Desiree Linden smiles prior to the start of the 2019 New York City Marathon on Nov. 3, 2019 in New York City.
NEW YORK – While top Americans Desiree Linden and Jared Ward have polar opposite views on their outlooks for the pending U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Marathon in February, they shared a same goal for the New York City Marathon: Finish on the podium.
Linden, the 2018 Boston marathon champ and Ward, a 2016 Olympian, made respective pushes on Sunday in two strong international fields, but placed precisely where they had each finished in New York a year ago: sixth.
“My legs feel like it was a really taxing effort and I was spent at the end, so that means it was a pretty good day,” Linden said on ABC7 New York after she finished the race. “The crowds showed up, too.”
Shouts of “Let’s go, Des!” and “Come on, Jared!” could be heard throughout the 26.2 miles that snake their way through all five boroughs of New York, starting in Staten Island, as fans lined the streets 1 million strong for the largest marathon in the world.
Linden, 36, led the women’s elite field for a spell midway through the race, before a pack featuring four-time former winner Mary Keitany of Kenya took the pace.
Ward, meanwhile, stayed with the lead pack of ten runners through mile 20 before it broke up in the final six miles.
“I’m going to keep shooting for that podium,” said the 31-year-old Ward, who has yet to find a top three finish at one of the marathon majors. “I feel fortunate to have run with those guysfor two thirds of the race. I’m happy with the race. I’ve been working on being confident and brave… today I tried to swing for the fences.”
“It’s scary to try (that pace), but you run the mile that you’re in, as Ryan Hall says,” he added. “You just try to chip away as you go. … I wanted something today that solidified that breakthrough I had in Boston (in April) and establish to myself that I’m a different marathoner going into this Olympic trials cycle.”
Ward should be happy with his 2:10:45, some two minutes faster than his time from 2018 in New York, when he was also sixth. He broke 2:10 in Boston earlier this year to finish in seventh.
New York is the last big marathon before the top American men and women will chase six total Tokyo spots in Atlanta on Feb. 29 at the Olympic team trials.
While Linden has hesitated to commit in full to Atlanta, she said her focus was being healthy in New York and then seeing how her body would respond over the next few weeks as that February date creeps closer.
Ward was using New York quite differently: He wanted it to take his mind off the long slog to Feb. 29. New York, he said, felt like the perfect distraction.
“Now I have the fresh opportunity to focus on the Olympic trials,” said Ward, who was third at trials in 2016 to earn his ticket to Rio.
Asked if she had now made up her mind about Atlanta, Linden said her body was feeling too many of the aches and pains from the streets of New York at the moment, but that she “might have different opinions at 1 a.m. tonight.”
While Ward has the trials to focus on and Linden a big decision to make, it was an afternoon of celebrating for two Kenyans as Geoffrey Kamworor (2:08:13) improved his bronze from last year here to a gold, and compatriot Joyciline Jepkosgei (2:22:38) won in her New York debut.
Kamworor was champion in 2017, as well.
Defending men’s champ Lelisa Desisa dropped out at the seven-mile mark, and Keitany, triumphant here four of the last five years, finished in a distant second to Jepkosgei, who finished strong.
Racers from Kenya and Ethiopia won nine of the top 10 spots between the two elite field’s best five, with only Australia’s Sinead Diver breaking that trend, finishing fifth in the women’s race.
American Kellyn Taylor was just five seconds behind teammate Linden, placing seventh. Both Sara Hall (mile 18), who was fifth in Berlin, and Allie Kieffer, another top American, did not finish the race.
But it was Linden who took the women’s race by the neck, breaking away from the pack at mile 8 and holding it for four miles, just prior to the halfway point. That’s when Jepkosgei, Keitany and eventual bronze medalist Ruti Aga would catch Linden, then shortly thereafter pass her and hold their podium spots.
“I think she knows exactly what she’s doing,” 1996 Olympian Juli Benson (Henner) said on world feed TV commentary about Linden as her lead swelled to 15 seconds at one point. “She’s 36. I think she’s more willing to take chances right now in her career.”
But Linden said that she started to feel cramps in both her calves and feet, eventually fading out of the top-three pack.
Linden’s final 2:26:46 was the fourth-fastest time by an American in New York City marathon history. Taylor clocked in at 2:26:52. Linden fell short of the fastest time for an American woman, a record still owned by Kara Goucher’s 2:25:53 from 2008.
“I was eyeing up the American course record,” Linden admitted. “It was a perfect day. We had a little bit of tailwind in those early miles, and I thought, ‘Let’s swing for it.’ It was a good day… (but) I paid for it late. Kara’s record lives on.”
Ward was the best among the U.S. men here for a second straight year, with Abdi Abdiraham placing ninth (2:11:34) and Connor McMillan 10th (2:12:07).
He now heads into Atlanta as the favorite to capture one of three Olympic spots for Tokyo.
“I don’t know if I’ll go into that race looking at myself as the favorite, but I’m going in with a lot of confidence that I can make the team. I’m ready to transition and look towards Tokyo,” he said. “American male distance running is starting to bridge the gap with the females, what Des and the American girls have done.”
While he didn’t run a marathon in the fall of 2015, Ward – much like Linden – was running motivated by feeling healthy and prepared for another world marathon major. Saying of his decision to run here just four months out from Atlanta: “I wasn’t willing to pass on that. The window isn’t always open. When I’m healthy and fit I want to race.”
It was a perfect day for a marathon race, as bright and crisp fall conditions fell under sunny blue skies and 45 degrees at the start. Elite finishers came through as the temperature broke the 50-degree mark.
Ward said at times he felt carried by the crowds.
“I’m on the verge of getting emotional out there,” he said. “It motivates me, it keeps me going. It makes me think, ‘Maybe I am running for something more than myself.’ It’s powerful. I love it. I love it here.”
Two Americans who also loved it here were Shalane Flanagan, the last American woman to win here (2017) and Meb Keflezighi, the last American man to win here, who was celebrating 10 years since that iconic day in 2009.
“This finish line is where my American dream came true 10 years ago,” said Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the marathon. “(Now) I get to spend a lot of time with my girls and my wife. I’m giving back in a different way. I’m not going to come back (laughs). I’m just running recreationally and having a good time.”
Olympic gold medal cross-country skier Kikkan Randall was running in New York today after a battle with breast cancer last year. She achieved her goal of running a sub-three-hour race, clocking in at 2:55:12, averaging out at 6:41 per mile.
Both the U.S. men and women have three spots up for grabs at the Olympic team trials on Feb. 29, and while we’re sure we’ll see Ward, the chances are pretty good we’ll see Linden, too.
They both were making important plans for this afternoon in New York City: their post-race meal.
“Pancakes,” Linden joked – or perhaps said quite seriously.
“I’m going for a burger,” Ward replied. You could tell he meant that.
Nick McCarvel is a video host and freelance reporter based in New York City. He has covered three Olympic Games, including Rio 2016 for TeamUSA.org. Read weekly features by him this figure skating season on TeamUSA.org.