Back on Track 

After failing to make the team in 2004, Magdalena Lewy Boulet had to start from scratch for this year's Olympic qualifier.

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"At first I had said to myself, 'Okay, after the baby, next day, back in training.' For a while after Owen was born, I swam, and then I got on the bicycle, but by the time I got back to the track I struggled. I remember asking myself, 'Where am I going with this? How can I get back to what I doing what I did before 2004?' And the answer to that was I couldn't." For the rest of 2005, Lewy Boulet raised Owen, resumed her work at GU, helped out at TranSports, and tried to deal with her foot pain and her far more limiting schedule. "I just wanted to do everything the same way I did before St. Louis and it just didn't work like that anymore. Did I ever think I was finished as an elite runner? Never. But I didn't know how to get back to where I had been."

Enter Jack Daniels, an exercise physiologist and head distance coach at the Center for High Altitude Training, who had worked with Lewy Boulet off and on since 2001. Daniels had enjoyed a lengthy athletic career of his own, which included Olympic medals in the pentathlon and a stint as consultant for the US track team in the 1968 Mexico City games. Lewy Boulet put her fate in his hands and traveled to his training center in Flagstaff, Arizona, to see if he had any insights that would allow her to get back on track. The first step was to open up a dialogue.

"If it's going to work, you have to be able to communicate clearly with your coach," she said. "Both ways, so that when there's something the matter and he can't see it or feel it, you have to tell him." Between e-mail and phone calls and regular visits (Daniels worked briefly at Stanford) the trust developed, and with it a bold new strategy. "Jack said, 'Look you can't do things the way that you were accustomed to. You don't have the time, and your body is telling you that it's hurt. So we're going to work around what you can do.'" Out went the punishing laps around the track that Lewy Boulet had neither the time nor foot strength for. In came the treadmill.

"I had never been on a treadmill before," she said. "I had never seen reason to use one." Now she was told to do her afternoon training where she wanted to be anyway, in the house, near her newborn. "Jack said, 'The treadmill will work on what you do best, the hill training that you need, and will save your foot from what hurts it most, the turns around a track.' And so I began."

At first, she ran the treadmill with Owen in a crib nearby, and as he grew, she put it next to him as he played on the floor. When he became big enough to sit up, he cheered her on. "'Good job Mommy, good job, go faster Mommy,'" she recalled her two-year-old saying. That's when she concluded that she was doing the right thing. She and Richie would take shifts in running and child care, and her husband was her inspiration throughout this period. "I have watched him train and race at a very high level, and to this day I see how much he loves to run," she said. "He understands what it takes to compete at this level and supports me every way he can."

Lewy Boulet discovered something between 2004 and 2008, and she says it made the difference professionally and psychologically. She found balance.

"If there's anything that sets me aside from the other runners, it is that my road's been a bit different," she said. "Instead of giving over every moment I had to running, I had to make room for running to fit into all the other things in my life. It's made me a better person and it's made me a better runner." There are days when Owen is sick or day care falls through and Lewy Boulet stays home. There are nights when family trumps training. But she is a happier runner than she's ever been before. "It took me a while to get here," she says, "and I know other people thought 'Okay, she's done.' But my goal the whole time was to come back and try one more time. I just didn't know how different the journey would be this time around." Her longtime Cal coach Tony Sandoval says the most significant change in his former star is her state of mind. "She has more balance in her life and she's absolutely benefited from it."

How is it possible that having less time has made her a better runner? "I have had to change my focus for sure," she said after thinking for a moment. "I know I only have a finite amount of time to train so that time needs to be spent thoughtfully and passionately. It translates into everything else I suppose. I love what I am doing and at the end of the day I look at my husband and I look at my son and know that I am busy and will not be able to fit everything in, but I also know that I am happy."

By 2006, she was training for the New York City Marathon while trying to shake off the effects of her plantar fasciitis. Unable to do more than three miles at a time for the month before the race, she accepted her fate and pressed on, doing only what she could. The short-distance practice limits might have maddened an athlete who burned to get to peak level, but for the mother who now had running and a life, she made do. And she made the cut, earning her way to Boston for the Olympic qualifier. "I knew I had a 2:30 in me, but even the 2:42 I did in New York took me quite a while to recover from."


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