Desi Linden: Fueled by a Sense of Purpose
Photo: Newton Sports Photography

Two-time Olympian Desi Linden rekindles a sense of purpose amid a running slump

I’m in a running slump. There, I said it. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right? I can’t identify exactly when or why I hit my current slump, but there’s no doubting I’m here and can’t find the magic. Maybe it started post-Rio Olympics or perhaps later following this year’s Boston Marathon, but there is no more denying that it’s here.

On top of my game, en route to a 7th-place finish in the marathon the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: PhotoRun.net

The slump should seem almost inevitable after these major events. In order to have any chance at success, I have to commit, believe and essentially define myself as a runner—heck, as a champion—for months on end. I wake up and invest each day and each moment as a professional runner trying to accomplish some goal that, when I dream big enough, is usually just beyond my grasp and recently only moving further away.

After investing so much and failing and falling and reeling, how could I not be in a slump? I’m slumping because I care and because I truly believed, and in the end, I’m always left asking, “What’s the point?” In true cliché runner fashion, I turned to inspirational and motivational quotes for some help.

“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try and get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the graves a fine and private place, but none I think do embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.” – Joan Didion

In order to move forward, I need to look back and ask what made me sign up for this job in the first place. It’s the big question; Why do I run? The main reason has always been finding my personal limits—how good can I be? So now I’m left asking myself, have I reached them and maximized my personal potential? Or, is there more left in the tank?

It’s a tough question to wrestle with as father time is undefeated and there’s no denying that I am on the back half of my career. However, there’s been more inspiration and examples of runners pushing their boundaries and extending careers than ever before. In the beginning I always said, “Why can’t that be me?” So why should that change now? Why can’t I have longevity in my career? The wheels haven’t fallen off, and I believe I have more to give to the sport and can still dig deep and find some PR’s. It’s risky business because there is no guarantee, but I’m comfortable committing to challenging myself and competing against previous versions of my best self; me vs. me.

Equally important to answering the big “Why do I run?” is the notion that I’ve always loved the art of running. This was never a job; it has always been about learning and working toward mastery of the craft.

I never signed up to be a professional runner thinking this was going to be my career someday. Or, that I’ll become “famous” or “recognized” because of my accomplishments or results. Running has always been about becoming a better version of myself. Personal growth has always been the main goal. Going places, quite literally, was always the perk. Running, putting one foot in front of the other, was my vehicle to see the world.

It started small, traveling on foot at the perfect pace and learning about the neighborhoods around my middle school or high school. I’ll always remember the first long run with a group where we explored the coastline around San Diego: Torrey Pines, past Cardiff, into San Elijo, and how we wanted to go just a touch longer that day because we had heard so much about Swami’s Beach, and oh if we could only dip our toes in the water there. It has evolved; I’ve run on an indoor track in Doha, Qatar. I pounded the cobblestone on the roads in Berlin. I gritted through 10,000 meters (25 laps on the outdoor track) in Yokohama, Japan, enduring a chilly 38-degree evening with torrential downpour—it was miserable, but boy was it memorable. Adventure and running go hand in hand for me. The sport may change, the business may change, I may change, but running will always be my favorite way to experience a new place.

I love the grind of competition, including here as I finish 2nd at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles to earn a spot on my second Olympic team. Photo: Courtesy of Brooks Running

 

In the midst of my slump I remind myself that there is still a sense of purpose. It has become even more personal than ever, but there is still more for me to see, still more to do, and I still have more to give. When I recently celebrated my 34th birthday with a small group of friends, we got to chatting about what was on our bucket lists and how we planned to keep checking things off. The oldest gentleman in the conversation interjected, “Bucket list!? Are you kidding me? At your age, you need to replace that B with an F. You have so much time. Get after it!” I loved it. Running will be the ticket, and that’s what I’ll do and get it while I can.

So, “rise and grind,” they’ll say. And to that, “rise and find,” I’ll say. Maybe there will be no magic found; maybe flirting with this madness is how I thrive, but no easy job could ever make me feel this way.

 

Desi Linden

Two-time Olympic marathoner Desi Linden runs for the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. She finished second in the Boston Marathon in 2011 and fourth in 2015 and 2017. She owns a 2:22:38 marathon PR.