Desiree Linden won the 2018 BAA Boston Marathon in the most godawful conditions in the past four decades. She is now a Boston marathon legend. —Larry Eder
BY DAVE HUNTER
APRIL 16, 2018, PATRIOT'S DAY
Along with the other elite women competitors, two-time U.S. Olympic marathoner Desiree Linden stood shivering at the Hopkinton start line on Monday for what seemed like an eternity. But after the starting pistol was fired, she took her time, kept her cool, and ultimately showed—to herself, her competitors, and others—that she had the winning race plan and executed it with perfection.
While two past winners, defending champion Edna Kiplagat and course record holder Buzunesh Deba, had been considered by many to be the pre-race favorites, a gaggle of American women were nonetheless seen as most worthy challengers, each seeking to become the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon since 1985. Shalane Flanagan, local favorite from nearby Marblehead, Mass., hoped to pair a Boston title with the New York City Marathon crown she captured last November. Other top Americans toeing the line featured two-time Olympian and American 10,000m record holder Molly Huddle, Olympic medalist and American record holder Deena Kastor, and Linden, a 2-time Olympian and three-time top-5 Boston finisher.
As race day dawned, the big story was the weather. Yet the driving rain, the relentless headwind, and the bone-chilling temperatures proved to be but a mere inconvenience for the tribe of hearty Boston Marathoners who have been able to transform the horror of the ’13 Patriots’ Day bombings into the galvanizing rallying cry of “Boston Strong.” But make no mistake: the weather was absolutely miserable. How bad was it? All of the elite athletes were given two bid numbers: one to pin on their singlet and one to display on their windbreaker - which they all inevitably wore to fend off the torrential rain and sub-freezing wind chill in what most considered to be the worst Patriots’ Day weather in memory.
Unlike the men who ran aggressively from the gun, the start of the women’s race featured cautious jogging as no one wanted to fight the overwhelming headwind. Shortly after an opening 5K in a wise, if somewhat dawdling 19:17, Ethiopian athlete Mamitu Daska took the lead, soon to be joined by Deba. As the course continued to roll downhill, the women’s lead pack, about a dozen strong and including Linden, Flanagan, and Huddle, split 10K in 37:07, putting the pack on 2:38 marathon pace.
Kenya’s Gladys Chesir was in the lead as the pack crossed 15K in 56:15. Shortly thereafter, Kiplagat, with five victories in Marathon Majors to her credit, made her first move to the front as Flanagan made a speedy Port-A-John visit but scrambled back to the pack in a flash.
Shortly past the Wellesley campus, Daska once again grabbed the lead with authority and threw in a surge. After a 5:37 mile and crossing half marathon in 1:19:41, Daska had forged an 80-meter lead. After dropping down into Lower Newton Falls, Daska, all alone, attacked the hills. After turning right at the Newton Fire station and charging up the first Newton hill, the third-place finisher in last year’s New York City Marathon had built a 20-second lead.
While Daska, a 2-time Frankfurt Marathon champion, ditched her gloves and hat to get down to business, Kenya’s Gladys Chesir and Linden broke away from the chase pack to set sail after Daska. As the hills began to take their toll on the leader, the two pursuers began to close the gap. When Daska passed 20 miles in 2:00:57 her lead was down to 13 seconds. Chesir, 6th in the ’16 World Half Marathon Championships, in second and Linden was working hard in third. After struggling up Heartbreak Hill, Daska ran by Boston College but soon was passed Chesir with Linden pushing hard to catch up with the only two athletes ahead of her.
Just after 35K [reached in 2:12:22] and before reaching the Cemetery of Broken Dreams, Linden The Grinder—roaring down the hill toward Cleveland Circle—made quick and powerful passes by both Daska and Chesir to take the lead, and control, of the race, and gain the chance once again to win the race she covets the most. While roaring through Cleveland Circle, the rain momentarily subsided as Linden knew this was the moment she must seize.
Heading toward the Back Bay, she soon had a substantial lead, a lead that grew as fans lining the streets cheered “USA, USA.” With a safe margin on the field, Linden was able to savor the final downhill run on Boylston to the finish line, serving to replace the memories of her valiant, but unsuccessful 2011 Boylston Street battle with Kenya’s Caroline Kilel. The Hanson athlete crossed the line in 2:39:54, the slowest winning women’s time since Gayle Barron’s Patriots’ Day win in 1978.
No one cared.
Linden had defeated her opposition and the weather with a grind-out victory that made her the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon since Lisa Larsen Rainsberger captured the laurel wreath in 1985.
Linden’s winning crossing preceded a parade of young and surprising athletes who followed her across the finish line. Sarah Sellers, an oft-injured runner while at Weber State, finished second in 2:44:04, while Krista Duchene, a 41-year-old Canadian mother of 3, finished third in 2:44:20. All in all, the U.S. women placed 7 finishers in the top ten: Linden, Sellers, Rachel Hyland (4th, 2:44.29), Jessica Chichester (5th, 2:45:23), Nicole Dimercurio (6th, 2:45:52), Flanagan (7th, 2:46:31), and Kimi Reed (8th, 2:46:47). All finished ahead of defending champion and decorated marathoner Edna Kiplagat, who finished 9th in 2:47:14.
Afterwards Linden, sporting the laurel wreath, wrapped in warming towels after her 26-mile ice shower, and held steady by her coach, was candid in her response to questions. “I don’t have the words. It was a grinder’s day. It is supposed to be hard,” said the shivering champion.
And when asked about the several American women given a chance to win today, Linden offered a humble reply. “It could have been any of our top women. I’m just fortunate that I was able to get it done today.”
Dave Hunter is a U.S. Correspondent for Track & Field News, writes a weekly column and serves as Senior Writer for RunBlogRun, and covers championship track & field competition domestically and in such foreign locations as Moscow, Birmingham, Zurich, Brussels, Beijing, and Rio de Janeiro. He frequently serves as the arena or stadium announcer for championship track & field gatherings, including the Ivy League, the Big East, the NAIA, the Big Ten, the Mid-American conference, and the Millrose Games. Hunter has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments, most recently three world-class road race broadcasts in the Czech Republic.