Sports

Rachel Hyland, Spanish Teacher and Andover Coach, Earns Fourth Place Finish at Boston Marathon

Courtesy of Rachel Hyland

Hyland (center) at around mile 23, before she began to pass a lot of her strongest competition. To her right is Sarah Sellers, who finished second.

Rachel Hyland, Andover Girls Track & Field and Cross Country Coach and Instructor in Spanish, placed fourth at the Boston Marathon amidst rain, violent wind, and an elite field on Monday morning, crossing the line in 2:44:29 hours. This race was Hyland’s ninth marathon and her first top ten-finish competing at this distance.

“When I heard I was in fourth place after finishing, I didn’t believe it for at least a half hour. A volunteer told me I was fourth, and I didn’t believe it. I knew I was doing well because I had passed some of the professional, highly ranked, some of the best American distance runners, which was pretty surreal. I passed them at miles 24 and 25, so I knew I was doing pretty well. I just couldn’t fathom a top-ten or top-five finish,” said Hyland.

Hyland finished behind American runners Desiree Linden and Sarah Sellers who placed first and second in 2:39:44 hours and 2:44:04 hours, respectively, followed by Canada’s Krista DuChene at 2:44:20 hours. Hyland finished ahead of a field that included 2017 World Marathon Champion Shalane Flanagan, who finished seventh in 2:46:31 hours; 2017 Boston Marathon Champion Edna Kiplagat, who finished ninth in 2:47:14 hours; and American 10,000-meter and half-marathon national record holder Molly Huddle, who finished 16th in 2:50:28 hours.

The combination of rain and wind played to Hyland’s strengths despite being a major deterrent for many other competitors.

“I think the beginning was tough because we were pretty cold. [During] miles ten to 13, it was really pouring, and the wind picked up, and [I] felt these huge gusts. Luckily, I was in a pack of women where we all helped each other out through that stretch. I felt a little disoriented at one point, because it was hard to run in a straight line…” said Hyland.

Erica Maker, Hyland’s cross country coach during her time at Williams College, said, “She is just tough as nails. I think that is probably the reason why she was able to run so well in the conditions from Monday, because she is just one of those kids where it doesn’t faze her. She could run through anything.

While attending Williams, where she graduated from in 2009, Hyland was a member of the cross country and track teams, and captained the cross country team alongside Lauren Philbrook. Philbrook and Hyland have been friends since their freshman year of college, and they ran together during the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2016, where Philbrook placed thirty-second with a time of 2:43:58 hours and Hyland placed 46th in 2:46:21 hours.

Philbrook said, “I think a lot success in that is also due to her mental toughness, which was definitely very clear yesterday in that she just kept going and she kept running through that terrible, terrible weather because she is a very [mentally] tough person.”

Hyland’s strengths in adapting to the weather and pacing also contributed to her placement in the marathon. While many other runners continued with their original race plan despite Monday’s poor weather, Philbrook said that Hyland analyzed the situation.

“She’s good at realizing that, ‘Okay, today is probably not going to be a personal best for me, so I need to gauge what I think [is] the appropriate effort to start out at to have the best race possible,” said Philbrook.

According to Hyland, although she felt she struggled at the start of the race and improved later, she ran a nearly even second half to her first, splitting 1:22:13 and 1:22:16 for each half-marathon. By contrast, some of Hyland’s competitors began to slow down after the halfway mark. For instance, Flanagan held a 31-second lead over Hyland at the halfway point, but Flanagan’s second half of 1:26:49 hours led to Hyland’s passing her between the 35-kilometer and 40-kilometer mark of the race.

According to Hyland, she felt particularly encouraged at the top of Heartbreak Hill, a steep half-mile incline about 20.5 miles into the race known for being exceptionally taxing on runners who have already run three quarters of the marathon.

Hyland said, “I think I started feeling better a little later on, especially through the hills in Boston. When I reached the top of Heartbreak Hill and realized that it was downhill or flat from [Heartbreak Hill], I almost got choked up. Just the emotion of getting to that point in the race and having done so much in training and seeing all the fans out there cheering… was a magical moment at the top of Heartbreak. Then, of course, when you have only a few miles to go, it’s really exciting because you’re almost there.”

Hyland continued, “Maybe mile 24.5 or mile 25, my quads just felt like they were shutting down. It’s pretty typical when you run a marathon, so I was very happy to see that finish line. I sort of had a rush of emotion just thinking about 2013 [the year of the Boston Marathon bombing], the bombings at the finish line, and historically what that finish line means and to cross, it was pretty unbelievable.

Peter Farwell, the head cross country and distance coach at Williams, attributed some of her strong pacing skills to lessons taught at Williams.

In an email to The Phillipian, Farwell wrote, “She learned from us in Williams [cross country] and track to run her own race, pace well, push hard to the finish. Thus, at the Boston [Marathon] she didn’t go in lead pack, but set herself up at her optimum effort that could be sustained for the length of 42 kilometers. She is an excellent pacer. Thus she passed many in the latter stages. At Williams we also run lots of mountain trails, and dirt road hills, and she showed her ability by mastering Heartbreak hills in the crucial 17th to 21st miles of the course.”

Farwell continued, “She keeps a positive mindset throughout, which is especially important ‘when the going gets tough’. And as they say, then ‘the tough get going’, and she sure did. One needs to embrace the conditions, and the challenges, not be concerned with the time, but the effort, and she gets an “A+” for this marathon.”

Throughout the race, Hyland said her goal was to run based on how she felt, as opposed to her time at each stage of the race. She did not look at her watch at all throughout the marathon. The process in preparing for the marathon was intense both physically and mentally, according to Philbrook. Philbrook said, “She would do a long run every weekend. I think she would go between 18-24 miles pretty much every weekend for about three months before the marathon. She would do at least one midweek workout where she would go up to maybe 16 miles and getting up to as many as 100 miles a week. Doing multiple runs a day, physically training for that. She does a lot of figuring out what she’s going to eat during the marathon and figures out what gels and stuff is going to work for her. I think in her workouts she does a lot of mental training and visualization about what is going to be on the course, what the hills are going to feel like,” said Philbrook.

Hyland said, “Specific training for this race, I started in January. I do a lot of long runs with marathon pace [pieces]. It could be a 20 mile run, with eight miles at marathon pace, and then two weeks later, 10 miles at marathon pace, and then two weeks later, 12- 14 miles at marathon pace, just getting used to finding a steady rhythm. I do longer intervals like three by four miles [at marathon pace]; that’s one workout I did this cycle.”

While this is her first time placing as high as fourth, Hyland is no stranger to the world of elite distance running. At the 2015 Chicago Marathon, Hyland placed 17th and qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials with her personal best time of 2:41:26. At the Olympic Trials, held on February 13, 2016, she placed forty-sixth with a time of 2:46:21. In October, Hyland qualified again for the 2020 Olympic trials at the Berlin Marathon, with a 21st place finish in 2:41:50 hours.

Several Andover students and distance runners came to cheer on Hyland as she raced.

Hyland said, “There was a group of them that came to mile 20. I didn’t actually see them, because there were too many people to notice where they were, but it meant a lot to me knowing that they were out there in those conditions cheering me on. It was really helpful to know that they were out there.”

Hyland received a warm congratulation from Andover students when she returned to campus on Tuesday, as well as from friends and family.

Hyland said, “I walked into my Spanish-523 class with a lot of seniors on Tuesday and they made me wait outside for five minutes while they signed a card and when I walked in they were all standing up and presenting me with a huge bouquet of flowers and I was brought to tears. The track team made a sign, they made me cookies, they started clapping when I showed up to practice. It was amazing […] former Andover students and athletes that have written me really thoughtful notes, all of that is priceless.”

In the wake of the marathon, Hyland plans to take some down time and finish up the school year before going to Argentina in June with a group of students. She plans to resume training in July, and will potentially compete in another marathon later in the fall before preparing for her second Olympic Trials in early 2020.


Initial coverage (below) uploaded on April 19, 2018:

Rachel Hyland, Andover Girls Track & Field and Cross Country Coach and Instructor in Spanish, finished fourth out of 25,746 finishers at the Boston Marathon on Monday, with a time of 2:44:29 hours.

In an interview with The Phillipian, Hyland said, “There were a lot of emotions. I think the beginning was tough because we were pretty cold. [During] miles ten to 13, it was really pouring, and the wind picked up, and [I] felt these huge gusts. Luckily, I was in a pack of women where we all helped each other out through that stretch.”
Hyland’s race was highlighted by strong pacing, with roughly even halves of 1:22:13 hours and 1:22:16 hours. Hyland’s last 10 kilometers were also consistent, especially from miles 21 through 25, during which Hyland averaged slightly over six minutes per mile. By contrast, some of Hyland’s competitors began to slow down after the halfway mark. For instance, 2017 World Marathon Champion Shalane Flanagan held a 31-second lead over Hyland at the halfway point, but Flanagan’s second half of 1:26:49 hours allowed Hyland to pass her between the 35-kilometer and 40-kilometer marks of the race.

Several of the athletes Hyland beat included Flanagan, who finished seventh; 2017 Boston Marathon Champion Edna Kiplagat, who finished ninth; and American 10,000-meters and half-marathon national record holder Molly Huddle, who finished sixteenth.

After a playing field hockey for a year in middle school, Hyland decided to join the cross country team and has been competing ever since. She competed in Division III of the NCAA for Williams College and, in the fall of 2008, captained her team to a third-place finish finish at the NCAA DIII Championships, earning All-American honors — a recognition given to the most competitive athletes in the nation within a sport for Divisions I, II, and III. In 2006, she also earned All-American honors when she placed thirty-first at the same championship; Williams earned eighth place.

Hyland’s coach at Williams, Peter Farwell, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “In college she learned to overcome obstacles, injuries, setbacks. She grew as a runner, and has always been a ‘gritty’ competitor. Her All-American finish in [the cross country] NCAA was in the muddiest conditions I have ever seen! Rachel was always spirited and determined. She now has a laser focus on her goals and stays fully committed.”

Hyland has run nine marathons in her lifetime. In 2012, she ran her first and only other Boston Marathon, finishing forty-eighth in 3:08:18 hours. At the 2015 Chicago Marathon, Hyland placed seventeenth and qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials with her personal-best time of 2:41:26 hours. At the Olympic Trials, held on February 13, 2016, she placed forty-sixth with a time of 2:46:21. In October, Hyland qualified again for the 2020 Olympic trials at the Berlin Marathon, with a twenty-first place finish in 2:41:50 hours.

Hyland received warm congratulations from Andover students when she returned to campus on Tuesday.

She said, “I walked into my Spanish-523 class with a lot of Seniors on Tuesday, and they made me wait outside for five minutes while they signed a card. When I walked in, they were all standing up and presenting me with a huge bouquet of flowers, and I was brought to tears. The track team made a sign, they made me cookies, they started clapping when I showed up to practice. It was amazing… Former Andover students and athletes that have written me really thoughtful notes, all of that is priceless.”