At Olympic Marathon Trials, the Agony of Fourth Place

Linden knew this course was going to be hard for everyone. It was new and no one had run it. The locale was out of the comfort zone of elite racers used to running the marquee races in New York and Boston and the like. In those races, Linden knows where the tough parts are, where the pack will surge, where she will hurt. In Atlanta, the day before the race, she did not even know where she was going to get her usual prerace bowl of rice.

As expected, the race started slowly and tactically, with six-minute miles, then slowly gained steam. Still, 14 women crossed the halfway mark at once, in 1:14:38, and at Mile 20, there were as many as 10 runners with a shot at the podium. Linden, right there among the leaders, seemed solid.

Then, around Mile 22, she felt the pace quicken, as Molly Seidel and Aliphine Tuliamuk pushed to a 5:17 mile.

“A big jump for me,” Linden said.

She didn’t have an answer.

For a moment, she thought of Boston, just seven weeks away. Maybe she ought to jog in, save her legs and come back strong for that race? She dismissed the thought. Stay out here and fight. And so she did, into the wind, up the hills of the final miles, getting just one spot away from a seat on the plane.

And that’s where she finished.

“You learn,” she said while the memory was fresh and goose bumps were rising in the cold wind of the finish area. “You think: Next time. And then: Oh, yeah, no next time.”

Linden will be 40 in four years. She has been at this for more than a decade. So much pain, so many miles.

But Boston beckons. That’s where all the miles lead, as she has said, especially on a day like Saturday, when she was forced to try hard to believe that sometimes a race isn’t about the results but the effort and the process. Believing in anything else might lead to madness. Plus, a new generation is rising.