Fast-forward to 2022 and three marathons later, 27-year-old Seidel can now call herself an Olympic medalist and the fastest American woman ever at the New York City Marathon.
After going to the starting line of her debut marathon in Atlanta in hopes of finishing in the top 20 – with the prospect of competing, let alone winning a medal, in the Olympics, she is the first to give in that the race “wiped everything out” of my expectations.”
While many distance runners reached the marathon distance of 26.2 miles towards the end of their careers, Seidel was a relatively early convert who made the switch from track racing when she was in her mid-20s.
It was partly because of her frustration with running 10,000 meters on the track — “I kept banging my head against the wall with that track,” she says — and partly because of the ambitions she had growing up.
“I’ve always dreamed of doing the marathon,” adds Seidel.
“I think there’s just a kind of glamor and mystery about it, and especially for a younger runner who likes to do the high school distance events, that’s the ultimate goal. Everyone wants to run the marathon.”
Seidel’s success in the Olympic trials was not without its challenges. As the pandemic delayed the Tokyo Games by a year, further opportunities to prove her credentials in the marathon distance were shelved.
“I struggled with this kind of impostor syndrome after the trials, especially as probably the person that nobody expected to make the team and the person who probably got the most criticism, like, Hey, why is this girl on the team?” she says.
“I think I really struggled with that, and I struggled to go into the Games and feel like I belonged there and try to prove I wasn’t wrong on that team.”
When the Olympic Marathon came about 18 months after she qualified for the team, Seidel once again exceeded her own expectations with a typically brave, rugged performance in the sweltering heat of Sapporo.
As Kenyan leaders Peres Jepchirchir and Brigid Kosgei pulled away in the closing stages of the race, Seidel competed with Israeli Lonah Chamtai Saltpeter for a medal.
But with two-and-a-half miles to go, Saltpeter hit a wall and disappeared from the fray.
Seidel now had a medal to lose, and she duly wrapped up the bronze with a scream of joy as she crossed the finish line — the third American woman to ever medal in the Olympic marathon.
“I struggle with confidence and I struggle with whether or not I belong at this level, whether I belong on the global stage as a competitor,” Seidel says.
“The Olympic medal kind of showed me: Hey, you belong here, and you can do this regardless of any insecurities you might feel,” she adds. “You can still get beaten, you can still have a lot of work, but you can do this.”
“Yes, we got off this emotional peak by winning the medal,” Seidel says, “but there was so much pent-up stress over the course of the Games leading up to the Games with Covid, with the quarantine, and wondering if the Games are going to happen.
“And so I came back and honestly I was just tired and emotionally drained and exhausted.”
But obstacles – both physical and mental – kept appearing. Two broken ribs she sustained before the race hadn’t healed with race day approaching, and her coach Jon Green suggested she wasn’t ready to compete yet.
“It was an absolute disaster of a build-up,” Seidel says.
“It was really hard, not just with the mental stress we had after the Games of just, frankly, not feeling any motivation. I had effectively trained for two years.
“And then it was just like problem after problem after problem, and injury after injury.”
Even with two of her ribs broken, Seidel said she felt “incredible” during the race, setting a new course record for an American woman of two hours, 24 minutes, 42 seconds and a fourth-place finish.
She planned to return to the streets of New York this weekend for the NYC Half, but announced Tuesday that “training setbacks” — which are not uncommon when you’re running 235 miles a week — have meant that she made the decision to stay at her training base in Flagstaff, Arizona for the Boston Marathon.
“It’s super tough,” Seidel said on her high-mileage schedule.
“It’s hard, but I think it’s a matter of learning to balance. Your body adapts over time and I make sure I get enough rest and stuff. It’s a challenge, but I like it challenge.”
A lot has changed in her running career since then. Broken bones have been healed and Seidel has established himself as one of the best marathon runners in the world. But that does not mean that there are no more goals to pursue, nor that there are no more lessons to learn.
Every marathon, she explains, brings new experiences and a renewed sense of joy.
“I feel like it’s a little wild every time,” Seidel says.