Shalane Flanagan will return to the New York City Marathon course on November 4 to defend her championship title.
The 122nd annual Boston Marathon is inching closer with every passing day, and those of us keeping track of the elite fields’ training progress can’t help but feel increasingly excited to watch the race unfold on April 16. Women’s Running is especially thrilled to report on the ground in Boston for this year’s race, largely because the professional women’s field is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in Boston Marathon history. We’ve been checking in with several of the pro women slated to compete in recent months (find the list of the women’s elite field here) and most recently touched base with Desiree Linden, who will be racing Boston for the sixth time this year. Linden ran Boston for the first time in 2007 and has gone on to place second in 2011 and fourth in 2015 and 2017. In our interview below, Linden discussed her goals for the race, the ways in which she’s tweaked her training plan and what it feels like to be part of the wave of American professional women runners dominating the sport in 2018.
How is your training for Boston going so far?
So far so good. I’m in Phoenix right now; I came down here in late January. I’ll be here through March 13. There’s a good amount of people in town here, so I have a lot of people to connect and run with. It’s a pretty traditional buildup, so everything has been going pretty much according to plan. I have John Ball of Maximum Mobility down here, which has been a huge resource, just making sure I’m staying healthy during the entire buildup. Everything has been so far, so good–knock on wood.
How has your training this year differed from that of previous years?
It’s been pretty similar. I’m coming off a speed segment from last fall and through early January, so that was a change, to try to get a little more turnover. I feel like I notice a difference in workouts. This time around I’m cutting the mileage just a little to try to maintain that speed, though not by much–I typically do 130-mile weeks, and now I’ll probably peak at 120 or 125. So it’s little changes, but I think they’ll be helpful.
There’s always talk before Boston about how tricky the course is. What parts of the course are sticking points for you?
Everyone highlights the Newton hills, because they’re the toughest part. The longest downhill on the course is heading right into the righthand turn by the fire station, and I always struggle there. That change in gear, people get fired up because it’s right by a water station, and there are big surges, which rattle me. That’s a spot that I’m looking forward to, just to try to be better than before. It’s just that difference in pace; you’re coming off a long climb, so you feel a little flat, and then you have to turn it over really quick. Preparing for that is something I’m looking forward to.
Others cite the downhill as a treacherous part of the course because of all the pounding it causes on their legs. How are you preparing to deal with this segment?
I think the biggest thing is recognizing it’s there. Most people think about the uphills, but Boston is so tricky because of the downhills. It’s just a matter of prepping the body for it. The first couple of workouts we do to get going have always been on the downhills. You think you’re pretty good at downhill running, and then you do the first one and you’re super sore. You do that for a couple workouts in a row until you callus your body to it. It’s a good reminder that you have to prep for that.
Is there a part of the course that you look forward to every year?
Maybe it’s counter-intuitive, but I love Heartbreak Hill. The crowds are always insane there. Cresting the top of the last hill, you know that the race is really on from there on out. That’s always the part that gets me really fired up.
What are your personal goals for this year’s race?
That’s always tough, because I’ve been a runner out there, and you’re always trying to be better than you were before, which leaves a small margin for success. But I also know that the field is definitely one of the best Bostons ever, and on the American side, we’re bringing in some big guns this year. For me, being better than ever before is important, and that’s what I’m trying to be; I’m trying to get myself more fit and faster and ready to compete better than ever before. But I feel like I’m not sure if that will necessarily mean just fighting for the win; it’s going to be trying to better my best on a personal level, to do something I’ve never done there before. Maybe it’ll be time, maybe it’ll be just the feeling when I cross the line, maybe it’ll be breaking the tape. As soon as we get closer to race day, I’ll be able to dial a little more into that.
What’s it like to be part of this moment, to see so many eyes focusing in on the American running community–especially in regards to professional women?
It’s really cool. It’s probably one of the few sports where the women’s field is, in my opinion, the most exciting part of the race. All eyes are on this women’s squad, and the Americans are due to break the tape there. We’ve certainly stacked it in our favor, and honestly the history of Boston and having Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb do incredible things there has always been inspiring. We can inspire by letting young girls and young runners know we belong on this course and in the spotlight.
You’ve shared the message “always believe that you belong” with young runners. For young girls or women just stepping into this sport, what would you say is the most important thing to keep in mind?
It’s a process; we’re not going to see great change happen overnight. But we’re starting to speak up and ask for more, in terms of women’s rights. Running is similar; it’s not going to change overnight, but if you slowly chip away at it, you’re going to get better. Believe that you can do it, trust what you’re doing, but also have some patience. The running community is incredibly supportive. When we think about Bobbi Gibb or Kathrine Switzer, the men on course were pretty big heroes, too. They weren’t the ones saying, “You don’t belong,” they were the ones saying, “Please share the road.” They’ve always done that. We just have to believe that we can and take steps to make sure that happens.
What makes running Boston so special for you?
I love the community there. It’s like the Super Bowl of our sport. It’s a knowledgable crowd, and all the competitors are knowledgable. It’s like the “every man’s Olympics.” There’s an incredible atmosphere around it for the whole weekend through Monday night. It’s fun to be part of that community and celebrate what running does and how it brings people together.
What advice would you offer runners preparing to tackle Boston for the first time?
I would say prep for the downhills, but also don’t go out too hard. People get excited because it’s Boston and there’s this incredible atmosphere at the start–and it’s downhill. People are way more likely to go out too hard, which is fine in a normal marathon, but in Boston, when you get to the last 6 miles, it’s just miserable. If you want your experience to be more memorable for good reasons, pace yourself early and really take advantage of the downhill on the last 6 miles. If you’ve done it right, you can.