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If Desiree Linden could order two or three more weeks of prep time for the 2022 Boston Marathon, she would. Ready or not, though, Patriots’ Day is coming on April 18.
She describes the first few weeks of training as “a bit rocky.” Linden, the 2018 Boston champion, was dealing with some pain in her hips last fall, which forced her withdrawal from the 2021 New York City Marathon. The pain is gone now, but some stiffness remains. Her chiropractor, John Ball, has likened the injury to sports hernia, but instead of getting imaging and surgery, she’s opted to work on strength and posture to regain fluidity and turnover in her stride.
“I’m not hurting anymore,” Linden says. “I’m trending the right way. Now it’s just the clock.”
On March 20, she raced the NYC Half, finishing in 1:13:49. From the outside it may have looked like a disappointing performance, but it served an important purpose in Linden’s buildup. She had been struggling physically and mentally maintaining marathon pace up until then—finding it difficult to sustain 5:35 per mile (a 2:26 marathon) during training runs because of her slow comeback from injury.
“Everybody thought [the NYC Half] was a terrible day, but I was optimistic,” Linden says. “It was almost like a fartlek effort and I was able to run in that 5:35 range for long stretches, which I haven’t been able to do for a long time. It’s more movement that’s keeping me from having good days than actual [lack of] fitness. It was a step forward in getting that movement to come around.”
Training has largely mirrored what Linden, 38, has done in the past, though weekly mileage has hovered around 110–115, a bit less than what she logged five years ago. The last three weeks she’s felt more like herself, with paces coming naturally instead of forcing them.
“I feel like it’s plenty,” she says. “We’ve been working so much on getting that turnover back and making marathon pace seem comfortable again, so some of the workouts have been drastically different—like minute repeats and 30 second repeats…at the end of the day it’s an 18-mile session with warm-up and cool-down.”
The 2022 Boston Marathon women’s field is as formidable as fans have come to expect, including Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the 2021 Olympic marathon gold medalist with a 2:17:16 personal best; Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya, who’s run 2:17:42; and American Molly Seidel, the 2021 Olympic marathon bronze medalist. It includes 12 athletes who have run faster than 2:23.
But few women can match Linden’s experience on the Boston Marathon course: It will mark her ninth time making the trek from Hopkinton to Copley Square. She’s had the best days of her career there, coming in second in 2011 in her fastest marathon ever (2:22:38) and, of course, winning in 2018. Her competitors include some of the most talented in the world, but time is not always a measure of success on the undulating New England terrain.
“If I can mentally be engaged in competing and not throw in the towel at any point, even if I don’t like what I’m seeing on my wrist for splits…if I squeeze everything out of myself that I can,” she says, “if I do that, I’ll call it a win.”
At this stage in Linden’s career, she’s also exploring other distances and outside projects away from competition. She set the 50K world record in April 2021 (2:59:54) and still has interest in lining up for more ultramarathon races—she throws around the idea of one day racing Comrades Marathon, the 55-mile event in South Africa, and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), the 106-mile race through the Alps of Switzerland, France, and Italy, that starts and ends in Chamonix.
She’s also started on-air commentary and analysis for track and marathon television broadcasts, a talent she’s still perfecting, she says. One call she was particularly happy to be part of? Keira D’Amato’s American record (2:19:12) in January at the Houston Marathon: “I knew it could be this really big moment and somebody should put it in perspective…I didn’t feel super bad being like, ‘I know I’m not supposed to talk right now, but I’m going to talk until they tell me to shut up, because this is important.’”
Linden has a knack for cutting to the chase and bringing her deep experience to the analysis, but she compares the job to publishing a first draft of an article and letting the world critique it before it’s edited.
“I feel like I have all the tools for talking about the sport, it’s just fitting that into a broadcast and using all the tools correctly,” Linden says. “Every time you get back on the mic, it’s like you try to get a little bit better…it’s just learning this new thing and I love that, but I hate that I’m learning in real-time, in front of everyone.”
She’s also taken a new role at her long-time sponsor, Brooks, as “chief running advisor,” which is separate from her athlete contract. The position is an honorary part of the company’s executive leadership team, bridging the gap between the many groups that make up the sport, from elite athletes to recreational age-groupers. She will also advise on gear and technology and serve on a coaching panel.
A Brooks spokesperson described the job as Linden’s “runway to deepen her connection to the brand as well as the sport, long-term, when she’s ready to step away from the professional running side.”
Make no mistake, however, Linden isn’t planning retirement any time soon. She’s as motivated to compete at this year’s Boston Marathon as she was a decade ago—and until that feeling subsides, we’ll likely still find her at the World Marathon Majors start lines, seeing what else she can accomplish before turning her focus to ultras and trails.
“Maybe I can still crack a good one. It might not be the best marathon of my career, but if I feel like I can put together one more good one, I’ll chase it,” Linden says. “I think that would be a fun thing to keep hunting down.”