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Racing Tips from the Fastest American Female at the Boston Marathon

USA Today

This week meant one thing for runners around the world: the Boston Marathon. (Why the Boston Marathon Is Such a Big Deal.) Some of our favorite athletes crossed the finish line Monday morning, including marathoner Desiree Linden, 31, who finished at 2:25:39 as the fastest American female. (Did you know Women Run Fastest Marathons at Age 29?) Is she happy to have the 26.2 miles over with? “It’s kind of like Christmas,” Linden says. “You’re excited, excited, excited—and then, aww, it’s over already." We chatted with Linden about this year’s race, whether marathons ever get easier, her favorite fan-made signs, and more.

Shape: Since Boston was your first marathon years ago, does running it now and crossing that finish line have a special place in your heart?
Desiree Linden [DL]: It definitely does. I’ve crossed the Boston finish line several times now. The first time was really rewarding because I went from being a runner to being a marathoner, and that was an amazing and special experience. Now, I’ve had breakthroughs and heartbreaks there, like when I didn’t place for the 2008 Olympic trials. For me as a marathoner, Boston is almost like my own course. I’ve had a lot of different feelings there, and hopefully I’ll get to break the tape one day.

Shape: How do you mellow out that pre-race anxiety the day before?
DL: The day before the race is a complete unwind. I actually sent my friends and family who were in town supporting me to a Red Sox game so they’d just be out of my hair. They had a great time and I enjoyed a little peace and quiet. Sometimes you just need your alone time; that one day before the race is my time and I just want to kick up my feet, relax, and make sure I’m hydrating.

Shape: It was so cold and rainy on Monday. How does the weather affect your mindset when you wake up and know you have to run 26.2 miles in it?
DL: The good part is Monday wasn’t a huge surprise, since it’s Boston in the spring. The night before, I was chatting with my coach and we knew what was coming, so he said, “Tomorrow, instead of running 26.2, prepare yourself to run 28 to 30 miles, because that’s what the effort is going to feel like.” The conditions made it a little more difficult than just running a marathon, but you just have to wrap your mind around hurting for a little bit longer. When you know ahead of time, you just prepare for it to be the absolute worst and hope for the best. (Disaster prep is part of Marathon Training for Your Brain.)

Shape: Meb [Keflezighi] threw up five times during Boston this year. Has that ever happened to you?
DL: I haven’t actually had the physical aspect of it coming back out, but I’ve gotten the dry heaves before. As a beginning marathoner, I was flirting around with different products, but I’ve got what works for me really dialed in now. PowerBar has the best taste for me and sits well in my stomach, so I can practice with the one thing I know works—training with the same nutrition plan as what you’ll have on race day is key. (Find The Best Foods to Fuel Your Marathon Training.) Obviously on race day, crazy things happen. I’m sure Meb has his nutrition dialed in, but it’s comforting when you do have a plan that works well.

Shape: You’ve run so many races now in your life. Does the mental aspect ever get easier?
DL: It doesn’t get easier, no. But a lot of running is getting comfortable being uncomfortable—physically, as well as mentally, which means just throwing out the doubt. You can look up and think your day is over and pack it in, or you can find out what motivated you in the first place and reach down into whatever that is. It’s a place you can go to when you’re hurting before the finish line and maybe pull a little more out of yourself.  There’s so many things in life where we take the easy way out and buy our comfort—that extra legroom on the airplane, the comfiest couch. In a marathon, it’s all about how far we can push ourselves and make ourselves hurt. (The Top 10 Fears Marathoners Experience.)

Shape: What goes through your mind right when you can see the finish line?
DL: “Thank god!” Especially on Monday, it was very windy down that stretch and it was the end of a really long day, and it was a welcoming sight. The fans at Boylston Street are phenomenal; I think it’s the greatest finishing stretch in the world.

Shape: Do you ever get to read race signs when you’re running?
DL: Yes, there are such good ones! One of my favorites was from a few years ago, and it said, “Never trust a fart at mile 24.” I saw a really good one this year that said, “Don’t be like the Seahawks—run it in!” Which is pretty harsh, but pretty funny and creative. 

Shape: Who’d you call first after finishing?
DL: My husband and my sister were at the finish line, so I called my coach first thing. He’s the super fan—he drives to points along the course to check in, to give me advice if I look like I need it. There can be however many fans out there, but I can always pick out my coach's voice. But the thing with that is they can’t make it back to the finish in time because the traffic’s crazy, so I call him immediately after finishing.

Shape: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten?
DL: Enjoy the process. We’re going to have ups and downs and results all over the place. And while placing is great, you have to love what you’re doing and enjoy getting out the door, putting one foot in front of the other, and moving forward—both in running and in life. If you’re enjoying the process, you’re going to be okay with whatever results you get. (That's part of What Makes You a Runner.)

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