Think back to the first time you tried something new. Were you scared? Nervous that you may embarrass yourself or even fail? Or did you feel like maybe you didn’t belong there? Any one of these thoughts would be a perfectly natural response to trying something new. However, changing our mindset from fear and nervousness to confidence in our abilities and believing in ourselves can help us eliminate doubt from our minds and allow us to put forth our best effort. Molly Seidel, did just that! In her first ever marathon, after an ongoing battle with eating disorders and hampered with multiple serious injuries throughout her running career, Molly finished second at the 2020 Women’s Olympic Marathon Trial, earning herself the opportunity to represent the United States of America at the 2021 Olympics.
Cultivating Early Potential
When we think of running for our high school team, we often envision there actually being a team, as well as being surrounded by training partners that will push you and motivate you to train. This was not the case for Molly. Beginning in her freshman year, Molly was the only member of her high school cross country team. She had to learn to be self-driven and self-sufficient in order to further her fitness and compete at a high level. Beginning in her freshman year and ending in her senior year, Molly had won each state championship, as well as the 1600-meter and 3200-meter track races. Molly then went on to compete at the Footlocker National Cross-Country race, which she also won.
Molly fell in love with running because it wasn’t something anyone was forcing or pressuring her to do. She, like many of us, developed her own personal relationship with the sport. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges along the way.
Recruited out of high school to run at Notre Dame on a full ride scholarship brought new and difficult experiences. While she did win Division 1 NCAA titles in Cross Country, as well as the Indoor 3k, 5k, and 10k, it took a lot of work. She went from being first in the nation to 5th, 6th, or 7th on her team. Not only was she struggling physically, she struggled mentally with her body image and the shame put on her by her first Notre Dame coach. Dealing with negativity and being told she wasn’t good enough and a waste of a scholarship throughout her first two years damaged her and left her feeling like she had no control of her own life.
Finding Control in the Wrong Places
Recognizing that women and men mature differently, especially as they work their way through high school and into college sports is an important thing to understand. You can’t treat men and women the same or tell them to just get over it and expect them too. Molly found that there was little room to accept women growing into their bodies at the collegiate level. This added to the anxiety that Molly was already feeling. As a control mechanism to this anxiety, Molly turned to an eating disorder to garner some form of control over her own life.
Focusing on calories and how much she could eat to provide her with just enough fuel to get through workouts became her life. This lead to malnourishment, low bone density, and lead to multiple injuries. Confiding in her second coach at Notre Dame, Molly realized she needed to change her way of thinking and entered eating disorder targeted treatment for 4 months, followed by two years in therapy. This helped her to identify that the root problem wasn’t just body image, but anxiety and the need to feel like she was in control of one aspect of her life.
If you are dealing with an eating disorder, it is best to address it early so that you can get through it without becoming a statistic. Approximately 1/3 of people will die from the disorder, 1/3 will recover, and 1/3 will deal with it for the rest of their life. Realize you are not alone in this battle and know that overcoming this without a support system and targeted therapy may be impossible. It is ok to ask for help to get better.
The Power of Positivity
Having a positive influence in our lives not only steers us in the right direction, but sometimes even carries us when we are unable to walk. As Molly began to deal with her eating disorder she came to terms with the necessity of a healthy relationship with eating. You are unable to perform at high levels and sustain a long career without properly fueling your body. However, the toll that this disorder took on her body hindered her abilities moving forward.
Molly became so obsessed with running at the 2016 Olympic Trials that she made this her sole focus, holding on to this dream tight. So tight, that she broke herself physically, resulting in her being sidelined during the 2016 Olympic Trials. She continued to battle serious injuries, leading her to wonder if she’d ever run again.
For one year, Molly ran on a broken hip. Eventually she had surgery, causing her to take six months off. Following that six month period she felt like she was ready to go, only to reinjure her hip. Negative thoughts began to creep into her mind, wondering if this was it. This is a common theme found in many runners. Stress fractures, pulled muscles, tendonitis, or plantar fasciitis flare ups can cause many runners to question if they will ever run again. But, as runners, we know there is something off in our brains, and that we are too stubborn and too dumb to give up running. Molly called her coach from Notre Dame who told her to do what she always does: get through this, be patient, and know that you can do this! The positivity from her coach was like a rope being thrown to someone stuck in a well. Sometimes, that’s all it takes, is someone to tell you everything is going to be ok and to pull you out of the hole.
2020 Olympic Trials
As Molly entered the 2020 Women’s Olympic Trials she did so without a whole lot of ego involved. The past four years had been injury ridden and painstaking. However, running in the trials was something she had reamed about for many years and she was not going to let the opportunity pass.
Molly had been waiting for this moment for many years and said she had prepared herself mentally for this to be the worst and most painful experience in her life. Having never run a marathon, and having to start not on the front line, but in the third wave, recognizing many of the incredible runners around her, Molly began the most important race of her life.
She recalled passing through mile 18 and feeling the pain in her legs but knew she could still do this. At mile 20 she began to worry, recognizing she was ahead of a lot of the other elite runners, she decided to maintain her pace, hoping to hold on to her spot. The next six miles were extremely painful but focusing on all the hard work and dedication she had put into running throughout her life, she pushed through.
Running on the shoulder of Aliphine Tuliamuk and aided by her positive words to stick with her, Molly and Aliphine worked towards the common goal of making the U.S.A. Olympic Team. Molly Seidel finished her first marathon in 2:27:31, taking second place and earning herself a spot on the Olympic team.
Throughout her career Molly has experienced incredible lows and remarkable highs. No matter what you do in running, whether you have a great race or a bad day on the course, it is important to remember that running does not define you and that you are a person outside of the sport. Regardless of what stage of life you are in, continue to find joy and establish healthy relationships with what you do, whether that be running, eating, or anything else. Trust the process and do the best you can, that’s all anyone can really ask.
*Note* If you or someone you know is struggling from an eating disorder, it is time to talk to someone about it, it can make all the difference in the world.. Contact the National Eating Disorder Hotline at (800) 931-2237 or visit the NEDA website.
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