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Desiree Linden had a lot of 2020 plans. And like everybody else, she’s seen COVID-19 canceled all of them, one by one. But on Saturday, she finally got to a finish line of sorts, after her longest run ever—31 miles.
To celebrate, she drank a little champagne from her shoe in Central Park, where the 2020 New York City Marathon should have taken place on Sunday. She and her husband, Ryan Linden, had completed 496 miles over 31 days of October, a challenge they called #RunDestober, which they took on in the absence of other competitive opportunities.
They traveled from their home in Charlevoix, Michigan, to loop around the park on the final run of the month, completing a “calendar club,” completing the same mileage as the date each day (one mile on October 1, two on October 2, until Saturday, finishing 31 miles).
“#RunDestober was a crazy challenge with mileage in unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory, but finishing it off in Central Park on [New York City Marathon] weekend felt awesomely normal,” Linden, 37, tweeted on Saturday.
Like most runners, Linden, the 2018 Boston Marathon champion, has seen a lot of dreams dashed this year. On February 29, at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, she came in fourth, one spot shy of qualifying for the Tokyo Games, which would have been her third Olympics. From there she had planned to race the 2020 Boston Marathon, which was postponed until September. Then she considered a different double: Boston on September 14, followed by the 2020 New York City Marathon on November 1. And, of course, those goals were squashed, too.
Even as some elite-only races opportunities popped up in recent months, none of them really spoke to Linden.
“I love that people are getting creative and starting to get events back on the calendar,” Linden said, during a phone interview. “But I also love the community side of running and that the activity and the sport can exist on the same course. It’s just hard to get as amped up for these races that are pros-only.”
She and Ryan had been following Travis McKenzie, a friend who had started his own calendar club during the summer. It had become a point of discussion at the dinner table and Linden eventually got sucked into the idea.
“We would rehash [McKenzie’s] day and started talking about the strategizing, like when he should start doubling or running three times a day,” Linden said. “At the end of the month we were totally invested in it.”
Linden wanted to create that sense of community that she had been missing, so she invited the masses to join her. If they didn’t want to run the same mileage, they could simply set other goals to walk or bike or log whatever activity they did that day. As the hashtag took off, Linden added everybody’s posts to her own instagram stories, offering encouragement as the days started accumulating.
“My thought was that we could just try to come together and test ourselves in new ways,” Linden said., “There’ve even been local people around my neighborhood—in the first couple of days, I’d see them out walking and they’d yell, ‘I’m on day seven!’ It’s been a tough year, but this has been fun.”
Despite the northern Michigan fall that offered up icy rain, wintry mixes, and high winds, eventually Linden made it to Saturday in New York by keeping the intensity of all the runs low and making sure she was getting adequate nutrition and recovery time each day. During the last 10 days she had split up the mileage into morning and afternoon runs, but she still wanted to see if she could complete 31 miles in one shot. Her longest run ever prior to this weekend? “Um, 26.2 miles,” she said.
Which begs the question: are we ever going to see Linden lining up at an ultramarathon?
“I think that’s just so intriguing about this. It’s kind of like ultra training—that sense of fatigue,” Linden said. “It’s a good teaser. Maybe if I can get through this, I’ll do some ultras in the future.”
For now, however, after the recovery is complete, Linden plans to follow her general rule of thumb: just keep showing up. Until she finds a race that stokes some excitement, she wants to make sure she maintains her base fitness, so she’s ready to sharpen up when it counts.
“Running is the joy in the day for a lot of us,” she said. “I don’t want it to be something stressing me out. For me, it’s having a schedule that forces routine. When there’s nothing to look forward to, I have to find something that makes me accountable. I think this challenge proves that putting my goals out there works for me.”