Desiree Linden drank champagne from her running shoe after she won the Boston Marathon in April.
That victory broke a 33-year losing streak for the US — Linden was the first American woman to win that race since 1985.
“It’s a lot of years of really hard work paying off,” Linden told Business Insider.
She’s now preparing to compete in the New York City Marathon on Sunday, fueled by lots of caffeine, carbohydrates, and a strict sleep routine.
When she’s running, Linden said her simple mantra is “calm, calm, calm,” since she believes you can’t force your way into a successful run.
“You have to let the fast come out of you,” she said.
In the New York Marathon, Linden will be competing against her friend and colleague Shalene Flanigan, who won the race last year. That triumph broke an even longer US women’s losing streak — no American woman had taken the trophy in New York City since 1977.
Linden said both wins were the result of years of hard work and dedication.
“Shalene’s been at the marathon for a good 10 years… I’ve done this for 13,” she said. “It’s a good sort of lesson that it takes 10 years to become an overnight success.”
Linden drinks a lot of coffee and uses caffeine during the race
To train for the New York Marathon, Linden said she supplemented her runs with more strength training. She ramped up cross-training and added more planks and push-ups into her routine than she did when she was younger.
“I’m 35 so maybe less miles is better,” she said. She also tries to protect her body from injury when she runs, though she admits she doesn’t have any special secrets for avoiding crossing over the “red line” and overtraining.
“Marathon training is all about learning how to run well when you’re really tired,” she said.
Linden is not snobby about her pre-race diet. She relies on toast with peanut butter (smooth, not chunky) for breakfast, and prefers to cook rice or pasta before a race, maybe with a bit of chicken. Her diet overall is pretty simple and plain, but she emphasizes the importance of choosing whole foods and cooking meals, rather than eating things from “boxes and bags.”
The element of Linden’s daily routine that’s non-negotiable is her main fuel: coffee. She’s been a coffee drinker far longer than she’s been a professional athlete; her love of the brew goes back to her grade school days, when she used to sip Folgers while watching soap operas with her sister.
“I started young, with a very low bar, and a small budget,” she said.
Her coffee tastes have matured since then. Linden and her triathlete husband Ryan now have their own small-batch coffee line, called Linden and True, which they started with another athlete couple, Ben and Sarah True.
“I don’t go a couple hours without caffeine,” she said. “I’m just sipping on it all day.”
It’s not practical to take coffee out on the race course, so instead Linden mixes caffeine performance gels into some of her water bottles.
Linden tries to go to bed by 10 p.m., before she turns into a ‘pumpkin’
Despite the consistent caffeine jolts, Linden tries to keep to a strict 10 p.m. curfew to help repair her muscles and recover from 16-mile-long training runs.
Getting enough sleep helps maintain the cells in the body that fight off tumor and virus cells, as well as keep blood-sugar levels stable. There’s even some evidence that ample sleep can make people less likely to have heart attacks or develop some deadly cancers.
“It’s really easy to go to bed at a certain time and make sure you get eight to 10 hours,” she said, then quickly added, “I say that, and we all know it’s not.”
But after race day is over, Linden ditches her strict routine for at least a couple of weeks. She likes to indulge in a hamburger with some cheese and jalapenos (scientists think full-fat cheese may help protect the heart and keep cholesterol in check), and maybe a beer. Then the athlete reassesses her goals, asking herself whether she really wants to keep running, and if so, what her next challenge should be.
In New York, she’s heading into the marathon weekend acknowledging that winning in Boston may have been a once-in-a-lifetime success. Whether or not she breaks the ribbon on Sunday, Linden believes that anyone who wants to can run a marathon. She encourages skeptics to just try logging a few miles.
“No one’s ever finished that and said ‘wow, I wish I hadn’t gone for a run today,'” she said.
The runner’s high is even greater, she said, after a 26.2-mile marathon.
“You’re like, ‘I can’t believe I did this — I was amazing,'” she said of the feeling after crossing the finish line. “We don’t give ourselves many opportunities to say that.”