This Boston Marathon Champion Keeps Choosing to Run

Injuries kept Des Linden out of the Boston Marathon in 2013. She did some television commentary, went for a jog and was in her hotel room when the bombs went off. It made her want to win the race one day even more, which did not seem possible, because she had wanted it so badly for years.

When she did so in the frozen deluge of 2018, in a race she had planned to drop out of in the early miles, it was all the sweeter. That win is her legacy, even though she hates that word.

In her recently published memoir, “Choosing to Run,” the only American woman to win the Boston Marathon this century writes about that race, the up-and-down years leading up to it and her battles with hyperthyroidism, which she ignored for a dangerously long time and was still adjusting to when the gun sounded in Hopkinton in 2018.

Linden, 39, who will run Boston for the 10th time on Monday, plans to try to make her third Olympic team next year. Last month, one day after she finished as the top American at the New York City Half-Marathon, she talked about life and running.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You put yourself in some danger by not dealing with a serious medical condition and resisting medication. Has your perspective on your behavior changed?

I think your overall health and well-being is the most important thing. It was like, We gotta recalibrate. Professional athletics is not exactly the healthiest thing in the world.

You used to sit in your hotel room on the morning of the Boston Marathon and think your life might be totally different if you could return to that space a few hours later as a champion. Did finally winning in 2018 change your life?

It’s still running for enjoyment. I still live in the same places, and take care of the dogs. But for self-satisfaction and an accomplishment in my field and feeling like I’ve contributed in a way that felt meaningful and validated being a professional runner in the first place, yes. That validation was a little bit more important than having a calendar full of appearances.

You wrote that you always felt like an outsider among the elite runners, even after making two Olympic teams and nearly winning Boston in 2011. Did you just always have impostor syndrome?

Probably starts with the Foot Locker days. All those kids get to know each other, and they go on to college and championships, and they’re going to get the contracts, and I was always kind of on the fringe of that. And that was a cool part about running. The goal is to not be in the masses, it’s to be separated and try to be different. I like the athletes. It’s just that I tend to gravitate toward people who are doing other things that enlighten and educate me in different things.

Does running have a problem with megalomaniacal coaches, like the ones who kept feeling like they were responsible for your success rather than you?

It’s a structural problem with the teams. Coaches have a ton of opportunities to make themselves successful. Athletes have one career. This is a great marketing strategy. You have everyone wearing the same uniform. You have one coach being the spokesperson. You have better odds of success out of a bigger group.

Did you worry when you were sick that if you had to stop being a runner you would lose your identity?

I didn’t want to search for what was next and try to figure that out. I’m pretty sure that I can figure out the next phase. I just want to hang on to this as long as I can because it’s really fun.

Why do you hate the word “legacy”?

I feel like it’s, What do you want other people to think about you? I never participated or got into the sport or stayed in the sport trying to appease other people or be a certain thing to other people. Kind of goes back to the outsider identity thing.

Are you still chasing what you describe as “badassery”?

That’s the whole game, which is when it gets hard in the race, how deep in the well can you go. It reminds me of this documentary “Meru” about mountain climbing. They’re trying to reach the mountaintop. If you die trying to reach the mountaintop, it’s frowned upon like you’re an idiot. You never should compromise your life. I have to have the self control to not be an idiot, right? It’s that sweet spot where everything is hard and you go on.

You cop to a good bit of drinking — bourbon, beer, etc. Do we need to worry?

This sport lifts you up and then it drops you off the ledge. I figured it out as I’ve gone along. You kind of have those breaks where you’re like, OK, I gotta catch up on, like, being a normal human.

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