On the first Sunday in November last year, Sydney Devore was glued to the TV at home and watched in awe as Shalane Flanagan became the first American woman to win the TCS New York City Marathon in 40 years.

Devore—then a fourth-grade teacher in Lakeland, Florida—had no idea that less than a year later, she would be preparing to run that same race alongside Flanagan and the rest of the elite field on November 4. “I had not even run a marathon or a decent half marathon at that time,” recalls the 27-year-old who joined the Brooks-Hansons Original Distance Project in July. “I was coming back from an injury. I definitely did not say, ‘Next year, I will be there.’ That was not on my radar.”

But Devore would soon be thrust into the world of professional running. In early 2018, Devore was healthy enough to take her first shot at the 26.2-mile distance. She chose the Pittsburgh Marathon in May for her debut.

With the help of her boyfriend, Jon Mott (who also joined the Hansons- Brooks team last summer), Devore trained with the goal of running fast enough to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. Not only did Devore finish in 2:32.38, easily exceeding the Trials “A” standard of 2:37, she won the women’s race.

By July, she and Mott had signed professional contracts, quit their jobs and moved from Florida to Michigan to begin their new careers as elites. Training full-time and consistently hitting 100-mile weeks for the first time was both invigorating and exhausting for Devore. But she’s adapted well in Michigan as she begins to tap into her potential, says her coach Kevin Hanson.

Photo Courtesy of Sydney Devore

“She is highly motivated and has the work ethic to match,” he says. “She has the ability to have a long career and will eventually be a name that will be universally recognized in the sport.” During her heaviest training, she ran the Rock ’n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon on Oct.7 to simulate the exhaustion she will feel in the second half of the NYC marathon. On tired legs, she finished second in 1:14:42, hitting her time goal for the day. “I felt like I was running through peanut butter,” she says.

Acknowledging she is a novice when it comes to marathon strategy, Devore has been watching previous NYC Marathons and studying the women’s races. Although this will only be her second marathon, she isn’t shying away from big goals. She hopes to finish among the top five American women and believes she’s in shape to finish in around 2:28.

Mott, who is also a U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, says she’s made great progress in the short period they’ve been in Michigan. “I’m really excited for what she does on race day,” he says. “She’s ready for anything the race throws at her. So I would say Sydney has grown into an experienced marathoner, even before her second attempt at the distance. That’s why she’s going to surprise people on November 4.”

Being a relatively unknown marathoner in an elite field with so many famous names could be an advantage. “I definitely feel like an underdog, but I like that,” she says. “I’d rather be underestimated.”