Boston Marathon champion Des Linden will prepare with her title defense with a half marathon in NYC.
NEW YORK – 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden will open her 2019 season with the United Airlines NYC Half on Sunday, March 17. The full field of professional athletes will be released on Thursday.
Last April, Linden battled through rainy and cold conditions to become the first American woman in 33 years to win the Boston Marathon. Then in November, she followed up the victory with a sixth place finish at the TCS New York City Marathon.
For the half marathon, Linden's best time is 70:34, which she set in Florida in 2011. Speaking with SI about her 2019 racing plans, Linden said that she is 100% healthy at the moment with “all things heading in the right direction" for her upcoming races.
The following interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Sports Illustrated: What are you hoping to achieve in an early season race like this? After your win in Boston, you mentioned how taking some time off to rest was helpful in heading into that race.
Des Linden: I don’t want to call it a rust buster because it’s going to be a solid race, but I haven’t put on a uniform or racing shoes yet this year. I’m going through the process of getting ready, handling pre-race nerves and it’s nice to have one under the belt. It’s always good to get the feeling of competing, lining up against other people and running hard. That’s one of the main goals to get out of the race and it’ll be good to get it done early. From there, we’ll analyze things on how to make better decisions before going up to Boston.
SI: Since you started running the marathon in 2007, we’ve always seen half marathons as just part of the build up for your major marathons. Have you always viewed them in the same way or when was the last time you really focused on one?
DL: It’s always kind of been a stepping stone to get to the marathon, where we’ll just check in to see where we’re at. This one is a big deal but obviously the main focus is Boston. Honestly, I think this can play a big role for the fall, where I can really tackle the distance and have one be the main thing circled on the calendar. This will be a good point for that.
SI: This is the first spring season for you as a Boston Marathon champion. Money is always a taboo topic within the sport but how do you balance maximizing on possible appearance fees to run or show up to events and also maintaining a training schedule that is conducive to Boston? It seems really easy to just take up a bunch of opportunities and cash out.
DL: I think it’s something that I’ve learned along the way. I’ve been in the sport for a really long time so I know where to really focus and when I have to hunker down and just train. I know you can be a little more open to taking on some extra things. Last year, immediately following Boston, we were just like ‘Let’s do as much as we can. Let’s say yes and run ourselves into exhaustion. Then we’d hit re-set before getting into marathon stuff.’ Even that was a little more on my plate than I’m typically used to. Once the year was over, we turned the page and let’s keep the main thing as the main thing. If you crack a really good race, there’s always money down the line. That’s the point of all this—to run really well. That’s what will open up the opportunities. Once you do have that success, you should find a way to make a living from it, so it is a tricky balance.
SI: Are you planning to keep a similar schedule to what you did in 2015 for the 2019 season and the lead-up to the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials? We’re chatting in late February and it’s hard to believe that the trials are just a year away.
DL: It snuck up on us. It’s pretty wild. I haven’t thought too much past Boston. Initially I’d say probably not a fall marathon but I’m not really dialing in much past Boston. Ask me in May. (Laughs)
SI: How did you feel about your performance at the New York City after you were able to process it. You win one major but it’s not like you can win them all. (Note: Unless you’re world record holder Eliud Kipchoge.)
DL: Last year was such a big year for me with so much on my plate. I switched coaches and I think I totally attacked that race in a different way than I did before. So it was a bit to sit back and learn from. I wasn’t disappointed or overly excited. I just saw it as step one in this new system. I think there was a ton that we’re going to be better at in this go around. All in all, I think sixth place at a world marathon major is pretty solid. I would like to close the gap on Molly [Huddle] and Shalane [Flanagan] for that podium spot. I think Mary Keitany is at a whole different level but there’s still things that I can work on to get better. I walked away feeling a little disappointed but feeling that there’s a lot left in the tank. That’s an exciting feeling too.
SI: Has anything changed in your coaching or training set up since New York?
DL: Everything is pretty much the same except for the fact that we’re down in Phoenix right now and just staying warm. I’m still working with coach Walt Drenth. Things are good.
SI: Briefly touching on Boston, what do you visualize in training and practice now? When we spoke two years ago, you said, “Now every time I picture myself winning Boston, it’s in a sprint finish down Boylston.” You’ve won Boston and it wasn’t like that. What do you see now?
DL: I definitely still picture that when workouts get hard. I think you go back to all the times that you’ve fallen just a little bit short. I think about 2011 a lot, which is weird. If you just settled in and feel like you’ve accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish, you hang up your flats and go on your way. I’m still hungry for more, want to beat the best in the world, battle down Boylston with other great runners and hopefully get to break the tape again. It was nice to have that feeling so it would be great to do it again.
SI: What makes the training worth it now? Is it just trying to stay with the world’s best? I tend to think of races like Matt Centrowitz’s 1,500 meter Olympic win in Rio and your win in Boston as two races that can’t be replicated.
DL: I don’t think it’s very different. It’s always about finding out just how good you can be when you line up against the best runners that you can and testing yourself against them. I love training and pushing myself. The fact that I have the ability to do it, even though I’ve accomplished a major life goal, is still motivation to push myself further.
SI: When it comes to goals for 2019, aside from running NYC Half and Boston, what are some other things that you want to accomplish?
DL: Walt and I are both pretty excited about me touching on the 5K and 10K and seeing how fast I can go there. I’ve had some promising track workouts, where we’re thinking that I can do something decent in a 5K or 10K. I would like to do a half marathon at some point on a flat and fast course to see what I can do with that as the main focus.
SI: Because we are about a year out from the trials. We constantly talk about the tremendous state of U.S. women’s distance running. The easy answer to what I’m about to ask is to say that you can only control what you do and you don’t focus on other people’s performances. But when these performances are so good and everyone’s talking about them, that can’t happen. How do you juggle the pressure that is mounting toward that race?
DL: I think that is the point. We are raising the bar for each other so if you just bury your head in the sand and just work on yourself, you miss the progress that’s being made. You won’t be able to open your eyes to the possibility of how good you can be. I look at people having breakthroughs and think that I can run with them and I can compete with them. Why can’t I have that breakthrough too? There’s a lot of potential right now but the biggest part is getting to the line healthy. That’s more challenging than what we typically believe. For me, that’s what I focus on. The performances can be amazing and give me the inspiration that I can do the same, but also you have to get there healthy. That’s No. 1 for me.