Boston Marathon

Q&A: Des Linden on her historic 2018 Marathon win, and her Boston favorites

The Olympian's new book, "Choosing to Run," was released on April 4.

Des Linden wins the 2018 Boston Marathon.
Des Linden became the first American woman in 33 years to win the Boston Marathon when she accomplished the feat in 2018. CJ Gunther

Des Linden’s new book, “Choosing to Run,” provides a thorough examination of her historic victory in the 2018 Boston Marathon, as well as a look at the people and places that got her there.

Boston Marathon

In her 250-page memoir which was released April 4, Linden takes the reader through her childhood as a multi-sport athlete in San Diego, her venture into professional running, and the triumphs and sorrows of her career so far.

In every other chapter the marathoner describes a portion of the 2018 race, including the brutal weather, an unexpected pitstop, and her simple game plan to “survive”.


On Wednesday, spoke with Linden about the creation of the book, and her relationship to the Boston Marathon.

The following is a transcript of the conversation, edited lightly for clarity.

Q: Why did you decide to write this story down?

A: I feel like I’m approaching the later stages of my career and there’s a lot of reflection happening. I’ve been focusing on some of the lessons I’ve picked up and I feel like there’s some that are really valuable to share with younger runners and really any type of runner or person who’s into sports. It just gives an inside peek of what the professional side was like and lessons that would apply to every part of life. And then it was kind of about celebrating what I achieved in the sport. I think we get locked up in the moment so often, and we’re striving for the next thing, and we forget to really appreciate what we’ve done.  

Des Linden's book "Choosing to Run" details her 2018 victory in the Boston Marathon.
This book cover image released by Dutton shows “Choosing to Run” by Des Linden. (Dutton via AP)

Q: What was the writing process like?

A: It was great. I worked with Bonnie Ford, who is with ESPN and we had good rapport prior to working together. We had a lot of conversations even before we started writing about what we wanted the book to look like, quality was important, how we wanted to take our time and be really patient. We were very much on the same page. There were segments that I wrote and handed over to her, there were a lot of interviews, and a lot of shared docs where we kind of went back and forth and we started really broad and then by the end we were squeezing words and punctuation, making sure it was just really fine tunes and we were happy with it.


Q: Talking about what the book looks like, every other chapter, you go back to the 2018 race. How did you decide on that format?

A: I’ve always loved that in books that I’ve read. I think sometimes in memoir, you have to start from the beginning and it’s the childhood part and you know, these stories they’re interesting and they’re new, but you want to get to the meat. I find myself in memoirs trying to hustle through that part. When I do speeches and when I’m speaking to people I go through in that chronological order and at the end of it, all the questions are “What about this in Boston?” “What about that in Boston?” That’s what people want to hear. It was kind of the centerpiece and through line of my running career and so it made sense to make that the kind of sticking point in the book and the through line throughout the book.

Des Linden enters the final stretch of the 2018 Boston Marathon.
Des Linden turned onto Hereford St alone during the 2018 Boston Marathon.

B: You had a few quotes from writers like Hunter S. Thompson and Joan Didion. How’d you decide on those?

A: It’s something that I’ve always spent a lot of time, in my career, reading books and literature and getting into music, and so that’s just a part of my personality. There’s been moments where I really stuck to a quote or found a lot of meaning in it and it’s helped me through a situation. The Didion one in particular was given to me by a friend after a really trying time in 2012 after the Olympics, and she happened to be on the press truck in 2018, and she wrote that quote down not knowing what my day would look like but she thought “if Des has her moment, I know this quote will be meaningful for her.” It just kind of just had these crazy tie ins to my story and made all the sense in the world for the book book.


Editor’s note: Didion’s quote, from her 1975 commencement address at UC Riverside: “I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment.”

Q: How’s the book tour been so far?

A: It’s been good, the reception has been fantastic. It’s really cool that people are interested in a running book, we have this really great momentum with female runners right now putting out amazing work and to be in that conversation is really cool.

Q: How has it affected your training?

A: It’s really hard. I have Boston coming up on Monday and it’s not fantastic for training to put five cities in six days on the schedule. I think my coach was a little disappointed but he also looked at it as like, this is an incredible challenge, let’s see if we can get on the other side of this and do it all correctly. We’re on the phone a lot, tweaking things and adjusting and I think we’re in a great spot. If things don’t go great on Monday, it’s something other than that because he set me up for success. 


Q: Looking at what’s in the book, do you have favorite traditions tied to the Boston Marathon outside of the race itself?

A: The Red Sox, you gotta get to a game. It’s always fun running on the Charles during the race weekend, it doesn’t matter if you’re a first timer and you’re just getting into running or you’re a top, top tier pro. It’s the who’s who of running and you can go on the Charles and it’s kind of symbolic of why our sport is so special. You’re not gonna go down to Gillette and get to throw around the pigskin with Tom Brady. It’s not in the cards, but you can run on the Charles and you’re gonna see someone who is the best of the world. It’s just really incredible

Q: I heard you’re pretty into beer, do you have a favorite based in Boston?

A: Sam Adams has treated me very well. The 26.2 brew is always a nice treat. It’s light enough that I can have one before the race without feeling irresponsible.

Samuel Adams's 26.2 Brew is sold each year around the Boston Marathon.
In 2013 the first glasses of the 26.2 Brew were poured. (Samuel Adams via AP Images)

Q: In the book, you mentioned your appreciation for the history of the marathon. Do you have any favorite historical moments?

A: I like the old school stories, Joanie [Joan Benoit Samuelson] winning obviously, or others being incredible on the course. But, I think there was a stretch of female races in 2009 to 2013, where the women’s race was between two to three seconds over the five year stretch or something like that. That to me was really cool. I think it’s kind of underappreciated, but like the racing component of it was just thrilling. And I think that that’s something that maybe should be propped up a little bit more.


Q: At one point you mention the BAA Museum. Do you have any favorite items in there that stand out when you visit?

A: It’s been a while. I think just the Champions Trophy always kind of stands out, its the thing that pops for me. It’s cool to see our original running shoes, like the first race bibs and it just gives you perspective on how long this race has been going on and you can understand it and it’s like 127 years or whatever it is, but when you see a leather shoe or like a first race bib, you’re like “man, this has come a long way.”

Des Linden holds up the Champions trophy after the 2018 Boston Marathon.
Linden holds up the Champions Trophy following her 2018 victory.

Q: You also mention your love of underdog stories, is there a personal favorite?

A: I’ll go with Seabiscuit. I think that book for me is just a great one, and I know it’s like an animal so it’s not quite the same as what other stories could be, but I love that that story and that book. Just overcoming it all.

Q: The book features descriptions of your trip to Kenya to train. Do you have a favorite training ground that sticks with you?

A: Iten was incredible. I think just from a lifestyle perspective. You can just be a runner there and your whole existence revolves around that which is really amazing and rare. That’s the most I felt like a professional runner. You’re in this culture, and this is what you’re focused on, and obviously the scenery is incredible. But, in Charlevoix, Michigan, at home, it’s just such a great spot for me as well. It’s got this grittiness to it, it’s challenging, it’s always hilly and if you’re off the hills, you’re into the wind and that’s just the nature of the way it’s set up up there. So it’s fun, and it’s challenging, and I always learn about myself up there. It’s beautiful to be at Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix and just this kind of hidden gem in Michigan.


Q: Do you have a least favorite place to train?

A: As much as I love San Diego I just don’t find it to be an incredible training spot for me, and it’s probably because there’s too many distractions out there. I’d get myself in trouble and be busy and up late in an instant, so that’s always a hard spot.

Q: In the book you talk about “filthy rich Saturdays” where you enter smaller races to earn some extra money to have fun with. Do any stick out to you?

A: I feel like I bought a lot of stupid pairs of shoes that I didn’t need. I get free shoes from Brooks, so I’m like I gotta have casual shoes that are really, really nice. So I buy a pair of Gucci’s or something dumb like that, because, filthy rich Saturday.

When Des Linden isn't running in the Boston Marathon, she attends smaller races like this one in Falmouth.
In her book Des Linden describes running smaller races outside of marathons, here she is seen in the 2018 Falmouth Road Race.

Q: Throughout the book you mention people in your life like John Ball, Mary Kate Shea, and your husband, Ryan. Can you talk about how important they are to achieving your goals?

A: It is an individual sport, from start line to finish line. You’re out there on your own, and I know it’s cliché, but it takes a village, and everyone’s invested in a certain part of making sure you’re ready and you’re being taken care of, and I wish they could all be out there on the course and being celebrated in the same way. But, when I’m running in those really tough moments, those are the people that I think about that. They make me dig as deep as possible so that I can look them in the eye afterwards and say thank you, I did everything I could, and I appreciate what you’ve given me. You just can’t do it without them, and so this book is a great way to celebrate them and thank them. You know, there’s never enough but hopefully they feel appreciated.


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