No one expected Molly Seidel to reach the podium in the marathon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The 27-year-old American breakout star earned bronze in just the third-ever marathon of her career.
Seidel told Insider opponents were shocked she finished because she had “too much fun in the hotel.”
Molly Seidel defied expectations at the Tokyo Olympics, and boy, did she have fun with it.
The 27-year-old American breakout star earned a bronze medal in the women’s marathon at this summer’s games, completing just the third marathon of her career when she crossed the finish line in Sapporo, Japan. Few expected Seidel to qualify for Tokyo when she lined up at US Olympic Qualifiers in February 2020. Even fewer thought she’d break through on the world’s most competitive stage.
Chief among the skeptics was Seidel’s opponents at the games. They didn’t doubt her ability – she won four national championships at shorter distances in her NCAA career at the University of Notre Dame. But her calm demeanor and goofy antics alongside her coach and best friend, Jon Green, suggested she may be a less-than-serious threat for a spot on the podium.
“We were just, frankly, fucking around the entire time,” Seidel told Insider. “We were putting googly eyes on stuff in the hotel. Everybody probably thought that we were just the two biggest, absolute mess-ups there.”
“Actually, I was talking with the British team afterwards and they were like, ‘Truthfully, we were wondering if you were even going to finish the thing, because you were too much fun in the hotel,'” she added.
That’s part of Seidel’s strategy. As someone living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), she says she takes “everything too seriously.” She needs to protect herself from doing so with her running.
Spending time around the amateur running scene in Boston, where she first went pro after college, allowed her to do just that. Hanging out with talented runners who spend their days working as nurses, lawyers, government employees, or business professionals helped Seidel recognize that “running doesn’t have to be your whole life, but it can still be a huge part of your life.”
That shift in mindset taught her “to have a better relationship with my running, to respect it for what it was, and to be able to have fun with it.”
“If anything, that kind of mentality has helped me more at this level now, especially going into the Olympics,” Seidel said. “It’s the pinnacle of the sport, so it’s incredibly stressful. The whole situation that we had over in Tokyo was stressful in every sense: being in a quarantine, being tested daily for COVID, not knowing whether or not you were actually going to get to the line.”
“And so being able to have that slightly looser attachment to [the sport], or just appreciating it for what it is… That’s when I actually do my best,” she added.
She’s taking a similar approach to the New York City Marathon this fall. She’s realistic in that she knows the turnaround from the Olympics to the iconic race through the Big Apple’s five boroughs is not an insignificant one. And in general, she says her goals “are less place-based or time-based and more effort based,” so she’ll be content so long as she does “the absolute best that I can.”
“When I’m finishing a marathon and feeling like I really went to the wall – put it all out there and raced to the best of my ability – whatever place that may be, I can feel pretty satisfied with that,” Seidel said. “And I feel like that’s the best way for me mentally to approach it. It’s how I approached my last three marathons.”
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