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Desiree Linden on Recovering and Recalculating: “It’s Uncertain for Everybody”

After placing fourth at the Olympic Trials, Desiree Linden planned to race the Boston Marathon. Like everybody else, she’s trying to figure out what’s next.

Very little has gone according to plan for anybody this year. And Desiree Linden is no exception.

After placing fourth on February 29 at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials (the top three—Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel, and Sally Kipyego—made the U.S. Olympic Team), she was disappointed. The alternate position wasn’t what the two-time Olympian was after on the hilly Atlanta course. However, her spirits were quickly lifted, she said, because she also had the Boston Marathon coming up on April 20—the race she won in 2018.

“Having Boston on the schedule made me move on and not dig into what happened at the Trials too much,” she said. “Then Boston got canceled and I was like, ‘Dear god, I probably need to process this.’”

Officials announced on Friday that the 2020 Boston Marathon would be postponed until September 14 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Linden said she found out at the same time everybody else did, at her home in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

“I went for a run during the press conference,” she said. “Obviously I had been connecting the dots like everybody else and it was the obvious thing to do.”

Linden, 36, took a little time on Monday during a phone interview with Women’s Running to reflect on her Trials race and the Boston Marathon cancellation, as well as offer some advice to runners struggling without races on the calendar. What follows are some outtakes from the conversation.

The Olympic Marathon Trials and evaluating her performance:

Linden said she hasn’t spent a lot of time going over the details of the Atlanta race. The course was difficult, but she felt prepared for it. The training got a little tricky when she came down with the flu about three weeks before the race.

“We managed the training—I just didn’t have a great hand of cards. I had a respectable day, but it wasn’t indicative of my ability and I think the further away we get from that race, the less I remember. I don’t think there’s a lot of value in overthinking it anyway. Obviously the course was super tough and I remember that Laura [Thweatt] was pushing the group most of the second lap [of an eight-mile loop, run three times] and part of the third. She stretched us out a little bit and I covered her move, then Aliphine and Molly went after that. I had run that last [5K] section of the course the day before and I wonder if I over-respected it or got it just right? I was on super tired legs and I knew that last section was going to be really tough for everybody, so I left a little bit in the reserves. When I finished, I was perfectly exhausted—my legs were toast and there was nowhere in those last three miles I could have done more.”

On physically recovering from the Trials:

The Olympic Marathon Trials course through downtown Atlanta was brutal, with 1,389 feet of climbing and nearly the same amount of descending. The winds were gusty on race day, too, adding to the variables that made it a difficult day for many.

“Maybe the hills were a good thing because you were never using the same muscle group for too long. There was so much up and down, unlike Boston where your quads get hammered because of all the downhill. Anyway, I think that’s why I felt better than I usually do after a race. It was not a super hot pace, either, which is another factor. Anyway, I’m not accustomed to feeling fine after a race—usually I take two weeks off, then try to run after sitting on my butt for all that time, and it feels terrible. So, getting up the next day and running was foreign to me. I shook out that race effort, jogging for a couple of days afterward, and that seemed to flush it out. Running seems to help, which is kind of annoying [laughing].”

On coping emotionally from the Trials aftermath and the Boston Marathon cancellation:

After the Trials finish, Linden said she was feeling more positive because her training had been going in the right direction after recovering from the flu. She knew she could capitalize on it for the Boston Marathon.

“Immediately after the Trials, it was just Boston, Boston, Boston. That was super exciting. That day after the Trials I felt surprisingly decent. Then this buzz about the coronavirus started getting louder and then it became a little more exhausting to get out the door. It was hard to think about workouts geared toward Boston when I started thinking, ‘I could just be recovering right now.’ But also, running is my normal and what makes me feel better. Anyway, I’m enjoying a little break finally and that feels good—I’m just running based on how I feel, assuming we can continue running outside. I’ll slowly get back into it.”

Is there any way to figure out what’s next?

So many races are canceled right now, it’s difficult to plan a competitive schedule. Linden has considered trying to get a qualifying time (31:25.00) to compete in the 10,000 meters at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in June, if any meets remain on the calendar.

“Initially I was thinking about the 10K on the track to see if I can get in. That would be neat, but finding meets [that aren’t canceled] will be tricky. I’ve talked to a lot of people and some are like, ‘you should just take a long break’ and others say, ‘you should race in May.’ I don’t know. I think it’s super hard to train and dial in toward a distance without being certain of if you’ll be able to race. I’ll have a good chat with [coach] Walt [Drenth]. I’m not in a rush to have that either [laughing]. It’s uncertain for everybody.”

On the possibility of a fall double marathon:

Linden is still targeting the Boston Marathon, now on September 14, but the schedule leaves the possibility of also competing at the New York City Marathon on November 1—it is a similar timeframe that she would have had this spring between the Trials and Boston.

“We’re sorting it out and trying to figure out what’s best. I don’t know if the Games will go off either [on August 8 in Sapporo, Japan] and I feel like I should be ready as an alternate if that comes up. It’s a conversation [Linden’s agent] Josh [Cox] is having right now. The challenge is similar to what I had hoped to do between the Trials and Boston and I like that. I did an InsideTracker blood panel before the Trials and three days afterward and if you’re just looking at those results, there was no hard effort there. I recovered quickly and I’m intrigued by that. The double was exciting for me, so I’m considering it in the fall. I want to see how I’d fare, so it’s a possibility.”

Advice for how runners can handle the uncertainty right now, with few (if any) races on the calendar:

“I alway think of that meme that says, ‘Oh, you want to know what am I training for? Life, motherf*cker.’ All that fitness goes into your body and is absorbed for a long time. There will be races again, some day. You have to find some purpose in putting one foot in front of the other and tap into why you run. It can’t just be about race results—hopefully you have a good ‘why.’”

Is it hard to keep that perspective when running is your job?

“It’s an amazing job to have and we’re super lucky—and it’s also a luxury to be a pro runner. We’re not the only people being put on hold by this thing. We just need to have the perspective that canceling these races is for the greater good. Racing will start again and we’ll be ready when it does.”