Magdalena Boulet and Roxanne Vogel know a thing or two about performance. The former, a one-time Olympian marathoner, excel at nearly everything on two legs, taking home first place in grueling 100-mile trail races and winning two bronze medals in the IAAF World Cross Country championships. The latter, a sports nutritionist, is an intrepid adventurer who has summited Kilimanjaro, Denali, and Aconcagua (Mount Everest is next).
Together, however, the two women are even more unstoppable as the bold force behind Gu Energy Labs’ line of performance-enhancing sports nutrition products. Boulet (Gu’s vice president of research, innovation, and development) and Vogel (who oversees the brand’s Endurance Lab) don’t just create the gels, chews, drinks, and capsules that power athletes during marathons, triathlons, and mountain treks—they test them in the field, analyzing their creations on the highest peaks, the longest runs, and the most grueling challenges.
We caught up with the daring execs for a lesson in fearlessness—how to rise in the face of even the most daunting challenges, and the power of having an athlete’s mind-set in every aspect of life.
Tell us a about how Gu’s products get put to the test.
Roxanne Vogel: We test products the way we imagine they will be used in the field, so we take them on adventures. A new product will go on mountain climbs with me or trail runs with Magda, for instance. We expose the products to all sorts of crazy conditions in the process: below-freezing temperatures, deserts, jungles, glaciers, high altitudes—you name it! We figure out pretty quickly how a product and its packaging will survive—or not—in the real world.
What are some of the ways you’ve personally tested products out in the field?
Magdalena Boulet: I tested an all-liquid nutrition plan during the 2015 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. I consumed only water and Roctane Energy Drink, a carbohydrate-dense energy mix, for 19 hours of racing. The nutrition plan worked perfectly, and I proved that you can race well without eating, and by just drinking your calories.
RV: Taking anything above 20,000 feet elevation is pretty revealing of its durability! Heading high up a mountain helped me discover that you need to keep products warm by keeping them near your body. Otherwise you run the risk of the product freezing, and thus becoming useless as a fuel source—and just extra weight to carry up.
What has your training taught you about the human body and mind?
MB: I’m a big fan of trying new things and putting myself in a zone where things are uncomfortable. Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable is an opportunity to learn a lot about yourself. For me, no matter what happens in the end, the process of putting myself out there and committing to something bigger than myself makes me so much stronger on the other side. It’s not always about the end goal, but it’s about the process—and the process is very empowering. Taking risks and recognizing the potential for failure is crucial to self-growth.
RV: Mental toughness is trainable and essential to success; I think it’s one of the more overlooked components to training, and one that will make or break you. Learning to “embrace the suck” and push on when you are exhausted and suffering can save your life one day. I speak from experience.
How can an athlete’s mind-set be useful in the office?
MB: Training teaches you lots of things, including time and stress management. It’s always hard in the moment to get past something you perceive as a failure, so I think it’s important to frame the conversation that way: failure versus “perceived” failure. Most of the time, there is some reason that things didn’t go well, and sometimes that thing was out of your control. It takes time and perspective to realize that each disappointment is a learning moment, and something that will make you stronger in the future. Viewing it as lesson instead of a failure will help keep you positive, motivated, and working hard to the next goal.
What does “fitness” mean to you?
RV: For me, fitness is the ability to wake up and be prepared to take on life and all of its unknowns, whether that means being mentally fit enough to handle stressful situations, or physically fit enough to just climb a flight of stairs.
MB: Fitness means having the physical—and mental—ability to challenge myself. It’s incredibly satisfying to look at something, be intimidated by it, commit to doing it, and finish it successfully. I can’t imagine a life in which I didn’t scare myself and keep striving to complete something that I didn’t know I could do.