Desiree Linden: Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone

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Desiree (nee´Davila) Linden trained in Kenya for this year's Boston Marathon. (Image credit: John Hancock)

Desiree (nee´Davila) Linden trained in Kenya for this year’s Boston Marathon. (Image credit: John Hancock)


Desiree (nee´Davila) Linden returns to Boston ready to race and seek the title. In 2011 she narrowly missed winning by two seconds, as she set a 2:22:38 American course record. She grew up in Chula Vista, California, and was an All American on the track for Arizona State University where she graduated with a BA in Religious Studies and a BS in Psychology. Linden decided to train in Kenya this year for the Boston Marathon with Canadian national record holder Lanni Marchant. Desiree is married to professional athlete Ryan Linden and lives in Michigan, where they train with Kevin and Keith Hanson on the Brooks-Hanson Team. She enjoys reading, drinking good coffee, and writing.

“It is an honor to be included in the 2014 John Hancock elite field…I look forward to sharing the road and the journey in 2014 as we run together from Hopkinton to Boston and show the strength and resilience of the running community.”

A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation: “As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.” – Joseph Campbell

Confession: I’ve been procrastinating writing this blog for about five weeks. Normally, when I procrastinate it’s because I’m truly dreading something. However, this time I’ve just been too busy enjoying myself and haven’t had time to stop. I’ve spent the last 5 and a half weeks in Iten, Kenya at Lornah Kiplagats High Altitude Training Center, logging 100s of miles on the rolling red dirt roads at 8000ft high overlooking Africa’s Rift Valley. Every day here in Iten has been a new adventure: some days as simple as riding in an overcrowded ‘mutatu’, taxi van, with 21 passengers sharing the 12 proper seats, or buying an avocado and some mangos from a local’s stand and bringing them delight by simply not asking for change. Another favorite is saying ‘jambo’ to the children who have never seen a ‘muzungo’ – white skinned person –before. Other days the adventures have been as thrilling as walking into a field full of giraffes grazing for a meal, or hiking to a hidden waterfall while monkeys jump and chatter overhead, or even better, getting a 10k running tour of a nearby forest from 2012 Boston Marathon champ Sharon Cherop and her running mates – naturally this is followed by chai at Sharon’s place while viewing her wedding video over bananas and eggs.

I wish I could adequately describe this journey and all the details: vibrant colors, the easy pace of life, the textures of buildings and dustiness to the air, the buzz of city life in Eldoret and the oddly soothing sounds of the farm life in Iten, and even the occasionally pungent scents of Kenya. As I look back through the hundreds of images I’ve snapped and try to search for the words to describe Kenya, I know I could never do it justice. Not for a lack of vocabulary, but it would be a monster task even for the masters to capture Iten in all its glory.

As I struggle to convey my experience I realize that this was actually the point of my trip, and instead of describing my trip to Kenya and my adventures, I think it’s best to tell you why I’m here. As a runner it’s hard to watch the top Kenyan athletes win major race after major race and not wonder and ask: why and how are they so good? Is their training different? Are the athletes working harder? Is it in the water?! In late October, before a John Hancock youth running and fitness clinic, I found myself grilling Wesley Korir and his manager Karen Locke with these exact questions. The line of questioning went on for far too long when Karen and Wesley forced me to that light bulb moment and suggested I stop asking and go find out for myself – genius.

Of course Boulder, Flagstaff, Mammoth and so on for a training destination are all closer and easier, but there was something about the idea of training in Kenya that was so foreign, so new, and with some of the best runners in the world – it was completely out of my comfort zone. This trip was less about the altitude and much more about the attitude. With some concern and a little uneasiness I decided it had to be done. Uncertainty is where the magic happens. It’s where we find success, where we make colossal messes and figure out how to clean them up – it’s here where we are really living. So this is where I’ve been the last five and a half weeks, living in uncertainty in Iten Kenya, with eyes up and open and an empty mind ready to be filled with a new perspective and a new excitement for running. I’ve been logging big miles, preparing stronger legs, lungs and heart than ever before, and enjoying every step.

I’m not saying running in Iten will be the event that causes a breakthrough or that it will make me a Boston Marathon champion. I can say that this trip was a reminder to embrace the work and remember it can be play. It was a reminder to truly live, to take chances, and to step outside the comfort zone. Stepping outside the comfort zone is a requirement come race day, and no doubt I will think back to Iten, to the 300 person fartlek and going out way over my head, being in oxygen debt, wondering how I would make it, and then figuring it all out. Improvement happens when we watch ourselves fail and then learn from it. Putting myself out there, getting in deep, and struggling by being surrounded by far superior athletes has not only helped me improve and challenge my thresholds, it’s been eye opening about where those thresholds really lie – often times far beyond were I initially thought.

How have you recently stepped out of your comfort zone?

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