Desi Linden

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Mary Keitany wins 4th New York City Marathon ahead of Shalane Flanagan

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NEW YORK — With about 24 steps left in her New York City Marathon title defense, Shalane Flanagan mouthed “I love you” and waved her right hand to the Central Park crowd. Then she waved her left and crossed the finish line in third place.

The first person to greet the hunched-over Flanagan was Mary Keitany, holding a towel and carrying a Kenyan flag in her right arm.

Flanagan ran the five-borough race 31 seconds faster than last year, when she became the first U.S. female runner to win in 40 years and kept Keitany from a fourth straight title.

On this day, in optimal weather, Keitany not only regained the New York crown, but she also put together arguably the most impressive final half of a marathon in history. The 36-year-old mother of two clocked 2:22:48 overall and won by 3 minutes, 13 seconds over countrywoman Vivian Cheruiyot. Flanagan was another 20 seconds back.

Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa bagged his first New York title, after two Boston Marathon victories, by outlasting pre-race favorites Shura Kitata (by 1.99 seconds) and defending champion Geoffrey Kamworor (by 26 seconds). Desisa clocked 2:05:59, the second-fastest time in New York’s 48-year history. In many other years, that would be the performance of the day.

MORE: New York City Marathon Results | 2018 U.S. Marathon Rankings

Not this time.

Not when Keitany, in running the second-fastest female time in New York history, covered the second half in 66:58. That’s almost nine minutes faster than her first half.

It’s also 29 seconds faster than Paula Radcliffe‘s closing 13.1 miles at the 2003 London Marathon, when she set the world record of 2:15:25, a 26.2-mile mark nobody has been within 90 seconds of since. That time came with the aid of male pacers. New York has no pacers and has the slowest times of the six World Marathon Majors.

The three American women who finished in the top six on Sunday (first time that’s happened in 40 years), were asked to react to Keitany’s split.

“Holy crap,” fourth-place Molly Huddle said.

“The only word for her is incredible,” said Des Linden, Sunday’s sixth-place finisher who in April became the first U.S. female runner to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years.

“I don’t have the physical capability to have an answer for that,” said Flanagan, a 37-year-old, four-time Olympian who is unsure if she will run another marathon.

Last year, Flanagan pulled away from Keitany in the 24th mile and beat her by 61 seconds.

Keitany started the 2017 race as an overwhelming favorite, having won New York the previous three years and, in her previous marathon that spring, clocked the fastest time in a women’s-only race in history in London. Keitany said after her runner-up last year that she incurred a problem the prior afternoon but declined to specify. Keitany’s agent told LetsRun.com that she started her period less than 24 hours before the race.

Keitany said Sunday that she had an infection before this race but did not say when.

“Nothing was special today,” she said in a soft voice. “I was just ready for the race.”

Keitany started in Staten Island on Sunday morning with the most doubt she’s faced since starting her marathon career in 2010.

She lost back-to-back marathons for the first time last fall and spring. In the last two years, Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenyans Gladys Cherono and Cheruiyot became the third-, fourth- and fifth-fastest performers all-time behind Radcliffe and Keitany. Had Keitany’s descent begun?

It had not. Keitany’s incredible second half Sunday included 17th, 18th and 19th miles faster than five minutes. Her 19th mile was 4:55. The top men ran the 19th mile in 4:50.

“I didn’t want to rush at the beginning so that to suffer at the end,” she said. “I wanted to be comfortable throughout the race.”

Flanagan also showed that she is still among the world’s best marathoners. She said after finishing seventh in a miserable Boston Marathon in April that she had contested her hometown marathon for the last time as an elite. She could leave competitive marathoning altogether with this third-place finish.

“I just thought [in the final miles] if this truly is going to be my last race, a podium spot really would be special,” Flanagan said.

She could try to become the first U.S. distance runner to compete in five Olympics in 2020. At 39, she would be the third-oldest female U.S. Olympic runner after marathoners Colleen de Reuck (2004) and Francie Larrieu-Smith (1992), according to the OlyMADMen.

“My heart is leaning towards serving others,” said Flanagan, who as a training group teammate has helped Amy Cragg to a world bronze medal and Shelby Houlihan to the American record in the 5000m in the last 15 months. “It’s become swinging more in that direction than it is in my own running.”

Flanagan’s future in New York could also be impacted by the calendar. Elites may forego the latest fall major marathon next year in preparation for the Olympic Trials on Leap Day 2020. If they make the Olympic team, they could miss the 2020 New York City Marathon as well, given it’s three months after the Tokyo Games.

If Flanagan races trials, she may enter as an underdog for the three-woman Olympic team. Think of the potential field: Linden, Huddle, Cragg and Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. women’s marathoner of all time who withdrew before last month’s Chicago Marathon with a heel injury.

Meanwhile, Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp, who is out through the spring marathon season after foot surgery, is the only U.S. man to break 2:11 in the last three years. The top American on Sunday was Jared Ward, who finished sixth, as he did in Rio.

Ward’s time was 2:12:24, making him the second-fastest American for the year but outside the world’s top 250. Bernard Lagat, a 43-year-old, five-time Olympian on the track, was 18th in 2:17:20, qualifying for the Olympic Trials in his marathon debut. It’s not unfathomable that Lagat could make the Olympic team, though he’s only committing at the moment to running New York again at some point.

Paralympian Daniel Romanchuk became the first American to win the men’s wheelchair race, beating three-time winner Marcel Hug of Switzerland by one second in 1:36:21. Romanchuk, 20, also became the youngest male winner in New York history.

Swiss Manuela Schar repeated in the women’s wheelchair division, pulling away from 17-time Paralympic medalist and five-time New York winner Tatyana McFadden by 21 seconds in 1:50:27.

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Des Linden follows Boston Marathon win with New York City Marathon

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Des Linden will follow her breakthrough Boston Marathon win by racing her second New York City Marathon on Nov. 4.

“Breaking the tape at this year’s Boston Marathon was a lifelong dream come true,” Linden said in a New York Road Runners press release. “At the moment, it felt like it was the culmination of my career, but I believe I still have plenty more to give to the marathon. I’m thrilled to head to the TCS New York City Marathon this fall. I’m motivated to get back on the big stage that NYRR will undoubtedly put together and intend to make a name for myself in another great city.”

Linden, a two-time Olympian, became the first U.S. female runner to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years on April 16.

The 34-year-old navigated the world’s oldest annual marathon’s most dreadful weather in at least 30 years. High 30s at the Hopkinton start. Headwinds of 20 mph. A downpour.

Now she’ll look to make it two straight U.S. women to win in New York after Shalane Flanagan in 2017. Linden was fifth in her previous New York start in 2014, the last time she raced a fall marathon.

Flanagan, 36 and a four-time Olympian, has not announced whether she will defend her title, but she will at least be coaching 95 recreational runners/beer lovers who will be given spots on the Staten Island start line through Michelob Ultra.

The last female runner to win Boston and New York City in the same year was Norwegian Ingrid Kristiansen in 1989. The last American runner (male or female) to pull off the double was Alberto Salazar in 1982, before Boston started awarding prize money and the elite international fields became dominated by East Africans.

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Desi Linden is first U.S. woman to win Boston Marathon since 1985

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It was never Desi Linden‘s day.

Not at the California high school state championships, which she never won. Not at Arizona State, where her best NCAA Championships result was 10th. As a professional, Linden had already far exceeded expectations with a pair of Olympic Trials runners-up and a second-place finish at the 2011 Boston Marathon (two seconds behind the winner). But she never broke the tape at a major race.

Then came Monday, the most dreadful Boston Marathon weather in at least 30 years. High 30s at the Hopkinton start. Headwinds of 20 mph. A downpour. “Hypothermia is the key here,” race director Dave McGillivray said on the local TV broadcast.

“Honestly, at mile 2, 3, 4, I didn’t feel like I was even making it to the finish line,” Linden, 34, said. She wasn’t alone.

But this was Linden’s day.

The 5-foot-2, self-described (and labeled by many others) “grinder,” book nerd and Scottish whiskey connoisseur became the first U.S. female runner to win the world’s oldest annual marathon in 33 years. The first in the professional era, since prize money was first awarded and the elite international fields became dominated by East Africans.

Linden clocked 2:39:54 (slowest winning time since 1978, that weather), crossing 4:10 ahead of unknown American Sarah Sellers, who paid a $185 entry fee and was one of two nurses to finish in the top five. Sellers was a surprise, as was men’s winner Yuki Kawauchi (more on the Japanese here), but as others said, Linden was built for this thinking-person’s race and these conditions.

“I know I’m biased when I say this, but I always feel like she’s the smartest, racer, tactician, whatever you want to call it,” Kevin Hanson, who coaches Linden in Michigan, told media afterward. “Mother Nature threw the big dilemma at everybody, which means that there was a whole additional amount of thinking that had to take place.”

BOSTON MARATHON: Results | Finish-Line Camera

Linden’s thoughts in the first few miles were of quitting. She said as much to Massachusetts native Shalane Flanagan, who on Nov. 5 became the first U.S. female runner to win the New York City Marathon in 40 years. Flanagan finished seventh on Monday in what she expected to be her last Boston Marathon.

“Des came up to me around mile 6 and said, hey, it’s not going to be my day, I think I’m going to drop out,” Flanagan recalled. Flanagan grabbed her rival’s shoulder. Linden continued, “If there’s anything I can do to help you, just let me know.”

“OK, this is weird,” the four-time Olympian Flanagan thought. “I was waiting for her, any second, to drop out.”

A half-hour passed. Linden was still with Flanagan and the leaders at mile 12 or 13. So Flanagan took Linden up on the offer and told her that she needed to stop at an upcoming port-a-potty. Flanagan didn’t say it, but she hoped Linden would look out for her on the return and help pace her back to the pack.

“I was like, basically, asking her like she was my mom,” Flanagan said. “Do you think I can go to the bathroom? She was like, yeah, I got you. I think you’ve got enough time. We’re running slow enough, it’s fine.”

Flanagan veered right and into the second portable bathroom. She spent 14 seconds inside — timed by LetsRun’s Jonathan Gault — and emerged on the wet pavement. Linden drifted to the caboose of the jacketed group of eight, repeatedly looking back for Flanagan.

Linden helped Flanagan to the group. Then she helped Molly Huddle reconnect, too. The two-time Olympian Huddle was, along with Flanagan, Jordan Hasay and Linden, one of four U.S. women who came to Boston with realistic chances of ending the 33-year drought.

Linden received the least pre-race press of the four. Flanagan was coming off her NYC title. Huddle broke the American record in the half marathon in January. Hasay became the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner ever at her last outing in Chicago on Oct. 8 but dropped out of Monday’s race on Sunday night with a heel injury.

Linden chose not to race a fall marathon, then produced her slowest career 13.1-mile time in 17 half marathons in her Boston prep race. That came in 29 degrees on a new course and into a headwind, though.

When Hanson saw the Patriots’ Day forecast, “I thought her chances of victory increased 10-fold,” he said. “She just embraced the weather when other people said we’re going to try to pretend it’s not going on.”

Soon after helping Huddle (who would finish 16th before a Tuesday root canal), Linden found herself in third or fourth place. Linden, who graduated from Arizona State with degrees in religious studies and psychology, did some more thinking.

“And thought I probably shouldn’t drop out,” she said, to press-conference laughter, “so I kept going.”

Ethiopian Mamitu Daska, 34 like Linden and third in New York last fall, moved in the 14th mile. Linden dropped about 30 seconds back with 2017 Boston winner Edna Kiplagat and another Kenyan, Gladys Chesir.

Linden, so tactically proficient that she ran identical 13.1-mile splits in Boston last year (fourth place), was pretty solid this year — 1:19:42 for the first half, 1:20:12 for the second.

The others faded. Linden went from third to first in the 22nd mile. By the turn onto Boylston Street, she led by four minutes. She dared not look back, though.

“2011 put the fear in me,” Linden said.

Of all of Linden’s near misses in major races, the 2011 Boston Marathon stuck with her. She lost a sprint to Kenyan Caroline Kilel by two seconds. That fall and spring was Linden’s coming out.

Desi Davila, before she married pro runner and triathlete Ryan Linden, ran a personal best by five minutes at the October 2010 Chicago Marathon and finished second. Then she ran nearly four minutes faster than that in Boston six months later.

This for a woman who didn’t break 16 minutes for 5000m in college and ran 2:44:56 in her marathon debut in Boston in 2007. She was 18th then. Monday marked the 11th anniversary.

“In 2007, no one believed I would be sitting here, that’s for sure,” Linden said at Monday’s winners’ press conference, gold wreath resting on her head. “The [Boston Athletic Association] treated us like rock stars. They came in, showed us their history and museum. Hey, these are so-and-so’s shoes. You could have your stuff in here one day. They just treated us like we belonged. That made me want to be a marathoner.”

Linden, in a black-and-lime green jacket with a No. 8 bib pinned on its side, raised her arms in her final strides. She blew a kiss with her black gloves just before crossing the blue tape. She was enveloped by an American flag and loved ones.

“It hurts right now,” she said in a finish-line TV interview, “but it’s a perfect day for me.”

The World Marathon Majors season continues with the London Marathon on Sunday, live at 3:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

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