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 March 20, 2019

Any Patriots' Day victor will tell you: winning the Boston Marathon is one of the most difficult accomplishments in road racing, to prevail over 26.2 miles against the always star-studded field on the historic and difficult trek from Hopkinton to the Back Bay. But upon reflection there is a more daunting Boston Marathon task: for the prior year's champion to return to Boston the next year and successfully defend the title. This is the challenge that Desiree Linden, the 2018 Boston Marathon champion, faces and embraces.

The 35-year old Arizona State graduate will candidly admit her romance with Boston's marathon. "I debuted there [2007 / 19th in 2:44:56] and that is what made me fall in love with the event," explains Linden during her winter training stint in Arizona. "It is more than just a race. There is so much history there. And it really isn't just the marathon. It's the whole thing and the way Boston is run. You go to other races and it's just feels like 26.2 miles.," offers the Brooks athlete. "I think there is just so much history there that it's great to be a part of it."

180911-DesLinden-0222-Edit.jpgSome of Desi Linden's shoes, prior to 2018 Boston Marathon, photo courtesy of Brooks Communications

After her inaugural race in '07, Linden has since raced on Patriots' Day 5 additional times ringing up 4 top 5 finishes and 4 clockings under 2:30. But it is more than mere affection for the race that draws her back; it is her resiliency and her love of the challenge. In 2011, those who lined Boylston Street - the race's final kilometer - for the finish of the women's race witnessed an all-out war for the wreath as Linden and Kenya's Caroline Kilel engaged in a ferocious duel on the gradual downhill to the finish line. On the final stretch, the American clawed her way into the lead on 2 separate occasions only to be ultimately edged by the Kenyan who summoned one last push in the final meters to win in 2:22:36 with Linden 2 seconds back. Such a heartbreaking defeat would mentally cripple many elite athletes, but Linden viewed it differently. "I walked away knowing I had competed with the best in the world. And I then knew I had the ability on the right day to win here or win in other major marathons," she explains. "And I knew it wasn't just me saying that or believing that. It was the result that justified the thought process. It was good to have that in my back pocket, to know that I really belonged here."

Linden's unshakable positive attitude has been a recurring hallmark of her career. During London's 2012 Olympic Marathon, the California native was forced to step off the road and withdraw after sustaining a nasty stress fracture in her femur. For many, it could have been a career-ending injury. But Linden, resilient once again, chose to look at the injury and DNF in another way. "It motivated me. Whenever you have that kind of experience as I did in 2012, you kind of want to try to get back and get it right," states Linden in describing her changed attitude. "Unfortunately, making changes is really difficult. But you learn from that, you put it behind you. And you just keep pushing forward and know - like I have known - that I have the ability to make a change. And getting another Olympic chance would be an awesome experience. Taking all those mistakes and learning from them you can create a better future." Did that attitudinal about face work for Linden? Yes it did. 4 years later she once again finished 2nd in the Olympic Trials and subsequently ran a heady and determined race in the Rio Games marathon to finish 7th in 2:26:08.

Linden_Desi-OlyGame16.jpgDes Linden, Rio 2016 Olympics, photo by PhotoRun.net

Without question, her pinnacle performance to date has been her stunning race in the 2018 Boston Marathon. Linden arrived in Boston on a hopeful note. "For the most part, everything was solid. It wasn't like I was ready to do something special. It was like, 'OK, I've been here before and I'm fit. But will it be enough? I don't know.'" While Linden's prior top-5 performances were respected, most of the pre-race buzz swirled around prior champions Kenya's Edna Kiplagat and Ethiopia's Bizunesh Deba. Linden didn't mind flying under the radar last year. "Yeah, I don't think it hurts at all [to be underestimated]. I've kind of experienced it both ways. Most of my career, I've been the underdog. And you kind of go in with a chip on your shoulder and a lot to prove. And that's certainly how last year was."

180911-DesLinden-0456.jpgDes Linden has some coffee, photo by Brooks Communications

On race day, amid horrid weather conditions of sub-40 degree temperatures, driving rain, and lashing headwinds, Linden was able to find the serenity that escaped others. Uncharacteristically clad in tights and zipped up rain jackets, the elite women set out cautiously into the storm. Everyone was struggling. "I think I went through the early half of the race and I was probably 15 meters behind everyone else. And I thought, 'How am I going to get through this? I don't think this is going to go well. Is it bad to even think about quitting this race?'", explains Linden. But then her mindset changed. "And as we went through the race, you kind of get out of your own way and you look around and you realize actually everybody is thinking that and this is really hard for all of us. So be the person who sees this as an opportunity. And I think that mental shift kind of changed my day." Calling on her strength in the Newton Hills, Linden broke away from the chase pack just behind Kenya's Gladys Chesir as the duo set sail in pursuit of breakaway leader Ethiopia's Mamitu Daska. "When we made the move it was because Daska was getting a little too far ahead of us. If we wanted a chance to get back in the race we had to do something at that moment. But knowing that she had been out and running into that headwind for so long, I was never thinking she would be the winner," explains Linden on how they closed the gap. "I didn't see her laboring, but I didn't give up the idea that she might come back." After the pursuing twosome reeled Daska back in just past Boston College, Linden threw down a decisive surge at 35 K on the downhill into Cleveland Circle which powered her past both athletes who offered no response.

Linden_DesiH1-BostonM18.jpGDes Linden, Boston 2018, photo by PhotoRun.net

Linden gives a vivid recount of the final 7 kilos to the finish. "I just remember the race really starting there in 2011 and knowing that I needed to be aggressive from that point in, to try to take the leg speed out of people. I definitely drew upon my 2011 experience. This is the point where you can really push for home and try to break people on the downhill." Unchallenged over the final kilometers and on her way to victory, Linden could savor the final Boylston stretch which was her undoing in 2011. Her finishing time of 2:39:55 was the slowest winning clocking sine Gayle Barron's victory in 1978. No one cared. Linden's triumph was the first by an American woman since Lisa Larsen Weidenbach won the crown in 1985

Linden_DesiFV1b-BostonM18.jpGDes Linden made history in 2018, what will she do in 2019? photo by PhotoRun.net

Linden's year as reigning champion has been a whirlwind. "It's been a busy year in the best way possible," adds Linden with a smile. I got to do things that I never thought I would ever experience in my life. I got to meet people and was presented with so many opportunities. But also, it is hard work which is wonderful to have. But, yeah, it might have been different than I expected. We all picture the running part, but we never really picture beyond breaking the tape what it will look like." Looking ahead, Linden, now back training with her college coach Walt Drenth, has her eye on her 4th consecutive Olympic Marathon Trials at the end of next February in Atlanta. A top 3 finish there would make her the first American woman to become a 3-time Olympic marathon participant.

180911-DesLinden-1283-Edit_600px.jpgDes Linden getting ready for a run, photo by Brooks Communications

But front and center right now for Linden is next month's Boston Marathon where she will race wearing bib number F1. "It's an honor and it's great," she admits. "It means you're doing things right. But it is a little bit of added pressure, for sure." The statistics against repeating accentuate the difficulty. Ever since Bobbi Gibb won the first recognized women's race in 1966 only 12 of the reigning women's Boston champions have returned to successfully defend their title - and 4 of those repeat wins were achieved in the embryonic first 6 years of women's racing at Boston. While quite aware of what lies ahead for a Patriots' Day defending champion, Desiree Linden - who has shown resilience when faced with big challenges in the past - is prepared and poised for a valiant effort. Most athletes are coy when fielding inquiries about race day goals. But when asked if a Boston repeat is what she seeks, the reigning champion quickly replies, "That's the goal." / Dave Hunter /


Des Linden savors her hard fought 2018 win, photo by PhotoRun.net


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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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