In today’s driving cold rain, it was no surprise that there were surprises. The winners were astonishing enough. But five unknowns from second to sixth in the women’s race? All Americans, expect for the Canadian in third? All five described themselves as in shock. Us too.
Before the race, many predicted three or four American women in the top five places. But, apart from Des Linden, not these Americans. To write what no pundit could have predicted: in the 2018 Boston Marathon, Sarah Sellers, Krista DuChene, Rachel Hyland, Jessica Chichester, and Nicole Dimercurio placed second to sixth. Savour the names.
They outran the usually rampant Shalane Flanagan, reigning New York City champion and one of the pre-race favourites, who ended (courageously, it should be said) in seventh place, merely the sixth American.
As the names clicked up on the finishers’ leaderboard, a puzzled hush fell in the usually voluble media room. Who is Sarah Sellers, who won the second-place $75,000 today? Who are these weather-proof women who took the prizes when the Kenyans and Ethiopians succumbed to storm-at-sea conditions?
Sarah Callister Sellers, second in 2:44:04, is a Utah native, now living in Tucson, Arizona, a nurse anaesthetist married to a resident orthopaedic surgeon.
“My husband Blake arranged time off to be here in support, which meant a lot,” she said.
Sellers started as a very promising track runner at Weber State University, in Ogden, Utah, where she was a nine-time Big Sky champion at 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. She was equally outstanding academically, with a 4.0 GPA in nursing.
But a stress fracture curtailed her running career, and grad school kept her sidelined. The last two years she began training again, still guided by Paul Pilkington, her Weber coach, a top U.S. marathoner of the 1990s.
Surprises may be Pilkington’s speciality. He was once famed as the Rabbit Who Won when as the hired pacer at the 1994 Los Angeles marathon, he unexpectedly kept right on going and won the race.
It didn’t take long for Sellers’s talent to show again, despite full-time work as a nurse anaesthetist that obliges her to train before and after work. A 2017 marathon debut at Huntsville, Utah, in a race record 2:44:27, confirmed that her running was worth pursuing. Training 100 miles a week, she ran a 1:14:15 half marathon in Phoenix as part of her build-up, with no taper. That made her hope for the top 15 at Boston, and maybe an Olympic Trials qualifier.
IT WAS LIKE A HURRICANE OUT THERE. IN THE LAST FIVE MILES I WAS PASSING WOMEN I DEEPLY RESPECT.”
“I knew she was in good shape because her workouts were going so well. She has persevered through injuries, graduate school, and a full-time job,” Pilkington said.
The outcome was better than even their wildest hopes.
“I’m in shock,” Sellers said. “It was like a hurricane out there. In the last five miles I was passing women I deeply respect, and who I see as far superior to me. I still think I’m going to wake up and find all this was a dream.”
It was no dream. Her life just changed.
Krista DuChene, third in 2:44:20, went into the race hoping to make the top three masters. (This story is full of such now-incredible statements.) A 41-year-old from Brantford, Ontario, Canada, she last ran Boston 13 years ago, when she finished in just over 3:00.
“I’m a mother of three, and the first two are boys. When I had my third, it took me an hour to believe she really was a girl. That’s how I feel today. It’s surreal. I didn’t believe I was third until they showed me the printed result, she said.
A former hockey player, self-described jock, and a registered dietician, DuChene hit the top in Canada when she won the national championship in the Ottawa Marathon in 2010. Her PR is 2:28:32, and she made the Olympic team in 2016, but in the heat of Rio she placed a disappointing 35th, well behind Flanagan, who placed sixth that day.
“IT’S SURREAL. I DIDN’T BELIEVE I WAS THIRD UNTIL THEY SHOWED ME PRINTED RESULT.”
Boston’s weather today was a lot more Canadian.
“We have plenty of rain and wind in winter by Lake Ontario,” DuChene understated.
Rachel Hyland, fourth in 2:44:29, will be a hometown hero, as she joined the Boston Athletic Association team in 2011. From Andover, Massachusetts, a graduate of Williams College, now a 31-year-old Spanish professor, she is married to Sean Hyland, who placed 135th in the 2015 Boston Marathon. Coached by Terry Shea, she came into the race with a 2:41:26 PR at Chicago in 2016.
“I hoped for sub-2:40 in good conditions,” Hyland said. Fourth place at Boston probably compensates for missing a PR.
The official results show Jessica Chichester fifth in 2:45:23. But with a PR of 2:53:30, was not even seeded in the professional field’s start corral. It was her chip time from the second wave start that revealed her as the fifth placer.
Unfortunately, her non-elite start means she is not eligible for the $15,000 fifth-place prize money. Maybe the B.A.A. will review that policy in some way, in recognition of a dramatic contribution to the race.
Chichester, 31, is a nurse practitioner originally from Mount Morris in upstate New York. When she moved to Brooklyn, she joined the Dashing Whippets Running Team, a club that lists “diversity” among its missions. She is coached by her brother Tim, a 2:21 marathoner known to her as “Brochester.”
“Boston and I have never agreed,” Chichester said. “I’ve had my worst races here. This time, I hoped to qualify for the Olympic Trials, but the weather forecast was unsettling. Still, I stuck with my plan, and ran by feel, sheltered behind other runners most of the way, felt good until the last two miles, ran an eight-minute PR, so ended very happy.”
Nicole Dimercurio, sixth in 2:45:52, is 27, from Lenior, North Carolina, though much of her running has been done in Georgia. She first made a mark when she placed 25th in the 2014 Peachtree 10K road race. She runs with ZAP Fitness.
“I carry a journal everywhere, and I’m religious about writing down my goals,” she states in a club website profile.
Like all these deservedly delighted women, Dimercurio will have something to write about on this wet Boston Monday evening.
This article first appeared in the Runner’s World Magazine.