Desiree Linden has a big year ahead, racing the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials, the Boston Marathon, and perhaps the Olympics, too. Here’s how—and why—she plans to do it.
Two-time Olympian Desiree Linden announced on Tuesday that she’ll race the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials on February 29 and the Boston Marathon just seven weeks later. If she makes the team for the Tokyo Games, that will make three major races in about five months.
“Running the Boston Marathon seven weeks after the U.S. Olympic Trials is a plan that has been in the works for roughly a year,” Linden said in a written statement. “I crossed the finish line in 2019 and knew if my body was capable, I wanted to return to Boston in 2020.”
Linden, 36, finished the 2019 Boston Marathon in fifth place and more recently placed sixth at the 2019 New York City Marathon. She was second at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and went on to place seventh at the Rio Games. Linden’s most renowned result, of course, is winning the 2018 Boston Marathon, when she became the first American woman to top the podium in 33 years.
For more on the announcement, see our news story: Des is Doing the Double
Linden spoke with Women’s Running by phone to explain how she’ll train, recover, and race two of the biggest marathons of her career in such a condensed time period—and if she places in the top three at the Trials, she’ll add a third 26.2 mile race at the Olympics in August.
Women’s Running: Tell me about this plan—where did it come from?
Desiree Linden: It’s every four years we have this really tough decision to make and if you’ve never made an Olympic team or if you didn’t like the experience, you just go to the Trials and try to make the team. Obviously I have a really great relationship with Boston and with John Hancock [which sponsors the elite field] and all the in-between years I go there and I love it and I’m excited to be on the course. So as I get towards the end of my career, I have to think about what’s most meaningful and it was an impossible thing to choose. In weighing the pros and cons of all of it, I couldn’t decide.
I had to sit down with Brooks [Linden’s sponsor] in Seattle in May and Melanie Allen, the Brooks [chief marketing officer] said, “We’re going to support you no matter what you decide, but pick what is authentic and what you’re most passionate about because if you’re not really into it, everybody will be able to tell.” That was the first time I said, “I really want to do both. Let’s see if we can do both.”
WR: What was that conversation like with your coach, Walt Drenth?
DL: [Laughing] We were kicking around  New York first, thinking about the other two marathons on the other side. We just looked at the timeline—I have so many miles in my legs. He said, “Well, we can do this without so much work because you have so many miles in your legs.”
I think it’s the puzzle of it that really hooked us both. At first he was like, “This is crazy. No way.” But then we talked longer and he’s smiling by the end, saying, “This could be really awesome.”
The next question is, “What’s the timeline from Boston to the Games?” That’s doable. It just became more feasible, but also we felt like nobody is going to try this and nobody thinks it’s doable. We said, “Let’s be the ones to figure this out.”
We had dinner the other night and he said, “Next time if we’re doing something like this…” and then he caught himself and started laughing. He said, “Yeah, you’re probably going to finish and be like, ‘I’m never doing that again.’”
But he’s just a thinker and he’s always trying to solve these things. It’s what’s fun about the sport, especially at this point. I know I can do a marathon—that’s not a challenge really. But throwing in something to shake it up makes it enjoyable.
WR: Have you figured out how your training will be different than if you had just picked one marathon?
DL: We’re going week-by-week. Coming off of Boston last year I was running easy mileage from April to August. Basically Falmouth Road Race was my first hard effort. I was pretty fresh going into that and I had just maximized quality into the smallest volume—that’s how that segment went and I felt like I could really build off that. I think I’m in a really good spot now.
It’s just going to be a lot of communication with Walt each week. It’s not a plan you just follow—we’re going to have to be super flexible and take things as we go.
WR: When you think about it, what are your biggest concerns?
DL: Obviously I’m going to have to stay healthy and it’s all the basic things of getting to a marathon start line. Those are all there and that’s hard enough. But I think it’s going to be the uncharted territory when we get back on the training after the Trials and seeing how the body feels, making sure I’m recovered. Those first few weeks back you can’t let the fatigue get into your head—it’s gotta be like not having any expectations for how I feel, but just rolling with it and know it’s enough time. We’ll tweak it as we go, though—nothing is set in stone for how we’ll proceed.
WR: If you make the Olympic team, then you have three marathons to think about. How do you think you’ll feel about that when you’re in Boston?
DL: I’m planning for three marathons—I’m not going to the Trials to have a good experience and have some fun. I’m going there to make a team. That was one of the considerations—do I have enough time for Boston? I think I do. I’ll also have a huge body of work under my belt, so I will be able to take time to recover and have shorter segment into the Games, which will be good. I’ll also be in Phoenix to train, close by John Ball [a chiropractic sports physician] which will be good. I just came from there and I’m holding up really well. I have a bunch of things to do in between to minimize recovery from the Trials, just getting stronger during this segment.
WR: Racing Boston is a financial consideration, too. Did that play into your decision?
DL: Absolutely. I think it would be silly to act like that wasn’t a factor. John Hancock has been a supporter of mine for about 10 years. It makes a big difference. At 36, it’s almost financially irresponsible to not take that into consideration. I’m fine with working hard. I don’t have a problem with working really hard. It was an easy decision—it’s just a little more work this year to earn the dollars I suppose.
WR: Other athletes have said that although making the Olympic team is prestigious and an honor to represent your country, it also can be disappointing because of doping violations and now the issues with the Nike [Vaporfly] shoes. What are your feelings on that?
DL: It definitely weighs on you. We typically give up a year of earnings to chase this dream and there’s nothing wrong with that—I think it’s great to go after these big goals, but when you walk away feeling a little unsatisfied based on things that are out of your control, it does take the appeal away a little bit. It did factor it. I’ll work twice as hard to get back and do well at Boston because I’m passionate about that and motivated for it, but the Games afterward I’ll really have to hit reset and get motivated for that. It’s super prestigious, but there are drawbacks as well. When you’ve done it a few times, it’s a little bit tougher.
WR: This will be your eighth time racing Boston. You’ve had some of your best moments there, but why do you love it so much?
DL: I think that’s part of it—I debuted there [in 2007] when people had no idea who I was and I had no idea if I’d be a good marathoner. We were out running on the course with Jack Fleming and Gloria Ratti at the Boston Athletic Association—they were showing us around and just treating us like we belonged. I think that just made it really exciting to feel like you could be a professional there and you could do something cool on these historic streets. They include everyone that way and then it was just a natural progression with John Hancock, where they take you under their wing and you’re in the elite program. They believe everybody there has a chance to win. I love the history and I love the course, but honestly the people there just make it feel like home.