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Full Steam Ahead: 5 Questions With Desiree Davila

We caught up with the 2012 Olympic marathoner, who is recovering from injury.

From 2008 through 2010, Desiree Davila was quietly putting together a solid professional career for herself. Then, in 2011, she turned up the volume and started making all kinds of noise.

The native of Chula Vista, Calif., who trains in Rochester Hills, Michigan as part of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, finished 13th at the 2008 Olympic Trials Marathon in April and followed that up with a 5th place finish at Chicago later that year in 2:31:33. In 2009, she was the second American finisher in 11th (5 seconds behind Kara Goucher in 10th place) at the World Championships in Berlin, posting a personal best of 2:27:53. She returned to Chicago in the fall of 2010 and improved her finish by one place, while taking another minute and a half off her PR. The following April, in Boston, she captivated the crowd with a gutsy charge to the finish line on Boylston Street that saw her come up just two seconds short of victory. Her 2:22:38 finish was a massive personal best, and the fastest time ever run at Boston by an American woman.

Building off the momentum of Boston, Davila took to the track that summer, lowering her 5,000m and 10,000m personal bests to 15:08.64 and 31:37.14, respectively, before beginning her buildup to the Olympic Trials Marathon in January 2012, where she found herself amongst the favorites to make the Olympic team. Showing the same grittiness as she did at Boston nine months before, Davila battled Shalane Flanagan to the finish line, finishing second in 2:25:55 to punch her ticket to London.

RELATED VIDEO — Desiree Davila: “Sometimes you just gotta fight through.”

During the buildup to London last summer, however, Davila began experiencing hip pain — which was originally diagnosed as an injury to her hip flexor tendon — which compromised her training, and eventually forced her to drop out of the Olympic Marathon on August 5. Upon returning home from London, Davila was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her femoral shaft. The healing didn’t go as quickly as planned, however, and she was forced to withdraw from April’s Boston Marathon, where in 2011 she came up just seconds short of victory on Boylston Street. caught up with Davila recently and checked in on the status of her recovery, the changes she’s made to her training and what she hopes to accomplish heading into the next Olympic cycle.

What have you been up to since the day of the Olympic Marathon, when you had to drop out due to injury?

Pretty much, I’ve been getting healthy since then. I came back to the States, got a correct diagnosis and found out I had a stress fracture in my femoral shaft. So, I took 12 weeks or so off — no running — and a little bit of cross-training toward the end and have just been building back up really slowly. I’ve had these really tiny setbacks, nothing where I’ve had to start over from square one, but I’ve also been pretty cautious based on the fact that I had a stress fracture in my femur.

Are you back to being able to train without restriction given the severity of the injury you sustained and what changes have you made to your training now that  it’s in your rearview mirror?

I’m getting there, yeah. I think things are in the 80 percent range in terms of healing and we’re kind of introducing new things like building up the mileage slowly, introducing intensity and then backing off and just putting in more mileage. It’s just been this really gradual process but it’s moving along in the right direction. I don’t think it will be too much longer till I’m healthy, and then it’s putting on the fitness. It’s going pretty smooth now. Knock on wood, there will be no setbacks.

I’ve been working with John Ball down in Phoenix on just general strength stuff, the stabilizing muscles, the core, things like that. And I think incorporating that [into my training] will make a huge difference. It’s a program that was made for me and the things I need to work on and it’s not just a random thing that someone made up and thought it might be good. It’s good to be able to work on my weaknesses and I think that will make a huge difference . Obviously, I think I have a better understanding of my body and knowing the difference between pushing through something and “OK, this is an injury.” In the past, I couldn’t tell you the difference until it was beyond the point of being able to fix it, and I think that’s something I’m still kind of learning right now. We’ll go out and do a hard day and I’ll have a little bit of soreness and think, “Is this because I’m going backward or is it because the soft tissue is adjusting to working hard?” So it’s being a lot more cognizant of that.

How disappointing was it when you realized you weren’t progressing as quickly as you would have liked with your recovery and had to pull out of Boston? 

It was pretty tough. After the Olympics, the first thing you say to yourself is, “It’s alright, I have Boston. I’ll look forward to that, get healthy and start gearing up for that.” And then you’re not doing anything. You’re just resting and your mind’s kind of stewing, like, “I’m going to be so out of shape and this is going to have to go perfect if I start in January. I can’t have any setbacks.” I had a couple little things happen and was just like, “It’s just not feasible and I’m not gonna force it.” I think the worst thing I could have done was force Boston to happen. Kevin, Keith and I made the call pretty early, so it’s obviously disappointing, but I also think it’s probably the best decision and I actually felt quite a bit of relief taking that off the table and saying, “let’s just do this the right way, get 100 percent healthy and then put things into place.” I think the most relief came when I got the correct diagnosis. I was like, “OK, this is a real injury. It’s not in your head. It’s not just tendinitis that’ you’re trying to fix that’s not going away. And as bad a stress fracture in your femur is, you just take time off and get going again. It’s not like sorting out a mystery injury — you know exactly what you need to do and how long it takes to heal. So it was a big relief to get that diagnosis.

In the past year, your team, the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, has added some bonafide studs to the group such as Neely Spence Gracey, Jake Riley and Bobby Curtis. What do those additions do for the team dynamic and what does that do for you as one of the veterans on the team?

The team right now is great, and getting in people like Neely [Spence], Jake [Riley] and Bobby Curtis shows how far we’ve come and it shows that superstars want to come here, which is great. I hope more people do come and keep raising that bar. As far as Neely’s training, she’s on the much shorter end and I’m doing the longer stuff, but it’s a great balance because she obviously has her strength in the speed stuff, so once I get back going she’s going to push me on that for sure, and when it comes to the strength stuff I think that I’m going to be able to push her and it’s just going to make everyone better. And that’s always been the idea of the group: to go out there and make each other better by running hard pretty much every day.

Looking ahead, what would you like to accomplish in the next 3-5 years?

Obviously this year will be a rebuilding year, just putting in that work that I’ve missed since August, or July. After that I think I can keep improving upon what I’ve done to this point. Once I get back into the full swing of things, I think I can PR, even faster than my Boston time. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I think I’ve shown that I can PR from that, whether it’s 2014 or 2016, I think that’s possible. I think I can compete in a major marathon and obviously I’d love to get back to the Olympics and have a crack at the medal stand. Those are long-term goals and you never know how things are going to go, but those things keep me motivated.