Molly Seidel — the road out of ruin

"The more you say that story — over and over — the more it becomes your reality and the harder it is to break out of it."

When you've been through hell, it's important to glance over the shoulder — to acknowledge how far you have come while shaping the way forward. But recovery from trauma is rarely linear. A double-edged sword that reveals new challenges on the way to better health. This is Molly’s process. The embodiment of the robustness and defiance needed to compete at the highest level and — ultimately — the negotiation of a route through life that transcends sport.


Peaking as an athlete is not one-dimensional. It's not simply about how fast you are running at that moment — it requires stability and good fortune on multiple levels. It demands physical and mental readiness. And such is the cruelty of a career defined by moments and big occasions, the hard work can go unrewarded in an instant.

Shortly before the US Olympic Trials in Florida, Molly Seidel's career delivered a new turn in the road. The gut-wrenching timing of an injury that would prevent her from competing in the biggest race for four years when all other planets had seemingly aligned. To put it simply — she was ready. Peaking. Appreciation of what it has taken Molly to reach this point is a valuable reminder to those of us who are far removed from understanding the demands of performing as an athlete at the highest level. Acknowledgement that respect is due for the journey, not just the results. As Molly explains in the article — no two paths to success are the same.

This is a story worth telling — regardless of the outcome on the road.

Experience since the Tokyo Olympics has been an important process of reflection for Molly Seidel. As the next Olympic cycle approaches its climax, she is buoyant — elevated — atop a platform of renewed self-awareness and confidence. She can see in both directions. Not only where she has come from, but also into the future. Navigating a safe path to avoid the trappings of previous struggles that would whittle her body away in pursuit of the perfect marathon running image — the traditional view of what success looked like in her eyes. No fun allowed. 

“Over the last few years, it has been a case of ‘Who do I want to be? What do I want to be? Why do I want to be doing this?’ And that has been the really refreshing part. Going through all of that and hitting the absolute bottom of the well, realising there's nothing there, and then this coming back up over the last year or so. And being ‘I want this more than I wanted it before’.”

Molly admits that there have been parts of the road running community that have taken time to adjust to her style. The stoicism that can veil true personality in road running — often making athletes seem more robotic than human — is not a quality that Molly possesses. "People mistake my attitude as not caring or not working hard, when in reality I care so deeply about this, and I care deeply enough that I allow myself to approach it from a space of authenticity.” 

Enabling her authentic side to blossom feels like a corner turned. “I've spent so long trying to make sure everybody likes me — to be the hero that everyone expects and wants. But at this point I know that I can't control how people view me all the time. All I can do is put myself out there, and not everyone is going to like it. There will always be the criticism.” Molly has been on the slow train to this station of acceptance, but that feels ok. There’s vigor and passion in her voice now.

When you’re fighting fires all over the place it’s important to pick the right battles and focus on doing the right thing in that moment. Some things naturally take longer to resolve. “I had that perfect story — girl, great Prep runner, went through eating disorder, and now victorious again. Nobody wants to hear about the year later when I'm back in ED treatment because, ‘what about this perfect story that I believed and listened to?’ But that’s not how any of this works and it makes you feel like you're disappointing people.” 

Playing off her own attitudes and personality against wider public perception has taken some time to level the bubble. A process that has involved finding her place in both sport and in life. “Before Tokyo I wasn't even in a place that I could have a committed relationship because it was such a, like, self-seeking thing. Having to pour everything into this at the expense of everything else. And now I've been able to branch out from that and know that there's more to me than just this. And be able to have a long-term partner, and we've built a team now. To find value in the things that aren't weighted on my own success.”

The perception that athletes are just playing sport — that it’s not real work — makes mental health a difficult diagnosis to understand and it’s something that Molly has spent time thinking about. “For a lot of people, it's hard to rationalize the ‘being in the weeds’ or reaching that pinnacle and then going back down into the weeds. No person's story is linear.” The everyday life of an athlete may be far-removed from the hustle of a standard 9-5, but it's still a job — they're professionals. They’re not immune from real world issues that could affect anyone. Molly suggests that there's a disconnect in this understanding. “You have this direct line to your heroes and professional athletes, and it can be hard to realise sometimes that these are real people going through real emotions. We're not just play-acting at this — this is our lives too.” 

Distancing herself from the white noise — the cross-talk and the emotional static — has become an important tactic for preventing the negativity of conversations around her from interfering with performance. Even if the chatter is fair in terms of questioning what’s possible for an athlete who has been absent from the elite scene for a while. The exposure could still mean internally questioning her own expectations. “Take the Chicago Marathon — my first marathon for a couple of years, after a long period of struggle, a lot of injury, and a lot of specific mental health treatment. There was a pretty large conversation, like, ‘does Molly Seidel have it anymore? Will she fail? Will she be washed up in the sport or can she improve?’ And I had to really remove myself from that.” The mental baggage of hearsay and media is taxing, but how Molly approaches racing now is up to her to control. Helping her to develop a non-stick coating that prevents absorption of unwanted opinion.

Molly is candid about her tendency to overshare. And that this can leave the door ajar for people to assume that she’s always ready to talk. “I realise now that there are certain things that I owe to myself to keep to myself. Because it's one thing to be going through these things, it's another to have to talk about it while you're going through it”. 

And yet the inadvertent consequence of opening up about her experiences has been to position Molly as a role model for raising awareness of mental health. While she would never shy away from sharing conversations, it’s a position that she has no training for and comes with a new set of challenges. It has prompted the deployment of some basic defence mechanisms — boundaries — to ensure that life around running doesn’t become overwhelming. 

“The thing I've struggled with most through this process of unintentionally becoming some sort of mental health ambassador, or someone that people look up to as a ‘success story’, is the more that story is perpetuated like that, the more I started to reinforce that as a core part of my personality.” At times she felt trapped by the stigma she was trying to open up about and free herself from. The boundaries are not just there as a reminder of self-preservation in a behavioural sense, but also an early warning system if certain conversations could be a trigger — to keep a safe distance.

For Molly, running brings joy and satisfaction. But that doesn't mean that the sport she loves can't bring about a state of suffering — not in a physical sense. An overwhelming burden of mental fatigue, not acute like the short-lived acidosis of hard training — we’re talking chronic. Athletes can suffer as a result of their sport, even if the act of doing it can feel like a safe space. Anxiety, imposter syndrome, a perception of being flawed, and of not meeting expectations — all the warning signs. The warm-up before the main set of depression or eating disorder. Add ADHD to this list, in the case of Molly, and you start to see a view of a situation for which the word suffering finds a legitimate use. 

Doing sport ignites a euphoric fire. Endorphins being the anesthesia to the physical pain of effort. An antidote for the poison of discomfort. Molly will always have running in her back pocket — the sanctuary of that place where being in motion enables her mind and body to align. The purity and simplicity of running for the love of running. Not because it’s tied to an association of success or competition, or of even being good at running. “Sometimes for me it feels like my brain is moving too fast for my body and running allows those two things to sync up. It allows me to give myself that space to think through my problems, to work through things.”

Contemplating the future, Molly isn’t nervous that major races in the future risk diverting her back onto the familiar, ruinous path. There’s a calmness — maturing, even. “I’m not expecting it to fix me. I think that's what it was before. I poured so much into running because it was almost like, this is going to be the thing that saves me. This is going to be my White Knight. And I know better now than to expect the things that will fill me up will come just from success.”

Word by Ross Lovell, Images by Dan King.