You would never know it due to her humble demeanor but Coach Gutierrez is one of the all-time running greats. A five-time Olympic Trials qualifier, her list of accomplishments is impressive. She was a 10-time state champion in high school, an All-American at the University of Oregon, and competed in the 2001 World Championships for the marathon. She is still the high school Oregon State Meet record holder for 1500 meters and even was named a “Legend of Eugene” for the eleventh mile at the Eugene Marathon. Her amazing career is now stretching toward a fourth decade as she has remained an active and competitive masters runner and has been an intricate part of the Valley Christian coaching staff since her arrival.
The following is an original interview from B-Fit Newsletter in Fall of 2000.
To what do you attribute your longevity as a competitive runner?
I have 10 brothers and sisters, and we’ve always been involved with running and all kind of sports. It’s always been a part of my life. I love competition. I love seeing what develops. It is a wonderful progression. It’s just the positive experiences that I’ve had, that I desire to continue.
Out of your 23 years of running, do you have a favorite memory or race?
I would have to go back to that race [in 1982] in Oregon where I ran 9:10 in the 3000. The day before, my older sister came to visit and I gave her my bed, so I slept on the floor. I got up the next morning feeling like my back was not quite right and wondering how I’d do in the race. But it just all came together. It was so easy. It was one of those few instances that you have when it just feels easy. That was just a wonderful thrill to be running that fast, especially as a freshman.
What happened in college?
I had bursitis in the hip and knee, and I had problems with the IT band. I think a lot of it was overtraining. At Oregon, at that time, there were some great runners. I felt pressure to perform at a high level. When you’re trying to reach your highest level, you get caught up in ‘more is better.’ I started to feel the effects by having injuries.
What kept you coming back?
I truly love to run. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences through running. Even through the bad; even through the injuries. Those were some hard times, but they were also great learning experiences. I feel blessed to have gone through that. I feel like I’m a better runner, a better person through it all.
How were the injuries a blessing?
I believe that my decision-making and training now is better. I try to listen to my body more. I don’t try to get into a routine and just go, go, go. If I need to take a day off, I’ll take the day off. That’s different for me. I used to just get into that routine, and I’d go whether I was tired or not. This time around, I’m getting a sense of my body and responding to it.
What other injuries have you faced?
In ’93, I started having some problems with the para formus ligament, deep down in the hamstring. It was just some achiness, so I continued to race and train, but my times were 2-3 minutes slower. I was getting frustrated. I was just off and on from ’93 to ’95, racing here and there, training here and there.
But you still ran the Trials in ‘96?
In 1996, I ended up doing the Olympic Trials in the marathon while still having this problem, while still having the injury. After the Trials in 1996, I decided, ‘I need to take a break. This is just too much. If I’m ever going to do anything with running, I just need to get away.’ So right after the Olympic Trials in 1996, I took time off. I stopped training at the high level. I was just running 5 miles a day and just doing it for health reasons.
How long did this last?
2 years. It was a good thing. I’m so grateful that I did that, because I realized that running isn’t my life. I can have fun and enjoy life without running. I didn’t know that I could do that. [Running] has been such a large part of my life for so many years, that I didn’t think I could come to a point where I could give it up and be OK. Now, I know that when it comes time to give it up and to move on, I can do it.
How did you make this transition?
During those two years, it was difficult. I think it’s like an addiction. As long as you’re in that environment, you have a tendency to keep pushing. So, I no longer went to San Antonio Park and did training runs; I no longer went to the track. I was basically running the 5 miles at a new park, at a new place. That was good therapy for me. It was important to get myself completely out of that environment so that I could just see a different light, see a different way of living that I hadn’t been used to before.
How was your life different?
I was having a lot of fun doing things for other people. The running and the training takes so much time, and the focus is on self. I had an opportunity during those two years to focus on other people. That was just a wonderful, wonderful experience and joy.
What got you back into running?
I had come to a point where if I needed to give it up, then I was willing to do that. I had such peace in my heart that things were okay whether I had running in my life or whether I didn’t. I just prayed about it and had other people pray about it. I basically said, ‘Lord, if this is Your will, if You want me back in running, then I’m there. If it’s not Your will for me to be in running, shut the doors.’ Probably a month later, I just sensed that I needed to be back out there. For different reasons. Not so much for myself, but this time for helping others. There’s so much knowledge and experience that you can share with others that can help them in some way. That’s the bigger picture.
This was a major change?
Oh yes. Before, I was focused on myself. I didn’t talk to people. It was ‘isolate myself and get focused and get prepared.’ Now I try to be more open. If it’s just a ‘hi’, if it’s just a smile, if it’s just a pat on the back, if it’s just sharing an experience or knowledge about running– if it motivates and encourages other people– then I feel like it’s a good thing.
How is your outlook different?
This time around, after my injuries, running isn’t everything. Running is not more important than my family. If something comes up with my family, I’ll drop everything with running and do whatever I need to do for family. God is number one in my life. My faith in God, my trust in God, that’s my desire. To go out and do what I do– the running, the training, the teaching– to help others. That’s my focus now.
Who’s coaching you?
Jeff Johnson (of the Farm Team) did the workouts for the [Olympic] Trials; I’ve felt like I have benefited tremendously from it. I believe in his program. The women on the Farm Team have also helped me tremendously. I just really feel blessed to be there and have the opportunity to train with some very talented women
How did you train for the Trials?
I was putting in 90-100 mile weeks every week. I was weight-lifting, swimming 2-3 times a week, and doing spin-bike 2-3 times a week. I felt that I got so strong doing that. At 20 miles [into a marathon], when things feel like they’re shutting down, and the legs are getting tired and fatigued, I can still hold on because of the strength that I have in my legs. A big part of this is the cross-training.
Tell us about the  Olympic Trials.
I felt confident more than ever before in any other Trials. I felt like I had a good chance of making the team. I went for it. And I was 16th place.
I was frustrated and disappointed at the time. But now that it’s over and I can reflect and look back, I’m just very thankful. I’ve had my struggles with running, and just to be healthy and strong and to go into that race feeling like I was in the best shape of my life– what more could I ask? It didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, but that’s the challenge of the marathon. I’ll just try again. I’m tired of hearing people say, ‘You’re getting up there; you’re getting older.’ As long as I’m healthy and having fun and the desire is there, I’m going to continue to pursue it.
So 2004 is on the agenda? [Editors note: The original interview was done in 2000, Rosa has since competed in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Trials]
Definitely. I feel like I haven’t given the marathon the chance to see what I could really do. So I’m going to focus more. This last year I’ve run marathons every 3-4 months. I did Twin Cities in the fall [2:41], the Trials [in February], and I’m going to do Grandma’s next month. I’m just going to try to do more and get more experience. With more experience, I will know what to do when something comes up– when this is hurting or this is not quite right– and I’ll be able to make the adjustments that I need to make.
What’s your training like now?
For this marathon, I’m only running once a day. I’m trying to get the mileage on my interval days. Twice a week I do the intervals. I’m trying to do a long warm-up and a long cool-down; basically, getting anywhere from 18-20 miles on those interval days. I feel like this is going to better prepare me for the marathon. When you get out 20 miles for the marathon and you’re tired and fatigued, that’s the same feeling I get when doing a hard workout and then going out for another hour to run.
How do you balance it all, with training and working full-time?
It’s very difficult. During the intense times when I’m focused on training and racing, it’s pretty much teaching and training and going to church, and that’s about it. Sometimes I do get really, really tired; I get exhausted working with kids. So I make adjustments along the way. I think that that’s where the change has been; normally I would just keep going, going, going. This time around, I’m really sensing my body.
Have you made many sacrifices?
Yes, I think that in the beginning I sacrificed a lot. In the past, I didn’t do a lot of things with my family because I felt like it would affect my training and racing and performance. Also, there are some young people that I could have helped through coaching that I didn’t because of running. I’ve spent a lot of time with training.
Do you regret that at all?
No, I don’t, because this is the time of life, right now, when I’m focusing on that. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to do it the rest of my life. When I was taking time away from running, I was able to help others and that was a wonderful experience; I’m not doing that as much because of the commitment that running is taking even now. But I believe that there is a time and a place that is for running and a time and place for those other things. Right now, I just sense that this is the time [for running].
What advice do you want to share young women out there?
To listen to your body. If you’re feeling tired, to take a day off. To not get caught up in the miles, in a routine and schedule. To be flexible with training. You’re the only one who really knows deep down what is right and what is wrong; listen to that.
Sometimes, when you’re training and racing and doing everything, it seems like you have to do it [all] on your own. But there are people out there who can help you. The Runner’s Factory, for instance; they help me with shoes and clothing and things. If you look for it and you sell yourself, there are opportunities out there. I think too, just to keep your dreams alive with running. To never give up, to continue to pursue it as long as you’re having fun and as long as that desire is there. Not only will you benefit, but you will allow others to benefit from it as well through sharing and through your experiences. Sometimes it’s just your presence that blesses others.
What’s the future looking like?
I’m looking and seeing good things. I’m looking to run better times. I know that in the Trials I was in the best shape of my life. I’m excited because I don’t know what to expect. If you had asked me a couple years ago: ‘Where are you going to be in two years?’ I would have said, ‘Well, maybe running, but I don’t know how seriously.’ If you would have said: ‘Do you think you’ll run the Trials in 2000?’ I couldn’t have given you an answer. If you had asked me: ‘Do you think you’ll be in the best shape of your life?’ I would have said ‘I don’t think so.’ And yet it all happened. I’m here. I would encourage you, if you love running and desire to continue, never give up. Your days ahead may be your best. Keep the faith.