Photo: Kevin Morris / Photo Run

Desiree Linden

AGE: 35

IN 2019: After a second-place finish in 2011, the two-time Olympian prevailed in 2018, becoming the first U.S. woman to win Boston in 33 years. Now, she hopes to become the first American woman to win back-to-back titles.

MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE YOU GOT: Learn to love the process. In competition, there will be highs and lows. In order to maximize your ability, you have to keep showing up regardless of the most recent result. Running is a crap-ton of work. It’s hard and oftentimes it hurts, so you have to figure out a way to enjoy, embrace and love all of that. If you can love the process of running—and what it brings to your day—it’s much easier to show up day after day and year after year. Which, not so coincidentally, is what makes for great results.

BIGGEST FEAR WHEN RUNNING: Pooping my pants. There’s not much that’s scary about the act of running. It’s right foot, left foot, repeat. I expect it to get hard. I expect it to hurt. I do not, however, expect to need to s— so abruptly that I can’t solve it with a proper stop. That’d be the worst, right? But honestly, we’ve seen it happen, so it’s a totally justified fear.

FAVORITE STRETCH OF BOSTON: I love the Newton Hills, the real racing starts happening there. They’re super challenging right at the moment you’re already asking yourself why the heck you signed up for this. They make you dig deep and find out what you’re made of.

INFLUENTIAL MENTOR: I’m so lucky to have worked with a number of really great people who have impacted my career in positive ways. I think the mental part of the game is so important, and my current coach, Walt Drenth, has always had a way of getting my mind where it needs to be for events.

A SETBACK … AND A LESSON: Dropping out of the 2012 Olympic Marathon with a stress fracture in my femur probably tops the list. I learned patience, persistence, to really love the long, slow process of getting in shape and how tough I can be when I really want to get myself back in the game.

Photo: Kevin Morris / Photo Run

Abdi Abdirahman

AGE: 42

IN 2019: The four-time Olympian followed up a sixth-place finish in the 2017 Boston Marathon with a 15th-place result last year. In both races, he was first in the 40-plus division, and he’s looking for a three-peat this April.

MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE YOU GOT: In my running career, I was always told to focus one race at a time. 

ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT: My running glasses because they make me relax.

FAVORITE STRETCH OF BOSTON: My favorite part of the course is after Heartbreak Hill. That’s when everyone makes their move.

INFLUENTIAL MENTOR: Coach Dave Murray is the most important person of my running career. He’s not just a coach. He’s also a father figure to me.

A SETBACK: Missing the Olympic trials in 2016. I was about to make my fifth Olympic team, which was a really big goal for me.

Katrina Gerhard

AGE: 22

IN 2019: Less than a month after winning the wheelchair division of the LA Marathon, the Acton-Boxborough grad returns to Boston seeking redemption. In last year’s conditions, she had to drop out of the race at Mile 10.

BIGGEST FEAR WHEN RACING: An equipment failure. There are so many possible points of failure: Flat tires, loose axles, busted rivets on the fenders, broken cylinders, loose compensators, etc. Last year, during Boston, the coating on my push-rim came off because of the heavy rain. Equipment failures are frustrating. You feel physically strong enough to keep going, but your equipment forces you to slow down, stop or drop out depending on what happened.

ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT: My gloves. … Wheelchair racers do not use their fingers and palms to push like we would in our day chairs. The wheels are going much too fast to be able to grip the push-rim without tearing up your skin or breaking a finger. Instead, our gloves are made of solid plastic and are molded to keep our hands fixed in a fist. We pad the inside of the gloves and coat the outside with rubber. When we push, we are punching the rubber-coated push-rims with the backs of our knuckles.

FAVORITE STRETCH OF BOSTON: Miles 18 to 23 are usually my favorite. There’s something magical about being that far into the course. I often get a second wind at that point. I will be completely in the zone and feel almost weightless. Those are the moments when I remember why I love this sport so much.

INFLUENTIAL MENTOR: I have had so many amazing coaches over the years. My girls’ track coach at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School, Mr. Feit, was my first coach. He had only ever coached able-bodied runners before, but he was more than willing to work with me and encourage me to compete. During high school, I started working with Jimmy Cuevas of the North Jersey Navigators, a junior wheelchair racing team. He taught me proper technique, designed workouts for me and brought me to the Junior National Championships with his team. For the past four years, I have trained under Adam Bleakney at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His training center is known worldwide for its quality, and I was so honored to be asked to join his team.

A SETBACK … AND A LESSON: The Boston Marathon last year. It was the first race that I ever had to drop out of. … I ended up having an equipment failure when the coating of my push-rim started to come off around Mile 2 due to the rain. That made me push slower and get colder. I was shivering so hard and starting to feel disoriented, so I dropped out at the Mile 10 medical tent. I felt so embarrassed and disappointed, especially because I was looking forward to seeing my parents at the top of Heartbreak Hill. As it turned out, there were already two other wheelchair racers in the medical tent when I got there. … That experience taught me that marathoning is an unpredictable sport. It’s important to always try my best, but it’s also important to be rational when facing failure.

Photo: Fayfoto Boston

Rachel Hyland

AGE: 32

IN 2019: The former teacher at Phillips Andover Academy shocked the city with a fourth-place finish in cold and rainy conditions in 2018. Now, she’s set for an encore.

MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE YOU GOT: The week before the 2016 Olympic trials, my coach, Terry Shea, gave me advice for how to run a race in non-ideal conditions. He said, “You can run a great race, it is just that the definition of great on Saturday is not so easily measured by time. It is going to be measured by what you, Rachel, are going to be able to endure throughout.” This advice helped me run well in the heat in LA in 2016 and again in the brutal wind and rain at the 2018 Boston Marathon. Over the years, this advice has helped me feel prepared and confident every time I step on a start line.

BIGGEST FEAR WHEN RUNNING: It’s definitely getting injured. There are always unexpected setbacks that pop up during a marathon buildup, but a serious injury is every runner’s worst nightmare.

ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT: In California, it’s my sunglasses. In Boston, it was a good pair of gloves.

INFLUENTIAL MENTOR: I’ve had so many wonderful coaches and mentors throughout the years. The most influential coach in my running career is Terry Shea, who has been formally or informally coaching me since 2011.  I’m forever grateful to him for introducing me to the most wonderful running community, for inspiring me to fall in love with the marathon and for teaching me how to deal with setbacks.

A SETBACK … AND A LESSON: In 2016, I dropped out of the Chicago Marathon because of a stress reaction in my shin. My parents had flown in from out of town, and I felt like such a failure for dropping out. In the final weeks of my buildup, I pushed myself too hard without proper recovery. And from this experience, I learned to listen to my body and take recovery more seriously. I also learned how to better deal with setbacks and use them to my advantage.

Photo: Kevin Morris / Photo Run

Shadrack Biwott

AGE: 34

IN 2019: The Kenyan-born American runner finished fourth in Boston in 2017 and third last year—the top U.S. male runner. Now, he looks to improve again.

MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE YOU GOT: To be patient and to not get discouraged along the way. To become a great athlete, there is so much work that has to be done. Along the way, the road will get bumpy and that’s when the patience will come in handy.

BIGGEST FEAR WHEN RUNNING: I hope my body doesn’t fail me and break down through injuries. If you get injured, then it slows down your running progression.

ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT: First, I’d say my Brooks Running shoes, and then their Run Happy clothing. I know they won’t fail me.

INFLUENTIAL MENTOR: In my running career, it’s all the people that have helped me to get to where I am now. My coaches have been big believers in my ability to be great. They have kept me honest and on track. And when I started to doubt my ability, they reminded me where I came from and who I am.

A SETBACK … AND A LESSON: A few years ago, I lost focus on who I was as an athlete who was trying to make it in this professional career. I felt sorry for myself and I told myself I wasn’t any good. But, thankfully, my friends encouraged me to continue running. They reminded me that Rome was not built in a day, and that successful people fell down many times before they became successful. What I learned was to never give up on myself.

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