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“Unconventional” Molly Seidel On Her Performances in London/Olympic Trials, Opening Up About Disordered Eating + Online Dating Talk

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“I get it from people all the time who say, ‘You’re fairly unconventional for a pro runner.’ I’m like…Thank you? I guess i do appreciate that just because I do approach things in pro running a little bit differently than the ‘normal runner.’ I’m never going to be a Shalane Flanagan. I don’t think it’s healthy for me to be hyper-focused like a one-track mind. Everyone asks me, ‘Oh are you going to join Bowerman now?’ I personally don’t think I would do well on a team like that. I think that kind of structure works really well for people. I personally thrive off a little bit more loosey-goosey and being able to have another life outside of pro running, which is why I love being in Boston. I love living with my sister out here. I love having friends that aren’t pro runners. I love having Jon as my coach because he gives me so much independence to do that. Maybe I’ll do that…Molly the Unconventional Pro.”


EPISODE NO. 200!

When I was thinking about who would be a good person to get on for this one, it occurred to me that I still haven’t had Molly Seidel on the podcast. We go back to when she was at Notre Dame and I was often visiting to cover indoor meets at the Loftus Center or I’d show up to the same football tailgate. I knew her before she was a four-time NCAA champ but always recognized that she’s had tremendous talent. She won the Footlocker Cross Country Championships in 2011. And now she’s one of the most popular distance runners after her runner-up finish at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. Most recently, she recorded a sixth-place finish in 2:25:13 at the London Marathon. She’s also a fan favorite for things like running the fastest known 10k in a turkey costume or a 36-minute mile as part of the CITIUS MAG Slow Mile Challenge started by David Melly.

In this episode, we touch on some of those things but also her struggles with disordered eating especially in 2016, the road back, the response to opening up and much more – including…online dating.

You may laugh. You may cry. I honestly think this is one of the best yet and I’m glad because it’s episode No. 200.

You can catch the latest episode of the podcast on iTunes so subscribe and leave a five-star review. We are also on Stitcher, Google Play and Spotify!

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Follow Molly on Instagram.

Episode photography by Kevin Morris.

SHOW NOTES & QUOTES

Parting thoughts on her performance at the London Marathon:

“I’m actually happier with it now than I was right after…I was obviously so happy to have gotten sixth and so happy to have gotten in a race but truthfully going into the day, basically what happened was John (Green) and I had been talking and feeling that my fitness was pretty good. We were feeling really good going into it. I had been hoping that one of the pace groups was going out in 2:23-2:24. Because a lot of the British runners were there, they changed around a lot of the pace groups. There was one group that was going to be going out in like 2:20 and one going out in 2:25…That’s a huge gap. In talking to John, I know I am not ready to go out in that 2:20 group. Realistically, if I try and do that, I’m going to bomb myself and I’m going to have a really bad time. We decided we should go out with the 2:25 group, shoot for that and maybe can build in the second half. Let’s be smart because the point of this marathon is to build strength, get in practice for Sapporo, not hopefully destroy myself and hopefully finish feeling good and like we’ve learned things to go forward off this. Going out in 2:25 felt a lot more relaxed in the first half. I finished kind of feeling like I had some juice left in the tank. 

For me personally, I’m really hard on myself and if I don’t finish a race feeling like I went to the well, I see it as I didn’t try hard enough. John has talked to me and said it’s really good that I finished, maybe that I had more to give instead of having totally died. I’m trying to look at this race as a great learning opportunity and just building toward the big goal that’s next Summer.”

Pre-race thoughts in London and Atlanta

“I was actually pretty nervous for this one because Atlanta played to every single one of my strengths. It was super tactical. It was super hilly and the conditions were hard. Those are my three. When I hear those, I hear ding, ding, ding! In London, we got the hard conditions with the rain and the wind but it was so flat and so fast. That’s something that I personally struggle with – really time trial-like courses. I knew Sara (Hall) was in a different league of fitness and mental race readiness than I was. I think I just took the approach that I need to go out and do a strong showing but I don’t need to prove anything in this race. I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder after the Trials and getting quite a bit of criticism like ‘Oh that should re-choose the team’ or ‘Oh this course wasn’t similar to what they’ll see in Sapporo. This is the wrong team that we have.’ I definitely felt like I had to prove something and then just kind of realized, “Eh…you mad, bro? I made the team.’ I’m just going to go out and try and do what I’m going to do for the next year.”

The moment the camera caught her saying she needed to go to the bathroom 

“I definitely think that negatively impacted my race performance because the problem was that it was so cold that I physically couldn’t go the bathroom before that race. I stepped on the starting line already having to go to the bathroom and knowing I was screwed…Sorry if this is TMI…It got to the point about halfway through where I was like, ‘Oh my God. I need to find a bathroom somewhere. But, because the course was so closed off there were no port-a-potties along the course. I couldn’t even duck under a fence to go to the bathroom on the side. That is literally the only reason why. I physically could not get out and people were guarding this secure area that we had. The last half to third of that race, I was just so badly focusing on how badly I had to go to the bathroom and immediately finished saying, ‘I need to find a port-a-potty right now.’I definitely put too much mental strain into that. It was bad. It was really bad. I totally understand that’s something you really don’t have to deal with in a track 10K. When you’re out there for two and a half hours, yeah…shit happens.”

“The self-talk was a little bit different. It was more ‘Don’t poop your pants on international television.’ Yeah…despite that it did help take a lot of the mental focus away from things like my legs being tired or how freaking cold I was. It was soooo cold. I was considering starting in a poncho. Before the race started, we all had our own little pods. Each of our pods had its own port-a-potty. I went up and set up shop. It was my little office inside the port-a-potty. I put down the little children’s changing table. I brought a chair into there and then just turned on oldies music. I was dancing to like ‘Brandy’ by Looking Glass trying to stay warm right before the race because I was so freaking cold. I called Jon and it’s 2 a.m. his time. I said, ‘Jon, I don’t know if I could do this.’ He was probably like, ‘Oh God! What have I done?’ It was a very different experience. It was very different from Atlanta.”

Practicing Self-Talk

“A big thing for me – because especially when I was coming off my surgery and just starting up again in 2019 – everything was hard. I was struggling to get through workouts. Something that I kind of started telling myself was ‘It doesn’t have to be good. You just have to do it.’ I feel like I kind of started taking that mentality into my marathon training as I built up for Atlanta. There were so many workouts that I just shat the bed on or couldn’t finish. It just became a matter of ‘I just have to finish this. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t have to be spectacular. This doesn’t have to be a Flotrack-worthy workout. I just have to finish this because the most important thing is getting the whole thing done and mentally being able to not quit. I think a lot of that has stayed with me: You just need to finish it. When I’m like eight miles into a 12-mile tempo or something and I’m like ‘How the hell am I going to do these next four miles?’ You just gotta finish it. I think that’s it in the marathon too. You just have to keep going and at some point you have to not think about how far you have to go, you have to not think about the fact that it’s probably going to get faster. I just have to keep moving forward. Left foot, right foot. 

Pulling the ‘I’m an Olympian’ card on herself during a workout

“On days where I’m really being a pussy and want to quit or even if it’s not that hard of a workout and I’m just not feeling this, I’m like: ‘No. You’re an Olympian. You can get this done.’ Even in Atlanta, it was really funny. As we were breaking away and it was getting really, really hard I had the mental thing of ‘You’ve hurt so much worse than this in your life. You can handle another six miles of this.’ Nothing in this race can hurt more than what you’ve already been through.”

The courage to tell her story on the Running on Om podcast

“The lead up wasn’t any conscious thing of me being like ‘I am ready to tell my story.’ I never would have gone and done the Instagram post where I’d be like ‘Let me talk about this.’ Because that’s: 1) Not really my style. 2) I think part of it was just the sense that Julia is a very close friend of mine. She has been one of the people who has helped me the most through this, through the ups and the downs and through the last couple of years in Boston – and still dealing with relapsing and continuing to deal with mental health. When Julia asked me to go on the podcast, I knew that we would probably touch on some of that stuff because I had been very open with my friends about what I had been through. Most of the people who I’m close to knew that I had been through this. I just hadn’t talked about it in an extremely public manner…Once I got onto the pod and a combination of feeling very comfortable with Julia and just her way of – it’s hard to explain. I think I felt so much stigma over what I had gone through and that was a big reason for not wanting to speak about it publicly. Just feeling really comfortable in the moment and thinking ‘OK. This is someone who I could be totally open with and I’m kind of ready to talk about it now.’ It almost occurred in the moment. I’m ready to do this not and not realizing how much momentum it would take on afterward. I’m so happy I did it. I’m glad I decided to do it in the moment and there wouldn’t have been anyone else that I would have done it with other than Julia.

It’s been hard afterward – especially after the trials. Once you speak out about it once, people are a lot more quick to ask questions about it. Specifically, some people who I don’t know well ask way too many in-depth questions about it. I have no problem talking about it with people that I know and stuff but I don’t want to get down into the weeds with someone I just met. It’s hard to explain. I struggled with being labeled as ‘The Eating Disorder Runner’ because no. This is some shit that I went through. I still deal with it but I don’t want this to define me fully. When someone wants to just get deep in the weeds about bulimia, I’m like, ‘No. I’m not going to talk about this. I’m sorry.’ This isn’t helpful for anyone. 

How I remember Molly at Notre Dame was: very talented and always happy. How tough was it to mask? 

“You have this outward persona and everything has to seem OK all the time. I don’t know if that’s a runner thing or a girl thing. Even when I was really struggling…going and being at team functions and I’d pop to the bathroom for five to 10 minutes, make myself throw up and then you’d have to come back out and you’re just totally fine again. Nobody knows. That was part of my problem in college. I wasn’t reaching out and I wasn’t vocal enough about how much I was struggling. Even in the times when my body looked healthier than it did at the end of my college career, I was struggling just as much. Everyone would be like ‘but you’re happy all the time.’ That doesn’t mean anything. It’s one thing if I’m happy to be at team functions but it’s not necessarily what I’m really going through.

I think I’ve become a little bit better not about being able to be real and being able to say ‘I’m not OK.’

Hell, that’s why I’m not doing some of these 10K races at the end of the year. I need some time right now. I’m not mentally where I need to be. I could see myself focusing too much on the externals and not on myself, which is exactly what I did at ND. It was always just ‘I need to hold it together for this next race. I just need to hold it together. Hold it together and put on the best show.’ I’d blank out the internal parts of me that weren’t doing OK. It’s hard.

I feel like I’m so mixed about my time in college. In certain ways, it was so fun. Who I am today is so much because of my time at ND. But, it was really hard and I did really struggle. I don’t think I’d ever want to go back and do it again. I am really grateful for the time that I had there. I’m going back to ND in a couple of weeks. I love getting to go back. It’s really fun. I love being able to be all up in it again. There were a lot of really tough times there.

The Molly of 2020

“I get it from people all the time who say, ‘You’re fairly unconventional for a pro runner.’ I’m like…Thank you? I guess i do appreciate that just because I do approach things in pro running a little bit differently than the ‘normal runner.’ I’m never going to be a Shalane Flanagan. I don’t think it’s healthy for me to be hyper-focused like a one-track mind. Everyone asks me, ‘Oh are you going to join Bowerman now?’ I personally don’t think I would do well on a team like that. I think that kind of structure works really well for people. I personally thrive off a little bit more loosey-goosey and being able to have another life outside of pro running, which is why I love being in Boston. I love living with my sister out here. I love having friends that aren’t pro runners. I love having Jon as my coach because he gives me so much independence to do that. Maybe I’ll do that…Molly the Unconventional Pro.”

“I was cooling down with Emily Durgin and she was like, ‘So, did you make any money coming to this?’ I was like, ‘Aw hell no. I actually paid my own way down.’ She asked, ‘Then why are you doing this?’ I’m kind of like ‘Why the hell do I do anything? Just because I wanted to and it seemed like it would be fun.’ I feel like that is my approach. That was my approach going into the trials. I didn’t expect to make the team. It just seemed like it would be fun.”

Could 2016 Molly have foreseen this outcome where people now reach out to her for help?

I could not have believed it just because at that time being in the REDI Clinic and really confronting the very real possibility of not only not being able to run professionally but not being able to run again. My bone density was so low. My weight was so low. I was just really mentally in such a horrible place. It was like, ‘How do I keep going day to day?’ A lot of it is that when you’re going through hell, you just keep going. It’s kind of like in a marathon, you just focus on that next step. You can’t have that forethought of ‘What do I do four years from now?’ It’s more of ‘What do I do for the next two hours to get through the hell that I’m living through right now?’ It was really hard but I am really grateful that I am very close with my family and they fully supported me through all of this. I had a great therapist. My college coach (Matt) Sparks fully supported this and was so willing to let me get help. 

The only thing that I knew at that time was I was doing all of this because I knew I needed to be healthy enough to keep living and I wanted to keep running. I wanted to get back to running at some point and at whatever capacity that was. I feel like I used that as kind of motivation like, “If you don’t get your shit together, you’re never going to run again. You better gain 15 pounds and really do the work in therapy to get through this. Otherwise, you’re going to blow it.”

My therapist kept telling me, ‘You don’t have to keep running. You don’t have to keep doing this.’ I just kept coming back to ‘But I want to.’ This is the only thing I’ve dreamed of doing. I want to do this so bad. 

I’m frankly amazed at what has happened over the last four years. I never could have believed this is where I’d end up from 2016 Molly.”

The Dream of Running in the Olympics

“I feel like I’ve been so blessed in the sense that there are things you truly love and things that you’re good at. In the Venn diagram of those things, the one thing that I truly love more than anything and the one thing that I just happen to be good at is the same thing. I’m so lucky to have that because I feel like that’s fairly rare in life to get those sorts of things. I am just so passionate about running. At the end of the day, it’s the one thing that I truly, truly love. I love getting to go out and do this every day regardless of how freakin’ miserable the weather in Boston is sometimes. Even from a young age, I knew that running was the one thing I wanted to do even before I knew how good I could be at it. I don’t think I realized it until high school really that I could be really good at it. I think when I was in fourth grade and I was writing that down it was just like when you like sports and you’re mildly OK at it…Olympics! That’s the top goal of any sport. It was that. It wasn’t I am going to be an elite athlete. It was just where you go if you want to do sports things. I’m so grateful that I get to do the thing I love to do the most every single day.”


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