The Olympic Trials? Or the Boston Marathon? Des Linden is Doing the Double


During the past year the speculation has been widespread. Will Desiree Linden race the Olympic Marathon Trials on February 29? Or will she return to the 2020 Boston Marathon on April 20 instead?

Linden finally has an answer—and it’s not what many had predicted: she’ll race them both.

“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 released by John Hancock, which organizes the Boston Marathon elite field. “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.

PHOTO: Justin Britton
Desiree Linden take the lead in the early miles of the 2019 New York City Marathon.

Since that historic finish in 2018, under torrential rain and freezing temperatures, Linden has tried to take a different approach to her career, leaving her long-time group, the Hansons-Brooks Project, to train mostly on her own in Charlevoix, Michigan, under the direction of Walt Drenth, who coached her at Arizona State University.

“My coach and I had some long conversations on doing the double, how we would tailor the training, and if it was reasonable to expect to run well in both races,” Linden said. “We were both excited about the challenge.”

Although racing two marathons in quick succession is not entirely unheard of—Roberta Groner, for example, raced the 2019 world championships and the New York City marathons within five weeks during the fall—it is unusual in an Olympic year. Should Linden place in the top three at the Trials to make the team for the 2020 Tokyo Games, she’d race a third marathon 16 weeks after Boston, at the Olympics.

“No matter the outcome of the Olympic Trials, I’ll stand in Hopkinton looking to challenge for a top spot in Boston and excited to put on a show for the best fans in the world,” she said.

Linden might be taking financial considerations into account as well. Although the Olympic Trials offers prize money ($80,000 for first place, $65,000 for second, $55,000 for third) and athletes typically earn performance bonuses for making the U.S. team, runners—especially former champions—stand to make more at major marathons, where they negotiate appearance fees, as well as get performance bonuses and prize money ($150,000 for first, $75,000 for second, $40,000 for third).

She also has a long history in Boston. Linden has raced it seven times, it’s where she debuted at the 26.2-mile distance in 2007, and where she set her personal best in 2011 (2:22:38), when she placed second by just two seconds in a battle down Boylston Street with Caroline Kilel.

Whatever the case, Linden has said that in this point in her career, she’s apt to take more chances. In New York, where she uncharacteristically led the race for a portion of the first half, she said it was time to take a “big swing.”

“It’s about trying something new,” she said, after the race in New York. “You don’t have a breakthrough doing the same thing over and over again, being really conservative and really cautious.”

Boston Marathon officials also announced that defending champions Lawrence Cherono and Worknesh Degefa are returning in 2020, along with former winners Yuki Kawauchi, Edna Kiplagat, Geoffrey Kirui, Lelisa Desisa, and Caroline Rotich. The rest of the field will be announced early next year.

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