Since her surprise second-place finish at last spring’s Boston Marathon, Sarah Sellers has been straddling two worlds. As a nurse anesthetist, the 27-year-old works long and stressful hours in operating rooms, a profession that requires physical and mental stamina. When she leaves each shift, that strength is also essential as she pursues a budding career as an elite marathoner.
“For me, the mental fatigue is bigger than the physical fatigue. I try not to go home after work and just drive straight to go run,” she says. “Once I start running, I vent to myself what happened during the day. I still like having both. I like working, and I feel like it makes me a better runner.”
But with her surprising performance at Boston (and only her second marathon ever) on a brutally cold, wet and windy day, running has unexpectedly taken on a bigger role in her life. “I honestly planned on running Boston and that was it,” says Sellers, who lives in Tucson, AZ. with her husband Blake, an orthopedic surgeon. “I wasn’t trying to start a marathon career.”
In addition to winning $75,000 for second place, Sellers was presented with exciting opportunities that were unimaginable to her before. She signed deals with Altra; UCAN, a nutrition product company; and BioFreeze, an external pain reliever for muscles and joints.
To give herself more time and energy for running, Sellers recently cut her work schedule to 30 hours a week, a change her husband encouraged. “She needs to give [running] all she has to see where she can take it,” he says.
Still, Sellers is busier than ever, awake and running by 4:30 a.m. on days she works at the hospital. After a 10-hour shift, she will run again, putting in a total of 16 miles for the day. “For her to be able to train competitively as a professional runner and be a healthcare professional, it’s amazing,” her husband says. “She’s my role model.”
Life since Boston, although filled with lots of positive experiences, has been nerve-racking at times. Sellers acknowledges that she felt a lot of pressure to have another extraordinary race and prove Boston wasn’t a fluke.
“I had a feeling that no matter what I did, I would disappoint people,” she says. But she eventually shifted her focus. “I see myself as being in the sport in the long haul. I am new to marathoning. I’m trying to set individual goals and be happy with the progress I’m making.”
At this year’s TCS New York City Marathon (her first time competing as a pro) Sellers ran 2:36.37 and crossed the finish line as the 18th woman overall. Although it was a 7.5-minute personal record, Sellers wanted to run faster and initially felt disappointed. But that race, even if it wasn’t exactly what Sellers hoped for, turned out to be what she needed. “I feel like a weight has been lifted now that I’ve come back and run New York,” she says. “I feel more confident moving forward.”
Continued encouragement from fans on social media, including some of the sport’s most-admired distance runners, certainly helps, too. “There was a ton of support after [New York] which was really cool because I was still worried that there are some naysayers,” she says. “Kara Goucher was very supportive after Boston and was very supportive after New York.”
Without a doubt, her husband is her biggest supporter of all, despite his own extremely-demanding work schedule. He says he sometimes feels bad he can’t do more for his wife on a daily basis, like help cook meals, but does use his few vacation days to travel with her to races. “I want her to stay healthy, have fun and enjoy the experience,” he says.
With her New York behind her, Sellers is focused on healing a nagging hip and gearing up for a spring marathon. She’s also slowing down to enjoy life’s little things, like the new saltwater fish tank she and Blake bought with some of her Boston Marathon prize money. A coral reef, a few saltwater fish and maybe an eel will make their new home in the 110-gallon aquarium. It’s a work in progress, the Sellers say.
*Editor’s Note: Our original headline included “infamous” in its title which is incorrect in regards to Sarah Sellers and we have updated our headline to be more accurate.