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Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon has never been easy. That’s why Des Linden keeps coming back: ‘I’ll take the tough one every time.’

In 2018, Desiree Linden became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years.John Tlumacki

The conditions were wretched when Des Linden first toed the starting line in Hopkinton in 2007. An amped-up nor’easter brought rain, a 30-mile-per-hour headwind, and soggy, chilly misery for the runners.

“I was one probably of the few people who felt that was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Linden recalled years later. “I’m going to do this forever. I loved it.”

On Patriots Day, Linden will lace up for her 10th Boston Marathon. During the 16 years since her first appearance here — which also was her 26-mile debut — Linden has won the laurel wreath (”storybook stuff”), lost by two seconds on a sprint down Boylston Street, finished fourth twice, and came in 17th in a “total suffer-fest.”


Every trip here is a homecoming, according to the California native and Michigan resident who has a dog named Boston. What brings Linden back is the race’s incomparable history, the feeling of family that she gets from the Boston Athletic Association, the exuberant crowds along the course, “the greatest finish line in our sport,” and the challenge from the lumpy layout and mercurial weather.

“We’re in this era where we want the marathon to be easier than ever before,” said Linden. “We want it faster, we want it flatter, we want wind blockers, we want shoes that bounce you forward, we want better gels. You name it, we’re trying to dumb this thing down.

“Boston is already not going to manage well with a lot of those things, then you throw in the weather conditions. I’ll take the tough one every time.”

Linden crossed the finish line four minutes ahead of the next finisher in 2018.John Tlumacki

Boston never has been easy. For decades there were no mile markers or water on the course. There was no prize money until 1986; the reward was a medal and a bowl of canned beef stew. The starter fired the gun and sent you off. If you ended up sitting on the curb, cramped and blistered, the “meat wagon” picked you up.


Linden loves the purity of a race that always has the same course but rarely the same conditions.

“A lot of people get surprised by it,” she said. “Well, it’s Boston in the spring.”

Boston is the recurring theme of “Choosing To Run,” Linden’s new memoir written with Bonnie D. Ford. Chapters recounting her 2018 triumph — the first by an American woman here in 33 years — are interspersed with a narrative of her evolution from a track racer to a marathoner.

Linden, who’ll officially become a master when she turns 40 in late July, is in the final stretch of her elite career, which she hopes will include a third Olympic team next year in Paris. Maybe she’ll run a fall marathon to prep for the Orlando trials in February. “Or maybe I just spin the legs and do some fast stuff,” she mused.

Linden represented the US in the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro (pictured) and in 2012 in London.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

At this stage of her career, it’s all about being smart and patient.

“It’s a challenge letting go of your prime years, but there’s also a reality to it,” Linden said. “It’s recalibrating and readjusting what the goal is. I’m learning.”

One significant concession is her weekly mileage, which Linden has reduced from 120 to between 95 and 105.

“I have this mentality that I’m being lazy if I’m not doing 115- to 120-mile weeks,” she said. “ ‘You’re not being lazy,’ my coach [Walt Drenth] said. ‘It’s just not practical.’ ”


At her age, maintaining speed and power are more important than training volume.

“So work on what’s going away,” Linden said, “and rely on what you’ve done in the past as far as the volume goes.”

The lighter workload paid dividends at the recent New York City Half Marathon, where she placed fifth in 1 hour, 12 minutes, and 21 seconds, the top American finisher.

“It was the first time in a while that I got good momentum from a race,” she said.

Linden (shown running the New York Marathon) was pleased with her performance in the half.Sarah Stier/Getty

Up against a stacked Boston field that includes Gotytom Gebreslase and Lonah Salpeter, the world gold and bronze medalists; two-time Boston victor Edna Kiplagat; returning medalists Ababel Yeshaneh and Mary Ngugi; two-time Olympic track medalist Hellen Obiri; and Amane Beriso, a sub-2:15er, Linden is realistic about her chances.

“Top 10 is a great goal at times, and particularly this year — the field’s incredible,” said Linden, who was 13th last year. “Just mixing it up and racing is fun for me.”

At this point in her career, Linden has little left to chase. She was seventh in the 2016 Olympics, cracked the top 10 at the 2009 world championships, and has posted top-five efforts in New York, Chicago, and Berlin.

But her crowning achievement came in Boston five years ago when she slogged her way through punishing wind and chilly rain to win a race that she didn’t plan on finishing.


“It’s not going to be my day,” Linden told Shalane Flanagan after 6 miles. “I think I’m going to drop out soon.”

But she pushed on, thinking more about survival than victory.

“I was running in fear for most of the race,” Linden said. “Even halfway through Boylston I was thinking, if someone comes up on my shoulder I know I can respond.”

Linden was stunned when she crossed the finish line first in 2018.John Tlumacki

She won by more than four minutes, to her astonishment. Linden’s jacket and headband were added to the BAA memorabilia collection, whose artifacts date from the 19th century. “The same museum I had once viewed as an unattainable sanctum,” she wrote in “Choosing To Run.”

Gloria Ratti, the BAA’s longtime first lady, had given Linden the tour before her 2007 debut. That, she said, “made me fall in love with 26.2.”

“Everyone talks about Boston’s special history,” Linden said. “You can feel it on the course, you can see it on race day. But to have that collection of the very first medals and the shoes that were being worn . . . ”

Could Des Linden win another Boston?John Tlumacki

John Powers can be reached at