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Runner Tells Herself 'Just Show Up For One More Mile' — And Wins The Boston Marathon

Apr 17, 2018
Originally published on April 18, 2018 7:07 pm

Desiree Linden became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon since 1985 — finishing 26.2 miles in 2 hours, 39 minutes and 54 seconds on Monday.

The 34-year-old two-time Olympian lives in Michigan, and she finished second at the Boston Marathon in 2011. But her victory this week almost didn't happen.

In the cold rain and wind, Linden says she wasn't feeling well and thought about bailing out of the race.

"It was such a miserable day, and when things go awry, they can kind of ding you up for a while and also take time out of your career," she says. "I'm on the back half of my career, so I have to be super careful at this point. And early on, I was freezing and my muscles were tight, and I was like 'This isn't – this is not my day.' So I did kind of toy around with the idea of stepping off."


Interview Highlights

On fellow American runner Shalane Flanagan's bathroom break

We had talked about it a little earlier on in the race when I knew I might be stepping off. I said, "Hey, if you need help with anything along the way, I'm happy to run through the wind for you and just kind of be a block or whatever you might need."

And so she nudged me later and said, "Hey, I'm going to do the port-a-potty thing." And I was like, "OK, well, I'll try to run you back into the group." And we got back up there. We reconnected. There was just so much pride on the American side this year. We wanted it so bad. Thirty-three years since an American winner, and I felt like there was some team camaraderie out there.

If you can help someone be in position, sometimes it helps yourself out as well. It wasn't about me for those moments, and it kind of came full circle.

On crossing the finish line

It's the moment you dream of during the tough days when you don't wanna go out and run, when you're a little kid and you're getting into the sport, and you turn [on] the TV, and you see the Boston Marathon. You dream about breaking that tape. It was the culmination of years of hard work, and years of dreaming, and years of never giving up.

On the mantra at the top of Linden's Twitter feed

That was full-on, in the moment, in the training block. There's a lot of days that I was like, "I don't know if I'm going to even get to start this race, like this is not going well. It should be going better." And then, there was a lot of days where you'd had that glimmer of hope, and you go, "No, this is exactly on pace. This is the perfect – it's going to plan absolutely 100 percent." And I decided to stop thinking about each day so much, and just keep showing up. Like, whatever the day gave me, just show up. That's kind of how I attacked the race, too. Once I got over the fact that I wasn't going to drop out, it was like, "Just show up for one more mile. Show up for one more minute." And that was kind of my mantra throughout this entire build and through the entire race day on Monday.

Sam Gringlas and Emily Kopp produced and edited the audio story. Sydnee Monday adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHNNY CASH SONG, "GOD'S GONNA CUT YOU DOWN")

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This was the music Desiree Linden was listening to early yesterday, just a few hours before she became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon since 1985.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD'S GONNA CUT YOU DOWN")

JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) Run on for a long time. Sooner or later, God will cut you down. Sooner or later, God will cut you down.

DESIREE LINDEN: I love it.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: OK. I can't decide if that music would pump me up or depress me.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: Why were you playing that before the Boston Marathon?

LINDEN: Yeah, it is pretty somber, huh?

CHANG: (Laughter) Yeah.

LINDEN: Shoot (laughter).

CHANG: Is that your running music? What is that?

LINDEN: No, that was my maybe therapeutic, meditative - I just love the rhythm of it. It just set the vibe right, and it was so somber out. Like, it was just miserable out. It just seemed right (laughter).

CHANG: We caught up with the 34-year-old runner, who goes by Des, this morning - just before her medal ceremony.

LINDEN: Oh, I'm feeling all right today (laughter).

CHANG: But her victory almost didn't happen. Yesterday was miserable - in the rain, the wind. She thought about bailing out.

LINDEN: I was freezing, and I - my muscles were tight. And I was like this isn't - this is not my day.

CHANG: But then there was this moment when one of your fellow American runners Shalane Flanagan made a port-a-potty stop. And you decided to slow down so you could catch her up with the rest of the pack afterwards. What was going through your mind when you decided to do that?

LINDEN: Yeah. We had talked about it a little earlier on in the race when I knew I might be stepping off. I said, hey, if you need, you know, help with anything along the way, I'm happy to run through the wind for you and just kind of be a block or whatever you might need. And so she nudged me later and said, hey, I'm going to do the port-a-potty thing. And I was like, OK, well, I'll try to run you back into the group. And we got back up there. We reconnected. There was just so much pride on the American side this year. We wanted it so bad.

CHANG: Yeah.

LINDEN: Thirty-three years since an American winner, and I felt like there was some team camaraderie out there.

CHANG: I love that.

LINDEN: Yeah. If you can help someone be in position, sometimes it helps yourself out as well. It wasn't...

CHANG: Yeah.

LINDEN: ...About me for those moments. And it kind of came full circle (laughter).

CHANG: Well, take us to the finish line. I mean, you past the grandstand. The crowd is madly cheering.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER #1: Des Linden wins in Boston.

CHANG: Your husband and your coach are there with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER #2: An American woman wins Boston for the first time in more than 30 years.

LINDEN: That was everything. I mean, it's the moment you dream of during the tough days when you don't want to go out and run. When you're a little kid and you're getting into the sport, and you turn the TV and you see the Boston Marathon, you dream about breaking that tape.

CHANG: (Laughter).

LINDEN: It was the culmination of years of hard work...

CHANG: Yeah.

LINDEN: ...And years of dreaming and years of never giving up.

CHANG: I looked at your Twitter feed, and I noticed something like a personal mantra at the top of it. I'm going to read it out loud. You wrote, some days, it just flows and I feel like I'm born to do this. Other days, it feels like I'm trudging through hell. Every day I make the choice to show up and see what I've got and to try and be better. I read that, and I was like, I need to print this out and pin it to my office wall. Tell me where these words come from.

LINDEN: That was full on in the moment in the training block. There was a lot of days that I was like, I don't know if I'm going to even get to start this race. Like, this is not going well. It should be going better. And then there was a lot of days where you'd have that glimmer of hope. And you go, no, this is exactly on pace. This is the perfect - it's going to plan absolutely 100 percent. And I decided to stop thinking about each day so much and just keep showing up. Like, whatever the day gave me, just show up.

CHANG: Yeah.

LINDEN: You know, that's kind of how I attacked the race, too. Once I got over the fact that I wasn't going to drop out, it was, like, just show up for one more mile. Show up for one more minute. And that was kind of my mantra throughout this entire build and through the entire race day on Monday.

CHANG: Well, I wish you the best of luck. Congratulations. Thank you so much...

LINDEN: Thank you so much (laughter).

CHANG: ...For joining us.

LINDEN: Yeah, you got it.

CHANG: That's Des Linden, the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon since 1985.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD'S GONNA CUT YOU DOWN")

CASH: (Singing) From Galilee - he spoke to me with a voice so sweet, I thought I heard the shuffle of angel's feet. He called my name and my heart stood still when he said, John, go do my will. Go tell that long-tongue liar. Go and tell that midnight rider. Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter - tell them that God's going to cut them down. Tell them that God's going to cut them down. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.