At this point in her professional running career, Desiree Linden is done holding back. The quiet two-time Olympian is not always the most talked-about competitor or the favorite to win at races, but Linden is ready to change that at Monday’s Boston Marathon.
Last summer, the 33-year-old California native finished seventh overall at the Rio Games, just behind fellow American Shalane Flanagan. But with Flanagan sitting out Boston due to a back injury, Linden could position herself for a breakthrough victory. No American woman has won the Boston Marathon since Lisa Larsen Rainsberger (formerly Weidenbach) in 1985.
“I’m not going to say [my goal] is to podium or just doing it for fun—it’s truly to try to get a win,” Linden told Excelle Sports. “I’m putting it out there that I’m going for the win.”
Linden’s proclamation may sound like bravado, but it’s hardly misplaced. In 2011, Linden, who often goes by “Des” or “Desi,” charged to the front of the women’s pack in the final miles of Boston, only to be outkicked by Kenya’s Caroline Kilel, who finished two seconds ahead of her in 2:22:36.
Linden returns to the historic race this year as an even stronger runner than she was in 2011.
— Boston Marathon JH (@jhboston26) March 20, 2017
[More from Excelle Sports: Four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan will not run 2017 Boston Marathon]
“The Rio buildup was the best of my career,” she said. “Late fall I was able to do speed work and get quicker than ever before. All things are going very well and I’m taking positive momentum into Boston.”
Linden’s coach, Kevin Hanson, had some doubts when she first joined the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project training group in Rochester Hills, Mich. Hanson was worried Linden, who grew up in Southern California and ran at Arizona State University, would have trouble acclimating to the midwest weather and admits that she is not someone that he would’ve recruited.
But it didn’t take long for Hanson to walk back on his assumptions. Today, Linden has become his model student.
“Some people when you talk to them about the race plan, I may be overwhelming them,” Hanson said. “For [Linden] if I say one thing, she’ll add three … She’s already done her homework.”
Hanson has Linden running about 120 miles a week in the lead-up to Boston and wants her to “run fast on tired legs.” It’s not a program that every runner can handle, but the 5-foot-2 Linden embraces the heavy workload and training regime that Hanson calls “cumulative fatigue.”
“For the most part I’m able to not get injured and adapt to the fatigue,” Linden said. “A lot of people I think may need to back off and want to taper, but I think I’ve learned to use that as my strength.”
There was no better example of this than at the 2016 Olympic marathon trials in Los Angeles, where Linden finished second behind Amy Cragg.
While Flanagan, one of the favorites to win the trials, hobbled to the finish line in the overbearing California heat, Linden appeared to be getting stronger as the race went on, closing the gap for second place in the last few miles. The more variables there are, the better Linden’s chances are, Hanson said.
“I think that’s one thing that plays into her advantage,” he said. “Honestly, with Des, I hardly ever want perfect conditions … I think the trials was a good example of that.”
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Last year’s Olympic experience also helped Linden replace some of the disappointing memories from the 2012 London Game. In her first Olympic marathon, Linden dropped out in the first few miles and was eventually diagnosed with a femoral stress fracture.
For four years, Linden had trouble celebrating herself as an Olympian because of the setback.
“Making the 2016 Olympic team was really huge,” Linden said. “The London Olympics was supposed to be this big moment, a culmination of hard work, but it was pretty much the polar opposite. I had to regroup and focus for the next four years … There was a lot of time in between for it to go wrong. Just sticking with it and getting back to that point was great.”
This year, Linden hopes to continue to build on the memories she made over the last 12 months. And she’s already made progress toward that goal, placing seventh at the New York City Half Marathon in March with a time of 1:11:05 as a tuneup for Boston.
At the marathon on Monday, Linden will face a stiff challenge from a number of East African runners and some talented Americans. But what may be different for Linden this year is that her plan isn’t simply to finish as high in the ranks as she can.
“Her goal isn’t to finish second,” Hanson said. “Her goal is to definitely win the race.”