The first three women across the finish line at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles on Saturday will earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team for Rio. Desiree Linden (née Davila) knows what the pressure of that situation is like. Four years ago at the 2012 trials race in Houston, she emerged with a runner-up finish to make her first Olympic team. Now 32, the compact (5’2”, 100 pounds) but powerful Linden hopes to make her second on Saturday.
Things started coming together in Linden’s marathoning career in 2011 when she ran a massive personal best of 2:22:38 for the then-fastest time ever run at the Boston Marathon by an American woman.
The Olympics the following year were a different story. Linden failed to make it past the five-kilometer mark in London. She dropped out and was later diagnosed with a stress fracture in her femoral shaft. Her return was a steady progression back to form but 2015 was showed signs of her former self before the injury. She clocked the fastest marathon by an American woman in 2015 with her 2:25:39 finish for fourth place at Boston.
SI.com caught up with Linden ahead of the Olympic Trials to discuss her preparation for Saturday’s race with the Hansons-Brooks training group:
Chavez: The trials are coming up. How different has your the build up for this trials been compared to those of Boston and New York in the last couple years?
Linden: A lot of our marathon training segments are pretty similar. The biggest thing about Boston and New York is that [the training] is very course-specific. [For L.A.] we’ve incorporated some things, such as the 180-degree turns and the lapped course, but its pretty simple because it is flat. It’s more about preparing for 26.2 miles, which we have pretty dialed-in as a group.
CC: How many times have you gone out to see the course?
DL: We went out there in early December and were out there for about three days, which gave us plenty of chances to cover the six-mile loop.
CC: Having chatted with a few other qualifiers, some are under the impression that the course may favor cross-country runners. Did you get that feel as well?
DL: Yeah, I think so. It’s more about knowing what you’re getting into and that could break up that rhythm. You can find points on the course that work to your strength and then there are others that you just have to be comfortable with. There’s something for everyone on the course for sure.
CC: You’ve run the Berlin Marathon, which is flat and fast. At the same time, you’ve managed to run some of your fastest times on a hilly and tough course like Boston. Having both experiences under your belt, how does that help tackling Los Angeles’ streets?
DL: It makes it easy when you have a course like New York or Boston. That’s very strength-oriented. You have to strengthen the quads for the downhill and up the mileage a little bit to get the strength portion of New York and Boston. This is more about 26.2 and getting comfortable and locking in at race pace.
CC: You’ve gone out to Kenya to train ahead of Boston but not this time around, what is the reasoning behind that?
DL: I’ve done base training there as well as being there for good footing and warm weather. It’s more about the big miles than going to altitude. We spend most of our time running at race pace and learning what that effort feels like. That’s something you can’t quite do at altitude.
CC: Ryan Hall has gone to Kenya and Ethiopia before and he’s told runners there his personal best is 2:04:58. Sometimes they laugh but they never asked him for any sort of tips or advice. Have you had a similar experience there?
DL: Everyone just puts their head down and runs as hard as they can out there. If they fall off, they just walk away and try again the next day. That’s the experience that I’ve had out there. It’s also that you run into so many people that you know and you’re miles across the world. I’ll go for a run and see someone like [2012 Boston Marathon champion] Sharon Cherop. It’s a running paradise out there.
CC: What has your longest run been in preparation for L.A.?
DL: It’s been a pretty standard 20 miles. Don’t think I’ve gone over that.
CC: Where has most of the training taken place?
DL: We spent a couple weeks out in Michigan—about a month. We’ve put together about six weeks in Florida, which is nice since you don’t have to worry about footing, ice and snow. I think the 10 o’clock start in L.A. is going to be warm. We’ll certainly be ready for that. It would’ve seemed warm if we were coming from the Michigan area.
CC: Let’s take a step back to reflect on the 2012 Olympic Trials. Up in front, there was a battle between you and Shalane Flanagan. What stood out to you about the type of race that she was running and your own tactics?
DL: She was incredibly fit. I gave myself a good chance going into that given her lack of experience in the event. If I was ever going to beat her head-to-head that was kind of my shot. She’s only gotten better but I’ve also made some great progress as well. I’d love to come out on top in L.A. to kind of change it from a butt-kicking on my end to a rivalry between us. I think that would be pretty exciting to add one more element for American fans.
CC: You got the best of Shalane in Boston. After taking months to analyze that race, how much of a success was it?
DL: It was great. I’ve been working to get back to that point for so long. You start seeing signs of it during workouts and start to think, “You can do this.” You want to have the result and the number on the page. I got all of those things done to finally put that 2012 injury behind me. It’s not a comeback anymore. People always like to ask, ‘Are you going to come back stronger than ever?’ Boston was the first time that I felt I was just as strong or even better than I ever was before. That was a nice positive from that day but also something I can work forward from.
CC: The men’s race appears to be wide open. On the women’s side of things, there seems to be a select group who are very strong contenders for the team. How many women do you think are in that category?
DL: There will definitely be some surprises. There are some 2:30 women who are on the bubble but can have a breakthrough. The women at 2:28 know they have to up their game for this. I’m putting about 10 to 12 people who will be in the race late. The ones who can close well will make the team.
CC: What was the toughest part of your comeback from injury?
DL: Being injured in those first few months and wondering “When is pain-free running going to happen?” I know how to get in shape but when you have this thing hindering you for such a long time, I don’t know how to fix it.
CC: Outside of chatting to the media, how often does London come up between you and other people in conversation?
DL: Not very much at all. It’s in the past and I’ve moved on. It’s actually a big motivator. I want to use it as something that’s made me better and hopefully land me on another Olympic team.