Desi Linden was our guest on Episode 31.
C259: Desi, welcome to cloud259.
Desi: Thanks for having me, I’m excited to chat.
C259: Desi, I was there in the race at New York running well behind you, but I had a few questions about your race. I’ll break it into three segments. First off, when you first started running on the Verrazano Bridge and felt that wind, tell me in three words or less what you were thinking.
Desi: Oh my God. Does that work?
C259: That definitely works. Expand on that a little, you can use more than three words. Were you expecting the rest of the race to be like that? It calmed down to a certain extent after you got off the bridge, but the bridge was something, huh?
Desi: It was. I said “Oh my God” and then it was logical after that. If you can get through this part, it’s going to get better the rest of the day. Just be patient, relax. It kept you in check early so you didn’t make any dumb decisions in that early excitement of the race. It wasn’t the worst thing, but it was kind of shocking at first.
C259: When I was running most of the runners were trying to tuck in on the right side of the bridge. Was that the case as well with the women?
Desi: Yeah, actually we strung out in a long line. I was surprised it wasn’t more across and tucking in on the right. It worked well for me. I found the tallest woman, Jelena [Prokopcuka] from Latvia, and I was her best friend for pretty much as long as I could be on the day.
C259: [Laughter] Good strategy. I saw you had the long-sleeve shirt on as well. You had that on for five or six miles, is that right?
Desi: Yeah, I didn’t think I would even have it on for that long. Once the sun came out, it did change quite a bit. You get a little bit of sunshine out there and you warm up pretty good. Once I ditched it I was pretty comfortable the rest of the morning.
C259: A part of the race that was frustrating for us viewers on television, because we couldn’t see the whole thing, that seemed like a crucial part of the race for you was First Avenue and up in to the Bronx. The way Gregg put it was you were bobbing and weaving on First Avenue, trying to stay in it. Can you tell us from your perspective what that part of the race was like?
Desi: I felt pretty good there, and actually one of the big things I need to work on and had trouble with and is that a lot of the fluid stations I would lose 3 or 4 steps on the group. That happened at that time period. I caught back up to the group and I think when I caught up to them they picked it up that next mile. It just took that little bit extra out of me. Once you fell off that pack, the effort gets so much more difficult with the wind. I think that did me in. Nothing drastic really happened, but a lot of regrouping and catching back up took it out of me at that point.
C259: Was there a moment when you thought to yourself, “I’m going to stick with the group,” or was there a moment when you thought to yourself, “I’m going to let them go and regroup and maybe I’ll catch them going into Manhattan”?
Desi: Actually I was digging down and trying to catch back up because I knew the effort was going to be so much more difficult, especially with the left-hand turn when you go into the Bronx, that wind, I think it was the worst of the day. I really wanted to be on that group, I just didn’t have it at that point, but I didn’t feel like I was completely blowing up, I actually felt like they stepped on the gas a little bit. I knew there could be carnage coming back and I had to keep running as hard as I could even with the wind coming up.
C259: Yeah, the Bronx tore me to shreds, that was definitely the toughest part of the race for me. The last part of the race that I wanted to touch upon was from 40k to the finish. You caught and passed two runners, including 2011 champ Firehiwot Dado. Can you take us through that?
Desi: Yeah, going down 5th Avenue heading back towards the park I saw Kevin Hanson who was out there cheering, and he’s like, “You’re doing so great, you’re going to catch people,” and I thought he’s out of his mind, there’s no one up there, I’m not going to catch anybody. It was Central Park South where I first saw Dado. I was like, oh, I can catch her. And then at Columbus Circle I saw the last woman [Rkia El Moukim]. It was very very late, but I definitely dug down and had the kick of my life. My calves were cramping and my hamstrings were cramping and my feet were cramping and I was ready to be finished, but I had to go all the way through the line on that one.
C259: That was a great kick. That was captured on Instagram so people on Twitter can find that. It was very inspiring, and more than one commentator has called you a badass. It was quite a badass move at the end there.
Desi: That’s a good compliment.
C259: Were there any particular highs or lows or memorable images from the race?
Desi: Being on the bridge and at the start, you knew it was going to be a challenging day. It was really cool, a special moment. They shut down the streets of New York City so we can go run as fast as we can from A to B. You always forget about that. You look behind you and see this huge mass of people. It’s pretty special to be there on the day and get the opportunity to do that. I always like to take a moment to stop, smile, and appreciate it, and then go inflict the pain, so that’s always good.
C259: Certainly it was your first time running the whole course. Had you trained on any parts of the course before?
Desi: I did. I was out there in June after the New York Mini and covered the whole thing over two or three days. I got to see it and knew it would be challenging. I took that into training with me, knowing the course would be difficult and I would probably have to work just a little bit harder even when the effort felt like I was working hard, I knew I would have to work just a little bit harder.
C259: One last question on the race itself and on the apparel. You were wearing your signature sunglasses. It seemed most people were bracing for the cold and you were staying cool in those sunglasses. Is that just because you like to wear them, or is there a particular advantage you think it gives you? I know the sun doesn’t help a marathoner so much.
Desi: I’ve just gotten used to it over the years. My vision is pretty horrible, so I feel I’m just saving my eyes. I went to school in Phoenix and you wore sunglasses, pretty much every day. It’s a comfort zone more than anything. Oakley is a good sponsor and they hook me up with really cool stuff, so they are easy to wear.
C259: Shortly before the marathon, news broke that Rita Jeptoo who has dominated marathon majors over the past few years had a sample come back positive for EPO. What was the buzz among the elite women about that?
Desi: Honestly, at that point, we did our press conference the day before, so we didn’t have any clue and I never really got feedback from the athletes in the race. For myself, you were upset and frustrated, but you were also worried about the task, so you set that emotion aside. You can think about it later. For me, I thought this doesn’t change my day. I’m worried about myself and what I’m going to do tomorrow.
C259: Well, we are all for a clean sport here. It’s pretty shocking when the top of the Totem Pole comes out with a positive drug test, but we’ll see where that story goes. It’s been a good fall for the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, great performances not only by you but also in Chicago by Bobby Curtis and Jake Riley. Can you outline in general the Hansons method for those who are unfamiliar with it?
Desi: Yeah, I think the biggest thing for the marathon is something called cumulative fatigue. That is basically just building up mileage week after week. When you get to that point where you’re like man, I’m really tired, I need to freshen up my legs, you learn to push through it, obviously not to the point where you are injured, but where you learn to run marathon pace or just quicker on really tired legs. At the end of this ten, twelve week block you dial it back just a little bit for the taper, and all of a sudden you are fresh, and that pace is sustainable for a full marathon.
C259: So in the training itself, what is an example of way in which you’d get your legs to be really fatigued? Would it be a marathon paced run after a huge mileage day? Could you give us more specifics?
Desi: Sure, it’s just a string of weeks together. For me I’ll hit 120 two, three weeks in a row, and be doing marathon paced workouts like 3 x 3 miles at race pace, then two days recovery of fourteen miles in the morning and four in the afternoon, or twelve in the morning, four in the afternoon, and then another big workout, and a long run. It starts just adding up. There’s not one single day that is especially difficult that wears your legs out. It’s just a day-after-day grind. You get to the point where you really want to freshen up and take a day off. I want to take that 10-mile day, but it’s just continuous, and you learn how to run through that dead leg feeling that you get at the end of a marathon.
C259: We had Dot McMahon on the show last year, who runs with Brooks. She told us that after she starts marathon training she doesn’t feel fresh until race morning.
Desi: Pretty much.
C259: So if you time it right, you must feel dynamite on race morning after all that hard training.
Desi: It’s a weird thing because even when you don’t feel phenomenal, you’ve trained your body to run when you’re really tired, so it’s not the end of the world if you don’t feel really fresh. You’re like, I train on tired legs, so this is just fine. But we do dial it back enough so you get that fresher feeling. I think we have it pretty pinned down right now.
C259: Back in 2007, you ran the Boston Marathon in 2:44:56. That was your first marathon, right?
C259: What are your memories from that race?
Desi: Similar weather to New York this year. It was a Nor’easter. I remember them being on the bubble of cancelling it. As far as the race went, I had a blast. It was pouring rain, there was a headwind, and I was probably the only person out there that really enjoyed it. I loved every step. The crowds were awesome. It was so much fun covering the distance. I had a bunch of teammates out there too. I crossed the finish line and I was like I can’t wait to do that again. I’m not sure if I was the only person thinking that, but I kind of fell in love with the marathon that day.
C259: Four years later, when you took nearly a minute per mile off that time with a 2:22:38, were you as surprised at that performance as everybody else? Or were you confident by that point that that sort of thing was within you?
Desi: I felt really ready to go. I knew I was ready for a big day. Obviously you can’t control what anybody else in the field does. If somebody went out there and runs 2:19 I wasn’t ready for that, but I knew I could compete well, so I wasn’t shocked by it. I knew I had a shot to win. I felt like I raced like that all day, and I think if I hadn’t prepared myself mentally for that, I would have gotten to those later stages and felt I don’t think I belong here. I may have been a little more tentative. I’m glad that I did feel prepared for that.
C259: Do you remember clearly the finishing stretch there? The last 100 or 200 meters, it was such an incredible race to watch on TV, and I was particularly struck by how you had one last late move, and took the lead quite late.
Desi: Yeah, it was definitely one of those battles where you were like, “Okay, this is it, this is going to be the move that breaks her and this is where I’m running away with it,” and then your legs would cramp up and you’d be like, “Oh no wait, I’ve got to hold off just a little bit.” And then she would go by and you’d be like “Oh, I’m done,” and your legs would freshen up just for a second. We were probably doing the exact same thing and she just got the upper hand right at the end. But it was fun. That’s what you want a race to be. That’s what’s exciting about it and what makes it interesting and that’s what makes it a chess match versus just watching checkers. It was fun to be a part of.
C259: My co-host Gregg wants to know, what is more impressive to you, your 2:28 into a big headwind here in New York City, or a 2:22 with a big tailwind in Boston?
Desi: That’s a good question. I don’t know how those average out. I would say my 2:22 simply because I was competing. When I think about that race I don’t think about the time, I I was 2nd in a really close race which is obviously the more impressive thing. I would go with that for now.
C259: Right. It is interesting however looking back at past results at New York that your time this year actually was faster than the winning time in 2010 in New York. There were far better conditions then. The winner was Edna Kiplagat, Shalane Flanagan was 2nd, and this year’s winner Mary Keitany was 3rd, so you got all of them.
Desi: That’s right, I remember that year, watching. It was very tactical.
C259: Yeah, still, the women at New York this year deserve a ton of credit because the times really weren’t that far off the norm. It was a lot of impressive running.
Desi: Yeah, I was fairly surprised by the pace given the conditions. I thought it was pretty honest for what we were facing, so it was a good day.
C259: A woman named Julie Threlkeld has a great running blog titled raceslikeagirl.com. She’s a big fan of yours and she did a great recap of that Boston race in 2011. She has a question, when are you going to run London? And I’ll add to that question, given the tweet came out today from Hansons-Brooks about how you’ve now had a top 5 finish in 4 of the 6 World Marathon Majors – those being Boston, Berlin, Chicago, and New York – not only when are you going to run London, but when are you going to run Tokyo?
Desi: That’s a good question. I do want to one day do all of the majors. That would be really cool, and they all have got something really unique. I’ve got to get some speed in my legs to do London to make it useful for me, and I don’t have that right now. Next year is going to be about rebuilding speed and getting ready for the Trials. Maybe after the 2016 games, in 2017 I’ll look at it. But definitely not before then, I’ve got to get quick.
C259: Do you think you’ll get back on the track next year?
Desi: Yes, absolutely. We’ll definitely incorporate a good amount of speed work and hopefully take a stab at some track PRs. That may be a little difficult because I haven’t done the track stuff in so long, but if I can start egging towards them then maybe next year or in a year or so I can get right back to where I was.
C259: It would be great to see you out there in a 5k or 10k, get those times down. The way that you kicked at New York your competition should be a little worried. Regarding your competition, clearly right now if we look at the 2016 Olympic team, Shalane Flanagan and yourself are the favorites the make the team, the third slot is little fuzzier. Do you see Shalane as a big rival, or is she just one of the international elites that you are vying to win these races against?
Desi: Definitely in the major races that are international, it’s like one other competitor. It’s nice to have another American up there who you can keep your eye on. If she has a good day, she’s going to succeed for Americans and that raises the bar for everyone. As far as feeling an extra special rivalry towards her, it’s not, because pretty much she’s beaten me every time out, but I’m going to keep chasing her down just like everyone else as I try to win one of these majors.
C259: Speaking of rivals, Gregg has another good question, your husband Ryan is a runner turned triathlete who has a 2:26 marathon PR. Could you take him down in a race of any distance right now, as long as there’s no bike or swim.
Desi: In any distance, um, yes. I’m just going to be full-on cocky about it. It’s my favorite thing in the world is to pick on Ryan, cause Ryan takes it in stride and he’ll laugh.
C259: Julie had one more question. You’ve got a lot of chapters left to write in your career, but she was curious about what you had in mind for when your running career is over. Do you think you’ll be coaching or something else?
Desi: Yeah, it’s a good question, and actually my sister and I just right now started this new thing called 360 Elite Endurance. And we’re looking at making training plans for a wide variety of people looking to get fit or actually train for an event. So I think that will be something that we build while I’m finishing up my career and hopefully it’s something I can get more involved in once I’m retired and am just a plodder.
C259: Help other people get fast.
C259: You mentioned training plans. One lesson I had from this race is that a marathon performance is likely to reflect your training. It’s hard to overachieve in the marathon if your training isn’t quite there. I’ll use this to segue to your injury. You qualified for the Olympics for London, and then you had a stress fracture – it sounds very painful – of the femoral shaft. Sometimes in rehabilitation people do strength work they hadn’t done before. Was that the case with you? And what role does that rehabilitation work or non-running training have in your training now?
Desi: I did do different strength work. I guess it was more like getting the muscles firing correctly, and sequencing. I went and saw John Ball out in Phoenix and he worked with me quite a bit pinpointing a lot of weaknesses and areas I needed to get fixed up. And so he basically would send my updated programs every couple of weeks. It was new and it was different, but it was very specific to the weaknesses I had developed because of this injury or had and which caused the injury. That was definitely something new, and something that I’ve gotten away from a little bit because I’ve been healthy and am just a little lazy about it now, which is on my list of things to get better at. But it is important and I feel it did make a huge difference in helping me to come back. Beyond that, I try to do yoga fairly often. When I get into the routine of it, I really enjoy that and I feel general strength and flexibility is never a bad thing.
C259: At the Olympics, did you think it was a long shot that that race would go well?
Desi: I did. On the line, it was really frustrating because at that point I didn’t know what the injury was. The doctors were like “I think it’s just tendonitis, we don’t see anything.” Basically they missed the stress fracture by like an inch on the MRI. “It’s probably just tendonitis.” To me, that’s something you can work through, like maybe it’ll warm up. I’m just going to go mile by mile. It’s probably not going to be the greatest race of my career, but you want to cross the finish line. So I got out there and just tried to do that. But the first hard right turn, you could tell it wasn’t going to happen. And then you think about all the turns that were on the course – that was the big thing with the course, there were like 90 turns, I don’t know how many there were, but there were a ton. So that first right hand turn, it was like “This is going to be bad. This isn’t going to warm up and suddenly it’s better.” So I just made the call early on, which is frustrating, but it happens.
C259: Well, it was such an impressive race that got you on to to the Olympic team, the second place at the Trials in Houston, and of course you’ll have another go at it in 15 months or so in 2016.
Desi: It’s coming up very quick, yeah.
C259: Just a few more questions. A great deal of hard work goes into being an elite distance runner, particularly in returning from injury. At your level, there must be times, particularly with what you’ve described about the Hansons training method, where you really have to dig deep and do things that don’t feel natural, like run when you’re completely shattered. I could see how success is a great motivator. But are there other things that you call upon for motivation or inspiration to get through that really hard work of training.
Desi: Yeah, it’s a really good question. One of the big things is I’m lucky to be on a team, and it’s nice to see everyone out there on those really crummy days where you don’t want to be out working hard, and you see your teammates doing it, and you see them trying to get better. We’re all just trying to get the best out of ourselves and that’s super-inspiring. The amount of time Kevin and Keith put into the program, and our assistant Don Jackson – they’re on the road all the time, and sometimes you work for the people on your team. I know my husband Ryan puts up with me in the middle of those 120 mile weeks when I’m super grumpy, and I do it for him too. It’s just that whole group and team that you have that gets you out there on the days when it’s not necessarily easy. It’s easy to look at your teammates and the people who are supporting you to remember why you are doing what you are doing.
C259: You’ve recently added some depth on the women’s side, with Cally Macumber and Megan Goethals. Do you think we’ll see them mixing it up at a marathon major or U.S. Champs any time soon?
Desi: They certainly are capable. We have Cally, Meaghan, and Katie Kellner, who’s from Cornell. Callie’s a little beat up right now but the other two are running very well. It’s such a tricky time when you first get here because you are getting used to higher mileage and training partners who can kind of beat up on you a little bit, the whole thing, it’s a new training system, but if they are in it for the long haul and they put the work in and stay healthy they certainly are capable. I think they’ll both do really well, and Callie will surely follow in their footsteps.
C259: Thanks Desi so much for your time. We have one last question. The name of our site and podcast is cloud259 because when Gregg and I started this we were both 3:08 marathoners, and we figured if we broke three hours, we’d hit cloud259. One question we have for all of our guests is if you could give one training or race-day tip for runners to achieve any PR in the marathon, what would that be?
Desi: Love the process. In training and in racing, we all have moments that hurt. You’ve just got to smile and remember that what you are doing is fun. The steps that hurt, you actually earned, because you have to push yourself really hard. Smile at the pain, know that you’ve worked really hard to get there, and keep fighting through it. Love that process. That would be my tip.
C259: Fantastic tip. Thank you so much Desi!