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How 'Choosing to Run' made all the difference for marathon winner Des Linden

Des Linden after she won the Boston Marathon. (Courtesy of Carrie Cox)
Des Linden after she won the Boston Marathon. (Courtesy of Carrie Cox)

I must admit Des Linden (then-Des Davila) wasn’t on my radar when she ran the Boston Marathon for the first time in 2007, but she sure was after finishing second by just two seconds four years later in 2011. To see an American woman contending in the final miles when none had won the race since 1985 was newsworthy. She kept coming back to Boston and won the race in 2018, in what was basically a monsoon.

In her new memoir “Choosing To Run,” she offers a mile-by-mile account of her historic victory. But the book is about much more than that. It’s about the lessons she learned from her parents and coaches and herself during hard times over the years that helped her seize the opportunity that April day five years ago.

She tells stories we’ve never heard before in the book, especially the health scare she had with a diagnosis of hypothyroidism after the 2017 Boston Marathon. That experience almost forced her to stop running, but she kept at it and her diligence paid off with the 2018 win.

“I went to Boston and I thought, not my year,” Linden says. Then winning, she added, “was a huge relief because I always felt it was something I could do.

“It’s incredibly gratifying to feel that connection with the race and the community and be in that history book. To have my name on the list of champions is incredible.”

Des Linden holds up the Boston Marathon trophy. (Courtesy of Carrie Cox)

Linden also writes about the frustrations she has experienced when competitors she’s trying beat test positive for performance enhancing drugs. And she offers insight into the world of professional running, the importance of her agent Josh Cox and the sound business model he helped her formulate that allows her to make a good living as a professional runner.

“I’ve been surrounded by some really remarkable people who have helped me get where I’m at,” she says. “It was fun to thank them in the book.”

She’s excited about the book tour that will coincide with her final preparations for another Boston Marathon April 17. Linden told me she’s looking forward to hearing more stories from people who want to tell her where they were when she won Boston in 2018.

Find information about Linden’s event at the Harvard Book Store on Monday, April 3, 2023, here.

The cover of “Choosing to Run” by Des Linden. (Courtesy of Dutton)

Book excerpt: ‘Choosing to Run’

By Des Linden

I’m alone, out front.

I’ve just dropped the only woman between me and the 2018 Boston Marathon finish line. I brace for her to respond, to reappear in my peripheral vision.

I hold my breath—not an advisable tactic at Mile 22— and I count.

One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five. 

Nothing. Still by myself.

I exhale, releasing months of tension. Young Kenyan runner Gladys Chesir has been aggressive for most of this race. If I can’t hear her footfalls on my heels by now, that means she’s vulnerable. It’s time to ratchet up the pace and inflict pain.

I’ve visualized this scene, taking the lead coming off Heartbreak Hill, thousands of times over the last decade. I’ve pictured myself strong, confident, and pulling away under a brilliant blue April sky to win one of the most prestigious marathons in the world.

This moment looks nothing like that.

Rain is sluicing down in sheets, relentless. A fierce head‑wind batters my face, my chest, my quads. My hands are numb, and my feet are beyond sodden. There’s only a scattering of people watching by the side of the road, and if they’re cheering, the sound is muted by my drenched headband.

And yet. This is where I’ve always wanted to be. It’s a rare juncture in any career, and there’s no guarantee it’ll ever happen again. I have to yank myself out of my old sun‑splashed dreamscape and be fully present here, now. I need to adapt to the opportunity that has opened up in front of me, on this course I know by heart.

It’s been a scant few hours since I stood barefoot in my darkened hotel room, completely devoid of hope, feeling none of the tenacity that had always defined me. I had arrived in Boston without my usual game plan to maximize my chances for a win.

My typical meticulous checklist was down to one item: survive.

That all shifted after the start gun, with absolutely no planning on my part. Improvisation has brought me this far. Now it’s time to channel the instincts and knowledge I’ve sharpened and stowed away over twenty years. I’ve run thousands of miles so I would know what to do in the next four.

I press the Play button in my head and hear the voice of Frank Browne, my high school coach in California, whose combination of drive and irreverence once pulled the best out of me.

“I know you have the ability. One day you’re going to be in position and say, ‘Fuck it,’ and pull the trigger on one of these races.”

I let out another deep, explosive exhale. My mind clears of everything but one thought:

Can I win this thing?

From “Choosing to Run” by Des Liden with Bonnie D. Ford with permission from Dutton, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2023 by Desiree Linden

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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