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Desiree Linden feels liberated to take more chances in the final stages of her professional running career and she showed no fear on Sunday at the 2019 New York City Marathon, pressing ahead of the pre-race favorites for much of the first half of the race.
Linden, 36, the 2018 Boston Marathon champion, decisively broke away from a pack shortly after the 10K mark and held on to a lead up until just before hitting 13.1 miles. It was then that eventual winner Joyciline Jepkosgei caught her, along with four-time winner Mary Keitany, who ultimately placed second, and Ruti Aga, who went on to finish third. Linden ended up sixth, the first American, in 2:26:46.
The conditions were about as good as they get in New York, with temperatures in the high 40s, sunshine, and just a little bit of a breeze. Linden thought she should take advantage of the gift from Mother Nature and go for the fastest time by an American on the course—2:25:53, set in 2008 by Kara Goucher.
“I know the back half of the course is tough, but I honestly was eyeing up the American course record here,” Linden said. “It was a perfect day—we had a little bit of tailwind in the early miles and I thought I’d take a crack at having a good one. I paid for it…and Kara’s course record lives on.”
After taking that swing in that first half, which Linden hit in 1:11:40, she was about three minutes slower in the second 13.1 miles, experiencing cramps in her feet and calves in miles 18 and 19, she said. It was a diversion from how Linden typically races marathons, usually clocking nearly identical splits. By comparison, Jepkosgei clocked 1:11:39 for the first half and 1:10:59 for the second.
“It’s about trying something new. You don’t have a breakthrough doing the same thing over and over again, being really conservative and really cautious,” Linden said. “It wasn’t about running stupid or dumb, it was just going with the flow of the race.”
Kellyn Taylor, 33, was the second American finisher in seventh place, right behind Linden in 2:26:52. When Linden picked up that pace early in the race, Taylor said she knew it wasn’t the right decision for her to follow. So, she held steady around 5:30 per mile and hoped that some of the competitors would come back to her.
“It got pretty fast to where I was like, ‘I don’t know what we’re doing anymore,’” Taylor said, laughing. “When Des took off, I was thinking, ‘I don’t know. You go girl, but I’m not going with you.’ I didn’t want to crawl across the [finish] line.”
Linden has been considering her professional options going forward and whether she wants to compete at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which take place on February 29 in Atlanta. She’s already a two-time Olympian and hasn’t committed to going for a third team. Another option on the table? Bypass the Trials and compete in April at the 2020 Boston Marathon instead. Linden didn’t give any hints about what her plans may be.
“Right now is not the time,” she said. “Just based on how my calves feel and my feet feel, maybe at 1 a.m. tonight I’ll have different opinions.”
Although she made no promises, Linden was forward-thinking in her analysis, saying in her next training cycle she may experiment with more long runs, longer intervals, and increased strength training. She also said she was happy to push herself in new ways on Sunday.
“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,” she said. “It might hurt a little bit more but the upside could be fantastic.”
Taylor, however, is all in for trying to make the 2020 Games. She said her result on Sunday on a course that mimics the hilly terrain of the Olympic Trials route gives her a confidence boost.
“I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t pull something special like a top three finish off today, but sometimes you have to wait for special things,” she said. “If it happens on February 29th, I’m cool with that, too.”
Sara Hall, who finished the Berlin Marathon five weeks ago with a four-minute personal best (2:22), did not finish on Sunday, dropping out at mile 18 with stomach problems. Aliphine Tuliamuk, coming back from injury over the summer, was 12th in 2:28:12.