This is our story on Des Linden. Des Linden is, many times, the last of the major Americans considered for marathon greatness. Yet, it was Des Linden, who took our hearts and minds in April 2011, when she finished two seconds behind the winner at the 2011 BAA Boston marathon, running 2:22:38, the finest performance by an American woman marathoner at that time.
Tomorrow, Desi Linden lines up with Shalane Flanagan, 2017 NYC Marathon champion, Molly Huddle, AR holder at 10,000 meters and the half marathon, and a field of Ethiopians and Kenyans. Jordan Hasay was a late withdrawal. And so, there were three Americans.
Who will fare the best in what portends to be a difficult Patriots Day in Boston?
Des Linden is one of the finest American woman marathoners of all time. A Californian, Des found success in high school, where she made the State meet in the 800 meters, 1600 meters and 3200 meters, at least one of those events all four years of high school. A pretty good college runner, Des was picked to run by Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, a fascinating, eccentric training group under the watchful eye of brothers Keith and Kevin Hanson. A first marathon finish at Boston, in 2007, in her debut marathon, featured Des running 2:44.56 for 19th place. The Hansons were looking for athletes that they could develop. They were taking a long term approach to training and racing. It was contrary to the approach most of the shoe companies were taking, so the brothers Hanson were the focus of some media attention.
The development of a marathoner is not an exact science. Desi ran cross country, track, roads and marathons, only after long build ups. In 2008, Desi finished 13th at the US Olympic Trials, on a circuit course in Boston, in 2:37:50. That fall, October 2008, Desi dropped another PB, running 2:31:33. Hansons-Brooks Distance Project is old school, mileage, long intervals, working and racing. Desi did well under the program. In 2009, running in the World Championships marathon in Berlin, Desi dropped two minutes, and forty seconds off her personal best and took tenth, running 2:27:53!
Desi Linden is a tough runner. She is focused and she grinds the competition. She will take a lead, push the pace, drop back and charge back up. She is, well, relentless. All with this self depricating smile and a sense of humor that combines California karma with Midwestern stoicism.
In June 2010, Desi ran the 10,000 meters in the US Champs in Des Moines, running third and running 32:22.32. That fall, Desi ran 2:26:20 at Chicago, a PB of one minute, and 13 seconds, and the first American in the Windy City. Desi had arrived.
It was 2011 that made Desi Linden a legend though. In a race where eight seconds decided first, second and third, Desi Linden stayed in the fray until the bitter end, with only two seconds separating Caroline Kilel (2:22:36) and Desi Linden (2:22:38) and Sharon Cherop (2:22:42). Desi Linden battled for twenty six point 2 miles in 2011. She did not give up and she kept her head down. In the media room, we were amazed at Desi’s staying power.
In the press conference afterwards, Desi was frustrated and motivated. She wanted to win, that was for sure, and we all thought that she had it in her.
The challenges for distance runners are never set in stone. Pushing oneself, running 100-120 miles a week (and more), Desi Linden pushed the envelope. In 2011, Desi was injured, and while she made the 2012 Olympic team, she did not finish the London 2012 course. That DNF haunted her for the next four years.
Coming back from injuries is the toughest of all for a distance runner. One knows how fitness feels and one knows when they are just off that fitness level. It took Desi two solid years to get back into true fitness. In September, 2014 Desi took fifth at Berlin Marathon, running 2:29:15. In April 2014, Desi showed her return to fitness, running 2:23:54, finishing 10th. She finished fifth in the fall of 2014 at NYC Marahton, in 2:28:11. And in April 2015, finishing fourth in Boston, Desi ran 2:25:39.
Desi took the silver a the US Olympic Trials in 2016, and removed the haunting from 2012 with a fine seventh in hot and humid Rio during the 2016 Olympic marathon. Again, I am always curious about what makes Desi tick, what is going on inside her brain during the tough parts of the race?
2017 saw Desi finish fourth in Boston, in 2:25:06. At the presser, Desi noted that she would continue to come back as she wanted to win the race.
(Here’s the video of Des Linden, Ryan Vail and Shadrack Biwott at the Brooks presser)
How will she fare in 2018? Desi is fit and she seems to thrive in bitter conditions. That will be the case on Monday, April 16, 2018, when Desi Linden toes the line with Shalane Flanagan, and Molly Huddle. We have three marathoners, top American woman, at the top of their game.
Watch for a furious race.
And in those final two hundred meters, watch for Desi Linden to be there, in the thick of the battle.
Des Linden loves a battle. But, she truly loves Boston. We will end with her own words, said Saturday, April 14.
‘I love the Boston marathon. This is THE Marathon. I have run it five times, this is the sixth. I love the course, I love what it can throw at you. This race is the reason that I am still in the sport.”