Photo by Andy Cochrane
THE STORY OF MAGDA BOULET’S ATTEMPT TO BE THE FASTEST WOMAN TO RUN THE TAHOE RIM TRAIL
It was just before 10am on Friday, October 18 as Magda dashed across Hwy 50, cutting it unnecessarily close to the unsuspecting cars blasting over the top of Echo Summit. A few weeks before, Magda and her husband Richie sold the cabin they built just down the road. “I was on this trail with Owen [her son] just two weeks ago,” said Magda as she made her way back onto the Tahoe Rim Trail towards Echo Lake. This was mile 20 of 172….
Magda would see three sunrises during her 172-mile journey around the Tahoe Rim Trail. Photo by Andy Cochrane.
The Tahoe Rim Trail is a single-track trail loop that boasts some of the most desolate landscapes and gorgeous views of the Sierras. In 2015, ultrarunning champion Krissy Moehl completed the route in 1 day, 23 hours, and 29 minutes. That time was on Magda’s mind when she set out to earn the Fastest Known Time (or FKT) on the trail on Friday, October 18. Spoiler alert – Magda did not break the record – she completed her effort in 2 days, 2 hours, and 30 minutes (3 hours and 1 minute short of Krissy’s record) – but the story of the weekend goes much deeper than an unbroken record.
The crew and pacers assembled in South Lake Tahoe before the attempt to talk logistics. Photo Johnie Gall.
Anyone who has met Magda knows that she makes friends quickly. And it was her vivacious, unbridled enthusiasm that rallied a team of running buddies, coworkers, competitors, and strangers together for a weekend filled with highs, lows, laughs, and new friendships. Andy Cochrane, a freelancer and filmmaker, is likely responsible for Magda getting to the trail head on Friday morning ready to go for this record. He remembers a run in the summer of 2018 as the first time he and Magda discussed a possible long-trail FTK attempt. Andy, who’s not one to forget a good idea, kept bringing up the FKT attempt until finally a date was set, plans were made, and Magda’s crew was assembled.
The group that arrived in South Lake Tahoe on Thursday was a hodgepodge of bay area runners. All knew Magda, but not everyone knew each other. Over a dinner (low in fiber and high in carbs and protein), Andy walked through the logistics of the weekend, and it was then that the pacers and crew began to internalize the monumental effort that Magda was about to undertake.
Among the pacers and crew were a few GU Crew runners including Tim Tollefson from Mammoth Lakes, YiOu Wang from Marin, Corrine Malcolm from San Francisco, and Kris Brown from Santa Barbara.
It was below freezing at 6am on Friday when Magda began running. Photo Johnie Gall.
Corrine sent Magda a friendly “good luck” Instagram message in the week leading up to the attempt. Fast forward five days, and Corrine was on the trail with Magda in the middle of the night literally howling at the moon. “She responded to my good luck text asking if I had any interest in subbing in for a pacer that was injured,” remembered Corrine. “I immediately cleared my schedule and drove to Tahoe.”
Kris, who ended up running with Corrine and Magda through some of the windiest conditions either of them had seen, recounts a similar feeling when Magda sent a text asking him to join. “Magda is an example of someone who has figured out how to perform at an impossibly high level in the three areas of life… sport, professional, and personal relationships,” said Kris about why he jumped at the opportunity to get involved in the Tahoe Rim Trail Fastest Known Time project.
Emma McCune had only briefly met Magda three weeks ago during a run on Mt. Tam. She happened to be in Tahoe to support some photographer friends who were filming Magda for a sponsor. “After being surrounded by her crew that was working so hard towards this goal, it was impossible not to become emotionally connected and become a part of it myself,” remembers Emma. She ended up becoming a last-minute addition to the pacer team and ran with Magda for 17 miles into the night on Saturday. “We all bonded through this collective goal of getting Magda to the finish”
The temperature never rose during the second day and the team battled vicious wind in the high-alpine. Photo Johnie Gall.
The handful of other pacers and crew members all had similar stories – and all pointed to Magda’s graciousness and grit as the reason they wanted to join the “party.”
Tim, Corrine, and Magda switch on their headlamps as they head into the first night. Photo by Andy Cochrane.
The plan was to start at the Big Meadow Campground at 6am sharp on Friday morning. If Magda were to stay under the previous FKT pace, this would bring her back to the start before 5:30am on Sunday morning. The route is naturally broken up by road crossings into eight segments ranging from 16 miles to 33 miles. The plan was simple – meet Magda at each crossing to refuel her, swap out her pacers, and give her some high-fives. The goal was to send Magda with two runners to accompany her on each leg to help navigate, carry extra water and food, and keep her motivated with jokes and stories.
Following a sub-freezing start on Friday morning, the temperature rose to a comfortable 60 degrees as Magda and her pacers traversed the iconic Desolation Wilderness. When Magda switched off her headlamp in the morning glow, it was impossible to fathom that this sunrise would be just the first of three Magda would see before finishing her 172-mile journey around Lake Tahoe on the Tahoe Rim Trail. But as the sun rose, the miles melted away. Before they knew it, the evening’s golden hour had arrived and it was time for the night-time pacers to take over.
The last few minutes of golden hour on Friday, 52 miles into the effort. Photo by Andy Cochrane.
In the hours after sunset on Friday, less than 24 hours into the attempt, the stars and moon were hidden by a cloud bank, the wind picked up, and the temperature dropped. When dawn approached on Saturday morning, it was clear that the warmth and sunshine from the day before would not return. From that point on, the puffy jacket and gloves would not come off as Magda made her way around the north and east sides of the lake.
Despite a cold and windy weather system that Magda and her pacers were battling, Kris points to Magda’s grit as being unparalleled. “She never had any moments of doubt. I never heard anything about her not wanting to go on further. There was no talk of slowing down and no talk of stopping. She was going to continue no matter what.”
Her pace had slowed from the day before, but she pressed on, moving efficiently uphill and running the flats and downhills.
Magda and pacer Chris Lepley reach the high-point of the trail shortly after the second sunrise. Photo by Andy Cochrane.
Magda was at or ahead of Krissy’s record pace for 135 miles until the crew rendezvous at Kingsbury Grade. In the previous section, Magda battled brutal winds and cold temperatures, which slowed her average pace. When she saw her crew at Kingsbury, she knew the record was falling out of reach, but she nevertheless blasted through to cross the road and continue, bareley stopping to refuel. She was on a mission.
THE MISSED RECORD
“We had done the math,” said Tim Tollefson, who ran his third leg of the weekend with Magda and fellow pacer Andy Cochrane during the final section from Kingsbury back to Big Meadows. She needed to hold 3.5 mph, but her pace was slowed by some sustained climbs, and she was not able to regain the time on the downhills. There was no one definitive moment, but eventually Magda realized for herself that the record was out of reach. “At that point the three of us stopped and shared a group hug,” remembers Andy. “Not getting the FKT was hard, but way less important than other lessons from the run. I was and am so proud of Magda for leaving it all out there.”
Magda moved efficiently through checkpoints and spent very little time not movnig. Photo Johnie Gall.
Tim agrees that the record was second to the experience. “It was amazing to strengthen relationships and connect with new people around the shared goal of helping a friend accomplish something impossible,” said Tim. “That experience was really neat, and it reinforced what I already knew – Magda is incredibly gritty but also gracious. She’s able to carry herself through ups and downs really well. At no point did I ever see her express a desire to stop. She never looked for a reason to pull out.”
Not finishing never seemed like an option. Coming down the trail with a mile-and-a-half to go, Magda was greeted by a group of smiling friends and family, ready to walk the final miles back to Big Meadow Campground. “Everyone just started walking up the trail,” remembers Corrine, who arrived at the finish Sunday morning to cheer Magda home. “We didn’t decide to do it or talk about it, but we all knew we wanted to get out on the trail and find her. Everyone was chatting, congratulating one crew member on his recent engagement, talking about 2020 race calendars… it was a special moment.”
A common goal turned a group of strangers into teammates and friends. Photo Johnie Gall.
Magda remembers one of her highlights was watching friends from different parts of her life come together and develop their own relationships. There were moments when her fatigue kept her from speaking, but she was able to move over the trails listening to conversations between new friends getting to know each other. “I had never met Kris before this weekend,” said Corrine. “But I now have a trip planned to Santa Barbara to run a race with him in December!”
Why do ultrarunners set out to push their bodies to their limits? That question is impossible to answer. But over the weekend, a group of runners and friends saw Magda spend 50 hours pushing herself further than she’d ever gone before and deeper in a hole than she’d ever been… she kept going to see what else was there, and in the process, her community was forced to look inside and ask that question of “why” for themselves.