As of Saturday morning, Molly Seidel had never run 26.2 miles. By the end of the day, she had qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.
Seidel finished second at the Olympic trials in Atlanta, with a time of 2 hours, 27 minutes and 31 seconds to land one of the three marathon spots for the U.S. women’s 2020 Olympic team.
The road to the Tokyo for the 25-year-old Boston-based runner and barista followed a somewhat expected pattern — Seidel was a top high school and college champion in the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races. While at Notre Dame, she was the fastest female distance runner in the NCAA.
After that, however, Seidel entered treatment for depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, which manifested in eating disorders. She also suffered severe injuries, including a reconstructed pelvis and a torn Achilles’ tendon.
And now she’s headed to the Olympics.
“It’s pretty surreal. My body is pretty sore — I can finally go down stairs again,” Seidel said. “It’s kind of weird.”
Seidel spoke with The Lily as she drove to her parents’ home in Nashotah, Wis., from Denver — a 15-hour journey — where she had been altitude training before the trials.
We caught up with her while she was crossing Idaho.
In 2018, after surgery that Seidel said required “welding her hip back together,” she couldn’t train the way she used to, on a track, working fast intervals. “It was very hard for me to do the traditional 5k or 10k training without getting hurt again.”
To get healthy, her coach prescribed workouts that were more like marathon training: higher mileage, longer tempo runs. They were meant to get her back in shape for the Olympic trials in the 10k this year.
In October, Seidel stopped training with the Saucony team in Boston, and started working out with Jon Green, her friend and fellow Saucony runner.
In December, the training was going well, and they entered a half marathon.
Seidel said she went into it thinking: “This might be really fun, I like the longer distance, I’ll get the experience. My goal was eventually when I was a little bit older to move up to the marathon,” noting that most women marathoners are in their 30s. “They say you aren’t in your prime for marathoning until you’re 27 to 35.”
After Saturday’s finish, Green said he was “surprised, but not shocked,” which were the exact words Seidel’s sister, Izzy Seidel, used to describe her reaction.
“Obviously, she’s an incredible athlete and has a ton of accolades but she is just a normal woman,” Green said.
Underneath the surface of her hard-won weekend victory, a more complete picture of Seidel emerges when talking to her inner circle. Her coach for the last five months, Green, is just 25. He ran distance events while an undergraduate at Georgetown, and until recently, was also a professional runner for Saucony.
As an amateur coach for his friends, he had never previously trained a marathon runner or run one himself. But Green is who Seidel chose to train with after leaving the Saucony team in Boston to pursue a less traditional training program.
Seidel also said she’s increasingly comfortable speaking about her struggles with mental health and its affect on her diet in the hopes it can help people.
“This is a really big problem that we have in the sport,” Seidel said.
“I think I would have ended up like a lot of talented female runners who deal with these things where you break, you get swept under the rug, people don’t talk about it and it’s a cycle just keeps repeating. I hope that the fact that I was able to get help, have the support to come back from this and now be able to make an Olympic team, but also recognize this is something that I still will struggle with for the rest of my life — I hope that helps people,” she said.
Last year, Seidel went to Ethiopia twice with Girls Gotta Run, an organization that supports girls and mothers through education, sports and entrepreneurship.
During relay races with the girls, Seidel “spoke candidly about her struggles with an eating disorder and how she has shifted in her approach to running,” executive director Kayla Nolan wrote in an email.
After her marathon on Saturday, her family brought her a signature snack: doughnuts. Her Instagram feed is sprinkled with frequent tributes to her favorite treat, including a photo of her running in a doughnut costume.
Growing up as a kid in Wisconsin, her family stopped by the corner store after church on Sundays to pick up crullers.
“Most people wouldn’t think that Olympians are out eating doughnuts, but for me being able to have the freedom in my life to be able to go out and say, ‘You know what, I just ran so many miles, I’m so tired, I’m hungry, I’m just going to enjoy this doughnut right now,’ — that’s a big part of me just being able to come back to having a healthy relationship with food and just enjoying life a little bit,” she said.
After her race on Saturday, her sister and roommate, Izzy, 23, ran Atlanta’s “Take the Bridge” night run wearing Seidel’s bib. Despite having already logged over 10 miles from running around and cheering her older sister that day, Izzy won the race, which spans about 5 kilometers.
“At least one Seidel won something that day,” the family’s newly minted Olympian joked.