Great, Simple Training and Racing Advice From Des Linden
by Weldon Johnson
October 31, 2018
Des Linden was a household name in the running community prior to winning the 2018 Boston Marathon.
But now “Des” is becoming a household name in the greater sports/fitness community.
Case in point, on Wednesday Brooks had a Breakfast with Des event in an event space in New York that has been converted to an impromptu Brooks NYC headquarters this week.
At 8 a.m., well actually, 8:15 a.m. for your esteemed journalist, the place was pretty full and Des’ coffee (Linden & True) was being served.
Des had a Q&A with a podcast host and took questions from the audience.
Since I had read Jon Gault‘s long profile on Des, which describes her new coaching situation (“The Rebirth Of Des Linden“), the day before, I figured I wasn’t going to get too much from this event. But I was wrong.
Some of the people in the audience were running New York and/or their first marathon on Sunday and a lot of them wanted advice.
Seeing Des talk for half an hour and observe her demeanor and how she answered the questions reminded me of one of the reasons why Des is so good at what she does, and that is she has her head screwed on straight and doesn’t overcomplicate things. We all could learn from her.
Many of you, like I once was, are looking for the Holy Grail in running. If it exists, I think it is much closer to Des’ mantra of “keep showing up” than anything else. There are no shortcuts to success in running, which is part of its beauty, but the flipside of that coin is you want to get the most out of the hard work you put in and I think a lot of us don’t. Des Linden nearly always does.
Prior to Boston, if there was a knock on Des it was that she might not be fast enough to win a World Marathon Major. But it was accepted as near fact that she’d deliver all she had on race day. Turns out in Boston 2018, when a lot of people were far from their best, Des’ best left her as a legend in the sport and the 2018 Boston champ.
To have a strong performance on race day you need to a) gear your training to peak for race day and b) get everything out of yourself on race day. These things are available to every runner, but I think a lot of us get in the way of ourselves. Des definitely doesn’t and she gave two simple pieces of advice that I think all runners need to hear time and time again.
1) Keep your easy days easy and your hard days hard
Des was asked what advice she’d like to have known if she could go back in her career and in the clip below she said, “If I could back to the beginning of my pro career it would be ‘Easy days easy, hard days hard… Race day: just be really patient.'”
I’ve been accused of preaching “slow” running on LetsRun.com and I think that’s an unfair characterization, but I’ve definitely advocated for keeping easy days easy. There is a point for every run and if your main point is recovery, never forget that.
2) Relaxation is the key to running fast
The great Arthur Lydiard said, “relaxation is the key to good running” and that’s exactly what I preached in the most famous training article on LetsRun.com: “Why I Sucked in College“. Des gave that exact same advice today when asked what to do when you’re struggling in the marathon. She said to try to relax. “If you tell yourself [stay] calm and relaxed, [you’ll perform better] …You’ve got to find that balance of pushing yourself but not forcing yourself. I do that by reminding myself to stay calm and relaxed and let the run come [to me],” she said in the clip below.
Remember you’re not trying to run harder, you’re trying to run faster. And if you tense up and don’t relax, but instead try to run “harder,” you’re going to tighten up, waste energy, and run slower.
Des was very mentally relaxed in Boston this year. So much so that, when she thought it might not be her day early in the race, she did not panic and try harder but was content to shift her focus a bit. She was content to help Shalane Flanagan get back in the race after Shalane had to take a pit stop in a porta potty. By staying calm and relaxed, Des got the most out of herself in miserable conditions and that left her the Boston champ.
Des settled the debate once and for all: ‘real’ runners can listen to music
Des Linden was asked what is on her playlist when she runs. Eventually she said she’s kind of lazy with her playlist and said she listens to a lot of the same stuff over and over and right now that is Post Malone and Taylor Swift.
But in answering the question, Des settled the debate some of you have had about whether it is ok for a “serious” runner to listen to music. (See: Why is listening to music a hobby jogger move?). She said, “For a long time I was like ‘if you run with music does it count (as a real run)?”‘ The answer now is a resounding yes as the 2018 Boston Marathon champ listens to music from time to time on her runs. But I’m not sure why we ever had this debate at the great Haile Gebrselassie credits music with helping him break the 5,000m world record.
Other notes: Des’ agent Josh Cox has said he’s never seen Des more excited about her training (he’s worked with her since 2011) than she is now with new coach Walt Drenth. Des had great success with the Hanson brothers as coaches, but nearly everything that lasts a decade can get stale, and Des with a new coaching situation has a new outlook.
There are more video segments from Des and the event here.
The article I recommend you read on Des’ new outlook is here: LRC The Rebirth Of Des Linden
Weldon Johnson is a founder of LetsRun.com. He once ran 28:06 for 10,000m but now runs with his dogs in Riverside Park in Manhattan.