Michigan's Des Linden shatters women's 50K world record

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Des Linden went the distance. And she did it faster than any woman in history.

Linden, a two-time Olympian and former Boston Marathon champion from Rochester, set a new world record in her first ultramarathon attempt Tuesday.

Des Linden

Linden, 37, completed a 50-kilometer course just outside Eugene, Oregon, in 2 hours, 59 minutes, 54 seconds, shattering the previous world record for that distance (3:07:20) established by Great Britain’s Aly Dixon in September 2019 at the 50K world championships in Romania. The American record for a woman was a 3:13:51 effort by Janis Klecker in 1983.

Linden’s sub 3-hour performance works out to a 5:47 per-mile pace over the 31.1-mile distance. She covered the first 26.2-mile marathon distance in 2:31:12, then ran the final 5 miles in under 30 minutes, finishing in ideal conditions with sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s.

“It’s great,” Linden said. “I mean, that was what we circled. For me, that was the big, high-end goal, so it’s nice to achieve that.

“The challenge was not going too quick too soon. I certainly had a healthy fear of the distance, and I haven’t raced in a really long time.”

Subscription: Niyo: Michigan's Des Linden is in it for the long run with world-record bid

For Linden, this record chase came about after her race calendar was left empty the past year, with major marathons getting canceled or postponed by the pandemic. After her fourth-place finish at the U.S. Olympic trials in February 2020, her plans to run the Boston Marathon last April and the New York Marathon last November were scrapped.

And with this year’s Boston Marathon rescheduled from its traditional Patriots' Day date in April until October, Linden and her agent, Josh Cox, came up with a plan with her sponsors to create their own race, the "Brooks Running 50k and Marathon.” They mapped out a course, had it pre-certified by World Athletics officials, enlisted the help of local race directors and recruited a small field of pacers and fellow marathoners who were out to achieve Tokyo Olympic qualifying times.  

“It felt like a very small taste of racing again, so that was cool,” said Linden, whose husband, Ryan, was among Tuesday’s finishers. “You show up and you know that a bunch of people have invested a lot of time and energy, and the table is set to do something special. But it’s not something special until you make it happen.”

Linden’s plans going forward are still somewhat up in the air, though a trip to some Portland-area wineries was first on the to-do list before returning home to Michigan.

She is the first alternate for the U.S. women’s team heading to Tokyo in July, so she plans to stay ready in case one of the top three finishers from the trials — Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel, and Sally Kipyego — is unable to compete. Beyond that, the plan is to run one of the major marathons in the fall and continue competing at that distance through the 2024 Olympic trials.

But Linden said this 50K experience only confirms what she’d been thinking the last few years about her future as an ultramarathoner, and possibly pursuing new challenges on the trails down the line.

“Maybe I’ll do a 50-miler," Linden said. "Maybe I’ll do a 100K, I don’t know. …But I've been in this sport for a really long time and I never want to feel like I’m stagnating or bored with what I’m doing."

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JohnNiyo