The Strategist: Desiree Linden Eyes a 2016 Olympic Berth

Photo: Scott Draper

There are runners who run smart or bravely or on instinct. Marathoner Desiree Linden prefers a methodical approach.

At the start of the 2015 Boston Marathon, Linden knew that Shalane Flanagan’s aggressive pace the year before—one that winner Rita Jeptoo had described as being “like fire”—had been her downfall.

A woman of strength not speed, Linden would have to run a pace that would stiffen the legs of her competitors and keep them from pulling away from her in the last 4 miles. So the diminutive runner took the lead from the start and locked into her rhythm, battling the cold, rain and wind, her furrowed eyebrows telegraphing a forceful concentration.

She held that lead for just over 23 miles before three other runners found an extra gear and pulled away. Linden took fourth place and ran 2:25:39. She wasn’t disappointed. It was a good fight and a good race. Linden is a runner that uses the phrase “learning experience” about her worst results without the accompanying twinge of bitterness.

“As the distance goes up, a race becomes about far more than talent,” says Kevin Hanson, Linden’s longtime coach and one of the two brothers behind the elite training group Hansons-Brooks Distance Project based in Rochester, Mich. “Training goes into it, race strategy goes into it, even how you think a competitor will compete is factored in. Desi’s a real student of the game. She likes the chess match. She never panics, she plots.”

These are skills Linden will use to her advantage when she competes at the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon—the race that will determine who goes on to wear the red, white and blue in Rio—on Feb. 13. She knows the way a race will unfold from the start line, the probability of each racer’s next move, the likelihood of a surge being a tactical move or something spawned from overexcitement. She has the confidence to let the runners who run too fast go and the gumption to lead races when everyone else is hesitant. There is no concise Plan A or Plan B—Linden is too methodical for that.

RELATED: Desi Linden Talks About Her Pre-Olympic Trials Marathon Build-Up

Maybe it’s the reason she majored in psychology. That stoic determination—planning, plotting, removing emotion from the job that needs to be done—is what makes Linden a “silent-but-deadly pro,” according to her former college teammate Amy Cragg. She goes quiet when she has bad days and she’s never boastful about the good ones. Her focus is on the job—not the limelight.

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