BOSTON (CBS) – Des Linden will return to this year’s Boston Marathon to defend her victory with pride, excitement, and a sense that a tremendous weight has been lifted.
She ran her marathon debut in Boston in 2007. In the years that followed, she established herself as one of the toughest competitors on the course and a fan favorite. Her 2018 Boston Marathon victory made her the first American woman to win on the storied course in 33 years.
There is nowhere she would rather hoist a trophy. Her love of the Boston Marathon runs so deep that she has long called it her “home course.” And, to listen to her friend and agent (and 50k American record holder) Josh Cox, Linden—who was raised in California and now lives in Michigan—bears the hallmark of a good New Englander.
Even with the biggest win in racing under her belt, she still considers herself an underdog.
“I think the greats always have a little of that. They’re confident. But they have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” Linden told WBZ-TV during a recent interview in Arizona, where she’s currently training.
Cox points to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as the quintessential underdog champion with something to prove.
“Des,” he said, “she has that same mindset— I’m here to prove the doubters wrong.” It is hard to imagine anyone doubting Linden now.
When the elite women leapt off the starting line in Hopkinton for the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon, Des Linden didn’t feel like a winner. Arguably the best tactician in the race, she knew not to go out too hard. But conditions were raw, wet and cold with wind gusts of up to 40 mile per hour. Wisely, she wore a jacket. But it was miserable. Not only did Des not feel like a winner, but by mile six, she was contemplating dropping out. Her competitive spirit and respect for the race kept her in it. And she adjusted her strategy.
“I wanted to know how I could help other Americans. How can I make sure Shalane has an okay day? It kinda shortened the race from how much farther do I have to go to Boston to – what can I do right now?,” Linden said.
She broke the race into segments and began working to help Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle stay with the pack. Organically, without any advance planning, the American women were working together in the way that Ethiopian and Kenyan runners often do.
“It really felt like our time. When I knew it wasn’t going to be my day, it was like, let’s have someone else benefit from us having that really strong group,“ she said.
When the group began to break up, Linden realized that everyone was struggling. She wasn’t alone in feeling miserable. And maybe, just maybe, she thought, “This is not a ‘me thing’.”
The mental shift taking place was transformative. “I was like, I’m getting rid of really good people now. They’re the best of the best. They’re having a rough time, so I must be doing okay. “
When Linden passed her last competitor at Mile 20, she still wasn’t necessarily feeling like a winner. She was afraid that it was just a matter of time before someone passed her. Asked how she was feeling when she made her move and raced to the front, she laughed.
“Absolute terror! I wish I could say something else!,” she explained. Linden was still haunted by her second place finish in 2011 when she came in just two seconds behind the winner, Caroline Kilel.
Even when she turned onto Boylston Street, she was nervous. Linden’s fans were cheering.
“The crowds were so amazingly loud. I was like – I think I can kick and win this. I think I can hammer it home from here,” she recalled.
With just blocks to the finish, the victory Linden had dreamed of for years, was in sight. She broke the tape more than four minutes ahead of the second place finisher.
“The whole mantra for me, for this whole thing, was keep showing up. There’s always reasons to check out and say ‘woe is me.’ If you show up and try one more time, you can turn it around,“ she said.
Linden’s husband and friend, Josh Cox (who’s also her agent) burst into tears, swallowing her in an embrace so tight it might have, temporarily, warmed her up. She was still wearing the jacket. Cox laughed proudly, “She won best-dressed that day!”
She trained for the 2019 Boston Marathon in the warmth of Arizona. Under the guidance of Walt Drenth, who first coached Linden at Arizona State University, she scaled back her weekly mileage slightly and working more on speed – workouts designed to prepare her for uncomfortable moves during competition and force faster turnover.
“A big part of it was that I had plateaued. You can keep doing the same things and stay exactly where you are or risk it and maybe see a little peak. It could fall off completely. But if we can get just a tic better, it’s worth it. You don’t get that if you keep doing the same things,” she said.
The day WBZ spent with her on the track, ASU runners greeted her with friendly familiarity and shouted encouragement as she sped past. Cox says it’s inspirational for the next generation of elite runners to see Linden’s commitment to the sport and the process.
“She wasn’t the best when she was here,” he said looking out at the track. “But now she’s one of the best on the planet. Fall in love with the process, not the end result. It’s what she models for them over the years.”
Linden said she felt good in her final weeks of preparation for Boston. She is healthy, happy, and eager to test herself.
“Obviously John Hancock brings in the best of the best. It’s going to be an all-star lineup, so I’m excited about it all,” she said.
She’s also excited about the momentum in women’s running in the U.S. Asked whether she plans to run the Olympic trials in 2020, Linden smiled. “It’s the plan right now.” But long before the trials, she hopes to win again in Boston – a feat no American woman has accomplished in almost 50 years.
Asked how she’d define the race, Linden answers with conviction.
“It is THE marathon. If you want to understand the event and the history of it, what it brings out in you, what it’s supposed to ask of you, you run Boston. It’s got the tough course. You never know what the weather’s going to be. There are no pacers. It’s the Everyman’s Olympics. It’s all the things a marathon’s supposed to be packed into one race. There are 26.2-mile road races all over the world. But there’s only one marathon in my eyes and that’s Boston.”
Watch: Linden On New Coach, Defending Title
WBZ-TV is the exclusive local broadcaster of the Boston Marathon. Pre-race coverage begins at 7 a.m. on Monday, April 15, followed by race coverage at 9 a.m.