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Q&A With 2008 Olympian Brian Sell

Published: 2023-10-09
Q&A With 2008 Olympian Brian Sell
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When he graduated from St. Francis (Penn.) University in 2001, Brian Sell’s running career was at a bit of a crossroads. One of the most decorated runners in the school’s history and then holding six school records, he didn’t know if a professional career was for him but didn’t want to give up on competitive running, either.

A year later, he joined the Michigan-based Hansons-Brooks Distance Project and made the jump to the marathon distance. Running 130-140-mile weeks, he flourished in the Hansons team-oriented program, and when he retired seven years later, Sell was one of the top American marathoners of the decade.

Sell finished his career with a personal best marathon time of two hours, 10 minutes, 47 seconds, and was a multiple-time national champion, and finished 22nd in the 2008 Olympic Marathon in Beijing. He also competed in the 2005 World Championships and posted top 10 finishes at the Boston and Chicago Marathons.

Now 45 years old, Sell lives in his home state of Pennsylvania and works as a Method Specialist at GSK Vaccines.

Sell was gracious enough to join me for a quick Q&;A about his career, and with the running world focused on Chicago for the Chicago Marathon, what the city where he ran his first marathon in 2023 means to him.





Coming out of college, was turning pro on your radar, and how did the Hansons Project happen?

It wasn't really. I had just finished five years of college, so I was ready to leave the classroom grind behind but not ready to get a "real" job yet. Hansons was a good opportunity to see if I could continue improving my running.


You showed steady improvement in the marathon (and other distances) over your career; what was the biggest key to your success?

The biggest key was having great teammates. I was pushed in high school (Northern Bedford), college (St. Francis), and with Hansons. Having teammates who were similarly motivated was the key for me.


You competed in the 2008 Olympic Marathon; what was that race like for you?

It was a great experience. I had some injury issues coming in, so my performance wasn't quite what I wanted it to be, but making the team and competing was confirmation that all the miles and effort had been worth it.


The 2003 Chicago Marathon was your first marathon, and you also ran several other races in Chicago. What did you like about running there?

I have always had a great experience in Chicago. (Race Director) Carey Pinkowski always made us feel like true professional athletes, and the crowds, the city, and the courses are always top-notch in Chicago.


What is the best piece of running advice you ever received?

My coach at St. Francis used to say: "paper don't run". We'd often see teams that were better than us on paper (i.e., they had more guys with PRs better than us), but you have to show up and make it happen on race day. So, it doesn't matter what it says on paper, only what happens on the course.