When Simon Gutierrez considers his running career he doesn't think of his three wins in the Pikes Peak Ascent, or the seven times he ran as a member of the USA World Mountain Running Championship team. It's not about his three world championships as a masters mountain runner.
Gutierrez remembers the people who contributed to his success. And he talks about having fun and enjoying the experience.
"I think I'm pretty relaxed about running," he said. "I'm dedicated to it, but not to where I worry about it all the time. If I have a bad race, I don't let it affect me. I just move on to the next one. You know I just try to have a lot of fun with it."
With that kind of attitude, he's sure to be smiling on April 9 when he is inducted into the Colorado Running Hall of Fame. He joins two other Pikes Peak champions, Anita Ortiz and Rick Trujillo, and road racers Priscilla Welch and Constantina Diţă, in the 2014 hall of fame class.
Gutierrez, 47, embraces the laid-back attitude of a mountain runner. He was an instant hit in the Colorado Springs running community when he moved here from Alamosa in 2011. A physical therapist and member of Team Colorado, Gutierrez can usually be found galloping along Monument Creek, running the foothills trails, or taking his place on the starting line in a local race.
We sat down with Gutierrez and turned on the tape recorder. This is what he had to say.
So you're being inducted into the Colorado Running Hall of Fame.
Incredible. It's something I didn't see coming. Ever since I was a kid I remember thinking of Colorado as fantastic, a place that has the best runners, the Frank Shorters and whatnot. And I moved to Colorado to run in the mountains, and here I am 10 years later ... and yeah, it's pretty incredible.
You moved here and stayed.
Yeah, I stayed in Colorado. Liked it. Just loved going to the mountains and just knew ... I spent a lot of time in Alamosa, and it was a good period in my life, but I knew there was something better out there for me. I don't think I've ever been happier in my life than living in Colorado Springs because it just has everything.
When did you fall in love with running?
A long time ago, fifth, sixth grade (in Albuqurque.) You know, we'd play games and stuff. My coach back then, my P.E. coach ran an age-group track and field team. They invited me out and I kind of liked it. Spent a couple of years off and on running a little cross country. By the time I was a freshman in high school I had run into a very influential guy, Mike Mittelstaedt, who ended up being my mentor and coach. He pretty much took me under his wing, showed me what running was about, taught me how to train. I still use a lot of his ideas when I try to train.
Somewhere along the line you had "the race" or "the moment" when you knew running
was going to stick for you.
I think probably like my freshman year in high school when I didn't achieve something I wanted, and I realized that you have to put in a lot more work and be very consistent. You know I missed making it to state as a freshman by like half a second. And I was surprised by how disappointed I was. And I remember my coach telling me what I had to do to get better. I went from missing the state meet to getting third as a sophomore. And I saw that if you put time into it you'll improve and get better. And I've pretty much done that every day since.
Is there a race that stands out for you, one you'll always remember?
I think that it has gone through stages. I've always liked cross country because things kind of even out and I can beat guys in cross country that I can't on the track. When I made the U.S. Senior Cross Country Team in 1989 it was a huge turning point because I wasn't running well in college. I was trying to decide, am I going to keep running or just bag it? And to go from being like 90th in NCAA's, and a year later making a nation team ... that kind of turned things around.
Then you go through all of these years, like the 90s, of trying to make money on the road, you're competing and there is a lot of pressure. There was a point where I realized I need to get into a good occupation, because running wasn't going to do it. And about that time, 2000 or 2001, I realized that I still loved running and I wanted to do it for fun the rest of my life, maybe not take it so seriously.
I think the mountain running is what brought me back. Before, I was comparing times and trying to beat people and it was just all this stress. I just discovered this love for running that I knew I had but was getting away from me.
When did you know that mountain running was the right fit?
I went to Mt. Washington way back in the late 90s and did OK. And then I went back in 2002 and it was a qualifier for the U.S. World Mountain Running Team. I figured I'd give it a shot. Well, they shortened the course - for the first time ever - because of weather, and I figured we were done for because the Kenyans were running that day. I thought I'd just do my best, and I ended up winning the race, beat the Kenyans and made the U.S. Team. I knew then, this is what I want to do from now on. That was 12 years ago. There have been a lot of races and I still enjoy it every day, and I still have high expectations.
How do you stay in love with running?
I just love it. I don't know. I think I'm pretty relaxed about running. I'm dedicated to it, but not to where I worry about it all the time. If I have a bad race, I don't let it affect me. I just move onto the next one. You know I just try to have a lot of fun with it. Living in Colorado Springs has enhanced that even more. I've never had so many friends that run and that we do things to together with in all of my life.
You're a three-time Pikes Peak Ascent champion. What do those wins mean to you?
The first one was cool because I had no expectations. I wanted to do well, but I had never been above 12,000 feet. It was the easiest of all. I finished in 2:13 and I wasn't even tired. Of course, back then I thought I can go 2:01 (Matt Carpenter's race record is 2:01:06).
The second one I was coming off an injury year, I was getting fitter every year. I had just made the U.S. team, so I came to Pikes Peak and just kind of ran through the race and ended up winning and that felt really good.
And then in 2008, I really wanted to win that year. It's memorable because that's the year we had the snow storm. That one I worked for.
There are a lot of times in your career, you win a race and you're like "cool, I can't wait to win next year." But I was 42 then, and you get the reflection of like, "wow, this may be the last time I can win." So it's pretty special to have ran 2:18 on such a horrible day.
I had a surgical procedure in February 2010, which should have been pretty simple. But there were a lot of issues during surgery that weren't pleasant and I ended up having to see three different specialists afterward. Two of them said you won't run again. One of them said you have necrosis in the knee and it's not about running, you may lose your knee. That was a dark year.
I went from March of 2010 to probably August, not knowing what my knee was going to do. I wasn't even allowed to walk around the block. I had to work while sitting on a stool, or stand up on my right leg. They just wanted me off of it. I was up in Vail getting treatments and doing MRI's.
And finally in June I went to Mt. Washington and watched the race, and I still wasn't doing anything. I could bike, but only at level easy. And we did an MRI, and the guy tells me it's not healing. Then six weeks later we went back again, and he was like, "wow, 95 percent healed." That was August, 2010, and they said I could start biking up hills and go for walks. That was probably the hardest thing I ever had to deal with.
What was the final diagnosis?
It was necrosis of the medial femoral condyle (a part of the lower femur that forms the knee). With those kinds of things, either the bone is going to die, or it's going to heal. And the message was you can't do any impact on this knee because that will retard the healing process. I know personally what happened because I chose an epidural during the operation because I'm a PT and I wanted to experience the surgery. As crazy as that is.
But when I'm lying there I just notice things aren't right, and I can hear the doctor saying they didn't have the right drill bit. When you do an arthroscopic surgery, you're going in and doing things and they didn't have a drill bit that was small enough for my knee, so they kept stretching it. They kept banging on the cartilage and banging on the bone when they're trying to clean up the meniscus. It was crazy. It was a nightmare really.
So the comeback begins, but you've lost your conditioning.
Well you know, all the other 30 years that I had been running, all of that base I'd built up, was still mostly there. I bought a little cruiser bike with a soft seat and I rode up and down the rive roads in Alamosa. I knew I was at least going to be able to jog again. I didn't know what I was going to do competitive wise.
At the end of 2010, I met the Elliptico people and got that bike, and then started walking and jogging pathetically slow. I think my first mile back was 15 minutes. I went to the Elliptigo World Championships on a whim because they had given me a bike around the first of November and the race was late November. I basically went there on one leg, and then I went the last couple of years and finished fourth or fifth. It's a tough race. So that kind of helped me.
I didn't know if I could compete again. I though if I could just run again, at that point I'd be happy. And one thing leads to another and before I knew it I was going to Mt. Washington, and I wasn't much worse than I was two years before. Then I try some trail running and my knee is fine, and I start running up the peak and I end up third (in the 2011 Pikes Peak Ascent) in 2:18, which I would have never guessed.
Is there something in running that you still need to do?
I still think I can run faster in most of my races, the uphill races. My best time at Mt. Washington (1:00:54) was done under not great conditions. I ran 61:30 for the masters' record in 2008. Then I ran 62:20 two years ago. I think I can still run 2:12 or 2:13 at Pikes Peak. My training says I can, because I haven't really slowed down. I'm just taking one year at a time, really.
Mountain running is friendly to older runners.
Yeah, you have a huge aerobic base. You can get a 20 year old out there and tell him he needs to do six weeks of 100 miles a week and he might be able to handle it, or he might not. I've been doing 90 to 100 for 25 years, it's hard to replace. So you have that huge aerobic base. But put me on the track (with the 20 year old) and I'm not going to be able to do it.
The speed and the explosive stuff is what we lose. But the aerobic part and your vO2 max and all that you can maintain by ... you know, I do a lot of cross training now which I think helps. Right now I do NordicTrack, but I'll be doing the Elliptigo when the time changes. That keeps you from getting so beat up. I can go from an hour and a half a day to two hours a day without beating my body up.
And experience has a lot to do with it. In some races, you may not be as fit, but if you have the experience, you know what to do the last week or two before a race, where the younger guys are guessing, maybe trying new workouts. I understand I may only have two weeks and this is all
I can do. You learn a little as you get older.
What do you tell people who are just getting into running?
My advice is to figure out a way to enjoy it for what it is.The PR's and winning races comes and goes with the years. Do it because it's fun, it's healthy, the atmosphere, you make a lot of friends. That's the aspect, I think, to me that is appealing. It's getting out and going running while it's snowing ... what an experience. It's not about getting ready for tomorrow's race.
What are your favorite places to run?
I'm pretty simple. Recover runs, I'm up and down Monument Valley Park. And I love
Rampart Range Road ... it was a favorite until it got closed down. Cheyenne Cañon is one of my favorites. I just go up the road. It's good training for Mt. Washington. I really enjoy running up The Chutes, Section 16. And once Pikes Peak training starts, I think we started last year in June, it takes a lot of time - there goes your whole weekend - but I love running up there, doing Elk Park, or running up on top.
And we run on the Santa Fe Trail (from Woodmen Rd.), which is a nice relaxing long run. There are just so many places to run here. I also need to be careful because I tend to do too much. It's like, do another interval session, do more hill work, cause it's so easy. The possibilities are endless. And there are a lot more trails that I need to discover.
Any other mentors who contributed to your running?
My parents, Oma and Florencio. Growing up, when we'd come home from a race, it wasn't about who'd you beat or how you did. It was more about how much fun did you have? Well, I got third. Yeah, but did you have fun? Well, yeah, I did have fun. Eventually, it was fun. It was like, yeah, I got muddy, and I tripped and fell.
So at this point in my career it's fun because I'm still running well and my big goal is to always be able to run. One of my inspirations, my mom, she's 76, and she still gets up for a 5K every year. She hadn't broken 30 minutes the last two years, so she was pretty irate. So she applied herself and went 29:20 this last year. I remember I went to pace her, and I was really sore from doing a race here in the Springs, and I was running with her, and I was like, "this is fast." I don't know if I can do that in 30 years. It's inspiring to me because I hope that I can continue to enjoy running as I age.
I've met a lot of influential people, trained with a lot of athletes, and it has been one big, fun experience. And it doesn't stop.
What a fantastic interview with a fantastic person & runner. Really enjoyed this...thanks Tim & Simon