There was no question as to whether or not Desiree Linden was going to run the Boston Marathon again in 2019.
“If you win, you have to go back and defend,” Linden says, matter-of-factly, 12 days before this year’s race.
Linden will be at the starting line of the 123rd Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, after a life-changing, whirlwind of a year. If there’s one thing that Linden has learned since finishing first at last year’s race—in those terrible weather conditions and after five previous attempts—it’s that winning the Boston Marathon changes your life.
Linden had hardly peeled off her sopping wet clothing when the media blitz hit her. (After the race, her shoes were given to Brooks and her soaked Brooks canopy jacket went to the Boston Athletic Association—”We didn’t even wash it, so I hope they never open that case up ... it might just start turning green after a few years,” Linden said.) Among the highlights that came when Linden broke the tape in first, becoming the first American woman in 33 years to win the Boston Marathon: a standing ovation at a Boston Celtics game; a Today Show appearance; a partnership with 26.2 Brew, the official beer of the Boston Marathon; and a ticket to a Formula One race.
“I loved Formula One and going to that event, being around those racers and in that atmosphere was really cool,” Linden says. “That’s something I wouldn’t have been able to do without winning Boston.”
While Linden became the sport’s most in-demand woman in the past year, running has remained her top priority, even if her training looks a little different than before in the midst of the travel, interviews and the appearances. She’s taken on two major races in the last year, finishing sixth in the NYC Marathon in 2:27:51 in November and fifth in the United NYC Half in 1:11:22 in March.
“I’m working around a lot of other opportunities, so it’s about making sure I can fit everything in and travel,” Linden says when describing the schedule of her packed press days. “Sometimes it doesn’t look the way [my coach and I] want it to on paper, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not getting something in. I’ve learned that from years and years of doing meticulous work by the schedule. That affords me the ability to piece things together now. There’s so much in my personal mileage bank that I think I’m good."
Linden found time in her packed schedule to shake up a few aspects of her training, including mixing in more speedwork and changing coaches. (She left her longtime coaches Keith and Kevin Hanson with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project to train under her former Arizona State coach Walt Drenth last spring). After achieving an enormous goal, it’s only natural—and switching things up has helped her continue to push herself after 13 years of running at the professional level.
“[I’m] working on quicker stuff, getting on the track a little bit more, doing some intervals there and getting the legs turning over,” she says. “It’s all been different and fun and exciting and busier—but a totally different feel from last year, for sure.”
One of Linden’s best workouts in the lead-up to the Boston Marathon came right in the heart of her training cycle, after she ran the United NYC Half. The workout consisted of three-mile, two-mile and one-mile repeats for a total of 11 miles, with paces that alternated from her marathon pace, her threshold pace and under a 5:10/mile pace. (For perspective, Linden’s average pace per mile during her fastest marathon—the 2011 Boston Marathon, which she finished in 2:22:38—was 5:26, so that last 5:10 pace was quick for her.) Linden nailed the workout.
But not every workout in this cycle has been quite as rewarding for Linden. Take, for example, a recent set of 1000-meter repeats. “I think I had 10 or 12, dropping down to 3:00 and 2:58, which for me is quick,” Linden explains. “The last three to four [repeats] were under three minutes. That was daunting, and I did not hit it. But I was close!”
Times are important for Linden, given that she’s known for her metronomic pacing abilities, but when it comes to the Boston Marathon this year, it’s clear that she’s focused on defending her title—whether that means running a PR or not. No woman has defended her Boston Marathon title since Kenya’s Catherine Ndereba in 2004 and ’05.
Will it all come together again for Linden on Marathon Monday in Boston? The current forecast is calling for rain again, so everyone knows that she can prevail in those conditions.
“I want to be in shape to win the Boston Marathon, and I think I’m in great shape,” she says. “I could be in PR shape. We’ll see, we’ll find out!”