Going the Distance: Molly Seidel's Marathon Journey
As a college runner, Molly Seidel won four NCAA titles at Notre Dame. While her college career progressed, so did her range, as she won 3,000, 5,000, and 10,000-meter titles on the track and a cross country championship. So when she graduated in 2016, perhaps it wasn’t a surprise to see her move up to longer road races. Yet nobody – not even Molly herself – expected her to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in just her second marathon. This is the story of how she got there.

Why did you decide to move up to the marathon?

After the 10K trials in 2016, I had surgery on my pelvis. As I was recovering, I started having my friend coach me, and we saw that my body benefited from longer, less intense mileage. So we decided to keep that going and see what happened. I’ve only run two marathons, and they were very different. I was able to run in the London Marathon last year. It was 19 laps on a flat course around Buckingham Palace with no crowds, so it was strangely quiet, and I was alone for most of the race. The Trials course in Atlanta was very hilly and thousands of people were cheering. I viewed the distance change as a learning experience, but suddenly I’d qualified for the Olympics. Then I knew this was the event for me.

How has your approach to training and life evolved over the past few years?

In the 2016 Olympic Trials, I really thought I’d qualify for the 10,000 meters. So when I didn’t, that was a real blow. But my mindset has totally changed since then. I’m paying more attention to what I’m eating and while running is a big part of my life, it’s no longer the only thing. How I define success and failure isn’t just tied to the result of a race or whether I qualify or not. I still work hard to achieve certain things, but the outcome doesn’t change who I am as a person.

What challenges and opportunities did the pandemic present?

It’s been difficult for everyone, but I’m fortunate that my best friend is also my coach, I have great friends, and a strong family support system. They all kept reminding me not to feel sorry for myself and to remember all the good things that were happening. As a pro athlete, you can only control a small number of things and one of these is your attitude. Looking back at the whole COVID-affected year, I see a lot of struggles but also a blessing in disguise, as I had an extra year to train for Tokyo. It’s all about looking at things the right way.

Going into the Trials, you’d only run one marathon. So from a tactical standpoint, how did you approach the race and end up finishing second?

As I’m so new to the distance, I have a beginner’s mindset every time I run a marathon. For the Trials, I didn’t have any set expectations and that helped me relax. Afterwards, some of the veterans who’ve been doing this for years were saying, “Wow, that was the hardest course we’ve ever run,” but for me, I had nothing to compare it to, other than that it was my best marathon performance ever.

What is your favorite training session and one you dread?

I had both of them in the past week. My favorite is a 10-mile “float and push” session where I go hard for a kilometer at five to 10 seconds faster than my marathon pace. Then I run another kilometer at five to 10 seconds below marathon pace. It felt great and it was fun to have my training partner come with me and run around the lake. The session I didn’t like is 30 400-meter repeats on the track. I hate it so much. I got halfway through and then realized, “I’ve still got 15 to go.” It was lucky that several of my teammates joined in and helped me get out of my own head.

What’s your mindset like going into the Games?

There will be all these women with strong credentials, and I’m heading into only my third marathon. It will be highly competitive and could be very tactical, so I’m not setting a specific time goal. I’m going to repeat this mantra to myself: “I’m going to take someone’s lunch money.” No matter what the final result is, I want to stick my nose in where it’s not wanted, work hard, and shake things up. And when I leave, I’ll be happy if I knew I left everything out there. I’m not there to be a spectator – I’m there to compete. And eat good sushi.

Looking ahead, what are some of your goals for the rest of the year and beyond?

I’m excited to be back at the New York Marathon in November. Before that, I’ve got a quick turnaround after the Olympics before going to the World Half Marathon Championships and the World Cross Country World Championships. I love both of these events. Then I’m planning to go for a place on Team USA at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene. All this racing has opened up now, and there are so many great opportunities to get amped up for.

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