Magdalena Lewy Boulet - Unfinished Business in the Olympic Marathon

Wed, 19 Oct. 2011 - 12:46 p.m. MT
Credit: Steve Nearman - American Running Association

Magdalena Lewy Boulet started dreaming about the Olympics during her early teens in her native Poland. However, she did not see herself running her way to glory. Instead, she dreamed one day of swimming her way to fame.

So it may seem odd that just a couple of hours before that moment of truth – the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon trials in Boston – Lewy Boulet was on the verge of, in her words, “hanging it up.”

Her emotions were totally justified.

Just months prior, Lewy Boulet was disheartened by the Achilles heel of her running career. Actually, it is plantar fasciitis that has been the injury which has dogged her for years. The injury forced her out of the Twin Cities Marathon in October 2007.

“I sat on a couch and said ‘It’s over’,” Lewy Boulet said before a live crowd and worldwide web audience from Pacers Running store in Alexandria, Va., last week. The event was sponsored Nathan Performance and the American Physical Therapy Association. “My body was just not responding to anything. I went to the doctor, then rehab. I did not run again until December. I took a full month off. I’ve had the plantar problem for years on and off.

“Then I went to the mountains (Lake Tahoe) and did one race before the trials. My plan was for that last big race, then as elite athletes say ‘Hang it up.’ On race day, I met with my coach (Jack Daniels) at 5:30 in the morning, over coffee, left the coffee shop and said to my husband ‘I LOVE this, I cannot give it up. I don’t care what happens here’.”

Without an Olympic “A” standard and not a lot of confidence, Lewy Boulet took to the streets of Boston in the most discipline fashion.

“I went to run 5:35 [per mile] pace,” she said. “That’s a 2:30 marathon. If you look at my splits, I was close.”

In the process, Lewy Boulet ran far ahead of the pack for the first half of the race, passing 14 miles with a 1:55 lead. Eventually, only heavy favorite Deena Kastor, the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist in the marathon, would pass her, just four miles from the finish. Lewy Boulet had nailed a personal-best time of 2:30:19 and a ticket to Beijing.

The race gave her renewed energy and proved she was completely back in the competitive game since the birth of her son Owen in May 2005. Prior to her pregnancy, Lewy Boulet’s marathon best was 2:30:50.

At Pacers last week, Lewy Boulet discussed her pregnancy, strategically timed after one Olympic year – she was fifth at the Olympic marathon trials in St. Louis while ranking #6 in the United States in 2004 - and well before the 2008 Beijing Games.

“I met with my doctor and we agreed I would run less,” the 5-foot-4 115-pound Lewy Boulet described. “I went from 100 [miles per week] down to 60. I ran until the day I gave birth. I didn’t run fast. I just wanted to move because it made me feel good. I was determined, the day after [delivering], I’d return to training. I got from walking to swimming very quickly.

“But a lot of changes a woman goes through during pregnancy. I was so ready mentally and emotionally to get back into hard training. I had to go into post-pregnancy thinking that I’d been off for a year, that I would take a year to get back. I ran 2:31 before pregnancy; I ran 2:50 a few months later.

“All I can say is you have to respect the time. The baby sets the tone: the position of the baby. I was lucky, I felt great. Just like coming off an injury, you have to do it right so you don’t get hurt.”

Lewy Boulet stressed that she spends quite a lot of time on injury prevention, not just for her plantar which has occasionally sparked up since college at Cal-Berkeley in the mid- to late-90s. She said she does a lot of maintenance work on a daily basis on her feet such as self massage, pinky balls, strength exercises, and the torturous chore of icing. Lewy Boulet dished off some credit to her husband and former elite miler Richie Boulet for providing some of the much-needed foot massage.

On the plantar injury, she said: “I’ve been able to keep it away since 2007 through preventable exercises. I call it pre-hab.”

She also credited Nathan Human Propulsion Laboratories with helping her create a light-weight water pack she could wear for two-hour runs alone in the mountains around Lake Tahoe in the summer. “You could get through two hours of running, yes, you can get through it, but what’s [dehydration] going to do to your body?” she explained.

Lewy Boulet has been a California girl since her family emigrated from Poland and landed in Long Beach in 1991. She settled in Oakland after graduating Berkeley in 1997 with a degree in human biodynamics and became a U.S. citizen on September 11, 2001. She works as a full-time assistant coach at Berkeley.

She spoke at length about the upcoming U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Houston on January.

“I think this will be the most competitive trials in the history of the U.S. marathon,” she said. “It’s going to be extremely difficult to make this team. You never know but you have to be on that day.”

Several women have sub-2:30 qualifying times, including Lewy Boulet’s 2:26:22 time from Rotterdam in April last year. But Desiree Davila ran 2:22:38 in Boston six months ago and 2:26:20 at Chicago last fall, Kara Goucher went 2:24:52 behind Davila in Boston, Amy Hastings cruised 2:27:03 at Los Angeles last March, Shalane Flanagan debuted at New York with a 2:28:40 last fall and Stephanie Rothstein, a shooting star from Arizona, shocked with a 2:29:35 last January on the same Houston course as the trials will be run. This doesn’t even count a usual darkhorse who surprisingly rises to the top every four years.

Since 2008, not only has Lewy Boulet set a marathon personal best at Rotterdam, she also made two IAAF World Cross Country teams, in 2010 and again this year. Both years, she earned a team bronze medal representing the United States, finishing 20th in the 2010 race and 18th in the 2011 race.

Lewy Boulet was asked to compare/contrast the buildup to the 2012 trials with her prep for 2008, just 13 weeks to the trials, as she begins her marathon-specific focused training.

“I’m in a little different spot now,” she said. “I was coming off a really bad injury in October [2007] and the trials were April [2008]. What is different is that I’m healthy and coming off a really good summer season.”

In fact, at 38, like a fine wine, Lewy Boulet is actually getting better with age. She chuckled as she rattled off all of her personal bests set this year – 5,000 meters in 15:14 (Olympic “A” standard), 1500-meter time trial (“a huge PR,” she said), 10 kilometers in 31:48, also an Olympic “A” standard. She was remiss in not including a huge win over a competitive international field at the Falmouth (MA) Road Race in August, the first American female to win since 2003.

“The last couple of years have been the best of my running career,” she beamed. “And I have set new goals.”

Between now and Houston, Lewy Boulet says her only races will be the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K a day before the New York City Marathon, then possibly a half marathon tempo run.

And whether or not she makes the Olympic team in the marathon, she will, like she did in 2008, attempt to qualify for the Olympics in the 10,000 meters in June in Eugene, OR, as well. She placed sixth in the 10,000 in the 2008 trials.

If Lewy Boulet is fortunate enough to qualify in both the marathon and 10,000 meters, she said she may opt to run the 10,000 over the marathon. However, don’t be surprised if she still lines up for the marathon.

After the elation at Boston in April 2008 came the devastation of injuring her knee on the arm of an Olympic shuttle bus just days before the marathon. Her stiff, inflamed knee was so painful that she could not run farther than the first 15 kilometers of the Olympic marathon.

“I have some unfinished business in the Olympic marathon,” she said.



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