2017 Boston Marathon U.S. Women’s Preview: Can Desi Linden End the U.S. Major Drought? How Will Jordan Hasay Fare in Her Debut?

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By Jonathan Gault
April 13, 2017

The 2017 Boston Marathon is upon us, and despite some high-profile scratches (Shalane FlanaganDennis Kimetto and Patrick Makau), we’re set for two terrific races on Marathon Monday with legitimate chances for American victories on both the men’s and women’s sides. Of the four 2016 U.S. Olympians running spring marathons (Galen RuppJared Ward, Meb Keflezighi and Desi Linden), all four will be racing in Boston, and both Rupp and Linden have already made it clear that their goal is to win. That won’t be easy, however. In the men’s race, Rupp faces five sub-2:05 men (although only one of them has run that time in the last two years), led by defending champ Lemi Berhanu Hayle of Ethiopia. Linden has her work cut out for her as well, as defending champ Atsede Baysa is joined by three sub-2:20 marathoners (course record holder Buzunesh Deba, two-time world champ Edna Kiplagat, 2015 Berlin champ Gladys Cherono) in the women’s field.

There are two big storylines among U.S. women in 2017: whether Linden can become the first American woman to win Boston since Lisa Rainsberger in 1985, and how 25-year-old Jordan Hasay will fare in her marathon debut. We take a look at both in detail below.

We’ll be on-site in Boston all week providing behind-the-scenes access. In addition to our race previews, we’ll also be on hand at the elite press conference to give you the scoop on the top pros and will have race-day coverage from Marathon HQ in Copley Square. We always feel the best way to follow a major marathon is to watch it live with a second screen opened to the LetsRun.com messageboard.

There’s a lot to cover before the race, so we’ve broken down our previews into multiple articles. This one will cover the American women. You can find the link to our international women’s preview below, as well as all of the men’s previews.

Full Women’s Preview: 2017 Boston Marathon International Women’s Preview
Galen Rupp: Why Galen Rupp Will (& Won’t) Win The 2017 Boston Marathon
American Men: 2017 Boston Marathon U.S. Men’s Preview: Olympians Galen Rupp, Meb Keflezighi, Jared Ward & Abdi Abdirahman Headline a Stacked Field
Full Men’s Preview: 2017 Boston Marathon International Men’s Preview: Lemi Berhanu Hayle Goes For the Repeat Against a Field That Contains 5 Sub-2:05 Guys

LRC All 2017 Boston Marathon coverage * Race website * 2016 LRC coverage

What: 121st Boston Marathon

When: Monday, April 17, 2016. Elite women start at 9:32 a.m. ET; elite men start at 10:00 a.m. ET.

Where: Hopkinton to Boston, Massachusetts

How to watchLive on NBC Sports Network and NBC Sports Live starting at 8:30 a.m ET. In Boston, WBZ4 will provide local coverage beginning at 7:00 a.m. ET.

Elite U.S. Women’s Field

NameNationPBComment
Desi LindenUSA2:22:38 (Boston, 2011)2011 runner-up was 7th at 2016 Olympics
Blake RussellUSA2:29:10 (Chicago, 2005)2008 Olympian is 41 now
Lindsay FlanaganUSA2:29:28 (Frankfurt, 2016)2nd at Pan Am Games marathon in ’15; 14th Olympic Trials
Esther AtkinsUSA2:33:15 (Boston, 2014)19th in 2014
Liz CostelloUSAdebut6th in Olympic Trials 10k last year
Jordan HasayUSAdebutThere are high expectations for her debut after 67:55 half in Houston

Could This Be the Year?

Linden was fourth in her last race in Boston in 2015

Linden was fourth in her last race in Boston in 2015

Desi Linden — USA, 33 years old, 2:22:38 pb (2011 Boston), 70:34 half
Recent marathons: 2nd 2016 Olympic Trials (2:29:00), 7th 2016 Olympics (2:26:08)
Prep race: 71:05 for 7th at NYC Half on March 19

The 2016 Olympics marked the end of a chapter of Linden’s career. She spent the past four years searching for redemption from a DNF at London 2012 and the result was an impressive seventh-place finish in Rio. A third Olympic team is not out of the question (Linden will be 37 in Tokyo), but the focus now shifts to winning a major marathon, something no American woman has done since Deena Kastor won in London in 2006.

This has always been a goal of Linden’s, but during the last Olympic cycle, Linden gradually built back fitness and was careful not to push the envelope too much in training in order to make it to Rio in one piece. That’s not to say she wasn’t competitive in majors (she was 5th in New York in 2014 and 4th in Boston in 2015), but with the Olympics in her rearview mirror and her window to win the Big One closing, Linden is free to take more risks than in the past.

“I think she’s had her best training segment that she’s had. Better than 2011 and better than her Rio buildup,” Linden’s coach Kevin Hanson told Sports Illustrated. “She ran well in Rio but when we finished Rio, I started to think that her next race is going to be her big one.”

That SI article also revealed that Linden ran her highest mileage ever in this buildup, holding 130 miles for three to four weeks. She’s leaving no stone unturned. In her tuneup race, she ran 71:05 for 7th at the NYC Half on March 19. That may not sound like much for a 2:22 marathoner, but Hanson’s system is designed for the athlete to be fatigued throughout most of the marathon buildup. The fact that Linden was only 31 seconds off her PR — it was her fastest half since 2013 — is a good sign.

If Linden is to win a major, Boston is the most likely venue. Though she ran 2:22 here in 2011, she’s never been one to blitz fast times, so it’s hard to see her winning a race like London or Berlin. After rejiggering the layout in February, Tokyo may be in that club moving forward as well. Mary Keitany has a stranglehold on New York. Chicago is a possibility, especially since they removed rabbits two years ago. But Boston is where she’s had the most success, coming just two seconds away from victory in 2011, and it plays to Linden’s strengths as a marathoner. Boston is all about measuring your effort and running a strong final 10 kilometers, something Linden does better than just about anyone else.

The problem, of course, is that Linden can do all of those things right and still lose to a superior athlete. She lost that 2011 race, and ran well in 2015 but ultimately wasn’t strong enough to go with the top three when they broke away. Linden ran well at the Olympics, too, but that still put her almost two minutes behind runner-up Eunice Kirwa (we’re ignoring the EPO-fueled Jemima Sumgong). There are women in this year’s Boston field that could do the same thing to Linden — notably 2:19 woman Gladys Cherono, defending champ Atsede Baysa and two-time world champ Edna Kiplagat — but Linden is near enough to the top (she has the #5 PR) that she has a realistic shot to win.

We imagine Linden’s gameplan will be similar to 2015 — put herself near the front and push the pace, if necessary, to weed out some of the contenders. Linden is a better marathoner than she was two years ago, and the hope is that instead of falling off the lead at 30k, this time she can respond to a move during the late stages of the race and perhaps even counterpunch with another one of her own.

Linden almost always runs smart and gets the most out of her body. But there’s no defense in the marathon; if all Linden has in her is a 2:25 and someone else runs 2:24, she’s not going to win. Only time will tell if Linden has enough to get it done and end the American drought in Boston.

The Next Great American Marathoner?

After successful half marathons in Houston and Prague, Hasay will go the whole 26.2 in Boston

After successful half marathons in Houston and Prague, Hasay will go the whole 26.2 in Boston

Jordan Hasay — USA, 25 years old, debut, 67:55 half
Prep races: 
49:28 for 1st at Gate River Run 15K on March 11; 67:55 for 6th at Prague Half Marathon on April 1

We imagine, by now, that you’ve heard of Jordan Hasay. She’s been on the national radar ever since she won Foot Lockers as a waif-like 14-year-old in 2005, and the spotlight has followed her from there to her college days in Oregon to her current spell with the Nike Oregon Project. Despite some success on the track (she finished 12th at Worlds in the 10,000 as a college senior), Hasay and coach Alberto Salazar decided after last year’s Olympic Trials (where Hasay was 13th in the 5,000 and 9th in the 10,000) that it was time for Hasay to explore the roads more seriously. She has taken to the asphalt like a fish to water.

So far the longer the distance, the better Hasay fares. After a couple of solid runs at the TrackTown Summer Series (2nd in 20:08 for 4 miles) and the U.S. 5K champs (3rd in 15:48), Hasay won her first national title in October, clocking 52:49 for 10 miles in Minneapolis. After logging a few more months of good training, she really broke out in January in Houston, running 68:40 in muggy, humid conditions, then won the U.S. 15K Champs in March. Her best result, however — in fact, the best result of Hasay’s life on an absolute basis — came just two weeks ago in Prague, where Hasay became just the third American woman to break 68:00 in the half marathon, running 67:55. That race sent expectations for Hasay’s marathon debut in Boston through the roof.

Think about it for a second. Hasay has run two half marathons in her life and both are way faster than anything Desi Linden (70:34 pb) has ever run.

Here’s what the U.S.’s fastest female half marathoners (record-eligible course) did in their marathon debuts.

NameHM pbAge at debutMarathon debutResult
Deena Kastor67:34282001 New York7th, 2:26:59
Molly Huddle67:41322016 New York3rd, 2:28:19
Jordan Hasay67:55252017 Boston???
Kara Goucher68:05*302008 New York3rd, 2:25:53
Emily Sisson68:21N/AN/AN/A
Amy Cragg68:27272011 Los Angeles2nd, 2:27:03
Shalane Flanagan68:31*292010 New York2nd, 2:28:40

*Goucher has run a 66:57 on an aided course; Flanagan has run 67:51 on an aided course

Though it seems a little sudden to be comparing Hasay to the likes of Deena Kastor and Molly Huddle, she has earned it by virtue of her half marathon times. However, I don’t expect Hasay to finish in the top three on Monday. She may have run a couple of fast half marathons, but she hasn’t accomplished nearly as much as most of the other women on the chart when they made their debuts. And at 25, she’s making her debut way earlier than any of the others. Also worth noting: Hasay ran her personal best at the end of her marathon buildup, when she was at or near peak marathon shape. U.S. women rarely get a chance to run an all-out half marathon for time as they frequently use half marathons as a checkpoint toward some larger goal.

We don’t mean to discredit Hasay’s run — 67:55 is phenomenal — but rather to provide context. Some may wonder if she has time to recover from a long, hard race effort only 16 days before Boston, but we aren’t concerned about that at all. Plenty of athletes do super hard workouts 3 weeks out from a marathon and her coach Alberto Salazar famously ran a 10,000 pb just 9 days before winning the 1982 Boston Marathon (and Galen Rupp ran the 10,000 final in the Olympics 8 days before winning bronze in the marathon in Rio).

Plus Hasay told David Monti that she felt under control for the first 10 miles in Prague, which suggests she should do okay recovering. And unlike Rupp, she’s not carrying any injuries into the race (that we know of).

“I felt very controlled and comfortable,” Hasay said in a text message to Race Results Weekly. “The plan was to run smooth until 10 or 11 miles. I found a nice rhythm and ran pretty evenly. Then the last two miles I was able to close well. I’m pleased with the effort and excited about my fitness going into Boston!”

All signs point to Hasay being a successful marathoner. Just check out the following chart (which we originally ran after Houston) that shows her current PRs and what they equate to for the marathon according to the McMillan running calculator.

EventHasay’s PRMcMillan Marathon Proj.
15004:07.702:30:52
30008:47.892:30:36
500015:28.562:30:48
10k31:392:28:30
Half67:552:22:56

For reference, only four American women have ever run faster than 2:22:56 for the marathon, and none of them require a last name: Deena, Shalane, Joanie and Desi.

It will be very surprising if Hasay runs anywhere close to that time on Monday (though Shalane and Desi have both run 2:22 on Boston), and in all likelihood, she won’t be the top American (that will be Linden). But Hasay is a big-time talent, and she’s adapted to marathon training seamlessly.

(Editor’s note: The LetsRun.com staff is divided on this issue. Some believe that Hasay will be the top American in Boston. MB: Debate: Who will be the top American woman at the 2017 Boston Marathon – Jordan Hasay or Desi Linden?)

“I’m excited [about the full marathon],” Hasay told us after Houston. “I think I’ve got the 5:20, 5:30 pace (2:20, 2:24 marathon) down even better than [the 5:10s for the half marathon]. To be honest I was a little more scared of the half because the longer 20-mile tempos have gone so well. I’m a little bit more used to that rhythm actually.”

As bright as Hasay’s future appears, though, the marathon is a tough beast to master. Hasay’s fast times mean that she’ll draw additional attention and expectations this week in Boston, but the best thing she can do is tune all that stuff out (including this preview). Decide on a goal and race plan, stick to it, and see how it goes. A top-five finish would be terrific, but she’s 25 years old and it’s her debut; if she doesn’t run well, it’s not the end of the world.

Other Americans

  • Blake Russell, 41 years old, 2:29:10 pb (2005 Chicago): Russell, a 2008 Olympian, won the U.S. title at age 39 two years ago in Los Angeles, but hasn’t run a marathon since and is actually coming out of retirement for this race.
  • Lindsay Flanagan, 26 years old, 2:29:28 pb (2016 Frankfurt): Flanagan, the 2015 Pan Am Games silver medallist, was 14th at the Olympic Trials last year and is coming off a PR in Frankfurt last fall.
  • Esther Atkins, 30 years old, 2:33:15 pb (2014 Boston): Atkins was 24th at Worlds in 2015 and 11th at the Olympic Trials last year. Most recently, she took 11th in New York in November.
  • Liz Costello, 29 years old, debut: The Princeton grad has progressed nicely under Mark Coogan‘s New Balance Boston squad and has finished 7th and 6th in the 10,000 at USAs the past two years. She ran 73:20 for 17th at the NYC Half in March.

More: MB: Debate: Who will be the top American woman at the 2017 Boston Marathon – Jordan Hasay or Desi Linden?)


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