[Editor’s Note: March is Women’s History Month! We’re highlighting stories of women moving the needle forward in trail running and ultrarunning. Our goal is to bring to light women who are progressing our sport in a variety of ways: in big business, in the community, and on the trail itself. Let’s celebrate!]
Women’s participation in running has grown exponentially since the first running boom. While 1972 was the first year women were officially allowed to run the Boston Marathon, according to The State of Running 2019 report, since 2018, more women finish road races than men. Women’s participation in the trail running and ultrarunning world has also grown since the very early years, and women have always been present, whether publicized or not.
As we learn in this great article and podcast by Davy Crockett on the Ultrarunning History website, in 1878, M’lle Dupree was the first woman to run 100 miles in less than 24 hours, and in 1973, Natalie Cullimore defeated the entire Pacific AAU 100 Mile Championships field in just over 18 hours. In 1978, says the Western States 100 website, Pat Smythe became the first woman to finish the race.
While ultrarunning remains heavily male-dominated, with only about 33% of people completing ultras being women as of 2016, on the trail 48% of trail runners are women as of 2019. While we still have a long way to go in the sports to reach gender parity, we are getting there: more women are race directors, community organizers, and leaders in the sport than ever before.
This week, we are highlighting some of the enterprising women who are pushing the boundaries of trail running and ultrarunning to make our sport more equitable, fun, and open to all.
Magda Boulet: President of GU Energy Labs
Magda Boulet is a household name in women’s trail running and ultrarunning: no matter the distance or climate, Boulet has been at the top of the sport, with first-place finishes at Western States 100, Leadville 100 Mile, Marathon des Sables, and more.
Now, well into her career as a masters runner, Boulet sits at the top of the sport in another way, as President of GU Energy Labs. While the participation of women on the trail is up, it’s still rare to see a woman at the head of a multi-million-dollar company that has far-reaching influence not only in the trail and ultra world, but also across a variety of endurance sports.
“I have such a wonderful story with GU, it dates back to my college days,” said Boulet. “I was at the national track championships in Indianapolis in 1997 and I was so nervous, running the 5k, I hadn’t eaten for hours. This decathlete sitting next to me said, ‘Here you have to eat something,’ and handed me a vanilla bean GU. That’s how I found them.”
Boulet graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a concentration on exercise physiology and sports nutrition. She tried for a number of years to make it as an emerging marathoner, working part-time jobs and as a volunteer assistant coach.
Feeling like she was plateauing and looking for a breakthrough, she felt like her nutrition could use some improvement. So she pulled together the courage and knocked on the door of Dr. Bill Vaughan himself, the creator of the first GU Energy Gel.
After getting her master’s degree in Sports Nutrition, Boulet took a research assistant position at GU, but also continued to run, eventually making the U.S. Olympic Marathon team in 2008 and, after taking a few years’ sabbatical, finding trail running. In her first ultra, the 2016 The North Face 50 Mile Championships, she placed second.
Boulet stated the whole journey has been an evolution of herself as a person and an athlete, but that the core culture at GU encourages her to keep making the company and the culture even better for the people they serve.
“What really attracted me to this company is the culture. One of our core values is love – how cool is that? We have compassion for each other, and we support our athletes.
Engagement is high and it is fun to be a part of this growing company. I am fortunate to be able to contribute my scientific and athletic background to make this a great place to work. It’s been a perfect alignment of my and the company’s core values,” she explained
Speaking to the journey of being a woman leading one of the biggest sports nutrition companies involved in the trail running world, Boulet explained that in the past few years many women have broken some of the biggest barriers out there: having children and continuing to compete.
“For me as a woman, it’s been an evolution. I started breaking my own barriers early on — getting into CAL [University of California, Berkeley] as newcomer to this country, and becoming a professional runner at a time when very few female athletes were supported or had opportunities to join training groups. Having a child and continuing to chase my Olympic dream. Also being an immigrant from Poland, there will always be a part of me that sees a need to break down barriers not just for me but for others,” said Boulet.
“When I found a lot of success,” said Boulet, “I felt the responsibility to share my experiences and inspire other female athletes to do the same.”
Call for Comments
- Has Magda Boulet been a leader for you, on or off the trails? Leave a comment to celebrate how she’s inspired you!
- Do you know of other women who are heads of large, influential companies in the trail and ultra scene? Let us know in the comments below!