American marathoner Desiree Linden spent six weeks in Iten, Kenya, training for this year’s Boston Marathon, a race she returns to for the first time since finishing second in 2011. Competitor senior video producer Steve Godwin and photo editor Scott Draper spent Linden’s last week in Iten with her, documenting her preparation for the April 21 race and highlighting the culture of the Kenyan running community. Stay tuned to Competitor.com over the next four weeks as we share footage, imagery and insight in a four-part video series we’re calling The Kenya Project.
At some point in every professional athlete’s career, there comes a time to pull out all the stops. Eliminate the excuses. Get out of your comfort zone. For American marathoner Desiree Linden (nee Davila), that moment came earlier this year, when she decided to go to Iten, Kenya, for six weeks of base training in preparation for the Boston Marathon on April 21.
So what propelled the Hansons-Brooks-sponsored marathoner from Rochester Hills, Mich., to spend a month and a half away from her husband, her coaches and her teammates?
“I think going to Iten kind of represents that leap of ‘I’m all in,’” Linden told Competitor’s senior video producer Steve Godwin, who, along with Competitor photo editor Scott Draper, spent a week with Linden in Iten this past February. “To just sort of exhaust all my options and really know that I did all the things I could do to get myself ready for race day. Boston’s special. You want to go there, you want to perform well and I’m doing all the things that I can to make that happen.”
RELATED PHOTOS: Desiree Linden Training In Kenya
Linden, who shared a room at Lornah Kiplagat’s High Altitude Training Center with Canadian marathoner Lanni Marchant, logged upwards of 120 miles a week on the red dirt roads in and around Iten, which is situated at an altitude of nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. She spent time much of her time running with Marchant, who is also slated to be on the starting line in Boston this year, along with any number of the hundreds of local runners who would meet regularly for morning group runs.
“It was different,” Linden says of her experience. “You go over there because you want to know, ‘What do they do different? What’s so special about the training there?’ And they have the groups and they have the altitude and this and that but also you kind of walk away from it and realize they’re doing the exact same things. It’s just working hard and kind of a grind day after day and you kind of take that away. They’re doing the same things. You’ve just got to want it when you get on the line.”
There are few people who want a win in Boston more than the diminutive Linden, who in 2011 fell an agonizing 2 seconds short of becoming the first American woman to win the race since Lisa Rainsberger in 1985, finishing a close second to Kenyan Caroline Kilel. Linden will have her hands full this year on Patriots’ Day, as the customarily loaded elite field features fellow U.S. Olympian and last year’s fourth-place finisher, Shalane Flanagan, along with Linden’s former Arizona State teammate, Amy Hastings, who finished fourth at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon. Among the international entrants, Kenyan Rita Jeptoo returns to defend her title, along with Kilel, and sub-2:20 runner Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia. In all, there are 12 women in the field with sub-2:24 credentials.
Being the last American to come close to winning the historic race from Hopkinton to Boston, however, brings with it the heavy expectations of becoming the next American to break the tape on Boylston Street. It’s an external source of pressure Linden chooses to avoid; instead, she focuses on putting herself in a position to apply pressure on her opposition when the real racing begins.
“I think I can compete,” asserts Linden. “It’s a super strong field, so you never know what’s going to happen, but I’ll try to do the same thing as 2011. If I can put myself in it at 20 miles, I think I can really race it in from there. I think I can be a contender and I think I can run well, so there is pressure but it comes from within.”
RELATED PHOTOS: Desiree Linden Building Toward Boston
Should Linden find herself in a similar situation to three years ago, battling for the win with less than a mile to go, she’ll think back to the many lessons she learned on the backroads of Iten. She’ll remember all the stops she pulled out to arrive back at the moment: the big miles, the arduous long runs, the time away from her husband, coaches and training partners. When there’s seemingly nothing left to give, Linden won’t hesitate to look deep down for one last ounce of effort.
“I think I found out more about myself out there,” she admits. “I know when I get to that point, it’s like ‘you can dig one more time. You can push a little harder and find a way to make it happen.’”