’s is also different. People ask you to compare them and I can’t, but you fall into a rhythm every hour at Big’s. You can’t have a bad hour at Big’s whereas I definitely had bad hours at Cocodona, but you figure it out. I think this is all still new to me. I don’t know that I’m good at it.

I have Courtney [Dauwalter] to see what she does. She barely slept for 20 minutes [at the Moab 240 Mile]. I was trying to do that as long as possible and before the second night I was like, “I have to lay down.” I took a 20-minute nap, which we added on 10 minutes to and then I was good to go the whole night. I think it also goes race to race. I think you just have to play it by ear and not try to do something else someone did, especially not something Courtney did. I don’t think a lot of people can run 240 miles on 20 minutes of sleep.

iRunFar: She’s an alternate form of human being.

Guterl: She was also done 30 hours before I was.

iRunFar: A different course.

Guterl: Yeah. [My pacer] Zach Bitter was like, “I think you have to take everything [as it comes]. Every race is an individual race.” The heat just destroys people. That part going into Jerome… I was with [my pacer] Kyle [Curtin] and then I picked up Nicole Bitter as a pacer and the heat just bakes you. It was pretty runnable, but you’re in this cow pasture being beat down in the sun. Then you do the big climb up Mingus Mountain and you just underestimate how much of a toll it takes on you.

iRunFar: What mile of the race was this, Jerome to Mingus?

Guterl: It was around 100 miles. Kyle took me from mile 74 to 100, and then Nicole took me 100 to Jerome, which is 120-something.

iRunFar: In the heat of the second day?

Guterl: Yeah.

iRunFar: Then what were the nights like? It seemed like people were pretty bundled up. Was it cold?

Guterl: The first few nights were not. The very first night, you’re at 7,400 feet, so it is cold. I didn’t bring a jacket because I’m dumb. I had a wet cotton shirt on and I was shaking. Everyone at the aid station is huddling in blankets, getting ready to try to get out of there. Once you got down lower and I changed, it was fine. The first two nights, we were in t-shirts. It was totally fine, but yeah, once you get up onto the Coconino Plateau that third night, I did leave the aid station with my new pacer, Brian Tinder, wearing a puffy coat. That was pretty cold.

iRunFar: Nutrition and hydration are always really tricky things for long outings. I think it’s tricky for 100 miles. In my mind it has to be ultra tricky for 250 miles. Fortunately you work for a sports-nutrition company, Tailwind. Can you talk a little bit about how you managed your food and drink?

Guterl: Yeah, I think I made very few mistakes, but I did run out of water in that 20-mile section early on in the race.

iRunFar: Did everybody?

Guterl: Yeah. Jamil even mentioned that he might bring four liters and I was like, “That’s ridiculous. That’s so heavy.” I did the three liters. I did all Tailwind because I’m like, “I’m only going to drink my calories. It’s so hot, I’m not trying to digest anything.” I think that was correct, but I ran out of water and for two-and-a-half hours, I had nothing. That means no calories. I did have those Endurance Tap maple-syrup-gel things. They were at least getting calories in without having to have water. It just feels like it absorbs in your mouth, but that was it. By the time I got to that aid station [after that 20-mile stretch], I was so depleted. I drank tons of water.

Then four miles later, you see your crew at Crown King, which is 37 miles in, so I drank more water. The problem with that is, now my electrolytes were totally off. I was just chugging water. I should have gotten some of S!Caps or something. I started getting nauseous on that part going up. I was on the road dry heaving and I was just trying to adjust and get electrolytes in and avoid drinking more water, even though I was really thirsty. It took that day until it got cold when I finally started to feel better. That was my main mistake. I guess I could just carry more water next time.

I was going to do more of a 50-50 mix of Tailwind and then other calories. I ended up doing mostly Tailwind and [Tailwind] Rebuild for the first two-and-a-half days or more. Kyle Curtin was like, “I can’t believe you’re surviving on Tailwind and Rebuild.” I was like, “It’s enough calories.” I just couldn’t do anything else.

iRunFar: You didn’t feel hungry or anything?

Guterl: No. Even when I was done, I didn’t feel hungry. The most I ate was… There was an egg burrito once I got toward Flagstaff. I ate that once, but I lost my taste buds. It sounds like I have COVID-19 but I’m drinking all that sugar and stuff. I couldn’t taste anything anymore.

iRunFar: Didn’t matter what flavor things were.

Guterl: No, it didn’t. I was just getting it down and it worked.

iRunFar: “Is it COVID-19 or is it a three-and-a-half-day ultramarathon?”

Guterl: Yeah. It’s a similar after effect.

iRunFar: As evidenced by your atmospheric voice right now.

Guterl: Yeah, a cough. I had a cough. I lost my voice. I was tired. I lost my taste buds.

iRunFar: What was it like to run something that hadn’t been run before? The race organization had great information on what you were going to encounter, but there were no previous times to go by. What was it like to just forge out?

Guterl: That was the fun part! Talking to Jamil, I knew those times that they had the race leaders showing up at were impossible. No one was going to run that one section in four-and-a-half hours, that super-hot, steep section. It just wasn’t going to happen. Michael Versteeg finished the race 12 hours after they predicted and he’s a good runner. Obviously he’s done the Arizona Trail. I think he’s pretty stellar. It was pretty cool to see. I love that they were like, “Oh my God, this is so much harder than we thought.” They had to adjust cutoff times.

Anyone that stayed out there and persevered, I think that’s pretty amazing when you’re running much longer than you thought you were ever going to run. I was thinking, “Max, this is going to be 70-ish hours, and I’m running for 85, which is cool. I really got that third night in and you hit the fourth day. It’s a great experience for if I want to get to 100 hours at Barkley. I’m kind of partway there.

iRunFar: What percent of fun versus not fun did you have?

Guterl: It was genuinely fun. I knew it was going to be hard. Just trying to stay awake was frustrating because I felt like I could have run faster, but I was just so tired. It’s interesting. You just start stumbling. Kevin [Schmidt] was pacing me, and I would run, and then I would just zone out and be looking at things, and I’d be walking. He’s like, “Hey,” and I’m like, “You can tell me that I should run. If you see me doing this, say, ‘Shuffle.'” He would turn around and be like, “Shuffle,” and I’d start running again. I think that was the most tired and out of it I was. I was forgetting what I was supposed to be doing.

iRunFar: One of your crew members, Kyle Curtin, seemed to really enjoy taking photos of your dirt naps on the trail. You had a couple of those?

Guterl: Yeah. I had a lot of little two-minute naps with him. Even the first night I was getting really tired. I think we went through… Is it Prescott, maybe? I forget the first town we went through. Anyway, I slept in people’s yards and on the side of the road.

iRunFar: “Just going to stop in for a minute.”

Guterl: Yeah, and those helped until the second night, when I think finally I just needed that 20-minute recharge in order for those naps to work. Otherwise they’re useless. I learned that if the little, short nap stops working, you’ve got to stop and do a longer one.

iRunFar: I guess it was mild enough that you could lay down for a little while and not be cold?

Guterl: Yeah. I think we had windbreakers on and hoods up, but it wasn’t too bad.

iRunFar: Did you have any really crazy experiences, like hallucinations, animals, practical jokes?

Guterl: Yeah, Courtney had a lot of jokes and so did Kyle. I didn’t really see anything crazy. With Kevin heading to the Turkey Butte aid station, it was sunset and I saw a lot of man-made objects in the trees that I wasn’t sure what they were. People in hard hats with masks, like a COVID-19 mask, but just for a second.

I did see five snakes. I posted an Instagram story today of all the different kinds. Saw a rattlesnake when we left Jerome. I think that was the only poisonous one we saw. Then we saw pronghorn in the cattle pasture, which is pretty cool. Kyle has a cool video of that, which I guess is pretty rare to see this far south. You see them in Wyoming, but that was cool.

iRunFar: They’re tolerant of the heat pretty well, I guess.

Guterl: I guess. I smelled a couple of skunks, but I never saw them. I think Courtney saw one with the tail up, running. I was like, “Maybe some runners would smell better after that.”

iRunFar: It’s true, break the eau de third day of running with the eau de skunk. It’s a couple days after now. We delayed this interview a little bit because your voice was gone, but now it’s back. How otherwise are you feeling?

Guterl: I was never really sore. That’s surprising, but my legs are just super tired. I talked to Jamil too. He said the same thing. If he stands for a long time, he’s just tired. I went to the store yesterday with [my boyfriend] Ryan and we got lunch and I was like, “Take me home.”

iRunFar: “I’ve been on my feet too long.”

Guterl: The worst part was just the cough and my voice. Just kind of miserable. Then my lips, they just hurt. I don’t know if they were sunburned or…

iRunFar: Sugar.

Guterl: Sugar and salt and sun and dust. Dehydration.

iRunFar: Your name is on the entry list for High Lonesome 100 Mile later this summer. That’s your next plan is to recover for this and then start doing mountain stuff?

Guterl: Yeah. I think during the week I’ll work on speed and then do mountain training with you on the weekend. You’re supposed to be my pacer if you have legs left after the Hardrock 100.

iRunFar: I am looking forward to chasing you around the Sawatch Mountains [for High Lonesome.]

Guterl: Yeah. It’ll be fun. I’m just training for pacing Courtney at Hardrock.

iRunFar: What will be harder, running your own 100 miler or pacing Courtney at Hardrock?

Guterl: Pacing Courtney. I’m scared.

iRunFar: You have a little bit of time to kick up your legs before you start training for that. Congratulations on your win last week and just making 250 miles look far too easy.

Guterl: Oh, I don’t know about that.

iRunFar: Thanks Maggie. Congratulations!

Meghan Hicks

is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.