When Desiree Linden crossed the finish line on Monday morning, there were tears of joy and celebration for the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in more than three decades.
Four minutes and 10 seconds later, when the second-place finisher, cold and soaking wet from the April rain, had completed the race, there were mostly questions.
Who was Sarah Callister Sellers? How did a woman with a full-time job and no racing sponsorships manage to beat all but one of some of the best marathon runners in the world?
“I didn’t even know it was a possibility,” she told the Boston Globe after the race. “I was trying to ask officials what place I was in. I had no idea when I crossed the finish line.”
Weber State track coach Paul Pilkington had been watching the race on television when he heard the announcers say Sellers had just finished in second place — and he had some questions, too.
“I kept hitting refresh on the race results,” he recalled. “Did they miss somebody? Did I miss somebody?”
Then Pilkington let out a cheer for Sellers, the former Ogden High and Weber State track standout, who was suddenly no longer a mystery to the running world.
“I think I’m going to wake up and this will be a dream,” Sellers said after the race.
Sellers was a standout runner at Ogden High from 2005-09. But even retired Ogden track coach Don Hall, who watched the race on television Monday, was surprised to see his former star runner finish second in Boston.
“I was stunned, shocked, amazed,” he said. “I was jumping up and down.”
She went on to be a nine-time Big Sky champion during her career at Weber State from 2009-12. She won the 5,000 meters and 10,000-meter title three times each at the Big Sky outdoor championships and won the 5,000 meters twice and the 3,000 meters once at the indoor championships. But Sellers’ collegiate career was cut short when she broke her foot running a race during her junior season, Pilkington said.
“I always felt like her career should have ended better,” the coach said. “It’s great to have her reach this level now.”
Sellers ran her first marathon in September of last year in Huntsville — and she set a course record in the process. After that, she set her sights on Boston with hopes of a top-15 finish that would automatically earn her a spot at the Olympic trials in two years.
Sellers now lives in Tucson, Ariz., with her husband, Blake Sellers, and works as a nurse anesthetist. But she still relies on Pilkington for coaching. She wakes up at runs each day at 4 a.m. before work. She runs about 85 miles each week, including a number of sustained runs — 20-milers at a 6-minute pace. Then on Mondays, she calls Pilkington to discuss her training and make adjustments.
With rain and strong winds in the forecast for Monday, Pilkington and Sellers spoke over the weekend to dial in her strategy for the race. The coach instructed her to slow her pace slightly in the difficult conditions.
“She has the right mentality. She’s very tenacious and tough mentally. In such bad conditions today, that played to her benefit,” Pilkington said. “… She ran a very smart race. You look at the field, a lot of them those conditions took too much of them.”
Yuki Kawauchi passed defending champion Geoffrey Kirui in Kenmore Square to win the men’s race in an unofficial 2:15:58 and earn Japan’s first Boston Marathon title since 1987. Kirui slowed and stumbled across the Copley Square finish line 2:25 later, followed by Shadrack Biwott and three other U.S. men.
On the fifth anniversary of the finish line explosions that killed three and wounded hundreds more, Linden and Kawauchi led a field of 30,000 runners through a drenching rain, temperatures in the mid-30s and gusts of up to 32 mph on the 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton.
In Copley Square, crowds thinned and muffled by the weather greeted Linden, the California native who lives in Michigan, with chants of “U-S-A!”
Linden — a two-time Olympian — finished the race in 2 hours, 39 minutes and 54 seconds. Sellers crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 44 minutes and 4 seconds. It was the first time two Americans have finished first and second in Boston since 1979. Her finish is the best ever by a native of Utah at the Boston Marathon.
“I knew she was in very good shape,” Pilkington said. “But if you would have told me she was second at Boston, I would have said no way.”
Sellers was in disbelief herself when she called her coach Monday, Pilkington said.
“That’s the great thing about our sport,” he said. “It’s rare for something like this to happen. It’s a Cinderella story.”
Sellers and her coach will now turn their attention to picking her next big race — possibly a marathon in Chicago, Berlin or New York next fall — as she continues her preparation for the Olympic trials.
“She’s never going to be the unknown racer ever again,” Pilkington said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story