- Desiree Linden became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years in 2018.
- She ran the 26.2-mile race in 2 hours, 39 minutes, and 54 seconds.
- She’s competing again this year, fuelled by pasta, peanut butter, and lots of coffee.
Desiree Linden drank champagne from her running shoe after she won the Boston Marathon in 2018.
That victory broke a 33-year losing streak for the US – Linden was the first American woman to win that race since 1985.
“It’s a lot of years of really hard work paying off,” Linden told Business Insider.
She’s at it again this Marathon Monday in Boston, where racers have kicked off the 55-degree Fahrenheit Boston course amid drizzly rain and light wind. It’s already a little warmer and less windy than last year’s blisteringly cold, wind-whipped race, which was one of the coldest that city had weathered in decades, but the grey sky conditions have some wondering if Linden might pull off another marathon win today.
Whatever the conditions when she’s running, Linden said her simple mantra is “calm, calm, calm,” since she believes you can’t force your way into a successful run.
“You have to let the fast come out of you,” she said.
Linden said her success last year was the result of years of hard work and dedication.
“It’s a good sort of lesson that it takes 10 years to become an overnight success.”
Linden drinks a lot of coffee and uses caffeine during the race
Linden’s 26.2 mile races are fuelled by lots of caffeine, carbohydrates, and a strict sleep routine. To train for last year’s New York Marathon in November, Linden said she supplemented her runs with more strength training. She ramped up cross-training and added more planks and push-ups into her routine than she did when she was younger.
“I’m 35 so maybe less miles is better,” she said. She also tries to protect her body from injury when she runs, though she admits she doesn’t have any special secrets for avoiding crossing over the “red line” and overtraining.
“Marathon training is all about learning how to run well when you’re really tired,” she said.
Linden is not snobby about her pre-race diet. She relies on toast with peanut butter (smooth, not chunky) for breakfast, and prefers to cook rice or pasta before a race, maybe with a bit of chicken. Her diet is simple and plain, but she emphasises the importance of choosing whole foods and cooking meals, rather than eating things from “boxes and bags.”
The element of Linden’s daily routine that’s non-negotiable is her main fuel: coffee. She’s been a coffee drinker far longer than she’s been a professional athlete; her love of the brew goes back to her grade school days, when she used to sip Folgers while watching soap operas with her sister.
“I started young, with a very low bar, and a small budget,” she said.
Her coffee tastes have matured since then. Linden and her triathlete husband Ryan now have their own small-batch coffee line, called Linden and True, which they started with another athlete couple, Ben and Sarah True.
“I don’t go a couple hours without caffeine,” she said. “I’m just sipping on it all day.”
It’s not practical to take coffee out on the race course, so instead Linden mixes caffeine performance gels into some of her water bottles.
Linden tries to go to bed by 10 p.m., before she turns into a ‘pumpkin’
Despite the consistent caffeine jolts, Linden tries to keep to a strict 10 p.m. curfew to help repair her muscles and recover from 16-mile-long training runs.
Getting enough sleep helps maintain the cells in the body that fight off tumour and virus cells, as well as keep blood-sugar levels stable. There’s even some evidence that ample sleep can make people less likely to have heart attacks or develop some deadly cancers.
“It’s really easy to go to bed at a certain time and make sure you get eight to 10 hours,” she said, then quickly added, “I say that, and we all know it’s not.”
But after race day is over, Linden ditches her strict routine for at least a couple of weeks. She likes to indulge in a hamburger with some cheese and jalapenos (scientists think full-fat cheese may help protect the heart and keep cholesterol in check), and maybe a beer. Then the athlete reassesses her goals, asking herself whether she really wants to keep running, and if so, what her next challenge should be.
She’s upfront when acknowledging that winning Boston in 2018 may have been a once-in-a-lifetime success. Whether or not she breaks the ribbon again, Linden believes that anyone who wants to can run a marathon. She encourages sceptics to just try logging a few miles.
“No one’s ever finished that and said ‘wow, I wish I hadn’t gone for a run today,'” she said.
The runner’s high is even greater, she said, after a 26.2-mile marathon.
“You’re like, ‘I can’t believe I did this – I was amazing,'” she said of the feeling after crossing the finish line. “We don’t give ourselves many opportunities to say that.”
Update: This post was originally published on November 3, 2018, ahead of Linden’s New York Marathon run.