Desiree Linden is pacing in her room at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, gesturing with her hands, conducting an interview.
“I can’t sit still,” says the reigning Boston Marathon champion.
Linden is touching down in Sin City to be a presenter at the Billboard Music Awards. That was after appearances on “Good Morning America” and the “Today” show. Plus running with members of the Senate and House of Representatives in the ACLI Capital Challenge. And drawing a standing ovation sitting courtside at a Boston Celtics home game.
Life changes a bit when you become the first American woman in 33 years to win the Boston Marathon.
“It’s been a whirlwind and it’s still kind of that feeling, Is this real?” says Linden. “I’m just taking the adrenaline and rolling with it as long as I can.”
Next up, the 34-year-old Linden will be returning to her roots to participate in the 21st Synchrony Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon & Half Marathon. Linden will start with the 2-hour runners in the half marathon. She’ll no doubt experience a bit of déjà vu as she tours the streets from Balboa Park to the Embarcadero.
Linden’s first experience in the marathon came at the first Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon back in 1998. She was a promising 14-year-old distance runner at Chula Vista’s Hilltop High and volunteered at one of the aid stations at least 20 miles into the race.
“The first few people go by and you’re a high school kid feeling cool, handing out cups. You’re fired up,” Linden recalls. “A couple hours into the race, you’re exhausted as a volunteer. You’re looking at people who’ve run 20 miles, thinking, ‘These people are tough, but a little out of their minds.’”
Linden’s victory in Boston was memorable for multiple reasons. She became the first American woman to win at Boston since Lisa Larsen Wiedenbach in 1985. She won in brutal conditions – temperatures in the low 40s, a headwind that reached 32 mph and a steady rain that sometimes burst into a downpour and at one point morphed into sleet.
Even for a woman who lives and trains in Michigan the conditions were taxing.
“Toughest I’ve ever raced in,” she admits.
Perhaps most rewarding of all, the victory was a breakthrough for Linden. Until raising her arms and hitting the tape on Boylston Street – where she won by 4 minutes 11 seconds – Linden was most well known for finishing second.
She was second at Chicago in 2010, second at Boston in 2011, second at the Olympic Trials in 2012 and 2016. She pulled out of the 2012 London Games barely two miles into the race with a femoral stress fracture and placed seventh at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
Doubt, she admits, was starting to creep into her mind.
“I think I’ve always been pretty confident, but it was starting to waver,” she says. “(I’m saying) I think I can win. I think I can compete at the front. But I’m 34 and haven’t had that breakthrough when you break the tape. I didn’t know if I was going to get it done. Maybe I needed to step that confidence back. Then again, maybe this confirms that I always had it in me.”
One thing that helped, she says, was taking time off in 2017 after finishing fourth at Boston. A hard-core runner for nearly 20 years, she was suffering from burnout.
“I felt I needed to take a huge step back,” she says. “I took a huge chunk of time off, just didn’t run when I didn’t feel like it. I just felt like being off a schedule. When I started to miss it I did things that were just fun, not super serious. Before, I was comparing. This was a success; this was a failure.
“I ran some cross country, some 5Ks, not my strong point but different races that allowed me to fall in love with running again.”
San Diego does not breed successful professional team franchises. The city has celebrated one major sports championship—the 1963 Chargers winning the American Football League title. And now the Chargers have bolted for Los Angeles.
In the NBA, the Rockets left for Houston, the Clippers for Los Angeles. The Padres are playing their 50th season. They’ve been to the playoffs five times, winning one World Series game. They’re the only major league team without a no-hitter.
But San Diego High product Meb Keflezighi is the only runner to win Boston, New York and an Olympic marathon medal. Keflezighi, who’ll pace 90-minute half marathoners this year at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego, ended a 31-year American drought when he won Boston in 2014.
Linden and Keflezighi have talked about their Boston triumphs and bringing pride to their hometown.
“To do that on the big stage is awesome,” she says. “We’ve done it twice now.”
Linden is richer, monetarily and in life experience, after her Boston triumph, but she hasn’t lost her witty, self-deprecating sense of humor. In recalling her studies at Arizona State, she mentions she majored in psychology and religious studies.
“Two unusable degrees,” she jokes. “I was forced to run fast.”
With Boston not so distant in her rear-view mirror, Linden shares five recovery tips she used to prep for her role in San Diego:
- “When you cross the finish line, try to get some food in you. There’s a 30-minute window that gives you maximum recovery.” Linden recommends a banana, bagel or protein shake.
- “Consider a massage, the sooner the better. It’ll help you recover. Spoil yourself and flush out the legs.”
- “The next day, try to run 10 to 15 minutes, real easy. It’s not for fitness, not for recovery. It’s about utilizing your down time to evaluate if you’ve injured anything. It’s checking your body.”
- “Consider an ice bath within the first few hours.” Linden suggests raiding the ice container at a hotel or heading to the beach and walking in the water.
- “Take a break. I take two weeks off after a marathon to recover. You also need it mentally to unwind.”
If you’re a runner visiting San Diego and sticking around for a couple days after the race, there’s no better person to ask than Linden on how to spend your pre-and post-race RNR (that’s rest and relaxation!):
- “Drive to Coronado. Check out the Hotel Del.”
- “Go to the zoo. It’s the world’s most famous. I try to go whenever I get back.”
- “Get to La Jolla. Either La Jolla Cove or La Jolla Shores. It’s just beautiful”
- “Anybody coming to town should have Mexican food. Fast and simple is best. I recommend Lolita’s.”
- “Go to a Padres game. I grew up watching the Padres and I’m always rooting for them.” (The Padres play a 3:10 p.m. game vs. Cincinnati on the day of the half marathon/marathon, then a three-game series vs. Atlanta.)