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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Lewy Boulet resigned from GU, and filled in as a shoe salesperson at her husband's running store. "I liked selling shoes and I think I was good at it. My goal was to have the customer come back and say, 'I liked those shoes you sold me, it really helped me improve my running and I love to go out now.'" She says it also gave her valuable insight. "It helped me realize how lucky I am to have a natural talent for racing. It's not that way for every person, and when my motivation is lacking I think back on the people who came to the store who really struggle to get going and think, 'I have a lot to be thankful for.'" Her co-workers cheered her on as she approached the Boston qualifier, and are thrilled to see her succeed. "Magda is the best," said sales associate Dwight Upshaw at the company's Solano Avenue store. "She is one of the only top athletes you'll ever meet who has such a full load, and she is the most balanced person I know. She's very devoted to what she does and still has a life." Co-owner Bev Newcomb agrees. "We all got up at 5 a.m. to watch her run in Boston. The best thing is no matter what she's accomplished she has never turned into a diva; that's not her way. My hope for Magda is to reach whatever goal she wants. She deserves it. And then I hope she'll come back and work for us again!"

Two thousand seven was a year of 10K races, mini-marathons, and more training, but no completed marathons at all for a woman hoping to be one of the three best American marathoners. Hired as a coach at Cal, Lewy Boulet was one of a very small group of Olympic-caliber runners to actually hold a full-time job while also training. Not surprisingly, she has made a connection there as well. "What I learned from coaching is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, no matter how good that approach is," she said. "I really have to look at each individual runner if I want to help them discover what's best for them, not just find something that works in general." Also, Lewy Boulet found that coaching others made her much more anxious than running herself. "You just feel so responsible for what's going on before the race, during it, and then after. Everything! I thought about this and realized that I actually run very relaxed when I run on my own."

And halfway through her Olympic qualifier in Boston, with thirteen miles down and thirteen miles to go, she was still very much alone. But her progress was not going unnoticed. A slew of real-time reporters began to weigh in, gaining knowledge with each passing mile. A Boston-based blog called her "the Great Unknown." Little better was a Brighton, Massachusetts blog that called her "a little-known runner," but most breathless was a racing blog called The Final Sprint that went from skeptic to cheerleader. Mile six: "Lewy Boulet continues to lead but she cannot run and hide on this course with the hairpin turns where the leader and the pack can judge their distance very accurately. Thus far Lewy Boulet has used these turns for an adrenaline advantage — let's see how long she can keep it up!" Mile ten: "She's a great story and continues to lead." Mile twelve: [Magda] has looked down on her watch to check her time, maybe in disbelief that she had a minute and a half on Deena Kastor and was in first place." Mile fourteen: "Lewy Boulet increases her lead and is now out of view. There now seems to be a sense of urgency among the runners behind her. Lewy Boulet is facing the wind alone but still looks great."

Then, three miles later everything changed.

Kastor was gaining, doing what were called "negative splits," meaning she was running faster in the second half of the race than she had in the first. Not only was Kastor gaining but Lewy Boulet was slowing. Mile eighteen: "She is now showing signs of working hard and her lead was down to 1:32. Mile nineteen: "Kastor only 1:19 behind. The race may come down to who gets third place. Russell and Davila gaining ground." Mile twenty: "Magdalena Lewy Boulet leads with one loop to go."

But if Lewy Boulet was panicking, she didn't show it. A reporter for The Boston Globe wrote, "Lewy Boulet never looked back. Not once."

By mile 21, she didn't need to look back to see her competition. It was breathing down her neck. Reporters said that it looked like she was hurting, her 5:57 mile was her slowest yet.

Then mile 23, the same one that doomed her four years before. The crowd cheered the favorite and there were more runners on their way. "For more than two hours she was in her world, her own race," the Globe wrote, "but Kastor was now coming like a race horse ... nine seconds back."

By mile 24, Kastor has passed her. With a pace closer to 6:00 than her desired 5:40, Lewy Boulet finished the last loop around the main track and headed toward the finish watching Deena Kastor pull away. But her thoughts were on what was happening behind her, and those were thoughts were of joy. Lewy Boulet was thrilled to see that it was Blake Russell right behind her. "I wanted to scream Blake — we made it this time! But I knew that wouldn't be wise." But the last mile wasn't about strategy, it was about heart. Kastor finished in front by 44 seconds, and Lewy Boulet in second, more than a minute ahead of Blake Russell. All three were going to Beijing.


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