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Undecided On Olympic Trials, Desiree Linden Focuses On One Race At A Time. This Weekend? NYC Marathon

By Nick McCarvel | Oct. 31, 2019, 6:41 p.m. (ET)

Desiree Linden competes in the 2019 Humana Rock n Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon on Sept. 15, 2019 in Philadelphia.

 

NEW YORK – Two-time Olympian Desiree “Des” Linden arrived in Manhattan in the days leading up to the New York City Marathon still unsure if she’ll run in February’s 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Marathon.

But a standout race on Sunday certainly wouldn’t hurt.

“I’m old,” laughed the 36-year-old, explaining to reporters why she hadn’t wholeheartedly committed to running the Feb. 29 race in Atlanta, where three U.S. women will earn tickets to Tokyo.

“I think usually what you would do is circle the trials (for the next Olympics) and work four years back and look at every single race and how it would play into you making the team,” Linden went on. “(But) after (the Rio Olympics), I didn’t know how much longer I was going to (run marathons) or how my body was going to hold up. I went the opposite way: The focus is on the next race, and then what comes next. How does my body feel? It’s not out of the cards…”

For Linden, however, there is no “if, then” scenario following Sunday, even if that means a podium finish in a race that she has raced in twice, finishing fifth in 2014 and sixth last year.

It will all be based off of how her body feels, and as a “veteran” marathon runner at 36, Linden trusts that.

“If I feel good, I’m excited and my body is cooperating… then we put it in” for the trials, she said. “If not, then we figure out what does work. There is plenty of time to regroup; this (training) segment went really well. I think I can make the decision fairly late.”

In the near future, there is the world’s biggest marathon to run (with 52,000 racers), and on a third try, Linden, of course, would like to get into the top three. The race is once again headlined by Mary Keitany of Kenya, winner of four out of the last five in the Big Apple.

Of the elite women entered in the field, Linden has the fourth-fastest personal best time (2:22:28) and is the fastest among the best U.S. women entered, though Americans Kellyn Taylor, Sara Hall, Aliphine Tuliamuk, Allie Kieffer and Roberta Groner have all raced sub-2:30:00.

“On the U.S. side there’s a great camaraderie right now,” Linden said. “In marathoning there is a level of respect… people win if they are the best athlete. I think the U.S. women (are) really strong right now. It’s a good thing for all of us.”

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The last American woman to win in New York was Shalane Flanagan, the four-time Olympian and 2008 silver medalist in the 10,000-meter, in 2017. It was the first home-grown win since 1977, when Miki Gorman won in NYC.

“Any time you can run a domestic marathon in one of the world major marathons is special because you automatically have a hometown crowd,” the recently-retired Flanagan told TeamUSA.org. “Even if you’re not from that city, it still feels like everyone wants you to win. That’s a huge motivator, especially when you’re struggling or having tough moments, which is inevitable in a marathon. It feels like you can dig deeper and lean into it a bit more. It’s a great motivating factor.”

Flanagan, who announced her retirement just last week on Instagram, is now coaching and will serve as a commentator for this weekend’s TV coverage. She thinks Linden has as good a shot as ever to get onto the podium in the women’s race.

“I think (top three is) very doable for her,” Flanagan said. “It’s Mary Keitany’s drive for five… She’s going to be very tough to beat, but I think Des can be somewhere in there. She knows the course. It sounds like her preparation has gone well. … She has been laying low and putting in the miles and doing the work. I think she feels confident and excited. I expect Des to put in a pretty solid performance.”

Flanagan’s 2017 win here motivated Linden, who won Boston just over five months later in rainy, cold conditions.

“Shalane’s win in ’17 was so special,” she said. “I know how hard she works and I know that she does it right. That brings me hope; it’s a super powerful thing. When you watch someone who you have lined up against for such a long time, you think, ‘Oh yeah, maybe I can do it, too.’ You just keeping plugging along.”

After that Boston win last spring, Linden was sixth here and then fifth earlier this season as defending champion in Boston. At 36, she feels like two races a year is what best suits her body, so a four-month turnaround to the Feb. 29 trials date might seem a little tight, hence her trepidation to commit just yet.

Linden has also been outspoken about three out of the most recent six medalists in the women’s Olympic marathon having since testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.

Regardless, her focus on Sunday will be on the race in front of her, which starts in Staten Island and winds through all five of New York’s famed boroughs, over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn, then Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and back into Manhattan, to end in Central Park.

“This is a race that showcases the New York City experience,” she said. “It’s fun to celebrate the different neighborhoods. From a tactical perspective, it’s really easy to break down: ‘I’ve got this bridge done, check. Where’s the next bridge? Check.’ The fans are fantastic. Everything in New York is bigger, it’s a bigger stage… more excitement. It’s a thrill to be here.”

Though Linden could be close to the end of her career, she’s not lost on what to do next. Interests include music, books, travel and coffee. She and her husband, Ryan, own a specialty coffee company, LINDEN x TWO. Its website has a banner up for the week that reads, “We are in NYC for marathon weekend, orders will not ship till Tuesday 11/5.”

Needless to say, it’s a small-sized family business.

Des does her fair share of caffeine consumption herself.

“Coffee when I get up, just black,” she explained, grinning. “Then coffee before I run, coffee after I run. It’s pretty much all day.”

Even on race day?

“Yes, certainly. It jumpstarts the system. We bring our own pour-over set up. We bring bags of (our coffee) in. It’s a little snobby of us. I’ll have two cups: The first one three hours out, getting ready in the room. And then it’s a long bus ride out there, so you’re just kind of sipping (the second cup) as you go. And then mix in hydration.”

What Linden craves after is a celebratory beer, too, though that will have to wait until Sunday afternoon or evening. And then we will all wait to see if she’s headed to Atlanta. Only time – and her body – will tell.

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. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @nickmccarvel as he covers the New York City Marathon this weekend for TeamUSA.org.

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Desiree Linden