When Molly Seidel took second in the Olympic Trials marathon last February, she had no idea what was coming, or how her preparations for the Olympics would change so drastically in the face of the pandemic. She just knew that she had hit a lifelong goal.
“This has been my dream since I was a little kid and, especially being able to do it in my first marathon, I think I already was feeling so many emotions. And it's just a lot,” Seidel said. “My whole family was there, and there were just thousands of people. That was one of the really last chances we had to have huge gatherings. So it was just so many things combined, but crossing that line, just a sense of relief of, oh my gosh, I finally did it.”
When the pandemic hit and the Tokyo Games were postponed, Seidel was forced into giving herself more of a break to recover than she expected. The good thing about running is that, even as the country was locked down, she could run. (You can see her training logs here.)
“We couldn't, obviously, get on any tracks, but I wasn't doing any track workouts at that time," Seidel said. "And just for a couple weeks there during the worst of it, especially when things were really, really scary at Boston, (I was) just using running as a means to stay sane.
"And it is weird. You just run through this silent city. Everything was shut down. But I tried to find ways to use running to just keep a sense of normalcy when so many things were so not normal. And then as things started to gradually open back up, I created a little weight room at our house to be able to do some strength stuff. And I'm very, very lucky that (in) marathon training you can literally go on any road and do it.”
Olympians will have tight protocols to follow when they get to Tokyo because of COVID-19. Seidel ran the pared-down London Marathon in October, so dealing with the British protocols gave her a test run for what she will face in Japan.
“That was just about the strictest quarantine we could've had," Seidel said. "We were in a full bubble there. Could not leave this compound that we were on. And then I mean, the race itself was 19 laps around Buckingham Palace because they had to keep everything contained. So I think that was a really good learning experience.
"It was frankly, really hard. It's hard doing a full week-long quarantine when you're totally solo, but I think it helped make me realize, 'OK, I can do this despite how difficult it can be.'"
An American woman hasn’t won the marathon since Joan Benoit did it in 1984, the first time women were allowed to run the marathon at the Olympics. Deena Kastor was the last to medal, winning a bronze in 2004. Seidel used altitude training in Flagstaff to put her in the best position to deal with Tokyo’s heat and humidity. Her goal now is just to put her training into practice.
“I think a lot of people see qualifying for the Olympics as this enormous goal, but (I am) not being satisfied with just that," Seidel said. "Going in and being OK, I want to go there and make sure that I'm putting it all out there and really racing to the best of my ability. I'm going against the best women in the world now but not selling myself short. Knowing 'OK, it's going to be a really difficult race but I've prepared as best I can.' And I really want to go out and see where my fitness is at and what I can do and go out and not be a spectator. Be a competitor.”