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What every runner can learn from Molly Seidel

Lessons from the most inspiring run of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

Molly Seidel was the ultimate underdog at Saturday’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. Not only is she a relatively new name to road racing, she’d never run a marathon before Saturday. That’s right–she qualified for the Olympics in her marathon debut. While most people won’t ever see the Olympic start line, there are lessons from Seidel’s season that can be helpful for runners of every level.

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Saturday’s race

Seidel ran one heck of a debut. Her 2:27:31 and second-place finish was enough to secure her Olympic spot. Her time on Saturday was the 10th-fastest marathon ever run by an American woman. The field went out at a conservative pace (with a predicted finishing time of 2:30) and gradually worked the pace down. Seidel remained in the lead group, but by 30K, as big names were dropping off, it became clear that she wasn’t going anywhere.

Her progression

The new Olympian was a standout high school runner and a Nike Footlocker National Cross-Country champion. She attended the University of Notre Dame, where she was a multi–NCAA All-American in the 10,000m. She ran a 1:09:35 half-marathon in Houston in January to qualify for the trials (instead of running a debut in Houston like she’d initially planned). She would ultimately decide to try her hand at the marathon distance for the first time at the U.S. Trials. On Saturday, she became the first American woman to qualify for the Olympics in her debut.

Her big obstacle

There’s a gap in Seidel’s progression that came after her final NCAA 10,000m victory and before her professional career started. The runner turned down her initial round of sponsorship options, and opted to take time from the sport to focus on recovering from an eating disorder. Seidel’s been open about this time in her life, and the eating disorder that caused her multiple injuries. When the New York Times asked her about her injury history following her race, she joked, “If I have to list them, we’ll be here all day.” It’s a long list that includes a stress fracture in her back.

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The takeaways

Success isn’t linear. Seidel’s career has had major ups and downs, but she didn’t let the lows keep her from swinging big.

Focus on the long game. When Seidel was faced with choosing between accepting a paycheque to run (something that’s hard to come by) and taking time to focus on her mental and physical health, she picked the hard (but ultimately) right avenue. She made an investment in her future that paid off big-time.

Plans are made to be changed. Seidel was initially set to debut in Houston, but decided to give the trials a shot. Don’t be married to your initial plan if something else makes more sense.

Have a good team of people around you. Seidel lives with her sister, has close relationships with her past and present coaches, and took time after her big race on Saturday to thank a massive list of people (which can be found here). A strong support system is invaluable, and clearly Siedel has that in spades.