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The Mindset That Wins: Strategies of an Elite Champion Runner

Des Linden

If anyone knows persistence and how to stay motivated, it’s Desiree Linden, last year’s winner of the Boston Marathon in the women’s category and the first American to win in 33 years.

Here’s a peek into Linden’s winning mindset.

It starts with a no-regrets attitude.

Linden had success as a college athlete, but she wasn’t one of those stars that everyone was watching. Still, she decided to pursue her dream of going pro.

“For me, it was worth the risk of answering that ‘what if’ question,” Linden explains. “I felt like I had the ability, and if I just put in a little bit more time, maybe I could do something special. There were no guarantees that I could even make a living, but I didn’t want to look back in 10 years and go, ‘What if?’”

Being process-oriented, rather than results-oriented, takes you to the next level.

Starting out, Linden loved racing and competing. For years, even as a professional runner, she was more about testing herself than the actual training. What changed, and ultimately led to her success as a marathoner, was the prospect of not running.

“In 2012, I made the Olympic team and had a stress fracture on my femur,” she says. “It was then that running was really taken away from me, and it was a pivotal moment, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? This was my career. Am I done?’ It was all on the line. I saw that for me to continue, I was going to have to learn to love the process of running, and not just competing.”

Visualizing your goals helps a lot.

At the Boston Marathon in 2011, when Linden just missed crossing the finish line first, she was hardly the favorite. In fact, everyone thought she should be thrilled about second place. But after months of visualizing herself as the winner, she was surprised she wasn’t in first.

“I had gone in to every day picturing: What does a Boston Marathon champion do? How do they eat? How do they train? How do they recover? Am I doing massage right?,” she recalls. “It became so real to me; even on race day, things just unfolded exactly how I pictured for months and months up until the last 200 meters. So, when I lost, I was pissed off, because it was the first time in months that I wasn’t the champion.”

Trying to help others can make you stronger.

When Linden started running the Boston Marathon that she would win last year, she actually didn’t think it was her day. She figured, “I’m 34 and I only have a couple more marathons in my career where I can really go to the well and run great.”

So, she offered her assistance to fellow American Shalane Flanagan, and ended up helping her catch up with the lead group after a bathroom break. She also helped Molly Huddle when she was leading the chase pack into the wind.

Assisting them distracted Linden from how bad she was feeling—and kept her going, so that when she found herself in third place near the end, she was able to make the most of the opportunity—and win.

Diversifying your interests keeps you whole.

“Your entire being can’t be tied to results–or at work, to a project,” Linden says. “You have to exist outside of that stuff. I think because I have balance—I’ll go to a concert and just have a slower run the next day because I was up late—is a big part of why I can enjoy this and do well.”

In fact, after Boston last year, she went to India for two weeks. “It was fantastic, just great life experience,” Linden says. “You go to these places, and you realize that as much as running or your job matters, there’s so much more out there, too.”

This article is based on 2018 MA Conference for Women breakout session “Your Personal Best: Winning the Marathon… of Life!” Listen to it here.

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