Magdalena Boulet took second at the 2017 Western States 100, avenging her DNF last year and following up on her win in 2015. In the following interview, Magda talks about how hard the high country was with its sloppy conditions, how she had to carefully manage her physical self in the middle of the race due to the toll that the early miles took on her, what are the psychological challenges of participating in a competitive 100-mile race, and what her racing hopes are for UTMB later this summer. (You can also watch her finish here.)
For more on what happened during the race, check out our 2017 Western States results article.
Magdalena Boulet Post-2017 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and we’re here at the finish line of the 2017 Western States 100. I’m with women’s second-place finisher, Magda Boulet. Yeah, girl!
Magdalena Boulet: Whoo hoo! I made it!
iRunFar: Your third time at Western States, your second finish—how did it feel to get to the finish line yesterday after your sickness issue the previous year?
Boulet: It was such a relief just to get to the finish line. Deep inside I knew I had it in me to finish, but oh, that feeling is so good no matter how it goes. Just reaching that finish line is a big, big achievement.
iRunFar: Physically and mentally it feels good.
Boulet: Oh, yeah. A little redemption—check!
iRunFar: You’ve been at Western States three times now. You’ve seen the course in three different conditions. By everybody’s reports, the first 15 or 20 miles of the race were categorically ridiculous yesterday.
Boulet: It was a lot tougher than I anticipated. It was really tough on the body.
iRunFar: Can you talk about what that actually means and what it felt like?
Boulet: Yeah, to begin with, the first climb, the snow was actually kind of pleasant. It was a little slushy but not a big deal. It was actually kind of fun to run in it. Once we went over the top of the Escarpment and into the high country, that was really rough. You’re running on icy and hard parts of the snow. Kaci [Lickteig] and I were running together. We came to a stop. We kind of didn’t even know if we were going in the right direction. We were looking for the flags. We’re on a bunch of snow. There’s a lot of slip and slide and a lot of effort to stay on your feet. You’re using muscles you haven’t used. Kaci goes, “I’ve never run on snow.” That was just the beginning. Then you hit the mud part. That was just endless. There were parts of the course when you’re almost going knee deep in the mud. Not fun. Again, you’re working so much harder than you would have liked at mile 10-15-20.
iRunFar: So very early on a long day.
Boulet: So early. So by the time I got to Robinson Flat, I was feeling really good when it comes to my breathing, mentally, and aerobically, but I could tell that my quads were already more spent than they should have been.
iRunFar: Tougher 50k than it should have felt like.
Boulet: Oh, yeah.
iRunFar: What goes through your head at that point in time? You’ve done this stuff for a little bit now. You’ve had some highs and lows. What goes through your mind when you’re 50k into 100 miles and you think, Okay, there’s going to be a battle with my legs now.
Boulet: Right, so I really was just paying attention and really being in tune with my body and knowing when to back off instead of getting caught up in someone else’s race. It was just too early. My focus became just listening to the cues my body was giving me and if need be, I just backed off because it’s too early to have issues.
iRunFar: At least from the outside looking in, it seemed like the women were really tight. Were you literally seeing the other women and their races in progress? Sometimes when you’re woman, it’s easy to run your own race because you don’t see another woman for quite some time.
Boulet: Right. It was really easy to get sucked into to someone else’s race because we were so close. You kind of want to jump on the train. There are three women together, and why not, it’s a lot more fun, but then you’re kind of giving up your race plan. I had to make some decisions in the middle of the race where for me, I hit a pretty low patch going into El Dorado Canyon. I could tell my quads were definitely starting to hurt a little bit more. I knew at that point if I didn’t back off a little bit maybe there was a high chance of me not really getting to Auburn, and I wasn’t going to risk that. The number-one priority was to get to that finish line. I backed off. It also happened to be one of the hottest parts of the day on the course. It was brutal climbing out of El Dorado Canyon and going into Michigan Bluff.
iRunFar: A lot of people talk about the heat of the canyons at Western States, but to talk about it is a pretty intangible thing. What does the heat of the canyons feel like? Is it suffocating?
Boulet: It all depends on how much heat training you’ve done. I think I’ve done a pretty good job with heat training. It wasn’t really a sufferfest for me as much as just respecting the canyons and backing off a little bit and getting through them without major suffering. It’s uncomfortable. Anytime you get a little breeze or shade, it’s “Thank you! Thank you!” Yes, just being really smart in the canyons—it’s hard to back off when you know first place is in front of you.
iRunFar: iRunFar watched you all day long, and at some point, I don’t know exactly when it was, there was a shift. Early in the race, it looked like you were kind of guarding and protecting and conserving. Later in the race—like the last 20 miles—you were in full-on race mode again trying to be as efficient as you could through aid stations. When did you start ‘racing’ racing?
Boulet: When I picked up my pacer, I felt like I was one of the most lucky in the field by having a most awesome pacer. Fernando has such a good heart and is so much fun to be around. As soon as I picked him up, I said…
iRunFar: He took you all the way through, right?
Boulet: He took me all the way through. I told him, “Please ride that line of pushing me. I don’t want to be in a comfort zone when I pick you up.” He did such a good job. We had to balance though because it’s still such a long way to go from Foresthill. Getting to the river at a good clip was the first goal. Then once we crossed the river, I started to really… I wanted to finish with nothing in my tank.
iRunFar: You and eventual winner, Cat Bradley, were just nose-to-nose at that point in the race.
Boulet: Yeah, I felt like I had it. You know, I’m coming from behind now. This is going to be fun chasing Cat down. This became my focus, but she did such an amazing job. She kept that gap as equal between all the aid stations from the river. I thought I was gaining quite a bit because I felt like I was moving at a pretty good clip, a lot faster than before. I was in a chase mode. I’d get to the next aid station, and there was still the same gap. Whoa! She was moving really well. It was impressive. It made for a really exciting race. I just kept chasing all the way until I entered the track.
iRunFar: I think there’s something to be said for the advantages of having Olympic-caliber legs in a race, but I think there’s also something to be said for being chased by an Olympian in terms of elevating your own performance. I know for sure Cat said she was running harder because she was being chased by an Olympian.
Boulet: That’s the beauty of our sport. It takes us to the next level. She did that for me as well. I remember 2015. I kind of knew I had a nice gap. I chilled the last 20 miles. I played very conservative. I definitely didn’t leave it all out there. Here, she made me work. She made me work hard in the last 20 miles.
iRunFar: This is a new thing in women’s trail ultrarunning right now where the races go all the way to the end, even at the 100-mile distance. What does it feel like mentally to be put in that position at mile 80 or 90, where you’re working so hard physically and mentally?
Boulet: It’s exhausting. It was hard. This was so much harder than my 2015 win. It was slower. It was harder from the beginning. Just the back and forth of the lead changing constantly—I kind of bounced between sixth and second most of the day. It’s exciting. It makes for a really fun race, but it’s exhausting. It’s a lot easier just to get in the lead and run away with it.
iRunFar: Yeah, have a nice, comfy cushion.
Boulet: Clare [Gallagher] was behind me 10 minutes. I thought she was coming. I was running scared, too. I was trying to focus on Cat, but I also wanted to be aware of what was going on behind me.
iRunFar: A first place at Western States, a second place at Western States—I know you said in your interview with us before the race that there are a lot of things on your bucket list. There’s a lot of things you want to go out and do in the world. Is this race still talking to you, or do you feel good about where you are?
Boulet: I think there was so many times that I questioned, Why am I doing this? I keep looking at Meghan [Laws’s] ninth-place finish. She has 12 years on me, not to make us look old, which is extremely impressive. Part of me goes, Maybe I still have time to do a top 10. Maybe I’m not out of the game. Maybe 10 years from now I can still do this. Part of me wants to still chase that. Definitely that DNF last year put a damper on that goal. It feels really good to finish. I definitely want to be back.
iRunFar: I suppose you’re going to be turning your sights to UTMB now. You were fifth there last year. I suppose you’re going to set your sights higher on that race this year?
Boulet: That’s the goal. The goal is to improve. The field that’s going to be at UTMB this year on the women’s side is going to be crazy. But the same was said about this race, and you still have to keep reminding yourself that it’s a 100-mile race and nothing is just given to you because of how talented you are and what you’ve accomplished the year before. Those things go out the window when the guns go off.
iRunFar: As I’m getting to know you through the years and watching you do this, it seems like that’s one of the driving forces of you here is just the unknown territory you get to experiment with.
Boulet: Yes, it’s just so cool. I want to say there are a handful of women in the race that are probably quicker than me at this point, but that’s the beauty about all the challenges that you face in a 100-mile race and how you handle them. That’s very attractive to me because I feel that’s my thing.
iRunFar: That’s your schtick. Congratulations to you on your second-place finish. We’ll look forward to seeing you on the starting line at UTMB.
Boulet: Whoo hoo! Thank you!