Sports

TARA SULLIVAN

Mother Nature kept turning the screws on Desiree Linden. She just ran harder

Desiree Linden was making the turn onto Boylston Street just past noon Monday when Mother Nature decided she hadn’t quite made it difficult enough to be in the lead of the Boston Marathon’s elite women’s field. She turned the screws on the coldest marathon start in 30 years.

Never mind that Linden had already covered most of the 26.2-mile race in the type of rain that doesn’t just wash over your head but wraps you in its cold sheets of water, seeping into your every pore.

At that point, the drops amid those sheets weren’t even drops anymore, but airborne puddles hurled from the heavens like busted water balloons, the sting of hidden hailstones thrown in for good measure.

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Linden turned face-first into the foe and ran even harder, as if to say, “Bring it on.”

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And those who knew her best — the ones who’ve been around for the heartbreak, frustration, or, back when it all started, inspiration that this finishing stretch had represented to her before — knew what was about to happen. She was about to be the first American woman since 1985 to win the Boston Marathon.

Linden ran straight ahead into the record books, while all of them watched. Breathless, exhilarated, soaked, and saturated, they watched as the 34-year-old American runner — their 34-year-old American runner — matched a feat last done when she was all of 1 year old, breaking the tape at the Boston Marathon in 2 hours 38 minutes and 54 seconds, the first US women’s winner in 33 years.

Only yards from the finish line, Nancy and Dennis Davila thought of the little girl who starred at soccer and loved softball but didn’t always love running in the cold. They recalled the determined daughter who would decide, around the age of 11, to turn in her softball cleats for running spikes and declare a desire to make the Olympic Trials.

Perched on the first riser of the family viewing stands, barely visible under their hoods and hats, the two choked back emotion at what their daughter was doing, almost thankful for the heartbreak of a second-place finish in 2011, when Linden was outkicked on that final stretch.

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“We didn’t come in 2011,” Nancy said. “But we’ve been coming ever since. We thought there might be a chance that eventually this could happen.”

“I almost broke down back there,” Dennis said, his eyes turning to the pavement behind the stands. “Just so proud.”

Desiree Linden completed a “storybook” win by breaking the tape.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Desiree Linden completed a “storybook” win by breaking the tape.

Beside them, Cathy Linden thought of the daughter-in-law with the indomitable will, the woman who somehow managed to turn desire into reality, who took every bit of five previous Boston experiences — including the 2007 debut she credits for causing her complete commitment to the marathon life — and put it to use amid the most awful weather in years.

“It’s just unbelievable, that’s all I can say, because she’s wanted this so bad,” Cathy said. “We knew she could, and she led for so long. She had it in control, but they were such extreme conditions.”

Just near one of his final stops before making his way to the finish line, Kevin Hanson thought of the champion in his charge, saw his star student making the move he knew was exactly right, a change of fortunes at Cleveland Circle that would set the stage for what was soon to happen on Boylston.

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“She made a break away from the group and was 30 seconds down, or 27 seconds or whatever it was, down on the lead,” Hanson said.

“I thought she had it when she made a break then, because it was far enough out that she wouldn’t have made that break if she wasn’t feeling like, ‘I can carry this to the finish.’

“She just embraced the weather when other people said I’m going to kind of pretend it’s not going on here.”

So there she turned, into the wind, into the rain, into the cheers she would soon accept weren’t warning of her of an oncoming threat but warming her in advance of a coronation, and ultimately, into the arms of a husband whose beaming smile and engulfing hug said everything about what he was thinking when he peeled away from his hotel room TV for the finish line. His wife was 3 miles from history.

Desiree Linden’s parents at the finish line
tara sullivan/globe staff
Desiree Linden’s parents at the finish line.

“She’s just so mentally strong, you can’t beat it,” Ryan Linden said. “She’s probably the strongest person I know, how tough she is. She’ll dig for anything. The rain’s coming down, but like she said, she didn’t look back. She had tunnel vision. Straight ahead.”

“This is storybook stuff,” Linden said when it was all over, a laurel wreath encircling her head. “I got into the sport because of the Boston Marathon.

“I came out here in 2007 and they treated a nobody like I belonged. To win on this course and this race with that support is awesome.”

A California native, a Michigan resident, she had come to know Boston as well as any course on the marathon circuit, knowing it demands a training regimen that isn’t just about covering mileage, but covering the challenging route through Newton’s neighborhoods and Heartbreak Hill, navigating the peaks and valleys that carry you into that final Boylston Street turn.

On Monday, these streets took their place in her heart forever, the site of her first major marathon win, the setting for her indelible decision to hold up and wait as fellow American Shalane Flanagan took a bathroom break (showing the world that sportsmanship costs neither penny nor victory), and the stage for an unforgettable rain-soaked day.

“Brutal,” she called it. “My hands were freezing. There were times you were just stood up by the wind and it was kind of comical how slow we were running and how much further I had to go. Definitely the toughest conditions on the cold side that I’ve run in.”

And yet, “Hands down the biggest day of my running career,” she said, “and if it hadn’t been difficult, I don’t think it would mean as much. The people here, they make this event so special.

“The fans that were still out going nuts on the course were incredible. We were treated like superstars. Everything was perfect on a really rotten day.”

Rotten old Mother Nature tried, but in the end, she was no match for Desiree Linden.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.