The fourth-fastest American marathoner in history has made a career of flying under the radar.
Written by: Duncan Larkin
The question inevitably gets asked every year: Is this the year an American woman will win the Boston Marathon?
The 2011 edition of the Patriots Day Classic is no exception, as everyone in the running world is wondering if the 2009 fourth-place finisher, Kara Goucher, has what it takes to turn the trick.
But how come nobody’s talking about Desiree Davila?
The 27-year-old native of Chula Vista, California, who now lives and trains in Rochester Hills, Michigan as a member of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, has been quietly tearing up the roads of late. At last year’s Emerald Nuts Midnight Run, she not only won, but also set a new course record there, covering the 4-mile course in 20:51.
Unbeknownst to many, Davila is the fourth-fastest female American marathoner of all time. Her name appears just below the names of U.S. distance-running icons like Joan Benoit Samuelson and Deena Kastor.
Davila clocked 2:26:20 just last year at the unseasonably warm Bank of America Chicago Marathon. And she did it the hard way, reeling in competitors in the race’s final miles.
While most runners encounter ups and downs when taking on the marathon, this was not the case for Davila. Since she debuted at Boston in 2007, her marathon trajectory has been steep and fast. In October of 2008, she placed fifth overall at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon with a 2:31:23–a full 13 minutes faster than her Boston showing the previous year. Ten months later, Davila knocked another 5 minutes off her PR when she placed 11th at the IAAF World Championships, the top U.S. finisher (and ahead of Goucher) in 2:27:53.
A 2006 graduate from Arizona State University, Davila, thinks she’s ready for Boston. She’s certainly been putting in the required work, logging grueling, 120-mile weeks and lacing up her flats to take on long tempo runs and seemingly endless track repeats. “Everything has gone well off of a higher mileage and quicker pace than I’ve done before, so I think the fitness is there,” she admits.
Any lingering doubts as to her fitness level were squashed after she completed the trademark Hansons pre-Boston workout, a marathon-pace run on a difficult 26.2K course out on the hilly dirt roads of Lake Orion, Michigan, noting that “it was tough…but went really well.” Even though Davila has already run Boston, she took advantage of an invitation from John Hancock to check out the course again. She says that preview was an “invaluable experience.” Reminded of the race’s early declines, Davila adjusted her training accordingly. “We spent a good amount of time preparing for the early down hills and getting used to running hard on beat up quads,” she recalls. “We also included some good ups and downs in our long runs.”
Despite the fact that she feels she’s ready, Davila will still be facing some stiff competition on Monday. She will be toeing the line with the likes of 2008 winner Dire Tune and last year’s champion, Teyba Erkesso—two runners with PRs nearly three minutes faster than Davila’s.
She isn’t letting the incredibly talented group of East Africans intimidate her, however. “The field is great, and I definitely respect the field and the individuals in it, but you have to believe you can compete with anybody, to have a shot,” she confides. “On race day, all you can control is yourself, so it’s wasted energy to spend time worrying about everybody in the field.”
Davila admits that when going gets rough in her workouts, when she struggles to maintain a brutal pace or complete another interval, she turns inward. “For me, it’s really about finding out how good I can be. Self-deception is pretty difficult when it comes to running, I’ll know if I gave up or sold myself short when it got tough, and that doesn’t help me answer that question of, ‘How good can I be?’,” she confides.” It’s in those really difficult moments that I learn the most about myself and at the end of the day I want to walk away feeling like I put it all out there.”
Introspective by nature, Davila uses the following telling quote from the 2008 gambling-themed movie “21” in the “about me” section of her Facebook profile: “Yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery. It’s all what you do in the moment, baby.” Since she hasn’t experienced many setbacks in her career, the “don’t worry about the past” quote comes as a bit of surprise. But Davila maintains that the present keeps her grounded.
“You can’t get too caught up on or attached to past events, positive or negative,” she says about the quote. “You can look back on them and learn from them, but don’t miss present opportunities because of it. Likewise for the future, don’t get too far ahead of yourself and miss what’s right in front of you. You never know what tomorrow has in store.”
Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first book, Oxygen Debt, was released last year.