People

The People’s Champion: Desiree Linden

The 2018 Boston Marathon winner Desiree Linden takes us all along for the ride, earning her place as one of the most powerful community builders in running.

How do we keep running when everything is so uncertain? Look to Desiree Linden—she’ll show us the way.

Linden, the 2018 Boston Marathon champion, has never quite fit the description of “elite” athlete, save for her exceptional running talent. Maybe it’s because of her down-to-earth attitude, her understated sense of humor, her whiskey indulgences, or the simple mantra she’s shared with the world, to “keep showing up.” Whatever it is, it often makes us feel like Linden could easily slide into our running club meetings and fit right in.

The pandemic only heightened Linden’s ability to inspire. While we all experienced a lot of running-related disappointment in 2020, nobody’s big dreams were dashed quite like hers. She came in a heartbreaking fourth place at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, one place outside of making her third Games. Then her plan to race the Boston Marathon shortly afterward was canceled (twice).

“I always think of that meme that says, ‘Oh, you want to know what am I training for? Life, motherf*cker,’” Linden, 37, said in March, just as it was becoming clear that the pandemic would put events on hold indefinitely. “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.”

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

As elite-only competitive opportunities started to pop up, Linden instead decided to issue a challenge to the masses during the month of October. She invited anybody to join a “calendar club,” running the same mileage as the date each day (one mile on October 1, two on October 2, and so on)—though just getting out the door for a run or walk, no matter how far, also counted.

Why not train for one of those professional races instead? It just didn’t appeal to Linden, who lives in Charlevoix, Michigan, because the rest of us wouldn’t be there.

“I love that people are getting creative and starting to get events back on the calendar,” Linden says. “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.”

RELATED: Desiree Linden Finishes Her October Challenge, 496 Miles Later

In 2021, we may see Linden on the track, if she decides to go for a 10,000-meter qualifying time for the Olympic Track & Field Trials. If not, we’re sure she’ll let us know whatever she has planned next.

“It’s a luxury to be a pro runner,” she says. “Racing will start again and we’ll be ready when it does.”


This profile was first published in the Winter 2021 print issue of Women’s Running as part of “Women Who Lead: Power Women of 2021” which celebrates 25 women who are reshaping the running industry for the better. You can see the full list of honorees here.