Desiree Linden: Always Learning, Always Thinking, Even After 19 Marathons

Her cerebral nature was on full display after her sixth-place finish in New York.

  • Desiree Linden, the 2018 Boston Marathon winner, placed sixth overall to lead the U.S. women at the 2019 NYC Marathon.
  • Her time of 2:26:46 was the fourth-fastest American time on the NYC course.
  • Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya won the race in 2:22:38.

    Desiree Linden, who’s earned a reputation for perfect pacing, tried something new today in her 19th attempt at the marathon distance: a faster first half.

    She went to the lead after the 8-mile mark and split 5:25, 5:17, 5:28, and 5:15 for the next four miles, at one point opening up a 13-second lead on the chase pack.

    “It was a perfect day to take a crack at having a good one,” Linden said after the race. “Even standing on the bridge, you could feel that it was light wind and when we started, it was at our back. Walt [Drenth, her coach] always says, ‘If you can’t run fast on a day like this, you might as well go bowling.’ That’s the conditions we had. It was a good day to take a big swing.”

    It didn’t exactly pay off for Linden—the eventual podium finishers sailed by her at almost exactly the halfway point. But it wasn’t catastrophic, either. She held on for a sixth-place finish in 2:26:46. She was the top American, and she ran her fastest time in two and a half years.

    Her fast start was an attempt to take something out of Mary Keitany of Kenya, the defending champion, who last year obliterated the field with a torrid second half (a race in which Linden also finished sixth). Keitany was second today behind Joyciline Jepkosgei, who won in 2:22:38.

    “Last year was too slow,” said Josh Cox, Linden’s agent, “and you’re turning a marathon into a 25K. [Des’s] strength is the marathon. Keep it honest; let’s race a marathon.”

    But Linden also showed that even at age 36, she’s willing to put herself out there and experiment.

    “It’s about trying something new,” she said. “You’re not going to have a breakthrough doing something over and over and being really conservative and really cautious. It wasn’t about running stupid; it was about going with the flow of the race.”

    Linden, who has gained a following for her role as the philosopher queen of American marathoners, offered her typically insightful analysis within minutes of the race finishing.

    “The really good thing was I held it together reasonably well,” she said. “It was good to test mental toughness and to know that you’re not going to die physically if you do it a different way. It might hurt a little bit more, but the upside could be fantastic.”

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    She held off American Kellyn Taylor, who was seventh in 2:26:52. Taylor was pleased with her race and that she’s now the fifth-fastest American to run the New York course. Linden ran her way to fourth on that list.

    And Taylor had praise for the racing veteran who finished just ahead of her: “It was out of character, in a sense,” Taylor said of Linden. “She went for it. There is something really admirable about that. You can’t do special things if you don’t try. She still ran great.”

    Linden hasn’t made any decisions yet about whether she’ll enter the Olympic Marathon Trials in February, but her performance today shows she hasn’t lost anything on the other side of 35. She has to be considered a favorite to make a third Olympic team—should she attempt it.

    In training, Linden has made a few small concessions for her age. Her coach, Drenth, encourages her not to fight through workouts if she isn’t feeling great.

    “It’s a little bit harder to recover,” she said. “We’re very cognizant of that. Walt makes a lot of adjustments. We have a longer build [to a race.] It’s the same amount of work that we usually do in a block, but maybe a couple of weeks longer. Just more space between things.”

    Is she as good as she ever was?

    “I think so,” she said. “On paper I look good.”

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