From the track, to the roads, to the trails, and back again
On September 11, 2001, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet had one thing on her mind. It was the day that she would finally become a United States citizen. As Magda stepped into the San Francisco Federal Building, chaotic whispers of distress and uncertainty drowned out the excitement of a new beginning. She caught word of the attacks in New York City, and then sat through an abbreviated ceremony meant to celebrate and welcome her into the country. Magda’s ties with this day have given her an extra sense of meaning and responsibility when donning the USA singlet as she toes the line.
After a childhood spent swimming competitively in Poland, Magda moved to the U.S. with her family as a senior in high school. Recounting her new school, she says, “Fairly quickly somebody told me, well you could actually get a scholarship and go to college if you’re an athlete, so I quickly took advantage of that.”
During her senior year of high school, Magda exchanged her pool legs for those of a runner, choosing to compete for the Long Beach City College track and cross country team, before transferring to UC Berkeley. Here, she raced the 1500-meter and 3000-meter, before the 3000-meter became the 3,000-meter steeplechase. I ask if she ever tried steeple, and she quickly responds with a laugh and then says, “No, you don’t want to see me jump,” which I find hard to believe, as I’m familiar with her laundry list of accomplishments racing on the trails.
Her transition to trails took quite some time, and included a deep and fruitful foray into the world of road running. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 1997, and pursued the 5,000 meters for about two years. “That’s when I really just hit a plateau, and had some soul searching to do.” She knew she was still quite a ripe runner, however, and that this plateau was not the end of her upslope. “I definitely wasn’t going to give up, and eventually figured out that marathon training fit my lifestyle a lot better than training for a 5k on the track.”
It was at the same time that Magda was beginning a career at GU Energy Labs in Berkeley, CA. “I’ve been at GU since 2000. I started basically by knocking on the door at GU, asking for nutrition advice as an athlete, because I was struggling with my progress… I literally knocked on the door and said, can I please talk to the person that developed GU, I just want to talk nutrition. And here we are, so many years later…”
“I definitely wasn’t going to give up, and eventually figured out that marathon training fit my lifestyle a lot better than training for a 5k on the track.”
Magda spent the next decade working at GU and chasing success in the marathon. Often beginning runs before sunrise and working during the day, she was ever so slowly learning to master the art of being a marathoner. In 2008, Magda was one of three women representing the U.S. at the Beijing Summer Olympics. She continued to race on the roads, and finally, boasting an impressive 2:26 marathon PR, she found herself ready to explore the trail scene in 2012. “I really got the most out of my body in marathons, and I was looking for a change in my training, and something to keep me evolving and interested. I’m on this mission to longevity - I want to do this forever.” Trail running, she decided, was the answer to this.
Her first trail race was no feat of brilliance. The local trail half marathon not only marked her first real attempt at a trail race, but also the first time she ever walked in a race. “It was an eye opener,” she says. “It was just so steep, it wasn’t runnable... I had heard of power hiking, but I was like, psh, I don’t power hike, I’m a runner. And there were people next to me that were power hiking and passing me, and I was like, what’s going on!” Magda took this as a sign that her learning curve on the trails was massive, encouraging her to dive into this unfamiliar sport. She quickly got the hang of things, placing first or second at just about every ultra trail race she entered. Her 100-mile debut in 2015 proved just slightly more prosperous, with a first place finish at the highly competitive and world-renowned Western States Endurance Run. She then went on to place second at Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc's prestigious CCC 100k.
"I’m on this mission to longevity - I want to do this forever.”
Back home in Oakland, CA, I admire Magda as she maneuvers her way through her home trails, finding balance under her feet quite naturally, and working diligently to keep some semblance of balance in her life. She leads GU’s Research, Development and Innovation team, and works with athletes, helping to support their dreams as much as she must work to support her own. “If they have any projects, adventures, or we want to test products that we’re developing - it’s a lot of research that influences what products we make. Supporting our athletes is probably one of the most rewarding parts of it.” Magda fields many questions about finding balance, as she’s constantly juggling her work, her family, and her dreams, careful not to drop any ball.
“I don’t have it figured out, I feel like my balance is always off, but it’s what really fulfills me.” She often makes difficult compromises, like having breakfast with her son, or run commuting for the sake of efficiency. “At the end of the day, I go to bed tired but happy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way - but it does get complicated.” Despite Magda’s aura of calm composure, it’s not always easy for her to rise before the sun, or to miss breakfast with her family. “But then I come to GU, and I love it.” The GU Energy Labs office itself is a beacon of inspiration. In the back room, commuter bikes hang on the walls. Next to the bikes are boards full of handwritten goals. Magda points to one she had written down last year - Marathon Des Sables, in Morocco, surrounded by several other goals of hers, and hundreds of dreams of others. “I not only work with great people, but my job is to work with different athletes, and I get totally inspired by them, and it works at the end of the day - that’s what makes my crazy life good — fulfilling.”
I close the door behind Magda, and watch her descend her steps and run down her Oakland neighborhood street. She’s meeting some local runners at the UC Berkeley track, for 200- meter repeats. Hoping to hit the Trials standard of 2:45, she’s working to regain some quicker turnover in order to get her to the start line of where she earned her first USA singlet. Having just returned from an ultra trail race in Hong Kong and winning the female race, Magda will now shift gears for the Modesto Marathon in March. Her spring and summer will then be riddled with ultra trail races ranging from the hyper competitive Lake Sonoma 50-miler, the 120- kilometer Lavaredo Ultra Trail race through the Italian Dolomite, and the legendary Leadville 100-miler.
“Once I walked away from the marathon in 2012, I haven’t even thought about or mentally been connected to the marathon for about six years. It’s something that five years ago I would have said, I could do this with my eyes closed, but once you walk away from it, it becomes a challenge.” Watching CIM was enough inspiration for Magda to chase an Olympic Trials Qualifier. With so many women nailing the standard, “It was so inspiring, so cool, and I was like, I’ve got to be a part of this.” The Trials are a major celebration of American running, and while Magda might not expect to make another Olympic team after being many years removed from road racing, she’ll forever continue representing her country with pride and humility.