Des Linden: Boston Marathon Prep in a Record-Breaking Mammoth Lakes Winter
Oct 20, 2020
Two-time Olympic marathoner Desiree Linden arrived in Mammoth Lakes in early January. Her plan: to run easy miles at altitude in preparation for Boston Marathon training. Winter was in full swing in the Eastern Sierra with a better than average snow accumulation already reported at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.
Linden rolled into town with the storms and experienced the snowiest month in Mammoth Lakes’ history. When she planned her trip she thought, “Am I leaving one winter for another winter?” In the past that’s why she’s gone to Kenya, but Andrew and Deena Kastor made it clear how easy it was to escape the snow. Situated at 8,000 feet, Mammoth Lakes is the ideal elevation for altitude training, and with a range of elevations from 4,700 feet to 8,900 feet within a 30-minute drive, it is easy enough to run below the snow line most days.
Linden, who is a two-time runner-up at the U.S. Olympic Trials marathon, the runner-up at the 2011 Boston Marathon, and the fourth fastest female American marathoner of all-time with a personal best of 2:22:38, says that training went well despite a stormy five-week training stint.
“It was awesome, really fun,” she says. “It was surprising to get that much snow, and seeing it all in one place was pretty insane, but it was absolutely beautiful and inspiring, and still great training just minutes from the mountain.”
Crib: You’ve gone to Kenya for altitude training in the past. How did you decide on Mammoth Lakes this year for your altitude stint?
Des: I was just mixing things up this year, trying a new spot that is a little easier to get to. Obviously the Kastors do a great job and the Mammoth Track Club is out there so I knew that I would have people to connect with and run with and show me around so it was a nice change of pace. I don’t think anyone on the Mammoth team is doing spring (marathons), but I was just doing easy runs out there just building mileage so it worked out really well.
Some of the most successful marathoners in American history have lived and trained here—Meb Keflezighi, Deena Kastor, Ryan Hall—is there any inspiration in the history of the region for you?
I think obviously when you are picking where to go that is part of it. Clearly it works for a lot of people, whether it is being at the right altitude or having the right surroundings. When you get out there it is neat to be on the same roads and running the same paths that the greats have done. It’s fun to be around. To have a little piece of that history is kind of like the Boston marathon course; the greats run it year after year after year. Mammoth Lakes’ training grounds have a reputation like that where you know the people that have passed through have been incredible—it’s neat to follow in their footsteps.
While you were training in Mammoth Lakes, the month of January set the all-time record snow accumulation for a single month with 246 inches. How did you manage training?
It is a pretty unique place in that you just drive 30 minutes out of town and you are at an elevation where you are not in the snow anymore. It was a little time in the car, which was fine. On days where we could be closer to the mountain we certainly were, which was nice, but the group mentality was like: It is really neat to be a part of a record year. Let’s carry that into the rest of the year and everything that we do. Finding positives in that record was challenging, but kind of fun.
But 246 inches is a lot of snow. The highways were closed from time to time and it even snowed at lower elevations. Did you take any workouts indoors?
I was definitely in the gym a little more than traditionally I would be, but Snowcreek Athletic Club was super accommodating, so I cold hammer out some miles on the treadmill. It is such a great workout because it is so high up. You can’t run too fast at that altitude, but you are still getting a great cardio workout.
Do you have ways to keep yourself entertained and motivated when you are forced to run inside?
I don’t usually run with music. It’s kind of nice to be out with your own thoughts, but the treadmill is the only time I do run with headphones. Anything you can do to break it up and make it go by quicker helps, so music is the one thing that gets me through treadmill runs. I’m a big music fan. If I could be at live music every weekend I would be.
There was some back and forth on Twitter about which town had more snow between Flagstaff and Mammoth Lakes. Do you think athletes pride themselves on the competition of getting training done in tough conditions?
There is a little benefit to (getting work done in tough conditions). You have really tough days when most people are like, Forget it. This is not conducive for training, and they just don’t do it. But there are a lot of benefits to finding a way to get it done. You get out the door anyways and those first few miles are really hard and then it turns into a really good day because you got it done when you didn’t think you were going to. I think there is a lot of value in that. And it is always kind of fun to poke fun with the other groups like, Ours is worse and we are going to be tougher for it. I don’t know how much truth there is to that, but it is a lot of fun anyhow.
Do you have any favorite spots in Mammoth Lakes that you recommend to other runners?
Runners are generally always big coffee people. That’s the first thing we scout out when we get to a new place. It was a battle between Stellar Brew and Black Velvet. Do I want the burrito or do I want the espresso, so we bounced back and forth everyday between the two—both great spots.
You left Mammoth Lakes to train in Florida?
We come down here to get out of the Michigan winter every year, and to be able to hit marathon pace without having to worry about ice. We aren’t escaping the Mammoth winter; it was always the plan to head down here for the pace work. We have our routes (in Davenport) that work, and specifically training for Boston we do downhill work. We have a Boston simulation that we’ll nail, so we can get our quads beat up running downhill.
You are relatively new to altitude training. What is your theory on altitude versus sea level training?
The only time I’ve actually gone to altitude is prior to Boston and that’s only been since 2013, so this is only my third altitude stint. I certainly think there is a benefit to altitude training and it would be fun to explore longer segments at altitude, get the marathon work done up there. Traditionally I’ve relied on mileage and really knowing pace. I don’t think I’ve plateaued quite yet, maybe that’s wishful thinking, but when it comes time to look for that extra edge maybe I’ll fall back on it a little more. But our group values knowing race pace so well. It’s hard to get the legs moving that fast up high. I utilize altitude, but not in as big of blocks as other athletes.
You’ve already accomplished a lot in your career, what more do you hope to achieve?
I think that I’d love to win something, preferably a really big marathon—a major marathon. That would be fun. That’s something that keeps me coming back every year and signing up for the majors and getting excited about it. I think I have a little more improvement left in me. I want to tap out my potential. Really it’s just a lot of fun. I am still really enjoying testing myself and running against the best in the world, so it is easy to find motivation to get out the door.
Do you have any last thoughts on your Mammoth Lakes training stint?
It’s absolutely gorgeous in Mammoth. My husband is a big skier, so we were both super happy. I enjoyed the snow in town, and then I could easily get out of town to run. It is a really unique place in the country; it’s pretty rare to have all that in one spot. I gotta get out here in the summer to see the lakes and run right out the front door. I definitely want to make that happen.
Author: Monica Prelle
Monica Prelle is an outdoors, wine, and travel writer who would rather be running, climbing, or mountain biking. See more of Monica’s posts here, read more of her work at monicaprelle.com and connect on twitter @monicaprelle