MARATHON VIC­TORY A LONG TIME COM­ING

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY JOHN NIYO The Detroit News

Year af­ter year, Lisa Larsen Rains­berger kept watch­ing — and wait­ing. For the crowd to roar, and the an­them to play, and then for the phone to ring. Since 1985, the for­mer Bat­tle Creek res­i­dent and Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan All-Amer­i­can has proudly held the ti­tle as the last Amer­i­can woman to win the Bos­ton Marathon. But for some time now, she’s been ea­ger to re­lin­quish it.

So when the phone fi­nally rang late Mon­day morn­ing at her home in Colorado Springs, less than an hour af­ter Michi­gan’s De­siree Lin­den made his­tory with a tri­umphant Pa­tri­ots’ Day vic­tory in Bos­ton, she laughed and ad­mit­ted, 2007: 2011: 2014: 2015: 2017: 2018: “I’m still cry­ing!”

They were tears of joy, she said, and Rains­berger was not alone, as Lin­den’s win in Bos­ton re­ver­ber­ated through­out the Amer­i­can dis­tance-run­ning com­mu­nity, a hard-fought strug­gle through bru­tal weather con­di­tions Mon­day sym­bol­iz­ing the larger ef­fort at play in a sport that cham­pi­ons suf­fer­ing.

“This is hands-down the big­gest day of my run­ning ca­reer,” said Lin­den, a Cal­i­for­nia na­tive who moved to Michi­gan in 2006 to live and train with the Han­sons-Brooks Dis­tance Project team based in Rochester Hills. “If it wasn’t dif­fi­cult, it wouldn’t

mean as much.”

But just what it meant to win, af­ter years of chas­ing down this elu­sive feel­ing — and all the suf­fer­ing along the way — that’s some­thing that al­most left Lin­den speech­less.

“I don’t have the right words,” she said, still shak­ing from the el­e­ments — and the emo­tion — shortly af­ter cross­ing the fin­ish line first in 2:39.54, a slow slog through the rain and gust­ing head­winds on a bone-chill­ing day. “I love this city, this race, this course. It’s sto­ry­book.”

And this was the end­ing she’d long dreamed of, through the thou­sands of miles of train­ing and more than a decade of marathon rac­ing, work­ing with coaches Kevin and Keith Han­son and lean­ing on her hus­band, Ryan Lin­den, a fel­low dis­tance run­ner — and now a triath­lete — whom she met not long af­ter she’d sur­vived her first Michi­gan win­ter.

“To me, when I think about the marathon,” Lin­den told me years ago, “it’s al­ways Bos­ton.”

And now it’s hers — al­ways — af­ter a gritty and gru­el­ing per­for­mance Mon­day, the 34-yearold shak­ing off her own ear­lyrace strug­gles and seiz­ing con­trol when oth­ers fal­tered on a day that dawned as ugly as pre­dicted. The ther­mome­ter reg­is­tered 38 de­grees when the race started at 9:32 a.m., and the wind chill was be­low freez­ing with the rain fall­ing in sheets, at times, just as many had feared — and just as Lin­den and her coaches had qui­etly hoped.

“I thought her chances of vic­tory im­proved ten­fold just based on the fore­cast car­ry­ing out through the week as it did,” Kevin Han­son said.

Run­ning tough

Lin­den’s strength in the marathon is her tac­ti­cal abil­ity, her race-day strat­egy and dis­ci­pline. It’s also her tough­ness, though, as a 5-foot-1, 98-pound bull­dog who may not have the track speed of some of the other elite marathon­ers but does have an in­domitable will.

“She al­ways wants to make the race longer, make peo­ple hurt for a longer pe­riod of time,” added Han­son, one half of the sib­ling duo of shoe-store own­ers who de­cided to buck the sys­tem and start their own group-train­ing dis­tance pro­gram here in Metro Detroit back in 1999.

The idea was to recre­ate the suc­cess­ful U.S. model that ex­isted in the 1970s and early-1980s, when Bill Rodgers and the Greater Bos­ton Track Club were at the fore­front of a run­ning boom in the United States. And while Lin­den isn’t their first ma­jor suc­cess story, or maybe even their most tal­ented ath­lete, she’s the flag bearer, for sure, a twotime Olympian who’d al­ready ce­mented her­self as a blue-col­lar U.S. star on the women’s side.

Lin­den, who splits time be­tween a home in Wash­ing­ton Town­ship and a cottage on Lake Charlevoix in north­ern Michi­gan, just hadn’t man­aged a break­through win in a ma­jor marathon yet, though she’d come achingly close be­fore in Bos­ton, los­ing a back-and-forth duel down Boyl­ston Street to Kenya’s Car­o­line Kilel by a mere 2 sec­onds in 2011. (Her 2:22.38 clock­ing that day made her the third-fastest Amer­i­can woman in his­tory at the 26.2-mile dis­ones tance.)

Af­ter a ca­reer-threat­en­ing hip in­jury de­railed her Olympic year in 2012, she came back to Bos­ton and posted an­other top-10 fin­ish in 2014, and then a pair of fourth-place re­sults in 2015 and ’17 sand­wiched around her trip to the 2016 Rio Olympics. And it was be­fore last year’s race that she talked openly about her goal of win­ning the world’s old­est an­nual marathon. She’d led at the half­way point but couldn’t keep up with a blis­ter­ing pace in the lat­ter stages of the race.

Still, her dis­ap­point­ment in fin­ish­ing fourth — and as the sec­ond Amer­i­can, be­hind 23year-old Jor­dan Hasay’s im­pres­sive de­but — said some­thing. So did Amy Cragg’s bronze medal at the world cham­pi­onships in Au­gust — the first for a U.S. woman since 1983 — and Sha­lane Flana­gan’s win at the New York Marathon, end­ing a 40-year drought. Af­ter all those years of fight­ing what felt like an im­pos­si­ble bat­tle against the East Africans in a sport rife with dop­ing prob­lems, “when we’re not win­ning be­cause our girls are clean and the oth­ers aren’t,” Larsen said, maybe it was time.

“The last cou­ple years, you felt it,” she said Mon­day. “The ex­cite­ment was build­ing and it’s not ‘if ’ it’s ‘who’ — ‘Which one is gonna win it?’ ”

Not many were pick­ing Lin­den, frankly. Hasay and Flana­gan and Molly Hud­dle — fresh off a U.S.-record half-marathon ef­fort in Jan­uary — were the get­ting the at­ten­tion in the build-up to Bos­ton this year.

“The pre-race hype sur­rounded a lot of other peo­ple,” Han­son said, “and I think it prob­a­bly played into her hands a lit­tle bit.”

So did the weather, which was too much to bear for many of the world’s best marathon­ers. Of elite en­tries this year, 23 run­ners didn’t even fin­ish the race. And Lin­den ad­mits she fig­ured she’d join them, even telling Flana­gan around the 6-mile mark she was not long for the race.

“I was feel­ing hor­ri­ble,” Lin­den said. “And I kind of nudged her and said, ‘Hey, there’s a good chance I’m gonna drop out to­day, so if you need some­thing, lemme know.’ ”

So she did, with pace drag­ging and na­ture call­ing, just be­fore the half­way point in the race. Flana­gan tapped her on the shoul­der and won­dered aloud if now was a good time to take a bath­room break at the near­est port-a-potty. (“I was ba­si­cally ask­ing her like she’s my mom,” Flana­gan laughed.) Lin­den said sure, then hung back as Flana­gan made a pit stop be­fore re­join­ing the race, draft­ing be­hind her Olympic team­mate as they worked their way back to the lead pack of seven run­ners.

A few miles later, as Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska made her move, open­ing up a nearly 30sec­ond lead on the field, Lin­den de­cided she’d try to help Hud­dle giv­ing chase. And some­where along the way, Lin­den re­al­ized she was in third or fourth place, “so I prob­a­bly shouldn’t drop out.”

She also re­minded every­one some­thing the dom­i­nant African dis­tance run­ners dis­cov­ered long ago, and an idea the Han­sons have tried to fos­ter here at home.

“When you work to­gether,” Lin­den said, “you never know what’s gonna hap­pen.”

What hap­pened next, though, was some­thing she’ll never for­get.

Win­ning slow

Lin­den “knows ev­ery crack and crevice in this Bos­ton course,” Han­son says, from Hop­kin­ton to Heart­break Hill and ev­ery­thing that comes af­ter. But once she’d chased down the lead­ers — the New­ton Hills were too much for Deska, and Kenya’s Gla­dys Ch­e­sir was spent, too — there were still five miles to go. And from there, Lin­den says, she was run­ning in fear, think­ing, “When am I gonna get chewed up and spit out the back.”

The wind stand­ing her up at times and she was un­aware the 6-minute miles she was putting down were ac­tu­ally putting dis­tance be­tween her and the field.

“It was kind of com­i­cal how slow we were run­ning,” said Lin­den, whose win­ning time was the slow­est in 40 years at Bos­ton.

But this was no laugh­ing mat­ter yet. Not even when she made that fi­nal left turn onto Boyl­ston Street with the fin­ish line in sight, the rain-soaked crowd let­ting her know she was all alone.

“It wasn’t un­til the last cou­ple steps, and then it was, ‘Oh, this is for real,’ ” Lin­den said. “And then you break the tape and you’re, like, ‘This is not what I ex­pected to­day.’ But it’s ab­so­lutely amaz­ing.” As for what’s next, Lin­den’s im­me­di­ate plans called for a burger and a beer or two Mon­day night. Maybe some whiskey, too, though “that might be too ag­gres­sive tonight,” she joked. Be­yond that, she plans to keep rac­ing marathons through the 2020 Olympics.

But some 2,000 miles away, there was an­other view of what’s to come. Rains­berger was thrilled to fi­nally pass the torch, es­pe­cially to “a Michi­gan girl” who “epit­o­mizes all that I be­lieve in.” And as she wel­comed Lin­den to the club, she couldn’t help but revel in the sig­nif­i­cance of the mo­ment, one that hits home in more ways than one.

Her daugh­ter, Katie, is an All-Amer­i­can dis­tance run­ner as a sopho­more at Ore­gon now, and this star-span­gled Pa­tri­ots’ Day re­sult, well, “It’s go­ing to plant that seed of hope and pos­si­bil­ity, even for my own daugh­ter,” Rains­berger said. “It’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re back, baby!’ And that is so awe­some.”

Charles Krupa / AP

De­siree Lin­den, who moved to Michi­gan in 2006 to train with the Han­sons-Brooks Dis­tance Project team based in Rochester Hills, is the first Amer­i­can woman to win the Bos­ton Marathon since 1985.

Elise Amen­dola / AP

De­siree Lin­den splits time be­tween a home in Wash­ing­ton Town­ship and a cottage on Lake Charlevoix in north­ern Michi­gan.

JOHN NIYO

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