At 12:16 p.m., at a miserable Boston Marathon, a woman whose eyes were covered from the rain by a blank, black cap and ears shielded from the 20 mph winds by a black headband crossed the Boylston Street finish line.
Few who braved the worst Patriots’ Day weather in 30 years paid attention to Sarah Sellers. After all, Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi had won the men’s race exactly 11 seconds earlier, his eyes popping in disbelief. She wasn’t wearing the typical branded outfits of the elite stars.
Nobody would have known who Sellers was if her last name wasn’t on the bib pinned to a logo-less blue tank top. She had never raced a major marathon nor had a profile on any major track and field website. Her profession is nursing (one of two nurses to finish in the top five on Monday, actually).
“I feel like an outsider,” Sellers told local TV afterward. “I have no credentials.”
She does now. Sellers, a 26-year-old nurse anesthetist who paid the $185 entry fee, finished second in the world’s oldest annual marathon and will collect $75,000.
“I don’t know [what I’ll do with the money],” she told Flotrack. “I didn’t even think it was a possibility that I would be in this position.”
Sellers only entered Boston to join her brother, Ryan. So she recorded a qualifying time on Sept. 16 by winning the Huntsville Marathon in Utah, also known as “The Full Monte.” It starts near the top of Monte Cristo and descends 4,000 feet.
She clocked 2:44:27, a time that would have placed 28th at the 2017 Boston Marathon.
Sellers, then Sarah Callister, was a Utah state champion in high school but never reached NCAAs on the track at Weber State, graduating in 2013 with a navicular stress fracture and then taking two years off from training.
“I never really reached my peak in college,” Sellers told Flotrack. “I think I ran well, but I was kind of juggling a lot of clinical hours with nursing school, not a lot of sleep.”
She completed Florida grad school classes for nursing and anesthesia last year and moved to Tucson, training in up to 90-degree heat for what would be the coldest Boston Marathon of her lifetime.
She ran before work at 4 a.m. or after at 7 p.m., coached long distance by Weber State’s Paul Pilkington. Pilkington famously won the 1994 Los Angeles Marathon as a pace setter and high school English and history teacher.
Her goal on Patriots’ Day was to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials by running 2:37. That was before she saw Monday’s forecast.
She readjusted. The time was no longer the goal. Top 15 would be nice. Sellers ran smarter — her second 13.1 miles were six seconds faster than her first 13.1 miles.
Her time was 2:44:04. She didn’t think much of it. After all, Kawauchi beat her to the finish, and the male winner usually finishes about 15 minutes after the female winner in real time due to the staggered starts.
Maybe she finished in the top 10, she thought. She did pass four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan between miles 23 and 25, giving her hero a thumbs-up and telling her, “good job.”
“Shalane would have blown me away on a day with good conditions,” Sellers said.
As cameras focused on Kawauchi and Linden, Sellers sought out placement.
“I couldn’t really hear what people were saying,” she said. “I was a little out of it. When someone said second, I was totally in disbelief.”
Sellers had finished 4 minutes, 10 seconds, behind winner Desi Linden. But no other women were between her and Linden, a two-time Olympian.
A press conference followed. She sat next to unlikely third-place finisher, Canadian Krista DuChene, a 41-year-old mother of three who placed 35th at the Rio Olympics.
“I had to see it to believe it that I was third,” said DuChene, a registered dietitian. “It was very similar to when we had our third child after having two boys. It took me an hour to believe she was a girl.”
Fourth-place finisher Rachel Hyland has taught Spanish for the last seven years at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., 25 miles north of Boston.
Fifth-place finisher Jessica Chichester, a nurse practitioner, didn’t even start in the elite women’s wave.
Sixth-place Nicole Dimercurio was 73rd at the 2016 Olympic Trials.
They all beat some of the world’s greatest distance runners. Many of the elites dropped out, but the forecast was well-known days ahead of the race. Kenyans and Ethiopians combined to win the previous 10 Boston Marathons. On Monday, all three Ethiopian elites failed to finish. Same for two of the three Kenyans.
Sellers and the other unknowns at the top of the leaderboard savored one of the gnarliest days in Boston history.
“I still think I’m going to wake up, and it’s going to be a dream,” Sellers told LetsRun.com.
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