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Desiree Davila — July, 2011
Desiree Davila has cemented herself as one of the World’s elite marathon racers with her second place finish by only two seconds in the 2011 Boston Marathon in a personal best time of 2:22:38. She also finished in the top five twice at the Chicago Marathon, placing fourth in 2010 in 2:26:20 and fifth in 2008 in 2:31:33. Desiree was 11th at the 2009 World Championships Marathon in Berlin, Germany in 2:27:53. She has raced six marathons and set a personal best each time. In June, 2011 at the U.S. Track and Field Championships she placed fourth in the 10,000 meters in 31:37.14 and sixth in the 5,000 meters in 15:25.35 – racing personal bests in both races on back-to-back days. Desi raced three half marathons in under 1:13 including a 1:12:10 for second place at the 2008 U.S. Half Marathon Championships before setting a new personal best in winning the 2011 Naples (FL) Half Marathon in 1:10:22. She graduated from Arizona State University in 2005 where she earned All-American honors in 2003 in both cross country and the 5,000 meters. At Hilltop High School (Chula Vista, CA) Desiree earned four letters in track, cross country and soccer, placed fifth in the 1,600m and fourth in the 3,200m in the State meet, was four-time Metro League Runner of the Year and set League records at 800m, 1,600m and 3,200m. She is a member of the Michigan-based Hansons-Brooks Racing Team. Her personal best times include: 5,000m – 15:25.35; 10,000m – 31:37.14; Half Marathon – 1:10:22 and Marathon – 2:22:38. A psychology major at Arizona State, Desi’s hobbies include reading and she has two dogs, Atlas and Miles, who like to run with her.
GCR:At the 2011 Boston Marathon you finished in second place by two seconds in a personal best time of 2:22:38. It is often said that ‘no one remembers second place.’ Have you found it to be quite the contrary?
DDI have but I think it’s temporary because the race was so close and it was an exciting finish. I think that as the years go by it will sort of fade and, hopefully, I will do something bigger to replace it when people think of me.
GCR:Before we get into the details of your exciting 2011 Boston Marathon race, let’s talk about your most recent track races. In mid-June you raced a strong 15:34 for 5,000 meters in Portland. Was this mainly off of your marathon strength or did track sessions indicate you were in shape to go this fast?
DDWe were hoping to be a little quicker, but it was close to my PR. I was just getting a feel for the distance as it was my first race since the Boston Marathon and it is hard to know what to expect. Sometimes the first race after a marathon doesn’t feel smooth, but it was just about right. The transition to quicker racing, being on the track and different racing tactics takes me a couple of races to get back into the groove.
GCR:The Portland 5,000 meters was a prelude to your racing both the 10,000 and 5,000 meters at the U.S. Championships two weeks later. What did you do in that short period of time to increase your chances to challenge for one of the three spots on the U.S. team for the World Championships?
DDI didn’t do much to get ready – I didn’t even get on the track. We did one workout on the roads with some tempo running and downhill quarter miles and that was about it. We just got in some recovery before race day and hoped it would be enough. We knew going in that it wasn’t going to be the perfect build up because there wasn’t enough time, but that I would be able to run respectably well from my Boston Marathon training strength.
GCR:The way the first half of the USATF 10,000 meter race developed, Shalane Flanagan was out front, Kara Goucher and Jen Rhines ran in second and third with Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, Amy Begley and you in a chase pack. How tough was it to try to move up on your own and, in retrospect, should you have tried to stay with Goucher and Rhines or was the pace just too fast?
DDKara and Jen were out a little too quickly for me. My best chance was going to be if one of them had a bad day which is hard to come by with those three ladies because they are excellent racers. For me the plan was to go out and run the best time I could and, if I happened to land on the team, then great. If I had stayed with them it would have been too aggressive and I would have ended up paying for it in the latter parts of the race.
GCR:Between 6k and 8k you moved up slightly on Rhines but were unable to get closer than 30-40 meters. Was it a case of your running strongly while her experience was just enough to hold you off?
DDJen is one of the best around and knows how to make World Championship and Olympic teams. She is just that good. When I looked at my splits afterward they were dead even. I could run the same pace all day, but when it came time to drop the pace it just wasn’t there.
GCR:You ran 31:37.14 for fourth place, a personal best by 28 seconds and made the World ‘A’ standard. Are you pleased with your performance though slightly disappointed about coming so close to making the U.S. team?
DDIt’s a mixed feeling coming so close as I always want to compete on the World stage which is huge, great for experience and what I am shooting for. But to get beat by any of those three ladies is no shame as they have all been on Olympic teams. Also, to come away with that big PR and to make the World ‘A’ standard for next year is a big step. If something doesn’t go right for me at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials there is another opportunity for me to make the Olympic team. So there are several good things with which I am very pleased.
GCR:A day after the USATF 10,000 meters you raced in the 5,000 meters. Did you feel the lingering effects of the 10,000 meters or did your marathon training have you prepared to race fast and competitively on back-to-back days?
DDIt was a last minute decision to go ahead and definitely race the 5,000 meters the next day. We had talked about it, but weren’t really sure. But we figured that there wasn’t anything to lose by racing with a good field of women and getting pulled along. It wasn’t fast early in the race, but later on the tempo speeded up and I did latch onto the pack. I did feel a little flat due to racing the 10,000 meters the day before and when the pace picked up I didn’t have any response. It was partially from running the 10k, but primarily from not having the necessary speed from doing a long enough training segment with speed sessions.
GCR:You led the 5,000 meters for a couple laps in the early going – was this a case of someone needing to set the pace and your deciding it might as well be you?
DDI decided to make the pace a bit more honest since no one else took the initiative. I knew I wouldn’t win in the last 800 meters of the race by sprinting off of a slow pace, so I set a pace that put me in position for a PR with the hope that if some runners tied up I might end up in the mix. It was kind of fun knowing that I was in a fast 5k race and leading as I don’t get many of those opportunities.
GCR:After a few laps you settled into third position on the inside of lane one and held this spot for several laps before the women started jockeying for position and you were in fifth or sixth place on the outside. What was your thought process and strategy during the middle of the race and how hard was it to maintain inside position?
DDTrack is very different for me now as I’m not used to the movement of the runners, the aggressiveness and the bumping. I tried to cover moves where I didn’t necessarily need to and moved around when I shouldn’t have, but that was due to my recent unfamiliarity with being in tight races and being on the track in general. I think the more I get on the track the better I will get as my experience grows this season.
GCR:With less than a mile to go you made a move toward the front and almost took the lead. Did you figure that with your strength if there was a time to try to the push the pace in an attempt to place in the top three that this was the moment?
DDExactly. With my strength and lack of speed it isn’t going to be the final 400 meters where I can make a move. I have to start 800 meters or 1,200 meters from the finish to push my competitors and to take the kick out of their legs. Unfortunately I didn’t have the capability to pull it off, but those were my tactics at that point.
GCR:Your sixth place finish in a personal best 15:25.35 was your second PR in two days and you looked very happy afterward. Was this from your effort, your former Arizona State teammate, Amy Hastings, placing second and qualifying for the World Championships or both?
DDI was super happy for Amy as it was a huge race for her. I was really glad that I was done racing for the weekend as I was very tired. And setting another PR was good as I didn’t know what to expect going into the race.
GCR:The strength you gained from your Boston Marathon buildup led to your personal bests at 5,000 and 10,000 meters. What does this suggest may be in your future at these distances with more focus on the track?
DDThe knowledge we took away from the weekend is that it was successful from marathon training and without being on the track. Now we are starting the next training segment where I look for some 5,000 meters races in Europe and I get on the track to try to improve my time and performances. Either way it sets me up well for next year if we decide to insert a track season into my plan. It gives us realistic thoughts that I could have another 30 seconds of improvement next year at 10,000 meters if there is focus on training for that distance. It’s nice to think that way and not be frightened by the prospect of another 30 second PR at the 2012 Olympic Trials.
GCR:Turning briefly from running and racing - congratulations on your recent engagement to Ryan Linden. Is there anything you would care to share about this special moment?
DDI basically knew we were going to get engaged at some point, but didn’t know he had a ring for me. I also didn’t know when he would ask me so it was a good surprise. It was great as we were up in northern Michigan which is a fun spot for us. Getting engaged there was very special as that area has been a big part of our time together. We have some really great friends who he has had as roommates at one time or another who all met us up there. It really helps makes Michigan feel like home which takes a while in a new part of the country.
GCR:Now let’s delve into your 2011 Boston Marathon performance. The final stages of the race turned into a three-woman battle for the victory. Were you physically prepared in training for a sprint finish and mentally ready for the tactics needed at the end that are usually necessary in much shorter track races?
DDWe wanted to run the first 20 miles to set up the final 10k so that it wasn’t like a track race - so it wasn’t like a 31:30 last 10k was needed. I did finish off a lot of workouts running fast as I knew it would be the last 10k where I would need to compete. In a marathon there can be a sprint finish, but it is a sprint finish after more than 20 miles that is different and I felt prepared for it
GCR:How difficult was it to change gears and sprint multiple times coming down Boylston Street after more than two hours and twenty minutes at sub-5:30 pace?
DDIt kind of just came because I was ‘in the moment.’ Towards the end I was definitely cramping up and that’s why I wasn’t able to respond the last couple of times. When I tried to push off a little harder than I had been and get up on higher my toes, the entire backs of my legs started to cramp up and said, ‘No Bert – we’re not doing that today!’ It was tough and that’s the difference between sprinting at the end of a marathon versus any other time.
GCR:What was you race plan, what were your thoughts when Kim Smith went off the front of the pack early on and did you feel you had as much of a chance as any of your competitors to win?
DDThe plan was to just run my race. I thought I was ready to click off 5:30 miles through 20 miles and at that point to hopefully be in contention and then really compete over the last 10k which is how it played out. When Kim went out front I knew it was too aggressive for me as I wasn’t going to be running under 2:20. If she was able to run that fast she was going to win and I certainly wasn’t going to beat her by running her race plan instead of mine. So she just had to find out if she could maintain that pace and, if so, she would win - but, if not, we would catch her.
GCR:As the race developed when did you start to focus on winning rather than just running a fast time?
DDThe emphasis on winning was there the whole time. It was just a matter of how the race played out. It really started coming into focus when we hit the hills. Right before the turn at the fire station when we got into the hills someone had really broken it open as they dropped a quick mile that was too fast for me – very aggressive. When we made the right turn and went up the hill there was a ton of carnage and I was able to just pick people off. I knew that if I was near the leaders with five miles to go that it would take hard work and pushing the pace but that I would have a shot to win.
GCR:What did you do in training either on the course or in other hilly venues to prepare you for both the up hills and down hills of the Boston Marathon?
DDWe recognized it was something we had to be prepared for. The up hills are a relief in a way because we pound the down hills for so long. In an early segment of my training my coaches have me do workouts that get me used to having beaten up quadriceps muscles before we go into a training phase with increased mileage. We did workouts on the first six miles of the course to get used to the down hills and to also recognize that there are stretches where we are climbing small hills. Getting familiar with the Boston Marathon race course and running with beaten up quads was valuable.
GCR:One of your coaches, Kevin Hanson, told me he was talking to many Americans who had raced successfully at Boston to try to get any helpful information that could assist you and give you a greater chance to win. Is there anything that Bill Rodgers, Joan Samuelson, Greg Meyer or anyone else contributed that helped your race?
DDThere is lots of information that I had heard for many years that seems basic, but hearing it over and over again was huge – things like being patient, knowing the down hills, knowing where big moves are made and the places where the race changes. A lot of moves are made on the steepest downhill between 15 and 16 miles before the up hills and many leads are lost going up Heartbreak Hill. So it was important for me to be listening to and recognizing what happens often and to be ready for when it started to happen during my race.
GCR:The Boston Marathon course has winding sections and turns where it is advantageous to run tangents. How did this play into your race?
DDThere were times early in the race when I was off of the main group because they were following Kim Smith and I was running the shortest route on the tangents. That benefited me quite a bit as I ran the shortest distance.
GCR:When you reflect back on the race, the course and your competitors, is there anything you could have done differently on the latter stages of the hills, immediately afterward, through Brookline with a couple of miles to go or on the home stretch that may have given you a better chance to win?
DDI am very pleased with what I did and it came out just about right. I can look back and see that in mile eight I was way too aggressive and didn’t need to be and look at my mile splits and try to figure it out better for next time. If there is anything I could change it would be in the latter miles. We were running about 5:20 pace for the last five miles and mile #25 was a 5:29. If I could of I would have been more aggressive there but it was a 5:29 because I was hurting at that point. That is just learning how to finish off a marathon and trying to not let it come down to a sprint finish by being stronger.
GCR:The 2011 Boston Marathon had great weather and an assisting tailwind. While on the course did the conditions appear to aid you while you were running or were you just competing and not thinking about whether the fast pace might be okay due to the favorable circumstances?
DDI didn’t really pay attention to whether the conditions were helping. I just went out and competed. I know at the start of the day, regardless of the conditions, I wouldn’t have thought I could run 2:22 because I didn’t think I was quite fit enough so obviously it did help.
GCR:As you heard split times along the way did you think, ‘This is a bit faster than I planned, but due the conditions I’m not overly concerned?’
DDI didn’t have too many instances that I thought we were too quick or that it was out of my range. Most of that took place in the last eight miles and that’s okay because that is the time to get aggressive. I was pretty much sticking with my plan though I knew there was a little assistance. I thought that 5:30s were fine, but that I shouldn’t run faster than that.
GCR:You have raced some fast half marathons in the past, running 1:12 three times. When you raced 1:10:22 at Naples, Florida in January this year, were you primed for that race and was it a big indicator that you were more ready than ever to race extremely strong at Boston?
DDIt was part of filling my schedule with some fun races after the 2010 Chicago Marathon. But it was also necessary to run faster than my old 1:12 PR just so I would feel comfortable going fast the first half in Boston. There wasn’t a big focus on the race, though it was important for me mentally to PR and run a fast half marathon heading into Boston.
GCR:Looking back at your marathon history, your first marathon was a 2:44:56 at Boston in 2007 on the day where there was an intense nor’easter the night before which almost cancelled the race. Did racing on the course once before help you this year and what are your other remembrances from your first marathon?
DDIt definitely helped knowing what the course was like, where the fans were and where the mood would change along the route. All those little things that you don’t normally think about came into play and were beneficial. I remember enjoying the event when I ran my first marathon. I knew it was something I wanted to do again. It didn’t go great, but it was enough when I finished that I thought that I could actually be pretty good at this.
GCR:At the 2008 Olympic Trials Marathon you were a relative unknown and finished 13th in a PR 2:37:50 after fading from being within eight seconds of eventual third placer Blake Russell at 22 miles. What allowed you to race so well most of the way and what were the reasons you were not able to maintain that effort during the final few miles?
DDTo be able to make the jump from what I did at Boston to racing well at the Trials the important factors were an increased marathon buildup and also running with my teammates who were training for the Trials. So going into the race I thought I was ready to race well. I think my lack of experience was my downfall during the race. I did a horrible job of taking in fluids and didn’t take any energy gels.
GCR:It’s often said that we learn more from those tough days where things don’t go as hoped for versus our successes. What did you learn from your Olympic Trials race that propelled you to your string of top-notch performances over the last few years?
DDIt made me realize I had to practice taking fluids and gels in training and particularly at a hard pace. It was a good learning experience and not being able to close out the race that day and having that disappointment has fueled much of my improvement. At the time it was the worst feeling in the world but has probably been the best thing for me as a marathoner.
GCR:Later that year at the 2008 Chicago Marathon you made a big name for yourself for the first time when you ran 2:31:33 for fifth place. What did you do during 2008 that led to this big break through?
DDWe felt I was ready to run that fast at the Olympic Trials so there was a process of going back and reviewing what happened at the Trials, why it went wrong, fixing those things and then closing out the race so I could gain confidence. We actually trained for a bit quicker than that pace, but on race day aimed for under 2:32 to ensure that I had a positive experience and finished off the race the way that I didn’t at the Trials. It was the next logical step in my progression.
GCR:In 2009 you ran an extremely smart race at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, running the second half faster than the first and moving up from 28th place at the halfway point to finish 11th in another personal best of 2:27:53. Did it help running on the four loop course and seeing your coaches and friends multiple times and how good did it feel mentally and physically to be so strong and passing runners the entire way?
DDI liked the loop course because I can break things up easily and I have an idea of where the other runners are along the way. The course was only so long in front of me and there was a turnaround where I could see runners ahead of me. It was hard to be patient as there were so many runners out fast, but I knew I was within my own race plan and that runners who weren’t doing this would come back to me. In the second half it helps to have runners coming back to me and passing them to get me through the final miles.
GCR:On a warm day in October, 2010 you raced to a fourth place at the Chicago Marathon in 2:26:20. Did anything that day indicate you were ready to take the next step and move up from fast times and top-five finishes to be able to challenge to win a major marathon?
DDAfter the World Championships I worked on shorter distances and got faster at 3k, 5k and 10k. Also my long runs were going very well so everything had been clicking. The training segment just before the Chicago Marathon was a bit down as some things had gone wrong, but I knew it had been a strong year of training before that period of time. My fitness was there, I was ready for a PR and on a cooler day with a better final training segment I could have run a bit faster. I think that is why my time at Boston this year was surprising to some as Chicago didn’t quite go the way we had hoped although it was a positive performance.
GCR:Your marathon progression is remarkably similar to that of Olga Markova, who kept running personal bests every race between 1990 and 1992 until she won the 1992 Boston Marathon. Olga told me recently that she didn’t do anything radically different, just incremental stepping up of the intensity as she could handle it with the same effort. Have you changed your training regimen in the past year or is your success the byproduct of several years of consistency?
DDIt has been a natural progression for me. We weren’t trying to knock ten minutes off of my time. The thinking each time was I was more experienced, I was learning how to race the marathon and running faster at shorter distances which was helpful. Each race involved small baby steps, but by learning each time it just made sense that I was ready to race more quickly.
GCR:You are a member of the Hanson-Brooks team and have been for several years. How did they approach you and what was your decision process in deciding to leave Arizona where you had finished college to run with their group in Michigan? What did you see in them and vice-versa as you were an excellent collegiate runner, but not an NCAA championship contender?
DDI contacted them as my collegiate coach knew the Hansons. He told me that they had a similar philosophy as that when I trained at Arizona State and that it would be an easy transition if I wanted to keep running and competing. I went out for a visit and saw what they had was a pure marathon group. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do that as I had only raced one 10k in college. It was a little daunting but I liked their structure and how they took athletes and made them better which was what I needed. It seemed like a good, logical fit for me.
GCR:What are some of the main training philosophies of the Hanson’s that have allowed you to improve so consistently and how is it different from your prior training regimens?
DDThere is heavy volume and a realization that the training is a process and that you will do a lot of work and may not get better for a while or just in small chunks at a time. Their philosophy is that if you keep putting in the work and the miles that you will see improvement. The other thing is patience as you don’t have to circle a specific meet like the NCAAs which is on one day. If you have a little injury you can change your racing schedule and be ready to race when you are healthy.
GCR:What was your highest average weekly mileage for two to three months of base building several years ago and prior to Chicago 2010 and Boston 2011? How about your longest training runs and how many do you do?
DDBefore my first Boston Marathon in 2007 I topped out at 110 miles for a week or two. My weekly mileage before the 2010 Chicago Marathon peaked at 115 miles and before this year’s Boston Marathon I got up to 120 miles for a couple of weeks. So it has just been a steady increase which isn’t much but I definitely notice the extra miles. The distance and number of my long runs is consistent as I don’t run long runs of over 20 miles and I do four or five of them before each marathon.
GCR:Would you comment on some of the important marathon sessions the Hansons are famous for such as the 26.2k ‘simulator run’ and the twin 6-mile tempo runs?
DDWhen those sessions go well it’s great, you can get a lot of confidence and it’s huge. But when I have had some go poorly, I’ve had to look at my training segment as a whole and realize that it is only one workout, it’s not that big of a deal and that things are still going fine.
GCR:What are some of your favorite training sessions to build your stamina and strength and then for sharpening prior to your most important races?
DDWe do some mile repeats or kilometer repeats that are about 20 seconds per mile faster than marathon pace which I really like as I feel sometimes I get stuck in that marathon rhythm. It’s just sort of slow all of the time so after working on my turnover on the track a couple of days later I feel more fresh and comfortable at marathon race pace. I run my mile repeats around 5:10s – a bit quicker than my marathon pace but nothing too fast. We don’t do power or speed training like repeat 200s or fast short hills – just strength training. We do some downhill training as I mentioned earlier to toughen up our quadriceps.
GCR:Is there anything you do in training that surprised you when it was introduced and would surprise others to hear is part of your regimen or cycle?
DDI keep an open mind about training so when my coaches have introduced a new element of training I just figure it is something I hadn’t thought of and I go with it.
GCR:In 2010 you had a very successful track season, racing an 8:51.08 3,000 meters indoors and 15:55.81 for 5,000 meters and 32:06.85 for 10,000 meters outdoors. How much did it help you in your past two marathons to be faster on the track and do you expect your 2011 PRs of 15:25.35 for 5,000 meters and 31:37.14 for 10,000 meters to propel you to faster marathon times?
DDGetting back to the track and getting faster has been a big part of my improvement in the marathon. I mentally know that I can go through the half marathon in 1:12 and can close in under 33 minutes if I have to. That is why the plan for this summer started with the 5k at Portland and the 10k at the U.S. Championships. I’ll do a couple more track races so hopefully I can knock off a few minutes from my personal best at the half marathon which should help me in the marathon.
GCR:Would you have raced the World Championships at 10,000 meters if you had been third at the USATF Championships, what are your racing plans for the rest of this summer and fall and will there be any changes to your training program as you prepare for the January, 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials?
DDI knew I had an outside shot at making it to Worlds in the 10k – my workouts had been coming along, but I had to get out and race. Yes I would have gone if I made the team. Absolutely. We are sorting out potential track races for the rest of this summer and should have that figured out soon. After racing on the track I’ll take a couple of easy weeks. Then the focus this fall will be trying to get another half marathon PR as I did before Boston.
GCR:The U.S. women’s marathon scene is stronger and deeper than ever with 20-somethings Kara Goucher, Shalane Flanagan, Amy Hastings and you, veterans Deena Kastor, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet and Blake Russell along with newcomers at every turn. How tough will it be just to make the team for the 2012 London Olympics?
DDIt is definitely one of those races you have to circle on your calendar to be really ready to go. No one is going to go to the Olympic Trials and run away with it or have it easy qualifying to make the team. It’s something I’ve been aware of for a while have been preparing for and it is turning out to be true. We each will have to make all of the right decisions to make it all come together on that day.
GCR:Speaking of the Olympics, is this a life-long dream or has it just come into focus in the last few years?
DDAnybody who plays sports has the Olympic dream in the back of their mind and so did I. It’s been cool to see it coming closer and closer and now it is actually a possibility that it can happen. I am trying to make all of the right decisions for the Trials race to put me in position to make the team as it is a huge honor.
GCR:Often in major marathons runners from a country such as Kenya, Ethiopia or Japan work together during the race. With the increasing strength of our U.S. women’s marathon team, do you see you and your fellow Americans possibly working together for 22 or 23 miles and then ‘may the best woman win?’
DDIt is interesting as the last two years at the World Cross Country Championships the women’s team had that thought process and it paid off with the team earning two bronze medals. In the marathon it can be tricky as each runner may have their own game plan and different style of running. I don’t see where any of us would be opposed to it if we were running the same pace. I could see us saying, ‘Hey, let’s work together and see if one of us can pull this off and win.’ It’s kind of like rooting for the home team, especially in a marathon major or the Olympics. It could happen since the number of fast American women marathoners who can compete on the world stage is growing.
GCR:Going back to college, you were a very good runner, but nothing could have predicted your prowess now on the world stage in the marathon. You raced track and cross country – which was your favorite?
DDI loved track. I did four events every track meet and even went down in distance as far as 400 meters. I liked getting on the track and running fast.
GCR:You were an NCAA All-American at Arizona State in track and cross country in 2003. How important and exciting was it at the time to earn these honors?
DDThose were big for me because I felt like I was putting in the work, it was paying off and I got a little recognition for it. It was nice. I thought I had more in me, but was happy to achieve what I did.
GCR:Even though you race for a distance team now, how exciting was it to race as a team in college in cross country races or as part of relay squads in track?
DDThat is what is difficult after finishing up collegiate racing as it is fun to have that group camaraderie at races and when training every day. Counting on each other to score points for the team in college helped all of us to get up for every race and a part of that is missing when you are done with school. Being a member of the Hansons team gives me some of that which is nice and keeps that team spirit flowing.
GCR:How much emphasis was placed on the Pac-10 Conference meets and do you have any memories of hard fought collegiate victories or close finishes? Were there any runners you seemed to always be battling during your collegiate years?
DDThe Pac-10 meet was huge, the Stanford team was very tough and Arizona was our rival. So there were opponents that we tried especially hard to beat. I remember one year running the 10,000 meters at the Pac-10 meet after my coach had told me that was the only race I would do. The next morning I woke up and did my usual eight mile shake out run. Later he said, ‘We put you in the 5,000 meters too, so get ready to go.’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But then I got out there and tried to score some points for my team. A girl from Stanford, Teresa McWalters, and I always seemed to be within two or three seconds of each other.
GCR:You went to high school in California so which colleges were you deciding between attending and did you select Arizona State for academic reasons, its distance running program and coach or a combination of both?
DDSelecting Arizona State was mainly due to Coach Walt Drenth being there as I feel he is one of the best coaches in the country. He does a great job of developing runners and setting them up not just for the Conference meet and NCAAs, but he gives runners the tools to be successful after college. He takes a long term approach. I liked his mentality and the girls on the team whom I met. I looked at a couple of other schools for academic reasons, but in the end figured it was undergraduate school and I could always go back for post-graduate studies wherever I desired as long as I did well enough in my four years.
GCR:At Hilltop High School in Chula Vista you won CIF titles at 1,600 meters you junior and senior years, adding a 3,200 meter victory your senior year, before placing fifth at the California State meet in the 1,600 meters and fourth in the 3,200 meters. Were the CIF races close and how much tougher was the competition at State? Do any of these races stand out?
DDThere was a big difference between the CIF meets and State, but there were a handful of girls in San Diego that made things tough. The competition while I was in high school got stronger so I always had to be improving to make it out of our conference. At the State meet it was another level as we had to be on our ‘A’ game just to make the final and then when we got to the final we had to find something else. It was challenging, but was good as it prepared me for the next level in college as things weren’t going to get any easier. The CIF races were all pretty close as there were good runners in San Diego. I was a front runner rather than coming from behind.
GCR:We all start somewhere in terms of recognition and you did very well in your Metro League, winning three cross country championships, as four-time Runner of the Year and setting Metro league records at 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters. How did this success locally spur you on to bigger and greater things?
DDAt the Conference meet I won so often that I got a mentality where I expected to race well and to win. I didn’t think about anyone else and competed with that thought process. It was kind of naïve, but when I faced runners who were equally talented I didn’t think thoughts like, ‘I shouldn’t be here.’ I could race and surprise myself rather than to fall into a pecking order in larger races where runners do sometimes when they know too much. I gained confidence in the local races which allowed me to do well on a bigger stage.
GCR:You also played soccer in addition to running track and cross country – how successful were you playing soccer and when did you realize that your potential as a runner was greater?
DDI started playing coed soccer when I was young – I think my dad snuck me on to a team a year early because my older sister was playing. In my first game I took a ball to the stomach, got the wind knocked out of me and my parents thought that it wasn’t going to work. I was upset and got put back in and from then on I played soccer year around which was fun. I was real small though and needed a certain style of play to do well. I played every position, but was mainly a midfielder. A few years later I started running in middle school. After a while I was getting beat up too much in soccer because of my size, but the conditioning was transferring into good track times. Eventually I decided if I wanted to do well in track I would have to focus like I did on soccer. So I switched focus and soccer faded away.
GCR:In high school and college you lived in climates that were predominantly warm or hot. How was the change in moving to and training in Michigan with its very cold winters? Do you regularly train in any warm weather areas in winter?
DDI was lucky as the first winter in Michigan was mild so it eased my transition. Then I just adjusted since I survived once and figured I was fine. We do train some in Florida during the winter, so when we are training for a couple weeks and its cold we look forward to an upcoming week and a half in Florida. That helps to break up the winter training. However, the cold weather does make us slow down sometimes which can be helpful.
GCR:How did each of your coaches from high school to Walt Drenth at Arizona State and now as a professional athlete under the guidance of Kevin and Keith Hanson contribute to your success and what would you say are the major points you learned from them that helped you with the physical and mental aspects of training and racing?
DDI had quite a few coaches in high school – four of them in four years – but I do keep in contact with one coach, Frank Brown, who helped me to get serious about my running and who taught me much about the sport. He really believed in me. When high school runners say, ‘I want to run in the Olympics,’ many coaches may think it is cute. Coach Brown told me that if I wanted to do so I would probably be best as a marathon runner and told me what I needed to do to be on that path. At Arizona State I learned to adapt to high intensity and volume which helped me to get ready for where I am now. Walt also helped me to have a mentality that we should be ready to compete to win, to run from the front and to be tough. He taught me that no matter what happened there was no whining or complaining about things we can’t control. The Hansons also have a belief in me and help me to totally believe that I can compete with anyone. They have also helped me adjust to another increase in training volume and intensity. I took us a little while to get on the same page, but now we can discuss training and racing and agree on what is the best plan.
GCR:Just as your coaches help with your success as a runner, how important is it to be part of the training group of high-level runners with whom you currently train?
DDIt is great to have people to get out the door to run with every day. Having a group to train with makes it easier on those days when it would be more fun just to stay in bed and get some rest. Being part of a group with similar goals also helps when we talk on runs about training and avoiding injuries.
GCR:Many athletes who excel come from hard-working families where much is expected and their family offers great encouragement. How did your upbringing form your character and make you into the woman you are today?
DDMy family always had the mentality that whatever we do we should do it right. When I was young we would have soccer practice and then when we got home we would practice a little more. I learned at an early age to always put in 110%. Whether it was in athletics or academics that is what was expected of us. It’s the same now for me – if running is going to be my job, then I’d better make sure I give 110% and do everything right.
GCR:When you look at your past progress, current training and what lies ahead in the future, do you think you are close to reaching your potential as a marathon racer or are faster times and at least one major marathon victory a distinct possibility? What are your goals for faster times, major marathon places or possibly medals at the 2012 Olympics or 2013 World Championships?
DDThere are endless possibilities. Tomorrow could be a whole new day and I could have something happen and never be able to run again. On the other hand, I’m not going to limit myself – I don’t know what the future will hold for me in marathon running but it’s going to be fun finding out. I’d love to one day be able to take a crack at the American marathon record or win a major marathon. So for any of us who are thinking along those lines we have to think about medaling in the Olympics as those are performances which equate to Olympic medals. But at the same time I’m working on going forward one step at a time, improving my track times and focusing on my next race. We’ll see what that leads to in my next marathon race.
GCR:Paraphrasing Jack Fultz, 1976 Boston Marathon champ and Sports Psychologist, ‘if we focus on the process, whatever outcome that is meant to be will happen.’ What do you think of that concept?
DDI like that and think it is really smart. I have to enjoy the process of training as if someone doesn’t enjoy the process then the outcome doesn’t really matter anyways. You have to have fun with all of the little parts and then see what happens.
GCR:Running is your sport, but it is also a job that only can last so long due to the limiting factors of aging. Have you given any thought to whether you would like to be involved in the sport as a coach, television announcer or in some other fashion once your competitive days have ended?
DDI don’t know how close I will stay to the sport. Sometimes I think it would be great to coach. I’ve also thought about setting up a running camp for runners coming out of high school that are going to college and helping them with advice on picking a school and other choices. I’d like to also have a running camp for runners finishing up in college who are faced with similar choices as they leave college and need advice on agents, getting into races, training groups and the like as there isn’t much information out there. It’s hard for me to think about projects like these now when I’m concentrating on training. Part of me thinks I may do something like this and part of me thinks I could do something completely unrelated to running at all as I may be burnt out. We’ll see as it gets closer.
GCR:Are there any major lessons you have learned during your life from working to achieve academically and athletically, the discipline of running, the patience of training many years with a goal and recent huge racing success that you would like to share with my readers?
DDThe biggest thing for me has been to be patient – not to get too high or too low – to ride things out and see where they land. Big goals will take e lots of hard work so be patient as you do the little things along the way that allow you to progress on the path on which you are headed.
 Inside Stuff
NicknamesDes; Desi
Favorite moviesAction movies and drama
Favorite TV showsI’m a big ‘Dexter’ fan
Favorite musicAlternative country
Favorite booksI like anything humorous
First carA Jeep Wrangler that was pretty rough
Current carTahoe
First JobRetail sales
SiblingsMy sister, Natalie, is my biggest fan
PetsTwo dogs, Atlas and Miles - a Golden Retriever and Chesapeake Bay Retriever. They run with me and are pretty fit
Favorite breakfastAny omelet. It’s sort of funny that I always seem to order a vegetarian omelet with a side of bacon
Favorite mealSteak - a good Rib eye
Favorite beveragesCoffee - served black
First running memoryWhen I was six or seven years old before the Carlsbad 5k race I ran the Junior Carlsbad Mile
Running heroesWhen I was growing up my hero was Monique Henderson. Her dad was the coach of our track team in middle school and I ran with Monique and her sisters. She was so good that I just enjoyed watching her run every day at practice. She worked cery hard, did everything right and it was awesome to see her run fast and get awards
Greatest running moment It’s kind of an off-beat moment, but it is making my first U.S. team for the World 20k Road Championships when I was the last person to make the team. Then I had one of those races where everything clicked, I ran with the faster runners on the team and I realized that I could race at that level. It triggered things mentally and kept me moving forward in the sport to see where I could go
Worst running momentThe 2008 Olympic Trials Marathon. I went into the race thinking I could make the team. To have it go so badly with such a painful last few miles was awful in the moment, though it probably turned out to be my best learning experience
Childhood dreamsTo compete in the Olympics
Funny memoriesOne time in training before the 2007 Boston Marathon a group of us were running through a muddy area and were all really grouchy that morning due to recent high mileage training. In the woods I tripped on a root and fell face first in a puddle and had mud all over me up to my nose. It kind of changed everybody’s mood as they thought it was hilarious. I figured I took one for the team since everyone was so grumpy. I always joke around that I did it on purpose, but really I wasn’t lifting my feet up enough as I was so tired
Worst date everThis wasn’t actually a date, but it happened when I was starting to date my current boyfriend. He was doing some snow removal work in the winter and was texting a lot on his phone. He would let people know when he would be there for plowing and the like. I was coming back into town from a trip and he got his messages mixed up as to who he was texting. He had meant to text me, ‘I’ll see you later.’ But he sent me a message that was supposed to go to someone needing snow removal that said, ‘Can’t wait to plow you later.’ I didn’t know about the mix up and thought, ‘Okay, I can’t talk to this guy anymore!’ It was pretty early on in our relationship so I asked him what his problem was and he straightened it out. Some cell phone, huh!
Favorite places to travelI love going back to my hometown of San Diego. I like northern Michigan in the summer with all of the lakes as it is quiet and calm. I haven’t spent much time abroad, but liked Italy when I travelled there