Ten miles into the Rock ânâ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon in September, Desiree Linden was about 50 seconds ahead of the second-place womenâs finisher, Kellyn Taylor. A half-mile later, though, she touched a hand to her right side, and her flat raceday expression turned into a grimace. She slowed. She walked. She stopped.
A lot of professional runners would have dropped out. Donât hurt yourself on a sweltering day when the goal â the New York City Marathon â is less than two months away.
But as Taylor started to catch up, Linden began to run again, beating her by 17 seconds, with a time of 1 hour 11 minutes 50 seconds and a side stitch that made it hard for her to breathe after she crossed the finish line.
Finishing âwas the easiest way back,â she said last month from her home near Lake Michigan.
Linden is 5-foot-1, but the sharpness of her quads gives her away as one of the worldâs fastest marathoners. She is also a hunting dog owner and a bourbon collector, and she favors running in shorts and tank tops instead of the briefs and sports bra kits of most other professional female marathoners. She is known for her consistency, a metronome-like ability to find a pace and maintain it mile after mile for an entire race. Steal her watch and ask her to run a 5:34 mile, and she can nail the time within a second or two.
Philadelphia in September was the inverse of the Boston Marathon in April, which came with sheets of rain, temperatures in the 30s and winds gusting past 25 miles per hour. Linden, who finished second in Boston in 2011 and had run in two Olympic marathons without a top-three finish, finally had her day. She became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon since 1985, and credited her win in part to training in miserable weather in Michigan and in part to not wearing the minimalist uniform of her competitors.
âI think everyone was feeling bad based on the conditions,â she said. âBut I was like, âAre you going to feel sorry for yourself, or are you going to compete and get this done?ââ
Linden, 35, was a good runner at Arizona State, but not the best â a two-time all-American, but not an N.C.A.A. champion. She went right into marathoning without stopping first on the track, as many professional marathoners do. (Her top American competitors in the New York City Marathon on Sunday will be Shalane Flanagan, who won the race last year and won silver in the 10,000 meters at the 2008 Olympics, and Molly Huddle, who holds the American record in the 10,000 meters.)
âShe just wasnât good at shorter distances,â her manager, Josh Cox, a former professional runner, said. âShe skipped over that part and focused on the marathon pretty early in her career.â
That is why she has been called a blue-collar runner, Cox said; because she took a different route and worked really hard. But, he added, âto say she doesnât have a lot of talent â I donât buy that for one second.â
The American Amy Cragg, who won bronze in the marathon at the 2017 world championships in London, was Lindenâs teammate at Arizona State and then on the 2016 Olympic marathon team. In college, they would do their medium-long runs â about 12 miles â very early on Wednesday mornings. âWeâd talk about becoming Olympians and just being competitive with the best in the world,â Cragg said. âIt was before either of us had any right to even be talking about it. We were so far from that stage.â
After winning Boston, Linden has enjoyed herself. She drank Champagne from a shoe, then was honored at a Celtics game. She was a presenter at the Billboard Music Awards. Weeks before the New York City Marathon, when a lot of runners might isolate themselves to avoid trip hazards and germs, she traveled to Austin, Tex., for the Formula One United States Grand Prix. (She said she and her husband, Ryan Linden, are huge fans.) She has become an it woman to those American runners, especially women, who are more into the grit of the sport than any glamour it brings. Fun fact: Women now run more races than men in the United States.
For New York, she took a risk. After Boston, she left the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project, the program she had been with since college. Walt Drenth, her college coach, who is now at Michigan State, is guiding her once more.
To get ready for New York, she has trained about 120 miles per week, the same as at Hansons-Brooks. She also does âsome shorter bouts of exercise, some things with a little bit higher intensity but not necessarily threshold pace,â Drenth said. She has done stints at altitude before, for example, in Kenya in 2014, but opted this time to stick closer to home, running along the shores of Charlevoix, Mich. There, neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night keeps her from the swift completion of her appointed rounds.
âI felt like Iâm at the point where Iâm at a plateau, and this is a chance to really take a risk and see if I canât hit a little higher peak,â she said. âLetâs see if thereâs something else we can squeeze. Having fresh eyes on it is helpful.â
She also said that the current makeup of the Hansons-Brooks team did not suit her. In April, right before the Boston Marathon, the team signed Dathan Ritzenhein, who, according to the United States Anti-Doping Agency, had violated drug protocols while with Nike and the Oregon Project.
âI wish Des the best on Sunday, and hope she does great,â Ritzenhein said. âShe is a fantastic competitor. The field is amazing as usual, and I will be cheering for the American field, especially Des.â
At the time, she told LetsRun.com, which is how the sport talks to itself in this country, that she was ânot especiallyâ supportive of Keith and Kevin Hansonâs move to bring him on board, and that she wasnât consulted about the decision.
Asked recently whether the addition of Ritzenhein affected her decision to make a change, she said, âYes and no.â She said the group was set up for success after adding Ritzenhein; Shadrack Biwott, 33, a Kenyan-born American; and Mohamed Hrezi, a native of Connecticut who competes for Libya. âThey should have three Olympians in 2020,â she said. âTheyâre in a really great place.â The Hanson brothers declined to comment.
Linden ran the New York City Marathon in 2014. She finished fifth, but after Boston, she is one of the most talked-about runners in a stacked field this year. She doesnât mind. There is a camaraderie among elite marathoners because they know how hard the race is, she said. âIâm pumped for whoever has the breakthrough just because you know what goes into it.â
After New York, Linden will focus on the Olympic Marathon trials in Atlanta in March 2020. She has no concrete plan for her running career after the Olympics, assuming she makes the team, which is hardly a lock given up-and-coming talent like the 27-year-old Jordan Hasay. Also, Kenyan-born Sally Kipyego, a standout in the half-marathon, is now an American citizen and could be formidable competition.
Linden swears she will not overstay her welcome and allow people to talk about her in terms of what she used to be.
âI donât want to be a person whoâs hanging on, slowly declining and just sort of showing up for the sake of being there,â she said. âIf the goal doesnât make sense, I see myself maybe moving to different races like the ultra stuff or the mountain stuff where you canât compare yourself to the past.â