There’s no denying that the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon is going to be a race for the history books. No matter who wins the professional women’s race, the strength and power behind this year’s American team is unlike anything we’ve seen before. While Shalane Flanagan will be toeing the start line on November 4 to defend her title, so too will Desiree Linden be vying for that top-of-podium finish in what would be a storybook follow-up to her Boston Marathon win earlier this year. With less than two weeks to go before the largest marathon in the world, we checked in with Linden to gauge how she’s feeling about the race—and to learn a bit about how her new trainer and updated training strategies might propel her to a second strong World Marathon Majors finish in 2018.
What changes have you experienced since winning the Boston Marathon earlier this year?
It’s been pretty busy. I went through the victory tour, and then sort of turned the page on that. I’ve been training as normal and relocated more permanently up to Charlevoix, Michigan. I’m being coached now by my former coach, Walt Drenth, who actually lives in this area. There are some changes and some things that are just back to normal, which is important in getting ready for a big race.
It’s fun to celebrate a big accomplishment and share it with everyone else. That was really great, in terms of the celebrity aspect of it. I don’t know if anyone actually dreams of that part, but celebrating what you’ve done is really cool. Running is a pretty solitary activity, so it’s nice to put my head down now and get back to that part.
Women have been looking up to you as a role model for years, but that has perhaps been accentuated since your win in Boston. Are you comfortable in that role? Is it something you think much about?
It’s a nice spot to be in. It’s not necessarily how I make decisions; I do what I’m comfortable with and be comfortable being me. It’s nice that people look up to that and see qualities that they think are worth replicating, but for me it’s about just being myself. I don’t look at it differently.
What has your training been like leading up to New York City?
It’s been really good. Heading back home and putting my head down is always nice. I’m super enthusiastic about working a little differently than ever before, trying to get a little more leg speed and maybe staying just a touch fresher than I have in the past. I feel really healthy; it’s been a really great segment and it’s a little more sustainable moving forward. I’m excited about where I’m at. I’m also excited about moving forward in this direction.
Are there any spots along the New York City Marathon course that you’re looking forward to revisiting?
Getting to run in Central Park is always good. It’s probably the toughest part of the course at the critical time in the race. It’s the part that asks you to dig deep and challenge yourself. It’s a really iconic part of the race, and it’s pretty fun, too. And then, you can’t beat running down First Avenue. It’s a really fun part of the race.
What surprised you about the New York City Marathon when you first raced it in 2014?
I remember finishing and thinking that the course really suited me. I really enjoyed the tough nature of the course, the rolling hills. It’s a race that you can break down into manageable segments, if you’re paying attention. We had an incredibly difficult windy day [in 2014]. If we get the weather and the wind in the wrong direction, it’s a long haul; if you get it in the correct direction, you get a nice tailwind for a significant part of the race. That’s something I’ll be tuning into, for sure.
What’s your advice for first-time New York City Marathoners?
If you have a time goal, it’s definitely a course where you have to be super patient. You start the race on a big uphill, and so you look at your watch and feel like, “Oh my gosh, I’m already behind.” My advice is, don’t even tune in until you’re about 5K into the race. That’s when things kind of settle and you can dial into your race pace.
There are really great ways to break up the race. As you go through each borough and each neighborhood, you feel this shift in where you’re at. It’s a great way to break it up, like, “Once I get over the next bridge, I can start thinking about my next set of goals.”
Do you find that the layout of the NYC course makes the miles go by faster?
Yeah, absolutely. You just kind of check things off. “Okay, I did one of the hard bridges; check that one off.” You can manage the little things in between: getting your race-day nutrition, finding your pace and dialing that in, then all of a sudden you’re at the next bridge and you can check that one off. It just kind of rolls through that way.
There’s already so much attention on the professional women’s field for this year’s New York City Marathon. What does it mean to you to be racing New York—not only as part of that field, but as one of the marathon’s top contenders?
It’s really exciting. I think it’s a celebration of where we’re at. It seems like there are more people coming up all the time. But I feel like there is a little more pressure on it; we want to keep raising the bar for the others around us. It’ll be tough to top Shalane [Flanagan] winning last year, but if we can put more numbers in the top three or top five, that would be fantastic. We certainly have the right people in the race to get that done. It’s just about competing with everyone there. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the marathon.
We’re all doing so much work, and there’s a respect for anyone who gets to the line and covers 26.2 miles. You’ll fight your battle and then shake hands. It’s equally hard for everybody.
There was a lot of media attention on the moments during this year’s Boston Marathon when you helped Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle keep up with the group. Is that display of sportsmanship typically on your mind during a competitive race like that, or was it inspired by the difficulties of that particular race day?
The conditions certainly brought out a lot of that. The marathon is already tough, and then you put in those conditions on that day, and it’s like, “This is going to be a long haul for everyone. Let’s all work together to make sure this goes as smoothly as possible.” I also feel like, in any major marathon, if there’s a way for us to do a bit of teamwork, I don’t think anyone’s really against it, if it aligns with their strengths and what their game plan is for the day. I wouldn’t expect anyone to totally change their game plan to help me out, and the other way around, as well. If it worked out that we were able to help each other, pretty much all of us would be game for doing that.
What goals are in your sights for New York?
I want to compete to the best of my abilities. I think I’m incredibly fit and coming in with a lot of confidence. Obviously the field is stacked, but if you get to the line healthy, the number-one goal is to try to win. After that, it’s about what I can get out of myself and where does it land me. Those are the things on my mind when I’m lining up.