2015 Western States 100 champion Magdalena Boulet returns to the 2017 edition following a DNF last year due to illness. In the following interview, Magda talks about her busy spring of training and adventuring since she qualified for Western States with a second-place tie at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, what race week looks like for her and her family, how she sees the women’s race growing more competitive each year, and what she has to say to people who are thinking about trying trail running for the first time.
Magdalena Boulet Pre-2017 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and it’s the week of the 2017 Western States 100. I’m with 2015 champion of Western States, Magdalena Boulet.
Magdalena Boulet: Hi, Meghan.
iRunFar: I’m kind of up in your hood right now. We’re here at the Northstar Resort, which I’m learning has been a long-time altitude training home for you.
Boulet: Right, I’m very lucky to call this my second home. We have friends here that own a little condo, and I’ve been coming here probably since 2002 every year. I used to come out there when I trained full time as a marathoner for one month at a time, but now, a week will do.
iRunFar: This is the week before Western States. We’re about four days out now. Are you here on vacation with your family this week and trying to put in a little bit of altitude training?
Boulet: No, not really, not altitude training. I think it’s just mostly just being in Tahoe and being in the environment and being exposed to heat versus doing heat training back at home. It’s nice to just get away and not have to clean your house and send Owen to school and have all the responsibilities. I’m lucky enough to work from here. GU is a great, great employer and allows me to spend this week working from far away.
iRunFar: You’ve got Richie, you’ve got Owen, and you’ve got your laptop and your phone, and you’re just trying to take in the heat and a little bit of altitude here and taper away?
Boulet: Yes, and try to get a little bit more sleep. I think sleep is just key. It’s something I just struggle with when you work full-time and try to put in a lot of miles and be a parent and just try to keep up with life. This really allows me to go to bed early and sleep in a little bit longer. Now that I don’t do a lot of training in the morning, I’m waiting until the middle of the day when it’s nice and warm, I get to sleep in until seven or eight, which is heaven.
iRunFar: That’s such mom-speak there.
Boulet: I know. I don’t have to look at 4:15 or 5:00 a.m. on the clock.
iRunFar: “I did not see that number on the clock this morning.”
Boulet: It’s nice. I could get used to it.
iRunFar: If anybody would like to sponsor Magda’s full-time career here at Northstar, right?
Boulet: I’ve considered moving here in the past. It’s not a bad life. I don’t want to get used to it.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about your lead-up to this race. We last saw you a couple months ago when you tied with Kaci Lickteig for second at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Social media says you’ve been really busy in the last couple months. Can you talk about some of the adventures you’ve been up to and where you’ve crammed some training around life?
Boulet: After Lake Sonoma—which the goal there was really to get the Golden Ticket—running with Kaci was just so fun. After getting the Golden Ticket, finally I was able to breathe a little bit, because I was actually in the race because up to that point I really didn’t know. You just never know. As my recovery week post-Lake Sonoma, I went to climb the highest volcano in North America which was a blast. It was kind of my second hobby. I love getting to high points of mountains.
iRunFar: How high are we talking on this one?
Boulet: 18,000 feet. It was my first 18er. Before that, Mount Shasta and Mount Whitney have been my highest. I have this itch and a dream to do Aconcagua. That’s been on my list for a couple decades ever since college. I hope to do a 20er next and, then, 22,800 is Aconcagua. I’m taking steps. I’m into the non-technical. I don’t have climbing experience and heavy-duty mountaineering, but this definitely was a little outside of my comfort zone. Pico de Orizaba is the peak in Mexico. You have to be roped in, and you do have to be very careful. It was fun. It was a blast. It was a great experience. I’ve never been to 18,000 feet, kind of just dealing with altitude and knowing how that feels.
iRunFar: How did that actually feel?
Boulet: When we arrived at base camp two days before we actually summited, I had headaches. I stayed hydrated. I tried to go for a run.
iRunFar: How did that go?
Boulet: It was great because from the hut, I took this fire road about 15 or 20 minutes down. This actually doesn’t feel that bad. Then, I turned around. That hurt. That hurt a lot. That was a new experience running at 16,000 feet. A lot of good experiences—I went to Idaho and spent a great weekend in the Sawtooth Mountains for a wedding. It’s been good. A lot of Mount Diablo training—that is kind of my key to a successful and confident Western States. I kind of have a hate-love relationship with Mount Diablo. It’s really beautiful in the winter time when it’s nice and cool and green, but you get the most benefit to actually running Mount Diablo in the summer time when it’s miserable and hot and dry. So, kind of getting comfortable with those summits was key between Lake Sonoma and Western States.
iRunFar: I’m not sure if I heard from social media or someone else, but were you doing multiple laps on Diablo a couple times?
Boulet: Last year my go-to was just up and down. This year I did a double—not two multiples, just two. That’s a 30-mile roundtrip. It’s about seven or eight miles, depending on where you start from, to the top. Yeah, it’s a good, solid 30-mile run. Half of it is pounding downhills. For every uphill, there’s a downhill.
iRunFar: Which actually is key here at Western States, a race that has more net downhill than uphill.
Boulet: Right. Hopefully I’ve done enough of it.
iRunFar: You’re the 2015 Western States champ. Last year was sort of a no-go year for you. You brought sickness with you, and you were unable to see the race through. You don’t seem to me like somebody who thinks about life in the context of wanting do-overs. You seem like someone who is, “Take this and move forward.” Is that sort of where you are with this race this year?
Boulet: That’s a really good question. I’ve really struggled with that. I don’t know how to answer that. Let’s put it this way. I’m not 20 years old. Let’s be honest. I still want to do races elsewhere where I’m competitive. The bucket list is full. Being a really young trail runner and ultrarunner, I haven’t really experienced a lot of different races. Leading up to this year’s race, if things maybe turned out differently last year, maybe I’d be doing something else. But it’s Western States. It’s a struggle. I really, really don’t want to miss out on being a part of this special race. I don’t know what the future holds—one step at a time.
iRunFar: Let’s talk a bit about the women’s competition here. This is the most competitive—breadth and depth—that I’ve seen in my time watching Western States. To me, there’s something symbolic there about women’s sports and what’s happening in ultrarunning with women right now. Do you have any thoughts on how Western States is sort of occupying that space and your involvement with it this year?
Boulet: Well, the field, like you said, is the most competitive that I’ve seen. That is exciting. That brings the competition level to the next level. The fact that so many women want to be in the middle of it and want to participate in this race is amazing. This race obviously has a lot of history. It’s a prestigious accomplishment to win this race. Anytime you have the opportunity to go for it, why not? Also, in general in ultrarunning, there are a lot more competitive women these days. There are a lot of women coming up from marathons and roads into trail running and finding a lot of good things about trail running that maybe they haven’t seen in awhile in road racing. This is the reason why I stepped into this world. The more depth we have, the better it is for the sport. Competition is great. There’s no shortage of it this year. I have a feeling this is just the beginning of competitive years at Western States.
iRunFar: When I think of you and the competitive road running background you brought to trail running, you’re kind of a person who I think up-and-coming trail women look at and try to emulate and respect. I’m guessing there are women here at Western States because they’ve seen you compete the last couple years, and they want to compete against you, compete with you. I think there are a lot of women who are going to be looking to you this weekend as a female power symbol. Women’s athletics or women’s trail running right now is in a really cool but also tenuous place. Being an icon of women in trail running—this is a long-winded question—going out and doing 100 miles which is a difficult thing to see from start to finish, women are going to be looking at you this weekend. Does that bear any…
Boulet: That fires me up. It totally does.
iRunFar: I’m really sorry. That was really poorly asked.
Boulet: No, there was a lot of good content. It totally fires me up. It’s what keeps me going. I’ve been in the running scene for awhile, and probably what breaks my heart the most is when I see track-and-field and road athletes hit a plateau and just stop running. That breaks my heart. There’s always running after running at a different level and a different sense, even if it’s not competitive. I hope that the people who do hit their plateau in road running do try different things.
iRunFar: “Come on over, ladies.”
Boulet: Come on over. It’s incredibly beautiful and challenging. That is why we get into competition because it’s challenging, and you want to challenge yourself. But for the newbies who sometimes don’t even get on trails and pound a lot of miles on the roads, trail running is an incredible opportunity to experience the world. There’s room for everyone.
iRunFar: “Room for you, girls… ladies… excuse me.”
iRunFar: Last question for you—Western States is 100.2 miles. One hundred miles is just a long, hard way. Running 50 miles is hard. Running 100k is hard. There is elemental suffering that’s part of doing 100 miles. Why are you drawn to this?
Boulet: What a great question! I’m actually writing a little blog today about why Western States and kind of mentally preparing for this game. I’m definitely drawn to the challenges, like I said. I’m the type of person that as soon as I’m comfortable, I look for ways to get uncomfortable. It’s what helps me grow and what keeps me going in life. I think life would be extremely boring if I just got really comfortable doing one thing. I think every 100-mile race has its challenges. I think this one in particular this year is really unique with the snow in the beginning of the race. I just went up Squaw the first four or five miles a couple days ago, and we were deep in the snow up to our ankles, deep in the snow. There’s no way it’s going to melt. I don’t know what everyone says. It’s not 100 degrees up there. It’s nice and comfortable. The start is going to be comfortable in a way that it’s not going to probably be too hot, because there’s going to be some snow left. It’s going to be challenging, because if you haven’t really practiced running in slushy snow, then get ready for it. Then, you’re going to enter this extreme heat, because anytime there’s more water, there’s going to be more heat and humidity. So there will be very extreme factors and challenges throughout the race. Someone told me the other day that it’s an ice-and-fire type of a race.
iRunFar: I was just going to say that—ice-and-fire year. Best of luck to you. I hope you can at least enjoy that feeling of being uncomfortable and challenging yourself.
Boulet: Thank you. Will do.
iRunFar: See you out there.