The elite runner talks Boston, bourbon, and how her training changes with age.
Des Linden admits two truths about her 2018 Boston Marathon win, which made her the only American woman to earn the title in more than three decades. One: She can barely watch a replay of her victory. And two: It shifted her focus from winning to having fun. With that mindset, she’ll toe the Boston Marathon starting line once again on April 15.
Furthermore caught up with the two-time Olympian ahead of the race to talk bourbon (a staple), 1K repeats (dreadful and aggressive), and what’s next (up in the air).
You’ve been described as a blue-collar runner.
It makes me laugh. I try not to label myself. Everybody at this level trains super hard, so it’s not like I’m outworking people. I think I have a degree of talent or I wouldn’t be here.
Yet you still consider yourself an underdog.
I’m not the sexy track runner who has potential in the marathon. We see track times and say, “She’s going to be really good when she moves up to longer distances.” I skipped track, so people didn’t have that opportunity to build that excitement around me.
How has your mindset shifted since the 2018 Boston Marathon?
Since winning, I’m like, “Oh, cool. The weight’s off my back.” I feel like there’s less pressure than ever before. Maybe that’s backward, but now it’s about going out and having a ton of fun.
Is it true you haven’t watched a replay of your Boston win?
I’ve seen parts of it, but it makes me uncomfortable. Maybe I don't want to get emotional. I did watch it to see Yuki Kawauchi's race, which was really cool.
You typically tour race courses to prepare for the challenging sections, but Boston is notoriously difficult all around.
I always struggle with Newton Lower Falls and going over the 95. It’s the first long, hard stretch of uphill followed by a really long, hard downhill. Big moves happen there. It’s like the third lap of a mile race, kind of grueling, the point where you sort of settle—but Boston doesn’t allow for that. And you know what’s ahead: a right-hand turn into hills. It’s a challenging stretch for me, physically and mentally.
It's important to know how to manage on your own.
How does it compare to other marathons you’ve run?
I feel like I’m built for Boston. I can handle it. There are taxing parts, but my body gets into a rhythm. Certainly if you look at the course profile and elevation map, it’s not a joke. Even though Boston is full of downhills, which are hard on the legs, I still think the New York City Marathon is tougher.
Speaking of NYC, you placed fifth in the half there in March. How did you adjust your training beforehand?
I didn’t completely wind down—it was still a 90-mile week, and I’d typically do 110 to 120. It was a tough day within a Boston Marathon buildup, but it’s fun to race. You can get stale if you don’t touch on that every now and then.
When you were preparing for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, you mostly trained alone. Is that still your approach ahead of April 15?
It’s been mixed. If you’re in a group, sometimes it gets competitive or you want to be in the conversation and you just go with what everyone else is doing versus saying, “You know what? I should probably fall off today and run solo.”
It’s important to know how to manage on your own, and if you’re in a race and you have someone else to help you, boom, extra benefit.
Last year you started training with Walt Drenth, your former coach at Arizona State University. Can you share some of the changes in your routine?
A lot of them have to do with age. It’s not a critique on the old system, but I’m 35. With Boston, there’s so much downhill. We’d traditionally go on the course and do a bunch of downhill running, but now I don’t beat my body up like that.
So there’s been a bump in strength training. It’s not super intense—a basic routine of lunges, squats, push-ups, and burpees, nothing fancy—but it’s necessary. I do it two days a week after hard sessions. I’ll do the lunges, or whatever the drill is, to mimic the downhill instead.
What are some other grueling workouts?
I do 1K repeats that get progressively faster. Every time I see them on the training schedule, I’m like, “Coach, that’s too aggressive. I don’t think I can hit them.” I dread it, but I surprise myself. I’m getting better at a thing I find daunting, a thing that in the past, I didn’t think I could be good at.
How did taking five months off in 2017 help you recalibrate?
I gradually got back to looking forward to my runs and wanting to put races on the schedule. Prior to that, it wasn’t fun. I had to hit reset and ask, “Do I really want to invest in this anymore?”
How do you take care of your body when you’re training?
Eight hours of sleep per night and a daily nap. Sleep is a simple way and the best way to recover. One day, two days of short sleep is fine, but when it turns into a trend, it adds up quickly, you feel it, and it’s almost too late to dig yourself out of that hole.
You’ve been vocal about not sharing what’s beyond Boston, but word is you may dip into trail running and ultras.
Those are certainly in my future. I don’t know how near. I’d like to get through 2021 on the road and do a couple more of these major marathons as long as the body hangs on. Then there will be a shift, a new challenge on another surface, and I’ll test myself in a different way. I’m looking forward to that.
Even when you retire, you’ll still have your coffee company, linden & true.
It’s been really fun. It’s more [my husband] Ryan’s baby, and I chip in when I can. When I start dialing down and spending fewer days on the road, I’ll be on a roaster at some point. It’ll be a fun hobby and hopefully nice business for us in the future.
How will you decide when to retire from the sport?
That’s a question I go through every time I line up. When I started running, I was like, I’m only going to do this if I’m having fun. It’s way too much work if I don’t enjoy it and there are so many other things I can do. I really like competing. When that goes away I’ll hang up and I’ll be really content with my career.