The woman who finished 10th overall and top American in Monday’s heat-soaked 116th Boston Marathon did it by shrugging and ignoring her watch.
“When we first heard the weather was going to be what it was going to be, you get all the calls from everyone wondering what you’re going to do,” said Sheri Piers, of Falmouth, ME, who also placed second in the masters division. “But … it’s out of your control. There’s no sense in panicking about it because we’re all going to be doing the same thing and feeling the same way. I wore a watch, but I didn’t even hit it for every split. I thought ‘I don’t have to worry about this stupid watch and looking at a split that’s not where it should be.’”
When the 40-year-old Piers was reminded that she’d just finished in the Boston Marathon top 10, she thought back to that watch and mused, “Maybe I should throw it out.”
Piers, 40, was a high school cross country champion in Maine, but didn’t really emerge in the larger running world until a breakthrough performance at the Philadelphia Marathon in 2007, where she finished eighth in 2:45:37 and qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Boston, where she placed 16th in 2:38:16. She ran the Trials again last January, finishing 24th in 2:37:09—just five seconds off her personal best.
It was because of those Trials that most top Americans skipped Boston this year, but Piers is a regular there and 2012 would be no exception. “Boston is the race that gets me through the rotten winter in Maine,” she said. “I always run it.”
Despite the mild winter this year in New England, Piers still did most—well okay, all—of her training on a treadmill. As a mother of five, including two older stepchildren and three kids 9, 10, and 12, and working full-time as a nurse practitioner, the treadmill is fired up no later than 5:30 a.m. most days for another round of “American Idol” on the DVR, or perhaps the morning news.
Usually the treadmill offers respite from the ice and cold, but this year it may have led to another bonus: it’s in a room that gets “really, really hot. I guess it helped.”
Also helping was training partner Kristin Barry, whose job on Monday was to get to as many points on the Boston course as she could to give Piers her place both overall and in the master’s competition. Barry, who earlier this year ran her second U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and left Piers on her own to train for Boston, was driven around the course by her father, who apparently was quite the impressive chauffeur, appearing in five or six spots.
“They kept popping out in places and I was like ‘what? How did they even get here?’” said Piers. “She did a good job. It was awesome.”
Piers and Barry also have another partnership. Together, they coach the boys’ cross country team at Cheverus High School in Portland, ME.
For much of the race, Piers and 40-year-old Svetlana Pretot of France ran near each other, trading leads. But when Pretot, who owns a personal best of 2:32, started to build a lead, Piers let her go.
“I could see her up there but I thought, ‘not today,’” she said. “I decided that I really just needed to finish this race.”
Along the way, Piers said, she tried to stay wet, running under every hose and dumping water from cups over her head. Her shoes felt like sponges, she acknowledged, but she managed to stay cool. The temperature in Hopkinton at the start of the women’s race, at 9:32 a.m., was 77 degrees; at the finish in Boston it was 84 degrees. Her kids, who were at home in Maine following the race over the internet, were excited over her impressive placing and relieved just to hear her voice on the phone as she gave them a post-race report.
“Do you feel OK, mommy?” they asked.
If Piers has any regrets over running Boston on Monday, they have nothing to do with the heat: It meant she had to miss the More Magazine/Fitness Magazine Women’s Half-Marathon in New York City the day before. Last year, she won that race in 1:17:27.
“I felt bad because it was this weekend,” she said. “I loved it. I thought it was great to run with all women, inspiring just to feel that everyone out there was doing the same thing and it didn’t matter how fast or slow. You felt powerful. It was grueling and tough but a lot of fun.”
A lot like Boston.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg