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Last week, American Molly Seidel placed third in the Olympic Marathon, running 2:27:46, only 26 seconds behind winner Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya. In doing so, Seidel, 27, became only the third American woman in history to medal in the event, joining long distance legends Deena Kastor and Joan Benoit Samuelson. The marathon was only Seidel’s third: her first was last February, at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Atlanta, where she ran 2:27:31 to finish second. And last October, Seidel placed sixth in the elite-only London Marathon, where she ran a personal best of 2:25:13.
For Seidel, making it to the Olympics—let alone the podium—fulfilled a lifelong dream that began in Wisconsin, where she grew up and became a Foot Locker National Cross Country Champion in high school. Her talents took her to Notre Dame, where she specialized in the 10K and became a four-time NCAA champion, and later Boston, where she divided her time between babysitting, working as a barista, and running with Saucony’s Freedom Track Club. These days, Seidel is based in Flagstaff, Arizona.
But the road to the Olympic podium had detours: in 2016, Seidel had to step away from her sport to seek treatment for an eating disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder—an experience she has said she feared would be career-ending. Doing so ultimately proved to be crucial to surviving—and, now, to thriving, Seidel recently told Women’s Running: “By making sure I was healthy physically and mentally to be a functioning human, that has then enabled me to run better,” she said.
Seidel is celebrating both her Olympic success and the healthier mindset that got her there: “It’s been really fun just getting to share it with everyone, more than anything,” she said of coming off of her Bronze win last weekend.
Women’s Running caught up with Seidel a few days after her return to the U.S. to discuss why she’s calling the Olympic marathon a “hot mess express”, how seeking treatment for her eating disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder was crucial to getting healthy, the ways that running culture can better support young women, and how she’s thinking about approaching the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Women’s Running: What have you been doing since this past weekend? Have you had any chance to celebrate?
Molly Seidel: I got back [to the U.S. at] around midnight on the 9th. It was the longest day of my life because of the time change…truthfully, my bags are exploded across my living room. I’m trying to unpack and repack to head back to Boston. [I’ve] just [been] seeing friends, getting things together—we’re going to throw a little party at one of my favorite breweries tomorrow, but yeah, a lot of it has just been decompressing.
WR: How did you adjust to some of the uncontrollable elements of the marathon? I know the race was super hot and the time was moved up an hour.
MS: The time was moved up less than 12 hours before the race. Basically, everything about this race was a hot mess express.
WR: So how do you deal with those uncontrollable elements that pop up when you’re literally on the world stage?
MS: I think so much of getting ready for this race was about kind of just embracing chaos from the get-go, of the whole thing being postponed, and then we have this extra year and a half of preparing and dealing with the fact that every race in the world was canceled, we’re in the middle of a the pandemic, so I think that was probably a pretty good crash course in just going with the flow, and just kind of having to take it as it comes.
But yeah, getting to the race—we didn’t know how to get to Sapporo [the Japanese city where the marathon was held] when we got there, we didn’t know if our coaches were going to be able to come, we did not know whether we were going to be able to train when we got up there. And even then, the training venue was an absolute disaster…we had to run on concrete, on a 900 meter loop either uphill or downhill, and then a 400 meter concrete track. We could not leave the hotel.
The conditions were going to be crazy hot, crazy humid—and then on top of that, it’s like less than 12 hours before the race starts, they say, ‘Remember how you’re supposed to get up at 4 tomorrow? Actually, get up at 3, because we’re moving the race up.’
WR: You had a 3 a.m. wake up?
MS: Exactly, yeah. And we learned that was going to happen at 8 o’clock the night before.
WR: Did you just go to bed immediately when you found out?
MS: Yup…my jaw hit the floor and I immediately booked it up to my room.
WR: What was a typical day or week of training like for you leading up to the marathon? How was training impacted by the fact that the Olympics got moved back a year due to the pandemic?
MS: For me, truthfully, the postponement was probably the biggest blessing in disguise I could’ve asked for. When I qualified last year, I was so excited to be going. I would not have been ready to try and run up at the front of that race, I would’ve just been happy to go. With that whole extra year, everything we did was directly focused on preparing for the Olympic Marathon. Even doing [the London Marathon] last fall, that was all to prepare for this. So with that focus of just getting in more consistent, healthy training, I was able to go from averaging 115 [miles] per week, in the buildup of the Trials, to averaging really steady 130 or 135 miles per week. With layering better workouts on top of that … being able to watch myself grow over the past year, just that in and of itself was really cool.
We’ve been averaging a bit above 130 [miles per week], two workouts a week with a long run, and just throwing in a couple tuneup races.
WR: What does life look like on the other side of this major milestone? Are you taking time off? Are there any “normal” things you can’t do while training that you’re looking forward to doing now?
MSL I’m taking time to rest. Rest, for me, is running three to four miles a day, just very easy, and just having fun. I really love traveling, so I might try to fit that in the next month while I have a little bit more time to chill…My beer consumption is probably about the same, I didn’t cut it out in the buildup, so that’ll be kind of the same. It’s kind of funny because I feel like everything’s been so emotionally intense over the past two weeks and whatnot, so much going around with all the time changes and everything—I just really want to recover and spend time with friends. I don’t really desire to go hike the Grand Canyon or anything right now. Every pro runner wants to go on massive hiking trips in their off season—I’m like, ‘My life is movement, I don’t want to go and climb a mountain right now.’
WR: You’ve also been open about your struggles with an eating disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, and seeking treatment in 2016 over pursuing the Olympics. What impact do you think that decision had on what you’ve been able to accomplish since then?
MS: I’m running because of it. I straight up wouldn’t be in the sport if I hadn’t done it. My body was just shutting down at that point. I straight up probably would’ve died … I needed to do that just to be a healthy person … I didn’t necessarily go into treatment thinking, ‘This is going to help me be a pro runner.’ It was just like, ‘This is going to help me live.’ By making sure I was healthy physically and mentally to be a functioning human, that has then enabled me to run better.
I struggle with this a bit, with people reaching out over social media, [saying] ‘I’m dealing with an eating disorder now, my family wants me to go into treatment but I don’t want to, how do I get back into running at an elite level like you did?’ And it’s like, ‘Girl, you got to slow down, and let’s focus on the now, let’s get you healthy as a person, and not put the cart before the horse here.’
That’s been one of the harder things about my story, is a lot of people want to look to these things I’ve accomplished since treatment as this success story … but I think a lot of people then forget the interim, that the point of getting healthy is just to live as a human. If you’re focusing the whole time that you’re going through treatment or trying to get through mental health issues on, ‘how is this going to make me a stronger athlete,’ it’s like, no, you have to focus on just straight up being healthy first—let that stuff come after. Because that actually inhibits healing fully a lot of the time.
WR: Many young women runners struggle with eating disorders. Are there ways you want to see running culture change to better support them?
MS: Yeah, I think a lot of it starts from the ground up, in our college and high school systems, of trying to change this mentality of, ‘You have to be skinny to run fast,’ and that’s a really difficult thing to change. It’s really hard and it’s really going to be a multi-faceted thing because there isn’t any easy answer to it, and I think a lot of times running itself is just an enormously triggering sport. I still struggle with a lot of stuff, and pretty much as long as I am in this sport I’m always going to be triggered by it, and always having to be constantly staying on top of it. I think finding ways to try and prevent it from happening in the first place by instilling positive role models, positive body image in younger girls when they’re entering the sport, will help having to try and solve these problems as they get older.
WR: What’s next for you? Are you thinking about the Paris Olympics?
MS: Obviously, yes, my big goal is to qualify for the Paris team, and I think in the U.S., no matter what you have done, no matter what you have accomplished, the U.S. is so competitive with distance running, you can never take making a team for granted. So I’m going to be very focused on qualifying for that team, and the fact that I have a bronze medal around my neck doesn’t mean one thing. Anybody can go out and kick my ass at any time. So I’ve got to make sure I’m focusing and not expecting anything because of what I’ve accomplished and keeping that same kind of attitude of, I’m going to go out and train as hard as I can and race as hard as I can anytime I show up to the line.