Watching Desi Linden in New York was both exhilarating and nerve wracking for those watching the tough American distance runner. Desi Linden ran a 2:22:38 at Boston in April 2011, coming within steps of winning. In 2012, she made the Olympic team, then injured herself and has been on the comeback trail for the past eighteen months. In Boston in April 2014, Desi Linden ran 2:23:58, finishing tenth in the super fast Boston race.
The 2014 TCS New York City Marathon was to be a litmus test for Desi Linden. Could she come back to her 2011 level of fitness?
Des Linden, NYC Marathon 2014, photo by PhotoRun.net
I have watched Desi Avila Linden run and race for over a decade. In her Brooks Hanson kit, Desi Linden is clear and visible in her races.
The diminutive marathoner reminds me of Joan Benoit Samuelson. Linden handles miles that would make others wince. Her comeback from injuries, a stress fracture of the femur in 2012, which caused her to withdraw from the London Olympic 2012.
Desi Linden, NYC Half, March 2014, photo by PhotoRun.net
In September 2013, Desi Linden quietly ran the 2013 Berlin Marathon, with a nifty fifth place and a 2:29.15. Most of all, no injuries.
Here is the deal, when one comes back from injuries, elite athletes have the same issue as regular runners. All have a tendency to try and come back too soon.
Desi Linden has been smart. She has come back slow and steady. In April 2014, she finished tenth in 2:23.58, in a tremendous performance at the Boston Marathon.
Desi Linden, photo by PhotoRun.net
Mary Wittenberg, Executive Director of the TCS New York City Marathon, had expressed interest in having Desi Linden run in New York. Instinctively, Mary, a 2:44 marathoner herself, thought that the rough and tumble course that is the five boroughs race. On November 2, 2014, Mary's wish came true.
The 50,000 plus marathoners on Sunday woke to a cold and blustery day. So blustery, in fact, that the wheelchair racers were not allowed to race across the Verrazano Bridge, and started in Brooklyn, shortening wheelchair racers to 23.5 miles.
The other marathoners all ran the 26.2 miles with cold (about 35-38 F, quite cool), with winds hitting 36-38 miles per hour in gusts.
The pack stayed together, as the women took off. Mary Keitany in the middle, Edna Kiplagat in the back, with surprise Sara Moriera, 2013 European Indoor 3000m champion, in her debut race. Buzunesh Deba, two time second placer in New York, Firehiwot Dado, Deena Kastor, Kara Goucher, Jelena Prokopcuka, and Jemima Sumgong were all there.
Desi Linden tucked in about eighth place and tried to avoid the wind, but, there was really no place to hide from the wind. The gods of the marathon were challenging the marathoners.
The pack stayed together, 17:34 for 5k, 35:04 for 10k, 52:20 for 15k. Sara Moreira lead most of the first 15ks as TV commentators wondered when she would crack. Why? The women had run 4:06.56 for 1,500m, 1:10 for the half marathon and was running obviously within herself. Valeria Straneo of Italy, the 2013 World silver medalist at the marathon, 2014 European Championships marathon silver medalist, this past August, was up in front a few times before 20k, hit in 69:48.
Desi Linden stayed out of trouble, but was running near the back of the pack, with Edna Kiplagat, the women who could win the 2013-2013 World Marathon Majors, with the current crisis with Rita Jeptoo.
The lead pack hit the halfway in 1:13:42, a 2:27 marathon pace. All upfront looked like they could handle it.
By halfway, Deena Kastor and Kara Goucher had dropped off the back, for self preservation. Deena hit the half in 1:14:21 and Kara hit the halfway in 1:14.00. Deena Kastor would finish 11th in 2:33.18, and Kara Goucher would finish 15th in 2:37.02. Somedays go well, but some days are tough in the world or marathon racing: it is no different up front than it is in the middle of the pack.
The wind was hard, and the weather was very, very cool. Marathoners of all shapes and sizes were trying to hide from the wind.
Then, the surprises began to happen, as they do in the world of elite marathoning. Edna Kiplagat was the first to go, dropping back between 20 and 25 kilometers. Edna would finish fourteenth in 2:36.24.
Desi Linden was fighting to stay with the leaders, and she would get oh so close to falling off the back, then, fight back into the lead pack, as it dwindled from eleven, to eight, to six.
From 35k to 40k, Mary Keitany and Jemima Sumgong put one minute plus on Sara Moriera, who would finish third in her debut. Desi Linden dropped back, between 35k and 40k to tenth place.
And, as the fighter she is, Desi Linden began to fight back up, to ninth, to eighth, and then, through seventh, sixth and fifth, finishing in 2:28:11, and Desi finished in fifth place. Rkia El Moukim of Morocco, in her debut, was one second behind Desi, in sixth place. Firehiwot Dado, 2011 New York champion, three time Rome winner, was seventh in 2:28:36, and Valeria Straneo, 2014 Euro Champs marathon silver medalist in August, was eighth in 2:29:24. Buzunesh Dibaba, two time New York second placer, was ninth in 2:31.40. In tenth, Anne Bersegal, an American who lives in Norway, who had two weeks of foot issues just before NY, ran from two minutes back at halfway mark, to finish in tenth, with 2:33.02.
And this, dear readers, is why I love to watch Desi Linden race! She races with her whole being. Races are fluid, there are times in a marathon, or a 10,000 meter on the track, where one feels terrible, close to dropping out, or giving up the ghost.
Desi Linden fought back during the 35-40k section, and then, over the last two kilometers moved from tenth to fifth place, as the first American.
Tough? Yep. Resilient? Yep.
Desi Linden realizes that 42.2 kilometers of racing mean that one does not give up until they have crossed the finish line.
Watch Desi Linden as she prepares for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.
The race for Rio has begun.
And, Desi Linden is on my short list.