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On road racing

As the great unknown, Lewy Boulet found her place

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By John Powers
Globe Staff / April 21, 2008

For more than two hours yesterday morning she was in her own world, her own race. The gun was fired on Boylston Street and Magdalena Lewy Boulet sprinted off by herself and stayed there for more than 23 miles. Around the Common, up Commonwealth Avenue, over the Harvard Bridge, and along Memorial Drive.

"That's not Deena," a bystander at MIT observed.

If any woman was going to run away from the pack at the Olympic Marathon Trials, it figured to be Deena Kastor, the Olympic medalist and US record-holder, whose qualifying time was a dozen minutes faster than anyone else's. Instead, here was a mystery guest with shades, a bare midriff, and a long braid swinging to and fro, going solo.

"Who is that?" spectators kept asking.

Lewy Boulet is a 34-year-old mother who lives in Oakland, was born in Poland, was granted American citizenship on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and is an assistant coach at Cal-Berkeley. She'd finished fifth at the 2004 Trials in St. Louis and hadn't run a marathon since she qualified (in 2 hours 42 minutes 38 seconds) in New York two years ago. Her only choice here was to be bold.

"I just wanted to be on the team," said Lewy Boulet, after she'd run a personal best 2:30:19 to finish between Kastor (2:29:35) and Blake Russell (2:32:40) to earn herself a ticket to Beijing in August.

So she'd decided a month ago that she would run aggressively here, even at the risk of becoming riverside roadkill. The race will not come to you, her husband and coach had told her. You have to go get it.

So Lewy Boulet did and never looked back. Not once. While Kastor and the rest of the favorites settled comfortably into the pack, she tucked herself in behind a State Police motorcycle and quickly put a couple of city blocks between herself and her pursuers.

By the time she turned onto Tremont Street, Lewy Boulet had 19 seconds on the field. When she passed the Frog Pond, she had 37. At the first turnaround on the Cambridge side, 5 miles in, her lead was more than a minute.

"I had no idea I would be by myself," said Lewy Boulet, who passed the lead pack going the opposite way up Memorial Drive. "I was definitely a little bit uncomfortable, a little surprised."

Lewy Boulet wasn't running at a break-neck pace. Her mile splits were averaging 5:44, putting her around 2 hours 30 minutes, yet she kept gaining ground. At the halfway point, Lewy Boulet's lead was more than two minutes and she'd begun wondering whether she was making a fatal mistake.

"A million things were going through my mind and one of them was Blake from 2004," she said. "I thought, 'Oh, boy, I hope that doesn't happen to me.' "

Four years ago, Russell was ahead of the field by more than a minute, then cramped at 17 miles and began fading. What Russell learned that day is that at the Olympic Trials, third is as good as first. And that fourth might as well be 124th.

After the third 6-mile loop, though, Lewy Boulet was still 1:40 ahead and running well within herself. When she went into Cambridge for the final time, she sensed that she'd made the team.

"For a moment, I thought I was going to win the race," Lewy Boulet said. "I thought, if I keep this up, I can take this all the way home. But in the back of my mind, I knew Deena was coming."

Coming like a racehorse, actually. Just before the Massachusetts Avenue underpass, with a little more than 2 miles to go, Kastor caught Lewy Boulet and pulled away. Lewy Boulet let her go. She knew she had a sizable lead on Russell and that Russell wasn't going to risk blowing up by trying to overtake her. And even if she did, Lewy Boulet was a lock for third, unless she stepped into an open manhole.

Once she'd crossed the bridge for the last time and turned onto Boylston for the final stretch, she spotted the crosswalk that led to Beijing. When Lewy Boulet arrived, there was a laurel wreath and an American flag waiting for her.

"This is a dream come true for me," she exulted. "I can't even explain how exciting this is. Coming from a different country and being able to do what I want to do is pretty amazing."

Lewy Boulet was a teenager when her family left Poland to get out from under the Communist thumb. They lived for three years in Germany, then came to the United States, where Lewy Boulet went to Cal, married a former Bears track star, and became a citizen on the country's most traumatic day since Pearl Harbor.

"I had no idea what was going on until I entered the federal building," she said. "We got there and they told us it would be only five minutes. We got sworn in and they sent us home without telling us what was happening. We sat in the car and listened to the radio to hear what was going on. So Sept. 11th is a very special day for me."

As was yesterday, when Magdalena Lewy Boulet did that most American of things. She saw her chance to reach Olympus and she went after it with audacity. One moment, one shot. Mike Eruzione knows all about that.

John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com.

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