To Boldly Run Like You’ve Never Run Before

Desiree Linden after the 2016 Olympic Trials“I’m disappointed,” Desiree Linden said after finishing fourth at the 2017 Boston Marathon.

How could she not be. The race of her dreams, the one where she broke the tape on Boylston Street, has been ten years in the making. It’s been ten years since she first crossed that finish line in 19th place, and Monday she was there to be first. She would settle for nothing less.

She did not break the tape. She did not come in first. She was fourth. And it wasn’t the head-to-head battle of the wills that she fought so hard and lost in 2011. Instead, she was broken with many miles left to go, many miles left to mourn.

I cannot speak for Desiree Linden. I’ve only spent a few hours talking with her, and once sat in the back of a gator for 70 minutes as I watched her race in front of me. I do not know her particularly well, but I know enough to know she’s human. As a fellow human, I understand the pain of disappointment, of putting so much stock into one race and how much it stings when your best isn’t good enough. When Des’s voice broke in her post-race interviews, with Ryan concernedly looking on, I understood.

I hurt for Des as she fought those last miles, when the magnificent Edna Kiplagat glided to the finish in one of the most commanding Boston wins I have ever seen. I believe Des when she says she’s happy Edna won. I believe Des when said she’s impressed with Jordan Hasay’s fantastic debut marathon and that she’s excited to see what the future holds for the ingenue. I also believe the quiver in Des’s voice when she wondered if the peak of her career is in her past.

Des was not first. But she did not settle for fourth. She can’t settle; her job is not settling. She can’t change the outcome now and she couldn’t change it in the race. She’ll accept it, maybe she’ll try again, but she’ll never settle.

She said she failed. But to us, the fans so inspired by her, Des did not fail. Ten years since being a 23 year-old novice embarking on her first marathon, a marathon run on these same streets, Des is a world traveler, a married woman and a true professional, experienced and wise. She’s known for being somewhat conservative in her tactics, a cold executioner, a runner who makes a plan to run a steady pace and sticks with it. To those who’ve followed her career, Des is not known for front-running. But Monday she did. After a (relatively) slow first 10k, Des made a move to dial down the pace. If she wanted to win on this day, she knew she had to do things differently than she’s done them before. She needed to make all her competitors race her way. The self-reliant Des, who runs her own race, needed to impose her will on others.

And she did. As planned, Des fearlessly led the pack of women through miles seven, eight, nine, ten, with runners falling out of the back of it with each mile. To win, she’d need to lose all of these women, or most of them, before the Citgo Sign at mile 25.

Halfway through she seemed energized by the screams of Wellesley, but not long after there were signs her body was not going along with her race plan. She tugged at her shorts. She dropped back into the pack after commanding the lead for miles. She fell off the pack, she came back, she fell off again, she seemed to come back, but she could not hang on by 17. She was only a few seconds behind, but by the time Edna Kiplagat dropped the hammer, a 5:01 20th mile uphill, careening away and breaking up what remained of the pack, with Rose Chelimo and Jordan Hasay trying to keep up and Des now out of contention save for a disaster in front of her.

That left Des nine miles to contemplate what part of the plan had gone wrong. Nine miles is a long time, even at 5:30 pace, to contemplate anything.

But she’s been at this for 10 years and she’s developed a solid M.O. Des is going to do her Des thing, but so far the Des thing has never brought home a win. At this point in her career, Des could line up at Boston and run a safe race and win lots of money and sign autographs and keep her sponsors happy. Had she done that, run a safe race, maybe she could have raced for third. Maybe she could have escaped the heartache that comes with going for something bigger and missing … Maybe. But what’s the point?

If Des is in this to be her best, to find out how far she can take this running thing, she has to push herself out of her comfort zone. She has to change things up in training, in racing, in thinking. She has to take risks.

To be truly bold, to go to a place one has never gone before, requires bravery and a fearlessness that few people have. But Des has it. I don’t know her well, but I know she has it. She might not have let herself think too much about it beforehand, but she is smart enough to know that striving is not without risk. If she didn’t take that risk, she’d never know. Sometimes a risk means failing. But without taking the risk and the fail, she could never learn whatever lessons this race had in store for her.

I hope Des enjoys a glass of whiskey or a few. I hope she and Ryan have some fun in Boston. I hope she knows that it’s not the winning that inspires us. It’s the striving.

How did the 2017 Boston Marathon inspire you?

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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20 comments

  1. Great post Salty! I also enjoyed reading the comments. Lets put it in perspective; even though she’s disappointed she didn’t win, she still came in 4th! And it’s not like she completely bombed it- her time was still within minutes of her PR. Certainly not reason to worry that she’s peaked or past her prime. It wasn’t her dream race, but it certainly wasn’t a disaster that should have her contemplating retirement.

    1. HA! Seriously! I think she’s just frustrated because since her injury she hasn’t been able to match or exceed her 2011 race and this cycle she felt like things were finally gelling and she was fit for a breakthrough. But this brings up an interesting thought. I’ve noticed a lot of people have really good training cycles where they’re doing workouts they never could do before, but then on race day, it’s a let down and they race about as well as they did before — no breakthrough. But then a cycle later, they’re CRUSHING it. It seems like sometimes it takes an extra cycle for the breakthrough training to lead to a breakthrough race. Wonder if that scales up to Des level?

      1. Oh and also, I think there’s an added frustration that she wants to do it to get better, but not to keep devoting her life to something she can’t get better at. Does that make sense? There are a lot of sacrifices she has to make to train and compete at the top and it’s hard to get it up to do all the work and make all the sacrifices if you can’t improve. I don’t think that’s the case, but I think that’s the fear.

  2. I don’t even know what to say. My heart simultaneously broke for her while being such a proud fan. The competitor in me understands that place – that bottom-of-the-well place that few dare to go – it just breaks the human spirit open. I had tears streaming down my face when she ran that last stretch. People like Des just don’t exist, the pieces of herself that she shares with the running community are priceless – and even that isn’t the correct word and doesn’t do her justice. I know she’ll get her big win, even if it looks different than she thought, because that’s just what she does. And I can’t wait to see it.

    1. Oh wow. Yeah. I feel this. She’s really a special person, but really normal too. She has this really rare balance of human and superhuman. She’s da best :)

  3. I am always inspired by the Boston Marathon, having lived here now for 17 years and watched on the sidelines for many of those. This year was particularly special as it was my first year serving as a physician in Med Tent A at the Finish Line. It was such a privilege to be able to help so many runners of all levels, aspirations and walks of life, and to work side by side with so many other incredible medical professionals. We all cheered hard for Desi watching her on the broadcast and then when she walked through the tent after the race, even though her disappointment was obvious. She is such a strong and courageous athlete – I have no doubt she will continue to be a contender for years to come.

    1. She’s such a confident, relaxed person that her disappointment was so evident. I really felt for her. She really wanted this and believed it was the day. It’s gonna take a while to process all of that, I’m sure.

      But, wow! What an experience! I’m so excited you got to do that and I’m happy for all the runners in your care :) Miss you!

  4. I left the Boston marathon inspired by how hard the elites must work to be physically and mentally strong. They are at the top of the running game b/c they have that extra something that us mere mortals don’t have. If you truly put it all there “all you got, is all you got” you can’t make more endurance or strength come out of your body than what you gave, as long as you gave it all! Inspired that if you’re out to race( or anything you have passion for) put it all out there and make sure it’s the best you can do. If it doesn’t work – fuck it! There’s always next time.

    1. Granted, I ran Boston when I was a relatively inexperienced runner, but OUCH. That course HURT. I trained on hills and stuff but I’ve never hurt that bad in a race before or since. Anyone who races well on that course gets my respect!

      1. Exactly! I didn’t race it Boston, I ran it for the experience but FUCK, after heartbreak hill I was wondering when the hills stop! All I wanted was to crawl up in fetal position and have my husband and sister pick me up- lol. My legs, back and arms are wrecked, and the pain in my legs during the race was brutal.

  5. I was thinking the same thing. It’s nice that she can lock into a pace and run it consistently, but I disagreed with her saying “all you got is all you got”. If you ever want to breakthrough and win, you have to be prepared to throw out your race plan and all your ideas of what your body is capable of and just go. Giving yourself a hard limit on what you think you’re capable of and not going a second faster than that seems like a bad race plan to me. Sure, you should have a ball park range but I don’t think you should be absolutely bound to that…

    1. I generally agree with you, but I think she’s saying this in retrospect — she pushed herself to her well and her well was not as deep as three other runners.

      1. Wow. I have a totally different perspective – and so much respect – for the all you’ve got comment. She put everything out there and can, with class, admit that what defeated her was that her competitors were just simply better and had more. It take a brace, confident, honest, real person to say that.

    2. I was thinking about that Spearmint. I love Des and I love that she can run perfectly even splits regardless of rolling hill terrain etc. But at what point do you throw that out the window to race based on how things are unfolding? I’m by no means criticizing her, I don’t have any room to talk about a woman who’s marathon PR is 30+ minutes faster than mine. Racing your own race is a good way to hit time goals, but I could see racing for place needing a different strategy (obviously running her own race allowed her to make the Olympic team at the trials….so there’s no hard and fast rule about it).

      Either way I was left inspired and excited watching the race, and I personally don’t believe Des has reached her “peak”.

      1. Her perfectly even half splits were an accident. She was racing with the other runners, but could not hang on when Kiplagat starting dropping the hammer. She didn’t do the old Des thing this time. She pushed the pace early and was more aggressive. It was either going to pay off or not and it didn’t. But my point is that she could have just run her even pace or she could be more aggressive and try something new to take it to the next level and she tried something new. Taking that risk in the name of striving toward even greater excellence than what she’s already achieved is what inspired me so much about this race :)

        1. When I crossed the finish line, the first thing I did once the inevitable nausea passed was to ask about the elite race. The random volunteer I asked was so animated in her sadness that Des didn’t win. And then another guy next to her jumped in to talk about it too. We all had a moment of commiseration, right there next to the water tables. My husband who can’t tell a Kenyan from a Kardashian even knew about her heartbreak. Clearly the spunk and drive that Des showed really energized a lot of people. That might be very little solace to her right now, but I hope at some point she can smile about that part at least.

          1. Congrats!!! That is so sweet! I can just picture it. I know Des appreciates all the support she’s received from the running community. I’m not sure she appreciates how much she inspires people quite yet, but some day it will sink in that she’s inspired many people to be better beyond just running.