It’s not everyday that you get to witness a former Olympian making their ultramarathon debut. This weekend, those out in California’s Marin Headlands at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships will get to see US Olympic Marathoner Magdalena Boulet run her first race beyond the marathon distance. In the following interview, Magdalena talks about her running background, how she’s trained for her first ultra, and what her strategy looks like for the TNF EC 50.
[Editor’s Note: For more information, we’ve published a full women’s race preview with links to other pre-race interviews.]
Magdalena Boulet Pre-2013 TNF EC 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: This is Meghan Hicks with iRunFar. I’m with Magdalena Boulet ahead of the 2013 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. How are you doing, Magda? Nice to meet you.
Magdalena Boulet: Pleasure. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for having me here. I’m feeling great. I’m nervous.
iRunFar: You are nervous?
Boulet: I am nervous.
iRunFar: This is your first 50-mile race. Is that where your nerves come from?
Boulet: Absolutely. Absolutely, yes.
iRunFar: Before we talk about the race specifically tomorrow, I wanted to kind of introduce you to the trail and ultrarunning community. This is your first interview with iRunFar, so many of our readers, it will be their first chance to meet you. You come to ultramarathoning with a pretty strong road-racing and shorter-distance, trail racing background. You are a 2:26 marathoner and a 1:11 half marathoner. So I think it’s safe to say you have the fastest PR’s among all of the women who will start tomorrow and a lot of the men.
Boulet: It’s been a great running career for me on the road. I’m hoping to translate some of the leg speed into future trail racing.
iRunFar: You do have some experience trail racing with shorter distance and cross country. You competed at the World Cross Country Championships in 2010 and 2011 for Team USA?
iRunFar: You guys earned a bronze those two years?
Boulet: Bronze both years, yes.
iRunFar: And then more recently this past fall, you competed with Team USA at the World Mountain Running Championships.
Boulet: Yes, it was a wonderful experience. It’s very different from cross-country racing. World Mountain is a little bit more technical.
iRunFar: Burly courses, right?
Boulet: Yes, absolutely. That was an introduction to real trail racing for me.
iRunFar: You were the highest placing American at that event. You were 11th place, is that right?
iRunFar: A pretty solid performance on a seriously technical course. You must feel comfortable on that type of terrain?
Boulet: I do. I’m far more comfortable on the uphill courses than the downhill courses. I believe this was the first time in the history of the World Mountain Championships where they started with the downhill. I have some work to do. That’s definitely not my strength. There’s still room for improvement as I’d like to see it getting more comfortable being more bold going down the hill and taking a bit more risk. The uphills—I loved them. I’m really looking forward to an uphill year.
iRunFar: That will be coming, won’t it. So a little bit about you outside of running—you’re a mom of one. You have a boy who is eight years old, and you’re married to a running-store owner in the Bay area–East side?
Boulet: East side of the Bay—Oakland and Berkeley. TranSports running store has been around for many, many years. It’s a great, local store.
iRunFar: We’re actually on the property of Gu Energy right now who you work for in marketing, do I have that right?
Boulet: No, I actually direct the Research and Development department; so I’m in product development.
iRunFar: Do you do anything else? I know that you coached folks in the past.
Boulet: I do. I have a small, very intimate group of athletes that I coach outside—not as much as I used to in the past few years because I came back to a full-time position at Gu Energy Labs just six months ago.
iRunFar: That coming into full-time work, did that coincide with you deciding that your pro road-running career was over?
Boulet: Yeah, I think I was ready. I was ready for that next step to apply what I’d learned in the past 15 years running postcollegiately and being on the road for awhile. I turned 40 this year and I was ready for the next challenge. I’m a strong believer you can do both. I make it work. Running is a passion. It’s a lifestyle. It’s the way I live my life. There’s always room for it, but it’s about making it efficient.
iRunFar: You’re sponsored by Saucony; you’re sponsored by GU; and you’re sponsored by UltrAspire. Did I get that right?
iRunFar: You’ve got all the stuff you need to run a bunch of trails.
Boulet: Yes. I see the longer the distance becomes, how critical the nutrition plays a role. It’s fun coming with my background in product development and applying the science now versus just watching what athletes we sponsor through work but also doing it myself.
iRunFar: Tomorrow is truly going to be a big experiment of one. It’s your first ultra race over on the Marin Headlands side of the Bay. How are you feeling about that experiment?
Boulet: Well, I was doing really well until just a few days ago when everyone is just approaching me, “Are you ready?” “I don’t know!” I think I have all the pieces. I’m as prepared as I can be for this race in my first preparation. It’s been really awesome to spend a lot more time on that mountain. It’s probably one of the most beautiful places to run. I went to Cal-Berkeley, so we spent long runs on the mountain. As I was preparing for marathons, a lot of the mileage I said, “That mountain made me strong.” I never knew that there were so many other trails on that mountain because I never had enough time to cover that many miles. It’s been just so much fun finding and meeting people that do longer distances and taking me kind of under their wing and showing me trails that I haven’t had time to explore. It’s in my backyard, so that is a huge part of why I wanted to do this race.
This whole season has been about challenging myself, taking time away from road racing and marathon preparation. The goal for the season was to do something extreme. I started with the Masters’ Championship in the mile and I wanted to do something opposite; so I picked the 50 mile. So a mile on the road and a 50 mile on the trail couldn’t be more opposite. This is definitely a challenge I set for myself. There are a lot of women in this race that have a lot more experience than I do. I have much respect for each of them and for the race itself. I’m just looking forward to walking away learning a ton.
iRunFar: Let me ask you about your preparation. Tell me about a key training run or a key workout or a key week of training that you put in in preparation.
Boulet: I think the biggest challenge for me was to really put together long runs back-to-back. In the past 15 years, my preparation for long runs was not running past 20 to 24 miles and then you build up to that and you do one long run a week. This preparation, I built up to a 35-mile run and I’ve done back-to-back pretty frequently runs where I would go anywhere from 18 miles to mid-20’s and all the way to 28 miles and a 22-mile run in 24 hours. I felt that that gave me, after completing a 28 and a 22, gave me a little bit more confidence that I can do this. My body can handle mileage past the marathon. Hopefully I can go back and use some of that speed that I have done in the past and have it at the end.
iRunFar: Still have it there.
Boulet: Hope I still have it there.
iRunFar: You mentioned training with folks and having some folks with extra trail experience that were taking you under their wing. I understand you might have someone with a decent amount of experience trail running and particularly with this race as your pacer tomorrow?
Boulet: Yes. Caitlin Smith has done this race.
iRunFar: She was the winner in 2009. She knows what it takes to win.
Boulet: Absolutely. She knows what it takes to win. She knows the trails and I’ve had the pleasure of spending some time running with her on the mountain. She lives in Oakland, so we get together for runs frequently. She’s been a great resource. I will have Caitlin from Stinson Beach all the way to Tennessee Valley, and then my husband is going to jump in for the last six miles.
iRunFar: Fantastic. You are a local. These are your trails. I mean, it’s a little bit more unfamiliar on the other side of the Bay than here, but this is your home terrain. What part of the course are you particularly looking forward to tomorrow?
Boulet: That’s a great question. I’m very, very familiar with the Tennessee Valley Trails. The Coastal Trail—I’ve gotten to know it really well all the way from the start because I’ve been going to Rodeo Beach quite a bit just to spend time with family. That whole area has been part of family trips to that area and doing some short runs from there. It’s just a matter now of piecing it all together. What I used to call five different runs I used to do over the course of preparation, now I’m doing it all in one stint. From the start and the Tennessee Valley and the Coastal Trail are some of my most favorite. Then Muir Beach—I remember the first time I ran it I said, “Are we really running up this hill and coming back down this part?” I thought Caitlin was joking. I remember standing at the top of it looking down going, “This is suicide,” and then trying to imagine people doing it when it rained last year. It’s unbelievable.
iRunFar: Well, fortunately we’ll (knock on wood) have mostly dry trails tomorrow.
Boulet: Hopefully, yes. Hopefully we will have great weather.
iRunFar: Talk to me for a minute about your strategy. Are you turning up at this race to win? Are you turning up at this race to play it smart and see how it pans out? Are you going to live within yourself? What’s your plan for tomorrow?
Boulet: I want to be really smart. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. In my heart I’m really competitive and I want to get out there, but I don’t feel like I have the experience to just go out and take charge. I really want to be conservative—be conservative and play smart and hopefully learn a lot, that after mile 30 to 35 I have enough in my legs to turn it up and finish strong. I’d like to get to Tennessee Valley and feel like I have another gear in me. I don’t want to leave it all out in the first 30 miles. My longest run has been 35 miles. Past that it’s a huge unknown. But I really believe if I respect the distance and play smart, and not get ahead of myself and have something at the end.
iRunFar: For that last big climb out of Tennessee Valley?
Boulet: Yes. It’s my favorite climb, by the way. I’ve done that climb a few times and a lot of people when we go, we’ll start the run sometimes with that climb—I LOVE this climb! I’ve learned to love it even more going out to train there for the past while.
iRunFar: Hopefully you’ll be in love after you do it one more time tomorrow.
Boulet: Yes. I’d like to come back to this race.
iRunFar: Good luck to you! We look forward to seeing you out there.
Boulet: Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m really looking forward to this.
iRunFar: Bonus question for you. You work for Gu. Gu is taking charge with their salted caramel flavor.
Boulet: Yes. The Yeti! The Yeti is so hot right now! Yes.
iRunFar: People love sweet and savory.
Boulet: Yes, it’s a great complement to our line. With the elevated electrolytes, it really complements the flavor. And who doesn’t like caramel? That extra salt does have a functional purpose. We’ve been having a lot of fun with that flavor, with the Yeti—it brings excitement to our line.
iRunFar: Will the Yeti be in any of your pockets tomorrow?
iRunFar: Last question for you. Is Gu working on any other savory flavors?
Boulet: We’re constantly working on savory flavors. They’re very, very difficult to match with the carbs that you’re providing. Product development is ongoing. We’re working on it. Hopefully we’ll have something to complement the Yeti in 2014. Stay tuned. It’s coming.