On November 1, Gunhild Swanson approached the starting line of her latest 100-mile ultramarathon. To date, she had completed five 100-mile races, but could she do it again at age 70?
Although she possesses the endurance of an arctic wolf, Swanson’s fastest attribute is her ability to make friends. She’s spry and energetic with a warm smile and a never-give-up attitude. She keeps her hair fairly short, and favors black or white running clothes. Besides running, her other hobbies include bragging about her grandson, Turlan Morlan.
The Javelina Jundred 100-mile course is comprised of six full loops on the 15.3-mile Pemberton Trail and a half loop on the Pemberton and Tonto Tank Trails near Glendale, Arizona. The race features rolling singletrack through the Sonoran Desert. Runners pass giant saguaro cactus, granite boulders and dry wash beds. All things considered, the race includes multiple checkpoints and exceeds 6,000 feet of elevation gain.
“The best moments were when we heard the coyotes sing and yip to each other off in the distance,” says Swanson. “And we saw a giant tarantula right on the trail. Of course we had to stop and admire it. It really is amazing to be out there in the desert at night.”
Ultimately, Swanson finished 187th out of 290 finishers. The weather was ideal since it never crested over 80 degrees, and it never dropped below the mid-50s at night. She completed the 100-mile course in 27 hours and 24 minutes. At age 70, she is possibly the oldest, active female trail runner to complete 100 miles and, most important, she qualified for the prestigious Western States Ultra. The Western States race is particularly special because she currently holds the 60 plus female record of 25:40.
Swanson’s son, Chris Morlan, is certainly impressed by his mom’s running ability, but he isn’t totally surprised. Morlan is an exceptional distance runner in the Spokane community, and he has supported or paced his mom during multiple 100-mile races in the past. “Running helps her stay connected to her active girlfriends, and, of course, she’s so successful it must feel good to keep kicking ass,” says Morlan. He doesn’t expect she will ever slow down. //