Des Linden has raced 20 marathons, but she’s never gone longer than the 26.2-mile distance in a competition.
That changed today, when she ran a 50K (31.06 miles) on a deserted bike path outside of Eugene, Oregon.
Linden, 37, finished in 2:59:54, a world record for the distance, more than seven minutes ahead of the existing record of 3:07:20, set by British ultrarunner Aly Dixon on September 1, 2019. She averaged 5:47 per mile pace.
'As we got in there, I was like, "I feel pretty good, let’s err on the other side of 5:45 [per mile pace]." We probably banked a little bit too much time,' Linden told Runner’s World. “It got hard the last five [miles], but I knew we had that time.”
She’s accustomed to performing in front of large crowds—at marathons in Boston, New York, and at the Olympic Games. But the pandemic has upended the typical calendar of large-scale races, leaving elite runners to develop their own opportunities for competition, against the clock or a limited number of other athletes.
Linden ran evenly, hitting the 19.6-mile mark (31.6K) in about 1:53:35, 2:31:12 for 26.2, and covering the final roughly five-mile out-and-back loop in just under 30 minutes.
'I knew [we were going to be close to three hours]. We were crunching the numbers out there. [I was thinking] I’ve gotta break three or else I’m going to have to do this again, like, soon.'
Coming into the day, Linden felt confident about her chances at getting the record.
'I thought it would take a disaster for [the record] not to happen. But you get to the marathon distance, and disasters are pretty common,' she said. 'You extend that, and it’s like, well, you just don’t know. As confident as I was, it’s unknown territory. I was trying to respect [the distance] as much as possible.'
Linden’s career highlight came in 2018, when she won the Boston Marathon in 2:39:54 amid driving rain and gale-force winds. She has made two Olympic teams, and she finished seventh at the Games in Rio in 2:26:08. Her personal best comes from Boston in 2011, when she ran 2:22:38.
At the most recent Olympic Trials, in 2020 in Atlanta, Linden finished in fourth place, just missing a spot on Team USA heading for Tokyo. She’s the alternate for the team, should any of the top three finishers—Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel, and Sally Kipyego—be unable to compete. Linden said on April 12 that she’s not expecting to be pressed into service and not dwelling on the possibility.
'I’ll be ready if they need me,' she said.
In recent years, Linden has made no secret of her interest in running ultras and unusual distance challenges. In 2020, before the pandemic cancelled Boston, she planned to run both the Trials and Boston, seven weeks apart.
In October, she undertook a 'calendar club' challenge, running one mile to correspond with every date on the calendar: one on October 1, two mile on October 2, and so on. By the end of the month, she had amassed 496 miles, with 196 in the final week.
Five weeks ago, she told Runner’s World she was 'super fit' and was balancing her desire for the record with caution as she races into the unknown.
'I feel like I just want to crush this record because I think it’s so attainable, but also, you have to absolutely respect the distance,' Linden said. 'It’s like when you do your first marathon. You have no idea what it’s going to feel like after 20 miles. It’s managing what I think is the right pace and also respecting what’s been done in the past and finding the sweet spot.'
She next plans to run an autumn marathon, although she didn’t specify which one. All of the World Marathon Majors races are being held this autumn. Chicago and Boston are scheduled on back-to-back days, October 10 and 11. The New York City Marathon is November 7.
'I will hit reset, preserve some of this fitness, make sure I’m ready as the [Olympic] alternate,' Linden said. 'And then figure out the fall.'
—This story will be updated.
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