When she stood on the starting line of the 2018 Boston Marathon, the rain pouring down, the headwind blowing in her face, the temperature chilling her body, Desiree Linden had no choice but to laugh.
“I was thinking, ‘this is absurd, but it’s also kind of funny,’” she said, during a phone interview with Women’s Running ahead of the 2019 Boston Marathon. “That’s kind of how I approached the day. I mean, it’s just running. Humor can put it in perspective.”
As a kid, Linden’s favorite reading material was Calvin and Hobbes, a comic strip that features the adventures of six-year-old Calvin and his stuffed, cynical tiger, Hobbes. At age 35, Linden has gained more than a few fans because of her quick wit and subtle wisecracking.
“I use humor when I’m super uncomfortable—it helps me manage that,” Linden said. “I’ve been put into this position where I’m sitting on stages and doing press conferences and whatever else. Nobody signs up to be a pro runner to be put in the spotlight, right?”
But this year, there’s no avoiding the attention. Linden, who is a two-time Olympian in the marathon, returns to race Boston for the seventh time, with another distinction: defending champion. Last year, she became the first U.S. woman to win the event in 33 years, and when she lines up at the start in Hopkinton, she’ll have the honor of wearing bib No. 1.
She’s counting on her experience to contend among a talented professional field, which includes fellow American Jordan Hasay (2:20:57, the second-fastest in U.S. history), Sara Hall (2:26:20), and top international athletes like the 2017 Boston champion Edna Kiplagat, Woknesh Degefa (2:19:53), Meskerem Assefa (2:20:36), and Mare Dibaba (2:19:52). Linden’s personal best, 2:22:38, is from the 2011 Boston Marathon, when she was runner-up by just two seconds.
“This field has quite a few former champs, so that’s a nice pat on the back for me, but I don’t think it changes anything for me on race day,” Linden said. “Monday is a fresh race.”
Linden, who spent part of the training cycle in Phoenix, before going home to Charlevoix, Michigan, has had to learn how to balance the increase in requests for appearances and promotional events with her need to continue training, recovering, and focusing. The travel involved, as well as the demands on her energy, have been challenging at times—but also rewarding. She knows when to cut back on mileage or move important workouts to days when she’s feeling more rested.
“I’d just be sitting on the couch at home watching Netflix anyway, so why not go out and talk about the sport and get people excited about it?” she said. “If I were 26, I for sure wouldn’t have this aggressive of an appearance schedule, but being on the back half of my career, I think I’m more disciplined and mature about knowing what different stresses are.”
She also got some valuable advice from a certain other U.S. Boston Marathon champion—Meb Keflezighi, who won in 2014.
“He said, ‘When you get to crunch time, just pick the stuff that’s super important and just do that. Other times, if you can do it all, go for it, because it’s great for the sport, it’s great for you, and it’s great for Boston,’” Linden said.
She’s prepared to go for the win again, but the ultimate goal is to compete as well as she can in a race where “you train for the course, not the distance.” Boston is notoriously tactical, and Linden knows the terrain and the conditions better than most.
“It’s just getting to the finish line and feeling like I poured everything out and not having any regrets about what I’ve done on the course,” she said. “I want to use all my energy on the day in a good, positive way.”
And what if the forecast holds, which currently shows a 100 percent chance of rain, Linden will hope for the worst.
“I think any extreme that gets into other people’s heads and makes them overthink and be overly concerned, the mental part of that I handle really well,” she said. “Hot, cold, whatever.”
If Mother Nature cooperates, there’s no doubt the returning champ will be laughing all the way to Boylston Street.