There have been a few books by US women distance runners coming out recently: we’ve had Alison Mariella Désir’s “Running While Black” with its focus on racism and Lauren Fleshman’s “Good for a Girl” with its focus on eating disorders and women in running. Kara Goucher also has one out, “The Longest Race” about her life in running including the traumas of being part of the Nike Oregon Project, which I haven’t got hold of yet, and we have this one, from Des Linden, Boston Marathon winner in 2018 (so I’m posting this on an appropriate date as it’s Boston Marathon 2023 today!) about being an outsider and having different interests, coming back from a serious health issue and her issues with doping in running. This one was a review copy kindly sent to me by a friend – Wendy has reviewed it, too, here, and Cari has reviewed it along with Kara’s book, here.

Des Linden – “Choosing to Run: A Memoir”

(06 April 2023, gift)

As athletes and support crew members continue to file onto the bus, my expression says, Don’t even think about sitting in the empty seat next to me. Ordinarily, that seat would be filled by one of my coaches, but not today. in fact, I’m very confident that my coaches for most of the last thirteen years will be actively rooting against me. (p. 30)

In this book, written with Bonnie D. Ford, who is acknowledged on the cover and does a good job of making it seem Des is telling us her story directly, Des both shares her journey to and after her epic Boston Marathon win and the story of the win itself. It’s really cleverly structured so we have chapters interspersed with the chronological ones taking us to just before the race (which is where the above quotation comes from: we won’t find the solution to the mysterious comments for a while) through the first, middle and last miles, the terrible weather almost another character in the narrative or participant in the race.

I didn’t know much about Des before reading this book, but what I have come to really admire about her is her attention to detail, her deep, deep knowledge of the Boston course, her amazing tenacity (although this is almost her undoing, too, as she tries to train through the beginning of a very serious health condition), and, of course, her unflinching honesty about her feelings about the doping which started to engulf long-distance racing as it has sprinting and other sports.

There’s a lot less about her childhood sports and training than in Lauren Fleshman’s book, but interestingly, there’s a definite “difficult father” theme here, too, although Des has been able to maintain a good and less-competitive relationship with her sister. Des mentions the eating disorders that are rife in the sport but manages to avoid them; she lives a more rounded lifestyle than some others I’ve read about, house-sharing with a non-athlete at university and developing an interest in travel and bourbon as she moves through her running career. She works with an unorthodox training group and gives details of how that and her Brooks sponsorship worked. She’s funny and she swears and is blisteringly honest at times, but honours both the exceptional athletes who have gone before her and the “ordinary” runners in the pack behind her at a marathon who are trying just as hard as she is, and she clearly acts as a role model for younger athletes, who thank her for speaking out on things they’re not able to be as vocal about at their stage in their careers: this all makes her relatable and an engaging person to read about.