Des Linden Wins The 2018 Boston Marathon, Ends The American Women’s 33-Year Winless Streak

April 16, 2018

BOSTON — Des Linden is your long-awaited American Boston Marathon women’s champion.

An American woman hadn’t won the Boston Marathon in the professional era but that all changed at the 122nd Boston Marathon as Linden came from behind to win the race in 2:39:54 and become the first American women’s champ since 1985. Lisa Rainsberger — nee Larsen Weidenbach won in 1985; Boston started offering prize money in 1986.

It’s hard to put into words what transpired at the 122nd Boston Marathon today, so perhaps it’s best to defer to the Bard and Macbeth’s first lines in Macbeth:

“So foul and fair a day I have not seen.”

Foul, for the rain, wind, and bone-chilling temperatures that made running miserable for anyone on the Hopkinton-to-Boston course today. But fair for American fans everywhere, who celebrated a historic victory by Linden. Running in horrific conditions, battling high 30s and low 40s temps, rain and a big headwind throughout, Linden took the lead in the 22nd mile and never looked back, crossing the finish line in 2:39:54, the slowest women’s winning time since 1978.

Even though the winning time was so slow, Linden won by 4:10 as many of the invited elites simply lost the battle with the conditions and dropped out. Second place went to unknown American Sarah Sellers, who paid her own way into the race, in 2:44:04 as Canadian Krista Duchene was third in 2:44:20. Reigning New York City Marathon champ Shalane Flanagan ended up 7th in 2:46:31 with defending Boston champ Edna Kiplagat was the lone African elite to record a finish, as she crossed the line 9th in 2:47:14.

Desi Linden snaps the American women's winless streak Desi Linden snaps the American women’s winless streak

The Race

If the weather forecast didn’t convince you before the race that the women’s times would be slow, the first mile certainly did as it was covered in just 6:24 and it features a huge downhill; in fact, each of the first three miles were run in over 6:00 During much of the first half, the only one trying to push the pace was Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska. Daska, 34, certainly didn’t look like someone who hadn’t broken 2:24 since 2012 and finished just 9th and 12th in her two previous Boston runs, as she was full of run early. After a 79:41 first half, Daska finally opened up a big lead in 14th mile, which she covered in 5:37.

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The only other notable development during the first half was a bathroom break by Flanagan, who ducked into a portapotty around mile 12. In all, the move cost her around 20 seconds but she was able to eventually work her way back to the chase pack behind Daska by 14 miles.

At 25k (15.53 miles), Daska led by 27 seconds. But by mile 20, her lead was down to 17 seconds as Kenya’s Gladys Chesir, who ran 2:24:14 in her debut last year in Amsterdam, and Linden (8 seconds behind Chesir) had emerged from the chase pack. Daska’s lead wouldn’t last much longer as she covered the 21st mile (which includes Heartbreak Hill) in just 6:52. During the 22nd mile, Chesir briefly moved into the lead but her lead didn’t last more than a handful of seconds as Chesir started to come apart as well. Linden had a 1-second lead at 35k (21.748 miles) and the rest of the race belonged to her. By 40k (24.85 miles), Linden led by 3:05 as Linden ran that 5k segment in 18:51 (6:04 mile pace) to Chesir’s 21:55 (7:03.3 mile pace). She wound up winning by an enormous four minutes and 10 seconds as the rest of the elite women totally fell apart over the final miles, leading to a string of little-known runners grabbing many of the top 10 positions.

Quick Take #1 Desi Linden and Mother Nature Were The Big Winners Today

If we had to sum up the vibe at the race headquarters at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in the hours after the race, it was one of incredulity. Nobody we talked to — agents, coaches, other journalists, even the athletes — seemed to know what to make of the race. Many of the top finishers had no idea what place they were in until the final miles. Men’s champ Yuki Kawauchi only knew that he won because he was paying attention in the pre-race technical meeting — race organizers told the elite athletes that if they were winning the race, they would be directed to finish on the right for the cameras. And sure enough, that’s what happened when he approached the finish on Boylston Street.

How crazy was this race? All of this stuff actually happened:

-Desi Linden ran the entire race in a jacket, went out in 1:19:42, slowed down over the second half (2nd half was 1:20:12), and still became the first American female champion since 1985.

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-Linden ran the slowest winning time since 1978, yet still won by 4:10, the largest margin of victory since 1993.

-Someone named Sarah Sellers, an American, finished second in the women’s race (more on her below). She was one place away from winning the Boston Marathon against the greatest U.S field ever assembled.

Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle finished as the 6th- and 13th-fastest Americans in the field.

-Edna Kiplagat was the top African finisher in 9th. An African had finished in the top four in the previous 24 editions of the race, including 19 victories.

-Of the 16 African runners in the men’s and women’s elite fields, just three finished the race: Edna Kiplagat was 9th in the women’s race, Geoffrey Kirui was 2nd in the men’s race, and Stephen Sambu was 14th in the men’s race. All six Ethiopians dropped out.

All of that happened because the weather was the real victor on the day. It was so brutal that even Linden admitted she thought very early in the race she’d end up a DNF. Asked after the race on NBCSN why she slowed down and waited for Shalane Flanagan when Flanagan briefly left the course to use a portable toilet in the 12th mile, Linden said, “Honestly at mile 2-3-4, I didn’t feel like I was even going to make it to the finish line and I told her during the race, ‘If there is anything I can do help you out, let me know as I might just drop out.’ When you work together, you never know what is going to happen. Helping her helped me and I kind of got my legs back from there.”

But in the end, Linden didn’t drop out and she did what she almost always does – measure her effort incredibly well and run incredibly even and today if you weren’t totally cratering at the end you ended up the champion of both the men’s and women’s races.

No one in the women’s race broke 80:00 for the 2nd half – Linden’s 80:12 was the best – and only three women broke 83:00 – the three that ended up on the podium (Sellers ran 81:59 for her 2nd half and Duchene (83:58)). In the men’s race, Yuki Kawauchi was the only elite in the top 12 who ran his second half within 4 minutes of his first half (65:59-69:59).

Quick Take #2: No one may have picked Desi Linden to win this race, but her team did not view this as a (massive) surprise

A year ago, Linden told anyone who would listen that her goal was to win this race. She didn’t, and while most viewed her 4th-place finish as impressive, Linden, who came just two seconds shy of winning the race in 2011, viewed it as a disappointment.

This year, Linden’s goal was exactly the same, but with such a strong American field, most viewed Linden as a good bet to finish in the top five but a longshot for victory — as of Sunday, fewer than 1% of the entrants in’s Running Warehouse prediction contest picked her to win.

On Friday, we asked Linden if her “A” race would be good enough to beat everyone else’s “A” race today. Her answer proved prophetic.

“On this course? Yeah. With the conditions that are expected, yeah. You know, I think those things factor in and they make a difference for me. If it’s Berlin, if it’s London? No. I think they’re just gonna be better than me. But that’s why I come here. It helps, and I know this course well and I know that crazy things happen here.”

Indeed, Linden is well-known for always judging her effort well, and before the race, our expert panel agreed that while Linden wouldn’t necessarily win the race, she would get everything out of her body no matter what. And there’s no doubt that one of the biggest reasons why Linden won today was her brain.

“I always feel that she’s the smartest racer, tactician, whatever you want to call it, whatever label you want to put on that, I think she’s always the smartest in the field,” said her coach Kevin Hanson of the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project. “Well what happened today was, Mother Nature threw the big dilemma at everybody, which means that there was a whole additional amount of thinking that had to take place and a whole additional kind of tactics on top of the course that’s already there — that some people aren’t prepared for.”

We asked Hanson whether Linden could have won today had the weather been 50 degrees and still, and while he said that her buildup told him that she had a chance to win, he could not say for sure.

“I don’t know,” Hanson said. “I’m glad I don’t have to answer that question. Honestly. That’s not an attempt to duck the question. I think it just simply, it wasn’t. This is what we had today.”

Quick Take #3:, meet your top five finishers

While every running fan knows Linden’s name, the rest of the top women’s five is pretty unfamiliar. Even the staff — whose job is to follow professional running — hadn’t heard of all of them before today. Here’s a quick primer.

1st Desi Linden 2:39:54 — Two-time Olympian. Boston runner-up in 2011.

2nd Sarah Sellers 2:44:04 — 26-year-old Utah native who ran collegiately at Weber State (as Sarah Callister) and graduated in 2013. Track PRs of 16:00/32:51. Now works as a nurse in Tucson, AZ. Coached by 2:11 marathoner Paul Pilkington, who won the 1994 Los Angeles Marathon as a pacemaker.  Trust us, the interview below is worth a listen.

3rd Krista Duchene 2:44:20 — 41-year-old mother of three was 35th in the 2016 Olympic marathoner. Played hockey in college. Currently trains with Speed River Track Club in Guelph.

4th Rachel Hyland 2:44:29 — From Andover, MA, and ran collegiately at DIII Williams. Ran 2:41 to finish 20th at the 2017 Berlin Marathon. 45th at the 2016 Olympic Trials.

5th Jessica Chichester 2:45:23 — Nurse practitioner lives in New York City ran a PR of 1:18:15 at the NYC Half. She is coached by her brother Tim, an Olympic Trials qualifier. The Chichesters apparently love bad weather. Before today, the last time the conditions were brutal in Boston was 2012, with 80+ temps during the race. Tim Chichester finished 11th in that race, running a 10+ minute PR. Hat tip to LRC reader Patrick Kelly for the info on Tim Chichester. Interview with Jessica after NYC Half last month here.

Chichester actually started in the mass race — she did not have an elite bib — but she still ran faster than all but four pros, including Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle. We’re not sure what the requirements are re: prize money (since the elite women start before the rest of the field), but Chichester stands to win $15,000. We did hear from a BAA representative that even if there is a written rule stating that prize-money recipients must start with the elite field, that rule may be reevaluated in Chichester’s case because of the conditions.

5th in Elite Start Nicole Demercurio — Nicole is a Zap Fitness athlete and coach Pete Rea talked about the Zap performance today. (Tyler Pennel, a Zap athlete was 4th in women’s race).

Quick Take #4: Molly Huddle had the week from hell

Huddle ran 2:50:28, making her the 16th-fastest woman today, but was proud that she at least managed to finish the race on a day that saw many of the pre-race favorites drop out. Huddle said that she felt good for the first 40 minutes but at that point she started feeling cold and there was still a long way to run.

Huddle’s preparation was excellent, and so were her racing instincts — she knew that when Linden made the move to break from the chase pack and try and reel in Daska that she needed to go with it as it would likely prove decisive. But her body just did not cooperate. Credit to Huddle for toughing it out when it would have been easy to drop out.

As if running Boston in horrible conditions wasn’t bad enough, Huddle began feeling pain in her tooth on Thursday and will have to have a root canal tomorrow.

“This week sucks so bad,” Huddle said.

Quick Take: Shalane Flanagan Happy for Des, Was So Out of It She Thought She Might Be Winning Herself, and Wants to Help Gwen Jorgensen Make Olympic Team

Flanagan was the American woman trailblazer in New York and today it was Des Linden’s turn to have the spotlight. That might have been hard to foresee early in the race, around mile 6, when Flanagan said Linden turned to her and said, “Hey it’s not going to be my day. I think I’m going to drop out.” Flanagan said she was so shocked she put her arm on Des and asked “Are you ok?” thinking Des must have had a severe injury. Des replied, “No, no, I’m fine (injury wise). If there is anything I can do to help let me know.”

So when Flanagan had to pee later in the race, and they were still running slow, she asked Des if she thought it was a good idea to leave the course and take care of business (instead of doing it on the run). Des told her to go ahead and waited a bit for Flanagan to catch up. Then when Des dropped behind Flanagan soon after, Flanagan thought she might be dropping out. But soon Des was going back by Flanagan and then heading after race leader Daska. Flanagan, who still had the mindset Des was about to drop out, thought maybe Des was being a “sacrificial lamb” to bridge the gap for fellow American Molly Huddle. But next thing she knew Des was pulling away on her own.

“I thought, man she’s doing a lot of good work here. This is amazing. And then I saw her just keep going. I think that momentum of helping someone else and maybe not investing so much in how she’s feeling maybe that gave her that little lift she needed. I’ve always said this. Des is built for this course. It’s pretty incredible (she won),” said Flanagan.

“I am really happy for Des. She went from talking about dropping out to motoring (to the win).”

As for Flanagan’s own race, she said, “That was really hard. I’m the most sore I’ve ever been for 6:30 mile pace. I’m really bummed right now. I realized 6 miles in I was going to be really cold. My teeth were already starting to chatter.”

Flanagan said she was suffering so much later in the race she started wondering if she was actually winning the race as the fans were really cheering for her. “At one point I was so delirious I thought ‘Am I winning?’ I wasn’t sure who was dropping out,” she said.

“It was a very unsatisfying race. I trained three months really hard to have a really great showing. I don’t know what to think about it. It was all I had, but a very unsatisfying feeling,” she added, noting she thought she was in PR shape.

Flanagan wasn’t sure what is next for her. When asked what motivated her more: going to defend her NYC title or chasing a fast time in a fast marathon, and she said, “Neither actually. The only thing that really motivates me now is to try and train and help the other two women [on] my Bowerman track team (World Championship bronze medallist Amy Cragg and Olympic triathlon champ Gwen Jorgensen) make the next Olympic team. I may take a little break and assess what I want to do next, because the training is hard.”

We asked Flanagan how good she thought Jorgensen could be in the marathon. “I don’t know what she is capable of.  We know she is a good athlete, but what’s her ceiling (We don’t know. She’s had a great support system). Now it’s whether we can keep her healthy enough to put in the big miles. I think what it’s going to take is big miles to make the team.  It would be a huge accomplishment if we got her on the Olympic team. I know she’s dreaming of gold but I know we would be stoked if we could make her an Olympian in the marathon.”

Shalane Flanagan Interview

Shalane Flanagan and Desi Linden Hug After Race

For more on the unknowns in the top 5, see this messageboard thread: MB: Who?! American Sara Sellers is 2nd in Boston Marathon, Rachel Hyland 4th, Nicole Dimercurio 5th -3 Unknown Americans in Top 5

Talk about today’s race on our messageboard.

More post-race videos appear below.

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