BOSTON - 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden may sound like she’s defaulting to a clichéd refrain by claiming on Friday that her fitness is greater now than it was last year, when she ended the 33 year American female drought in Boston and scored a career-defining victory, but the 35-year-old Linden believes an increased focus on speed work has her better prepared to repeat her title than she would’ve been otherwise.
Whether that results in another triumphant run down Boylston Street or not will have as much to do with her competition and the weather as any changes made to her training routine, but Linden knew that adding more speed to her regimen could only help her chances.
“This new training has allowed me to be super flexible, too. It’s not super rigid,” said Linden. “It just gives me one more tool to go to.”
Linden threw convention out the window two months after conquering Boston last year by opting to leave Hansons-Brooks, the only training group she had ever known as a pro, in favor of a return to her former college coach, Walt Drenth. But the move was less an attempt to reinvent the wheel for Linden and more a way to keep things fresh and avoid complacency.
“We’ve been doing stuff that allows me to change paces throughout the run, and cover moves and just be a little bit stronger racer versus runner.”
Early returns on her partnership with Drenth were encouraging for Linden after her sixth place finish at last November’s New York Marathon. Although she regretted not moving earlier in a race that was essentially a half marathon warmup followed by a second half sprint, Linden was pleased with the speed she was able to finish with. She placed behind fellow Americans Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle, but the payoff of her increased focus on speed was already evident.
“Essentially, you look at that as being a 25k, right, and if I match up that well with Molly Huddle in the 25k or Shalane (Flanagan) in a 25k, I’m walking away going, ‘that’s not bad,’” she said.
Linden ran her second half that day in 72:00, just 66 seconds slower than Huddle, the half marathon U.S. record holder.
“Because it was the marathon it looks a little bit different, but I think it’s a good spot to be in and we tweak it and get better going forward.”
The departure from the Hansons-Brooks training group she had been a part of for her entire professional career was shocking after Boston, and Linden was criticized for trying to fix what wasn’t broken. But even despite the huge victory, Linden knew she had to make changes in order to keep pace with her peers.
“Last year I felt like I had gotten myself to where I was in ‘17, but hadn’t done anything to close the gap on the Ednas (Kiplagat) and Jordans (Hasay) of the world,” Linden said.
Still, Linden’s Hansons-Brooks exit wasn’t a definitive break from what worked for her in the past. Instead, she is viewing her transition to Drenth as a way to build out the foundation of her previous training system.
“I think a lot of people were like, ‘Why would you throw out the old system that was working so well?’ I can still go to that. I have 13 years of this old system that I know I’m comfortable running by myself if the pace is too rich. It’s one more thing to draw on, one more tactic to be able to use. I think it’s making me a more complete racer.”
Linden wasn’t willing to call herself the favorite for Monday even with more rain in the forecast coupled with her established record of running well in Boston (four top five finishes), but she did concede that she enters the race with extra high confidence in the wake of her win.
But does she have swagger, as Shalane Flanagan called it?
“I don’t know, you’ve got to watch me walk I guess,” she joked. “Isn’t that where the swagger is?”
“There’s an energy, there’s an excitement certainly. Swagger could be the word for it.”