Watching the elites race is how many of us learn the best tactics and lessons about the sport. With eyes glued to the screen watching Des Linden run at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Tara learns about patience and trusting your race plan– no matter how strong the competition may seem.
With little more than a mile to go at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, Desiree Linden made her move. As one of the favourites to win in Los Angeles, it was almost unnerving to watch her stay back, well behind the leaders for the majority of the race. However, knowing a bit about how she trains and how she races I thought, “She must know what she’s doing, there’s a plan” — and there was.
As Linden crept up on leaders Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan over the last six miles, I was struck by her patience and discipline in trusting the race plan. It was a thrill to watch her execute it with such control.
Linden ran solo from around the 16 mile marker on. That was a stark contrast to Cragg and Flanagan, who ran nearly the entire race together — a plan the two training partners had made prior to the race. As they pulled away from the pack at around the midway point, Linden eventually lost sight of them. Anyone who has competitively run long distance understands how difficult it is to let the leaders out of sight. Your instinct says, “go . . . keep up . . . or they’re gone for good.” It’s a critical moment in a race — you either make the decision to go with the leaders or you hold back and trust your race plan.
The latter requires a tremendous amount of discipline and patience and Linden made it look easy — a remarkable feat considering there was nothing easy about it, as she explained at the post-race press conference.
“It was a mental battle when those guys got away. You’re wondering if your tactics are right, if they’re sound. I’ve always trusted in Kevin and Keith’s plan. I had to just let them go and trust in that plan today. And it worked out. I just stayed tough and kept looking up.”
When asked about the part of her race plan that allowed Cragg and Flanagan to move ahead, she clarified:
“It wasn’t necessarily let them go ahead of me. It was very dialed into to what I felt was capable of on the day. We kind of circled 5:40’s as the magic number. They started picking up 5:35’s and a little bit quicker even. I felt that was going to be unsustainable over the second half and that’s where you can kind of get into trouble. The heat was going to be way worse over the last hour of the race. I wanted to be able to finish strong and close well. And I didn’t think that going with that pace at that point was doable for me.”
Linden was then asked if she was worried about letting the leaders get away.
“No,” she said. “You just trust the plan. You can’t worry out there. You just have to buy into it. And be confident in it. The marathon is so tricky and so difficult and yet it’s so predictable. After 20 miles, it’s always the marathon — people fade and people come back. If you’ve made mistakes early, especially in the heat, it’s magnified in the end.”
— des_linden (@des_linden) February 13, 2016
As Linden approached Cragg and Flanagan in the final two miles it was clear that Flanagan was struggling tremendously. Cragg stayed alongside of her and talked her through before the threat of Linden sent her on her way. Moments later, steady and calm, Linden passed Flanagan. Then, the question became: Will she reel in Cragg as well?
Ultimately she didn’t. Linden crossed the finish line in 2:28:54, just 34 seconds after Cragg. When asked about having to run the last ten miles on her own, without a pack, or teammate to help carry her along, Linden responded:
“I’m prepared for it. I do group training with Hanson’s Brooks and I have a bunch of great teammates, but ultimately I’m at a place where I have to do a lot of the work by myself. I think when you have a race strategy, like my race strategy you just have to follow your own plan. So even if I had a teammate, if our goals were different, or if our race plans and racing styles are different, you still have to be able to get it done on your own. Just be patient about it. It’s something I’ve done for a long time, so I felt comfortable and confident.”
Prior to the trials, Linden posted an “unknown” quote on Twitter. It reads: “Patience is the ability to countdown before you blast off.”
“Patience is the ability to countdown before you blast off.” – Unknown pic.twitter.com/EcVTAT6WEQ
— des_linden (@des_linden) February 8, 2016
And that’s exactly what she did on Saturday. It was beautiful to watch — a lesson in patience, discipline and trust. I look forward to watching her performance at the Olympics in Rio this summer.