Desiree Linden aims for Boston Marathon immortality
It may not seem like it to most of us, considering the 100-mile weeks she logged at altitude in Kenya this winter, or the brutal workouts she endured in 90-degree heat in Florida this spring, or even the occasional morning jaunts in the bitter cold and wind in Michigan.
"This is the fun stuff," Desiree Linden insists, as she makes her final preparations for Monday's Boston Marathon, where she'll try again to do something no American woman has done in 30 years. Not since Michigan's Lisa Larsen Rainsberger crossed the line first back in 1985.
Linden, 31, of Rochester Hills, has come closer than anyone since in Boston, site of the world's oldest — and most revered — annual marathon, finishing just 2 seconds behind Kenya's Caroline Kilel there in 2011 after a memorable chase down Boylston Street.
And as she wraps up a final conditioning stint in Orlando this week, Linden, in her 10th season with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, an elite training group founded locally by brothers Kevin and Keith Hanson, says she's finally fit and ready to do it again.
"Hopefully," she said, "I'll be better than I've ever been before."
There are plenty of signs she might be, now two full years removed from a femoral stress fracture that ruined her 2012 Olympic experience and threatened to derail her professional career. Linden, formerly Desiree Davila before her 2013 marriage to runner-turned-triathlete Ryan Linden, made a return to Boston last spring, finishing ninth in an emotional race that came a year after the terrorist bombing there killed three spectators and injured more than 260 others.
She followed that up with a solid showing in November at the New York City Marathon, finishing fifth overall and the top American. ("Finishing in the top five is no joke out there," Linden said.) And this last training push has been refreshingly trouble-free.
"This is the first segment where I feel like I'm running like myself," said Linden, a native of Chula Vista, California, and former track All-American at Arizona State. "My stride is really smooth and everything is normal. The fitness is there, and now it feels like my body is on the same page, which is a really great place to be.
"These are the segments you get really excited about. This is where you find out how good you can be, instead of trying to get back to where you were."
So how good can she be this Patriots Day? Linden, along with her coaches, aim to find out, which is why she's been running at a 5:25-mile pace in workouts — 5 seconds under her previous training — and targeting a career-best marathon finish. (Her 2:22:38 clocking in 2011 still ranks her as the fourth-fastest American woman ever.)
"We'll push my personal threshold in terms of what I think I can run, and we've prepared for that," said Linden, who made her marathon debut in Boston in 2007. "But ultimately you want to set yourself up so you hit (the 20-mile mark) and you're still in it."
And ready to race to the finish, after surviving the celebrated Newton Hills, urged on by the crowds standing five deep along the roads, screaming their support. Linden is one of a handful of top American contenders, along with the likes of Shalane Flanagan and ex-ASU teammate Amy (Hastings) Cragg. The international field includes Killel and 2012 winner Sharon Cherop, whom Linden spent time training with in Kenya, as well as Ethiopian stars Mare Dibaba and Buzunesh Deba.
Absent will be last year's champ, Rita Jeptoo, a three-time Boston winner who last fall failed a doping test and was banned from the sport for two years. Ask to describe her emotions on the subject — Shock? Anger? Disgust? — Linden settles on disappointment.
"When you see someone do it the right way, it's really inspiring," she said. "And you want to believe in those performances, and you want the fans to believe that you can do these things. And then you have this one person who … I would have more respect for you if you just cut the course, you know? Just cheat right in front of us so we can say, 'OK, I get it. You're a cheater.' "
But that's not how it works, and Linden knows it.
"If I spent too long thinking about it, I'd just want to quit," she said. "Because, I mean, how do you compete with that?"
The answer, of course, is you don't. And she won't, either. Quit, that is.
After Boston, she'll head back home after months in training exile to make amends with Atlas, her Chesapeake Bay retriever, "who definitely likes my husband more than me now." Then she'll hit the trails and the track again, gearing up for her next big race — the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials in February in Los Angeles — pushed by some of her newer, younger teammates, including fellow Olympic trials qualifiers Katie Kellner and Dani Miller.
And though Linden turns 32 this summer, there's no sign of slowing down any time soon.
"Immediately after a race, I'll think about it for maybe a day: How long can I keep doing this?" Linden said, laughing. "But then you put the next race on the schedule and …"
And, well, this is the fun stuff, right?
When: 8:50 a.m. Monday. Elite women start at 9:30 a.m. and elite men start at 10 a.m.
Participants: 30,000 runners expected to compete
Defending champs: Men — Meb Keflezighi (United States); Women — Rita Jeptoo (Kenya) in course record 2:18.57