Interview with Magdalena Lewy Boulet
By Peter Gambaccini

Magdalena Lewy Boulet finishes fifth at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Women's Marathon.
(Both photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)
Lewy Boulet competes at the 2003 USA 20K Championships.

Madgalena Lewy Boulet, 30, who was fifth in April's U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Women's Marathon in a personal best 2:30:50, is entered in the Circle of Friends New York Mini 10K on June 12. She will run the 10,000 meters later this summer at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento. She was fifth in the 10,000 at the 2002 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Lewy Boulet ran 2:31:38 for second place at the 2003 Pittsburgh Marathon; she had also won Pittsburgh in 2002 with a 2:36:48. Lewy Boulet was third in the 5,000 at the 1997 NCAA Championships in 16:04.86 while at the University of California-Berkeley.

Originally from Jastrezebie, Poland, 30 miles from Krakow, she emigrated with her mother and brother to join her father in Kiel, Germany, near Hamburg in 1989 and then joined an uncle living in Long Beach, California, in 1991. Lewy Boulet was a swimmer in her youth before taking up serious running at Long Beach City College. She is married to former 3:53 miler Richie Boulet, lives in Oakland, and has a masters degree in exercise physiology from Cal State-Hayward. She became a U.S. citizen at a ceremony in San Francisco on September 11, 2001 — a proceeding abruptly cut short by the staggering events of that day. Lewy Boulet's 2003 road race results included a seventh at the USA 20K Championships in New Haven in 1:10:16, a 10th at the USA 15K in Jacksonville in 51:46, and a 14th in the New York Mini 10K in 33:13. After U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, what did your running 'game plan' become for the rest of 2004?
Magdalena Lewy Boulet:
I took some time off after the marathon. My legs were a little bit beat up from the Trials. I actually just started running again a couple of weeks ago. I will be doing the Trials for the 10K, but my main goal for the rest of the year is to run a marathon where I can go under 2:30. I'm still deciding where. Like most of the other women, I'm going between Twin Cities, Chicago, and New York, of course.

FW: Will the Mini be your first race since the Marathon Trials?
Yes, it will be my first race, and I would probably have to say my first 'workout' in anything. Coming to the Mini is almost a multipurpose thing. New York Road Runners and David Monti [the NYRR's elite athlete coordinator] put on an amazing race. If you're able to run, whether you're in shape or not, you better be coming there, because it's always a great event. Even though I'm not in top shape or even close to what I was going into the Trials, I still want to be part of that experience.

FW: At the 2003 New York Mini, Lornah Kiplagat was a pretty clear first place and Susan Chepkemei a solid second, but it was a very deep and fierce battle for third with about a dozen runners. That was a pretty amazing competitive experience, wasn't it, with a pack like that so late in the race.
It was so high caliber, high performance. And it was so exciting, all the women who showed it. It was such a great opportunity, to be part of that race last year. It was a great finish.

FW: At the Marathon Trials, you did get a good PR, but you missed the Olympic team by a couple of spots. What were your overall feelings about that race?
Just a little PR. If you look from the beginning of my marathons, I PRed in every one quite a bit. This one wasn't quite as much [48 seconds]. A PR is always a PR, so you've got to be happy about that. To me, it was a solid performance. Any other year, I probably would have made the team, but that's part of being a competitive runner. I didn't make the team. You go back and analyze what you have done, what you can do better. Let's just hope that in 2008, the marathon's going to be a little bit closer for me — a couple of spots, at least! [Laughs.]

FW: Blake Russell took that Trials race out hard. How long did you have a pretty good view of the top three [Colleen De Reuck, Deena Kastor, and Jen Rhines, all of whom are doing the Circle of Friends New York Mini 10K]? Let's include Blake and say the top four? And for how long in the race did you think you actually had a shot at cracking the top three?
The race itself was a loop course. You had an idea pretty much every time you looked around where everybody was ahead of you. Not the whole loop, but parts of the loop, you knew. So I did have an idea of where I was throughout the race. With so many spectators right there pretty much on the entire course, we always got some feedback telling us how many minutes ahead of us Deena and Blake were, and what they'd run on the previous mile. Not that it was directed personally at me, but people were shouting out stuff that you of course pay attention to. I had a good idea.

FW: So did you think you'd have a chance to go back into the top three?
I sure did. I had a kind of a weak spot between 22 and 23, just for a mile or a mile and a half. That's where Jen Rhines pulled away from me. And then, during mile 24 and 25, I started coming back again, but it was too late. Up to that point, when Jen and I were working pretty close together, I still thought, 'Hey, this is anybody's race.'

FW: Do you have any idea what caused that 'weak spot?'
No, I don't know. It's one those things. The mystery of the marathon.

FW: At the lunch after the New York Mini last year, there were very interesting, athletic, smart, well-traveled, sophisticated women from all over the world. This is the life you're part of now. You get travel with and meet these people. Some of them get to be your friends. You get to share experiences. It seems like being a part of the international elite running circuit must be an awfully enjoyable life, right?
It's definitely something nobody can take away. As much as I was disappointed that I didn't make the [Olympic] team — after the Trials, tears were coming down, 'Oh, I had such a good chance' — I looked at my coach and said, 'Jack [Daniels], you know what, even if I don't ever make the team, no one will take all these friendships away from me, or the whole journey that I go through every year, because it's not replaceable.' So I fully enjoy it.

FW: How would you characterize 'the journey?' What are the other aspects of it that are valuable?
Well, my lifestyle. Being able to say that I get up in the morning, I run in the trails, I travel to places and meet amazing athletes. It's being able to be a runner and being able to say, 'Yes, I make a little bit of money doing that.'

FW: Are the trails you run on pretty near your house?
Ten minutes away. It's a regional park, Redwood Regional. It's the ridge that surrounds Berkeley and Oakland. It has miles and miles of dirt trails. It's therapeutic just be able to do that. I'm such a creature of habit that I always like the same trails. I like to extend a little bit, but it's the routine that makes me happy.

FW: Are the trails measured?
Yes. During college we had our eight-mile loop, six-mile loops, 10-mile loop. Now I don't have to think about it. The loops have been measured by other runners.

FW: In Poland, you were a swimmer, correct?
Yes. Throughout my childhood, I swam competitively, mostly the 'fly' and the IM. My parents never pushed me into athletics, mainly because they worked a lot. They were probably too busy to get me involved. I just showed up one day when I was, I don't know, 10 years old, and said, 'Mom, I'm on the swim team.' She was like, 'Okay, great.' It was a club team, not at school. I started swimming at five o'clock in the morning and five o'clock in the evening. I always enjoyed it. I never thought running was something I was better at until I discovered it on my own.

FW: Did you compete internationally as a swimmer?
When I lived in Poland, it was still a Communist country, so we didn't get to travel that much.

FW: What was the reason, and the process, for your coming to the West?
My dad left Poland for political reasons three years prior to the rest of the family. He just tried to find a better opportunity for the family to live. He was an electrician. He did not like the Communist way of living, and one way to end that was to leave everything behind and start a new life somewhere else. He went to West Germany and tried really hard to reunite the rest of the family, and it took about three years for the government to finally say, 'Okay, you can go and visit him.' We left in '89.

FW: And from Germany, how did you end up in Long Beach?
My mother's brother lived in Long Beach for 20 years prior to us. He emigrated when he was a lot younger. Going to the U.S. was a process we could apply for from Germany; from Poland, that was not possible at all.

FW: Were you a swimmer at Lakewood High in Long Beach?
Yes, I tried, and I wasn't that good at it. When I was in Germany, I didn't participate for a couple of years, or participate in any of the sports. That was probably the biggest shock, leaving Poland and going to West Germany. Everything was new, and so was learning the language. Athletics was not really my priority at that time. But once I got here, making a move for the second time in my life wasn't as shocking to a kid. I wasn't a kid anymore. I was almost 18.

FW: What made you decide you actually wanted to try running?
I was on the swim team, and the season was over. I just wanted to do something. I wanted to be productive. I started running and I showed up to a couple of practices and thought, 'Wow, I'm more competitive as a runner than I ever was as a swimmer in my life.' That drove me to pursue it. I never thought I would be a professional runner or anything. But I was simply going and becoming better than I was, one step at a time, goal after goal.

FW: What distances were you racing in the beginning?
Well, at the City College state final, I tripled. I actually was first in the 1,500, second in the 5,000, and the 3,000 was last. I was third. By no means was I really good. I developed mostly when I went to Cal with [Coach] Tony Sandoval. I was there for two years. That's when I got the taste of being an All-American [with her third-place finish in the NCAA 5,000]. That's when I realized, 'Hey, maybe I can do this after college. If there's any way of doing it, I'll try it.'

FW: You seem to have remained upbeat and positive in your outlook. How do you manage to maintain that outlook?
I think that a lot of it has to do with where I grew up. Opportunities were not just handed to you. When I came out here, I lived the American Dream basically by just grabbing the opportunities when I see them. Don't wait for someone to just hand it to you on a plate. Go after what you want. Go get it and work on it. I've always liked to apply that philosophy not only in running but also in other aspects of my life.

FW: What job are you working at now?
I'm working for a company that makes GU Energy Gel. I run the research department here.

FW: How many hours a week are you there?
Right now, about 30. But they're a very, very supportive company in terms of my running. I'm really, really lucky. When I saw that this is my busy time in terms of running, that I have to run more races, or I have the Olympic Trials coming up, I can always decrease my hours. When I'm done, after the Trials, and say, 'I'm recovering, I'm not going to be racing anything until late summer and the fall,' I'll just work more.

FW: We all know your husband Richie as an excellent mile and 1,500-meter runner. Have you been able to interest him in the longer distances at all?
Oh, he's probably completed more marathons than me. He's run a 2:25, last year in Sacramento, so he's got the family record, and I'm chasing it. His goal is to finish every single marathon in the state of California. I think there are 17 or 18. He just did Avenue of the Giants [in Humboldt County] on May 2 in 2:39:06 and he won his first marathon. He just loves that area.

FW: What's your weekly mileage now?
Right now, about 40. In preparation for a marathon, it's usually between 80 and 100.

FW: What races are you looking at besides the Mini?
I'm looking at the 20K in New Haven and Falmouth in August, and a couple of races here [in California]. And a fall marathon.

FW: You were a pacesetter at the ING New York City Marathon in November, because ankle problems disrupted your preparation for a full marathon. How far did you end up going?
To the top of the [Queensboro] Bridge. I paced Jen Rhines and Sylvia Mosqueda, mostly.

FW: What were your feelings about being at the New York City Marathon and about the atmosphere it has?
It's an amazing, amazing event. I'd never been to a marathon that puts together such a professional atmosphere, such a fun atmosphere. You don't really get that anywhere else in the world, I don't think. There's something about the city. I never lived on the East Coast, but there's something about New York that has a lot of positive energy. I think it was good that I stopped at the bridge, before coming down onto First Avenue — I think that's what makes me so hungry right now to go back, because I definitely want to experience that feeling.

FW: This running career is still fairly new for you. Does it surprise you that people call up and want to talk to you about running, or talk to you at races, that you've found something athletic that gives you a measure of fame, and that so many people are interested in you?
Well, I still have some work to do [laughs]. Someone called me the other day and said, 'Oh, congratulations for making the [Olympic] team.' I'm like, 'I didn't, I was fifth.' The reporter said, 'But you're an alternate, you were fifth.' That doesn't count. I know it's every runner's dream to go to the Olympics. I don't think of not making the team as failing. It's just another step. I have other goals in my life as a runner. I want to run a certain time in the marathon, I want to run certain marathons, and of course, make the team one day. But I still have some work to do. And I'm young. I might not be 23, but I'm young in running. You look at Colleen [De Reuck] and her winning the Trials [just shy of her 40th birthday] and still running so strong. It's definitely an inspiration.

(Interview conducted June 2, 2004, and posted June 8, 2004.)

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