“I always put myself in positions outside of my comfort zone, it helps me to appreciate life in general because there is NO achievement that is possible without discomfort.
Magdalena Boulet, also known as Magda is a runner from Oakland, California. She was born in Poland but became a citizen of the United States on September 11, 2001. Magda finished second place at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Women’s Marathon. Magda has competed and done well in many races over her career, one very pivotal race was her debut 100-mile race Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in 2015 which she won. Magda is a highly focused, goal driven endurance athlete with a background in swimming which ultimately proved to be very helpful throughout her career in running. I sat down with Magdalena Boulet after the Marathon Des Sables to discuss her life, her training, and ultimately her victory at the 33rd MDS.
What was the thing that got you started into running?
Magdalena: It was a long time ago, but I was a swimmer growing up and I got into running for social reasons. At first I wanted to make friends, so I could go out and run and talk to people. With swimming I had my head down, but with running I could be much more social. Very quickly I realized I was a far better runner than I ever was a swimmer, plus I really loved to explore so that was a benefit. I ended up going to college and that was when I really began to develop as a runner, I was able to find my niche and I felt myself being pulled towards the longer distances. After college I had to make a pretty tough decision whether I wanted to pursue my career or pursue running, I decided to take the risk and started to focus on running and the longer distances naturally just came to me year after year. 2-3 years after college I ran my first marathon and the rest of it was history.
How did you make the transition into competitive long distance running?
Magdalena: I ran road and marathons and a little bit of track and field for almost a decade. It took me that long to reach my goals and develop as a marathoner. I did my first 100 mile race in 2015 which was Western States and I took first place and that really has helped to get me where I am today. I think that swimming helped with this transition also, it taught me discipline and work ethic. I was able to train swimming more than running because of the lack of pounding. But I was able to take things from swimming and utilize it in my running career as primarily an injury preventive measure.
At what point did you realize turning running into a career was possible for you?
Magdalena: When I met my coach Jack Daniels which was a couple years after college that was a big turning point for me in just understanding what it would take to run very fast marathon times, and what it would take to make the Olympic team. It was crucial to have a great mentor in my life, he told me it might take 10 years but if you are willing to put in the work and stay consistent, we can get there and be at a point where I would be a serious contender. Adding that to my corner really felt like the light at the end of the tunnel, of course I had some major lows during my career but I just kept with it.
What was it like to be on the US Olympic Team in 2008?
Magdalena: Well I met my coach in 2001, and it took me 7 years after to finally make the team. To this day I think I was in the best shape of my life going into the race and I made the team in the marathon. I really couldn’t believe it when it happened, you know? If you looked at my times back in high school, I really didn’t have super impressive times. It took persistent work and improving year after year and little by little, but I finally made the team and it was such an incredible honor. In addition to that back in 2001 I became a U.S.citizen, so to be able to represent the country and wear the U.S. singlet was a dream come true. When I got to Beijing unfortunately I had a freak accident and hit my knee very hard while on the bus, I lost all range of motion before the race so that was tough. I still think about that experience and just use it as a reminder, 1 minute you can be high on life and the next minute it can crash. I had to drop out halfway through the race and it took me a bit to regroup and bounce back from that you know? When I came home the first thing that goes thought your head is maybe it’s time to walk away from running as a career. But that really just isn’t my style, I had 10 years worth of work and I knew I was in the best shape of my life and I wasn’t going to let 1 race define my whole running career. So after a little trip to the mountains with my son I came back and got right back to work. That was in 2008, in 2011 I set most of my personal records, and in 2013 I discovered trail racing which brings us up to today.
So talking about the Marathon Des Sables, did your training have to change to prepare for this race?
Magdalena: Oh absolutely, even though the distance itself is very similar to other races I have done, it is a self supported stage race which requires you to carry much more weight than I was used to. I tend to travel very light during any race, so that was the big adjustment for me during the months leading up to the race. I began hiking with a weighted backpack, gradually I started running with it. I would start with 20 pounds, which was going to be a lot heavier than what I actually needed at MDS. I purposely was using more weight so that on race day the weight of my pack didn’t feel so overwhelming. I also had to get used to running in the sand with the weight, so I was doing a lot of beach running. I also did quite a bit of heat training because in the desert it is very hot during the day and very cold at night, keeping that in mind I also had to be very very mindful of what I put in my pack, that is the most crucial part of this entire thing.
Was the Marathon Des Sables something you wanted to just participate in, or did you aim to really win the entire thing?
Magdalena: I trained hard to put myself in the position to contend for the win at MDS. A win is never guaranteed, I can only control what I do, my preparation and performance and that is all. If someone else prepares better and stronger then they deserve to win it, but I always dedicate my race schedule to A races and I always do anything I can to be in the position to go for the victory. I do compete in smaller races along the way, but I always use them as training for the big ones and the bigger goal. This race is one of the ones I was targeting to get on the podium and trained myself to fight for it.
Can you tell me about what it was like to be in the Marathon Des Sables?
Magdalena: So this race was separated into 6 separate parts. Most days you were running a marathon a day (26.2 miles) with the exception of 1 day. The whole thing is about 250k, stage number 4 is where you run the longest which is the 50 mile stage. For me I look at the entire distance, I look at all the days and I break it down and ask myself, where are my strengths? For me the longest day was the day I was gonna put all my cards on the table, I had to be strong on that day. That meant on the days before the long stage, I had to leave enough on the course to be in the game but not do too much to where I couldn’t play my cards on the long stage day. I have done stage racing before, and there is just so much that goes unseen that you as an athlete have to account for. You really have to manage your energy throughout the day, and your nutrition, you have to manage stress because there is always something that goes wrong. You have to be strong during some of those adverse situations, for instance, the day before the long stage we had a big sandstorm in the middle of the night and all the runners are sleeping and suddenly you have to save your stuff, and hold down the tents and some people can get really upset or get anxiety over situations like that, it is in those times how you deal with that type of stuff that can really determine how much you have left in the tank at the end of the race. For me the theme was to keep it nice and cool until the long stage, manage everything well and just preserve until I had to go big and really make my mark at that point.
How do you think you did on sticking the plan of attack for Marathon Des Sables?
Magdalena: I feel I managed myself very well and I came into the long stage with plenty of energy. I was excited to get to that point and it was my favorite distance. Where I think I slipped up just a bit was during the last stage, so the day after the longest stage there is one more stage to go. And it’s a marathon and I feel I misjudged the efforts of that stage by quite a bit. I thought I would hit that stage and cruise to the finish, but that was probably the hardest stage of them all for me. There was a point in the middle of that race where I chuckled to myself, “I don’t know if I can get to the finish line today.” That day we had 40-50 mph head winds, the sand was a lot softer that I had thought, it was a disconnect from my expectation to what was really happening that made it so much more difficult. External factors played a roll also, I heard that the longest day is what mattered the most and I had already won the race and I kept saying no, there is still 1 more day of racing. You have to keep your mind in that mode of no celebrations until you cross the finish line.
How did it feel when you crossed the finish line knowing you won?
Magdalena: It was a mix of emotion, happiness and being proud to reach the finish line, and relief of being done. I was so ready to reach that finish line, I could see it from a mile away and I wanted it so bad for so many reasons. The second I crossed the line I was taking all of it in and celebrating the whole journey that had just happened because it was really special.
Do you think winning Marathon Des Sables is one of your biggest accomplishments?
Magdalena: You know everything feels different. When I won western states that was a really special experience and maybe that is because it was my first one. MDS was more of a raw experience, it made me appreciate true endurance so much more. There is just so much that goes into fully supportive stage races besides strictly running, so this will always have a special place in my heart.
What is your next step from here?
Magdalena: I have been working the last few years to figure out how to run UTMB. I have always done Western States and a couple months after is UTMB, this year I have decided to skip Western States and focus on preparing properly for UTMB. I want to go there and be competitive and get on the podium.
If the world could only know 1 thing about you, what would that be?
Magdalena: I feel like when I always think back on the situations I like to put myself into, I seem to search for ways to put myself in situations that make me uncomfortable so I can learn to appreciate life in general. For me, this is a journey of perseverance and I want to continue to challenge myself and remind myself that I always strive to persevere, and that absolutely nothing is impossible. Most importantly there is no achievement that is possible without discomfort.
During my interview with Magda I realized what a fierce competitor she is. I was able to gather lessons from her life that could fit directly into mine and I hope there are lessons you can apply to yours. Magda is a reminder that life can test what you’re made of, and by persevering you can achieve your goals. Have you experienced any hardships throughout your outdoor journey? I would love to hear about them and what you did to persevere.