Des Linden knows the Boston Marathon course by heart, from Hopkinton to Heartbreak Hill and everything that comes after. For more than a decade now, she has said that this race brings the best out of her.
"To me, when I think about the marathon,” Linden says, “it's always Boston."
And now it’s hers – always – after a gritty and grueling triumph Monday, the 34-year-old Washington Township, Michigan, resident making history as the first American woman win in Boston since Michigan’s Lisa Larsen Rainsberger did it in 1985.
Linden’s unofficial time was 2:39.54 and her first-place prize was $150,000.
“It’s supposed to be hard,” Linden told reporters after her triumph. “It’s good to get it done.”
Linden, a two-time Olympian who trains with the Rochester Hills-based Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, had come achingly close to this milestone before, losing a back-and-forth duel down Boylston Street to Kenya’s Caroline Kilel by a mere 2 seconds in 2011. Twice she has finished fourth, including a year ago, when she’d talked openly in the weeks leading up to it about her intentions to win.
She’d led the 2017 race at the halfway point but couldn’t keep up with a blistering pace on a in the latter stages of the race on a warm day.
This Patriots’ Day in Boston was something completely different, though, with temperatures in the 30s, winds gusting into the runners’ face at more than 20 mph, and sheets of rain, at times. And for Linden, who spent the past two weeks finishing up her race prep at her cottage in northern Michigan, maybe that was the perfect scenario.
“My hands were freezing, and there are times where you were just stood up by the wind," Linden told reporters. "It was comical how slow you were going, and how far you still had to go.
"At six miles I was thinking, ‘No way, this is not my day.’ Then you break the tape and you’re like, ‘This is not what I expected today.’”
She’d never won a major marathon before, and at the age of 34, there certainly were doubts in her own mind. But Linden took a slightly different approach to this year’s race.
She felt a bit worn out after last year’s Boston Marathon, which came on the heels of an Olympic year in 2016. So she opted not to run a 26.2-mile race last fall, focusing on more speed work and racing at shorter distances. And while that may have cost her some strength in her training base, it also left her feeling a bit fresher as she began putting in the mileage this winter.
Monday, it might’ve paid dividends, as the weather took its toll on most of the rest of the elite women’s field. A mid-race breakaway by Ethiopia’s Mamitu Deska was the first significant move, but Linden and Kenya’s Gladys Chesir led a chase pack that eventually reeled her back in. By the time they had, with Deska broken by the Newton hills, it was a three-woman race. One that Linden made quick work of, hammering away as the African runners faded.
The final two miles it was Linden running alone, the rain-soaked crowd roaring as it realized the significance of what was about to happen. Linden made the final left turn onto Boylston Street, and as she approached the finish line, she pumped her fist in the air, blew a kiss to the crowd and then buried her face in her hands when it was official. Her husband, Ryan Linden, fighting back tears, greeted her with a big hug moments after she’d broken the tape, and later she took a victory lap up Boylston, having shed the rain jacket she’d worn, carrying an American flag.
Soon after, it was time for the award ceremony, and as the national anthem played, Linden couldn’t hide her own emotions any more. This win was a long time coming.
DES IN BOSTON
Boston Marathon finishes for Michigan’s Des Linden:
2007: 18th, 2:44:56
2011: 2nd, 2:22:38
2014: 8th, 2:23:54
2015: 4th, 2:25:39
2017: 4th, 2:25:06
2018: 1st, 2:39:54