Olympian Molly Seidel doesn’t take herself too seriously, and the proof of that is all over her Instagram.
There she is in an August video, jogging as slowly as she possibly can, part of the Slow Mile Challenge. (She completed her slow 1-mile run in 36:56.)
By November, she’s running the virtual Peachtree Road Race—in a head-to-knee turkey costume, complete with a back piece meant to resemble feathers. She finished the 10K in 34:33, which is 5:34-per-mile pace, calling it a FKT, fastest known turkey.
And earlier this month, she and her brother, Fritz, took a road trip from the suburbs of Milwaukee—where Seidel grew up and her parents still live—to Flagstaff, Arizona, for a stint of altitude training. But they took the long way, through Colorado, to hit the slopes. Seidel won’t give up something she loves—downhill skiing—on the off chance a fall might affect her running. Besides, she’s not worried. She grew up racing on a ski team.
“I feel like so much of how much of how I approach sports is, if you’re not having fun, why the hell are you doing it?” Seidel said in a recent interview with Runner’s World.
Even with a pandemic to work around, fun has been plentiful for Seidel in the 11 months since her surprise second-place finish, in 2:27:31, at the Olympic Marathon Trials last February. That unexpected performance, in her debut marathon, earned her a spot on Team USA bound for Tokyo this summer (if COVID-19 doesn’t scuttle the Games entirely), along with Trials champion Aliphine Tuliamuk and third-place finisher Sally Kipyego.
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She’s made the most of running, too, to go along with the costumes and the skiing and the wacky videos. In October, Seidel ran the elite-only London Marathon, on a 19-loop closed course, finishing sixth in 2:25:13 and looking like she had a lot left. Cameras on the scene, where it was quieter than usual without the throngs of cheering spectators, caught her cheerfully asking a volunteer, “Is there a porta-potty somewhere? I’ve had to go to the bathroom the whole race!” In only her second marathon, she was fast enough to be 10th on the U.S. all-time list, stomach issues notwithstanding.
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Don’t Rerun the Olympic Marathon Trials
Of course, it hasn’t all been perfect. In March, the International Olympic Committee postponed the Games a year. Armchair quarterbacks on Twitter have suggested that the U.S. should rerun the Olympic Marathon Trials closer to the Games. (That’s not going to happen, but the suggestion still unsettled Seidel and her family.)
She was without health insurance for a couple of months after her 26th birthday in July—when she aged out of her parents’ plan—and during that time, Seidel had a collision with an exuberant dog. She fell hard on her shoulder, but lacking insurance, decided to skip the X-rays.
But all in all, the year has been pretty darn great for Seidel.
A New Sponsor
In the latest development, Seidel inked a new endorsement contract with Puma, after her deal with her first pro sponsor, Saucony, expired. Terms of the new deal aren’t known—most brands require athletes to sign non-disclosure agreements—but industry sources say it’s generous and expect it to take her through the 2024 Olympics. The deal also allows her to stay with her coach, Jon Green, instead of funneling her into a training group.
Molly Seidel will try out her new Puma uniform and racing flats at a half marathon on January 23 in Las Vegas.
“I feel so lucky,” Seidel said. “I have a contract I never dreamed I would have, and a company that values me in a way that I never thought I would be as an athlete. I’m really excited. I feel like [the brand] fits my personality as an athlete, and it fits my goals of where I hope to go in the sport.”
Puma is making a big push in performance distance running market, after years of pouring its energy and money into sprinters, like Usain Bolt, and jumpers. “This is a space we were a part of in the past,” said Erin Longin, global director of the run/train business unit at Puma. “We haven’t had a really strong approach as a brand in that space for awhile. I’m speaking about road running and distance running; we’ve been very active in the world of track and field consistently, but lost focus for awhile on the road running and distance running space.”
The company has built a new product line, with new shoe technology, that is launching early this year, and the company is “looking for those credible elite athletes to be part of our brand and be competing in our products,” Longin said.
That’s where Seidel and others, like Aisha Praught Leer, a middle-distance runner based in Boulder, Colorado, who competes internationally for Jamaica, come in. Longin says they’re just getting started, and more announcements of Puma signings are forthcoming.
The company is also expected to announce the formation of a new training group in North Carolina next month for athletes just coming out of college. Seidel, however, will stay in the Boston area, where she lives with her younger sister, Isabel (Fritz’s twin), and is coached by Green. Puma’s North American headquarters are in Boston, and Longin expects Seidel will be closely involved with the product development team.
The company is also focusing strongly on female runners. “Across running in general, traditionally there has been a male-dominated spin,” Longin said. “whether it’s athletes who were highlighted and visible, or the way products were built with a male-first approach. Footwear products were built on the male foot shape and downsized for women.” Puma, she said, is breaking out of that tradition.
All this made Seidel an attractive target for the company. “She’s outstanding in terms of talent, what she did in her first and second marathons, qualifying for the Olympics,” Longin said. “But also her personality. She’s got this really fun element. She wants to have fun, she wants to connect what she does—which is so outstanding—to the actual running consumers out there in the running community.”
An Open Book
Seidel has been public about her challenges, including mental health struggles that led her to a destructive period of disordered eating. In the summer of 2016, she entered a treatment program in Wisconsin, which helped her regain her health and get out of an injury cycle that had plagued her for years. Since emerging onto the pro scene (after winning four individual NCAA titles at Notre Dame), Seidel has done podcasts and interviews describing her journey.
Just the Start of Molly Seidel’s Comeback
She credits her parents, Anne and Fritz, and their unconditional love as key to her recovery. “My mom told me, ‘You don’t have to run anymore. I care about Molly as the person; I don’t care about Molly as a runner. I want you to be healthy.’ I had their unequivocal support if I ran or if I didn’t,” Seidel said.
If her openness had already helped her establish an honest connection to the running community, it became even stronger when she crossed the finish line in Atlanta. Non-running media outlets jumped on her story, the part-time barista making her Olympic dream come true (and earning $65,000 in prize money).
On a training stint in Arizona, Molly Seidel poses for a photo wearing the new Puma Velocity Nitro.
For her first marathon, Seidel didn’t see herself on the podium, thinking instead somewhere between 10th and 20th was realistic. But as a Christmas gift for her parents, she rented them an Airbnb along the course in Atlanta.
They were as innocent as she was about her potential, assuming they were just going to cheer her along at her first marathon. They never dreamed their daughter would end that day as an Olympian.
“I had no idea,” Anne Seidel said. “I was like, ‘Ohmigod, Molly, why do you want to run a marathon?’ We had no clue; we just thought it was for fun.”
As Seidel stayed with the lead pack through successive laps of the four-loop course, her parents kept running back and forth from the Airbnb to Peachtree Street, to catch glimpses.
“Now I know why they have the EMTs there,” Anne said. “For the mothers who are going to have a heart attack running.”
On the final lap, it was just Tuliamuk and Seidel, and if their daughter could just hang on for the final few miles, she’d seal her spot on the Olympic team. But Anne and Fritz had barely scouted the route and had no idea where the finish line was. So they did the only thing they could: They ducked into a pub and saw her cross the line on a big screen TV. “We watched her finish in an Irish bar,” Anne said. “What kind of mother am I?”
They finally made their way to the finish area in Centennial Olympic Park, but Isabel had forgotten the passes that would allow them access. They begged a security guard for mercy to get in to see their daughter. He was unmoved. After about 20 minutes, a race official came over and let them in. They finally reunited with Seidel at the media tent, their daughter the Olympian.
That night—after the interviews had ended and she had gotten through drug testing—the family had a chance to celebrate at the Georgia Beer Garden, with dozens of the Seidel kids’ friends hanging around and Seidel scarfing down a burger. The memory of that moment, more so even than crossing the finish line, stays with her almost a year later. As she trains now, with a new sponsor’s shoes on her feet, for an Olympic race in August that may never happen, she’ll treasure that night in February in Atlanta.
“We all hung out there, so many of my friends from Boston were all there, my family was there, we were all celebrating and enjoying,” she said. “Getting to make my first Olympic team, surrounded by my favorite people in the world. Making the team is cool, but then getting to share it with everyone who got me there is 10 times cooler.”
Sarah Lorge Butler
Sarah Lorge Butler is a writer and editor living in Eugene, Oregon, and her stories about the sport, its trends, and fascinating individuals have appeared in Runner’s World since 2005.
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