While most elite marathoners hope their time spent at altitude, or rigorous coaching by a sports dietician will be the arrow in their quiver that helps them land that big Boston Marathon performance, Jessica Chichester’s secret weapon is simpler: “Frequent hand washing and Lysol-ing everything,” she says.
Chichester, a 31-year-old runner from Brooklyn, is also a full-time nurse practitioner, and some of her big mileage weeks fell during this year’s pandemic of a flu season. Just staying healthy seemed like its own victory. But then she took fifth place overall, bypassing many of America’s most recognizable pros.
The 2018 Boston Marathon was a day for the civilian runners, really. The men’s overall winner, Yuki Kawauchi, is a government clerk. And the second-, third-, and fourth-place titles on the women’s side all went to runners with full-time jobs as well (a nurse, a dietitian, and a Spanish professor, respectively). Chichester, who has run 11 marathons, wasn’t even seeded to start with the women’s elite pack. They took off at 9:32 AM, but she wouldn’t leave the start line until after 10:00 AM.
Once she was off, though, she says she felt good. “I started thinking back and I realized almost all of my best performances were in bad conditions,” she says. Plus, she’d trained in this weather. It’s been a brutal winter in New York, and there were several times Chichester ended up doing track workouts on snow-covered ovals.
Even when the weather cooperated for training runs, working in health care presented plenty of its own hiccups. “When I had back-to-back patients all day, I’d end up taking paperwork home with me, which isn’t ideal, but it’s just what I had to do,” she says. And most of her training partners on the Dashing Whippets Running Team live in Manhattan, while she lives in Brooklyn and works in Queens. Scheduling was a headache.
To be clear, Chichester is not a first-time marathoner. She ran three years of track at the University of Albany and has completed 11 full marathons. Big performances at Boston run in the family, too. Her brother, Tim Chichester, was the second American overall at Boston in 2012. Now a biology teacher, he’s coaching his big sister to her dreams of making the Olympic marathon trials. “He started freaking out when he saw my splits, he told me,” she says. “He was going crazy. He said he felt like he was going to have a heart attack. He was more excited today for me than he was back in 2012.”
Chichester finished the race in 2:45:23, a heartbreaking 23 seconds over the time needed for her to make the Olympic qualifiers. Still, it was an eight-minute PR, and she adds: “Honestly, I think being fifth at Boston is better.”
More from Tonic:
Because she didn’t start with the elites, she can’t claim the $15,000 prize that usually is awarded to the fifth-place finisher. “I would love it if I could take the prize, I can think of a lot of ways to use that money. But I knew going into the race that I wasn’t eligible for it, so it wasn’t like I got excited and then got let down.”
While it’s tempting to look at the success of Chichester and the other “citizen runners” (which is Kawauchi’s nickname in Japan) and think just anyone can achieve elite success in work and sport, know that Chichester works very, very hard to get everything done. Case in point: After her impressive finish, she took little time to celebrate, driving back to NYC later that night to work a nearly 10-hour shift on Tuesday.
We asked her how she manages to train like the elites despite her busy schedule, and what kind of running wisdom she’d impart to mere mid-packers.
Embrace the Run Commute
Sitting on the train, or in your car, is a huge waste of time. Especially when you do it twice a day. Chichester usually commutes home from work on her feet, and sometimes she’ll run both to and from work in a single day. “It just saves so much time,” she says. Even better: It’s actually enjoyable.
Find a Training Buddy
When you work full-time and aren’t being paid to run, it’s easy to let a late meeting or a last-minute assignment derail your training session. Chichester says having pre-scheduled running plans with Steve Wo, a fellow member of the Dashing Whippets, kept her from bailing on many workouts this winter.
Get a Work Fridge
There’s a grocery store across the street from Chichester’s practice, and she frequents it regularly. “I buy things like Greek yogurt and fruit and veggies and snack on them throughout the day. Sometimes I buy a whole rotisserie chicken.” With ready access to good food, there’s never an excuse to skip a workout because she’s hungry.
Just Go to Bed, Already
Sometimes Chichester does get stuck finishing paperwork late at night, but she hardly ever wastes time parked in front of the TV or endlessly refreshing Facebook. “I really like to sleep. I’m not the kind of person who watches Netflix until late at night, I’d just rather be asleep.”
Wash Your Hands
Chichester’s job puts her in contact with sick people all day long, so she’s more at risk of losing entire weeks of training to the flu than the average person. Still, offices are germ jungle gyms, so heeding her advice is wise, especially since high volume training can be correlated with an increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections. “Research shows that the best way to protect yourself is to wash your hands often,” she says, but she adds that if someone is coughing everywhere and spewing germs all over the place, she’ll slip on a mask for extra protection.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of Tonic delivered to your inbox weekly.