Before last month's Boston Marathon, a big win had eluded her for years. This changes everything.
Last month, Desiree “Des” Linden became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years. For the 34-year-old Linden, who trains with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, breaking the tape in a major race was a long time coming. Despite being a two-time Olympian and one of the most accomplished American road runners of the past decade, Linden has never won a national title. She came in second at the 2016 USATF Half Marathon Championships, adding to a résumé rife with runner-up finishes: the 2016 and 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, the 2011 Boston Marathon, and the 2010 Chicago Marathon. According to Linden, the biggest win of her career prior to Boston was “probably a New Year’s Eve four-miler in Central Park.” Talk about an upgrade.
Regardless of what the rest of her career may hold, Linden will go down as a World Marathon Major champion. I spoke to Linden about the psychological impact of having such a weight lifted off her shoulders.
Everything Is Gravy
The post-marathon blues are real. But after coming away from so many marathons with a podium or top-five finish but never a win, Linden says Boston 2018 feels almost like “a relief victory.”
“Last year [when I finished fourth], I went through that low depression where I just didn’t know if this was going to happen and wondering whether my career was done and so on. This time, everything is just gravy. I’ve gone through so many ups and downs that I have a very good head about it. I know that if this is as good as it gets, I’m totally cool with that,” Linden says.
She Can Take Risks
It’s a sports cliché that athletes have to remain hungry as a condition for future success. In this narrow sense, Linden’s recent triumph might seem like it could dampen her competitive fire. After all, how do you top winning the Boston Marathon? But Linden feels that, conversely, achieving her longtime goal of winning Boston is more likely to work in her benefit.
“I tailor all of my training for Boston and do my four-year buildups keeping that race in mind,” she says. “Having won, it does allow me to race differently. I can take risks; it’s okay if it falls apart. I can chase a PR. I can chase another major. Whatever it may be. I can do it with different tactics than before, because now I’ve done the one thing that I really wanted to do.”
Competing Is What Counts
As far as what’s next on her competition schedule, Linden says she intends to be “really picky.” (It was announced earlier this week that Linden is running the NYRR New York Mini 10K in Central Park in June.) Future races may include a few flat-course events that would give her a shot at notching a PR in her mid-thirties, but Linden will always prioritize competing in marquee events like the New York or Boston Marathon over chasing a fast time. For her, it’s all about racing.
“The Boston win was probably one of the slowest marathons of my career, but it’s the most special,” Linden says. “I’ll never really care about what time it was won in.”
She Needed That Win
I asked Linden how important a major victory really was in terms of validating her marathon career. After all, she is a two-time Olympian who has shown remarkable consistency as a world-class racer. She could have run just as hard over the final miles of last month’s race and still potentially placed second if, for example, the wheels hadn’t come off for Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska.
“It was what I was chasing, especially as I’m kind of at the point where I know I can only do this a couple more times,” Linden says. “I wanted a win just to say that I’ve won a marathon—even if that would have meant stepping back and doing a smaller race. That was really important to me, in terms of just having that one highlight on my résumé. I feel like I was just chasing baseball stats for a really long time, like ‘top five in every major when it was over 65 degrees.’ Just silly stats that are great when you look at them, but you still need that highlight. So it was good to get it done. I don’t know what I would have thought if it didn’t happen, but I’m glad I don’t have to answer that question.”
She Can’t Sit on the Sidelines
Her competitive nature notwithstanding, Linden admits that she briefly entertained the notion of retiring after Boston. “Initially, I was like, ‘I’m just going to hang them up because it can’t get any better than this,” she says. That thought didn’t last long.
“I try to picture myself just watching Boston, and I just can’t. I don’t care if I ever win again, but I can’t imagine having the ability to compete and deciding to just watch instead. I love getting in those really big races and matching up with really great runners to see where I fit in.”