Fast forward to 2022 and, three marathons later, 27-year-old Seidel can now call herself an Olympic medalist and the fastest American ever in the New York City Marathon.
After starting her first marathon in Atlanta hoping to finish in the top 20 – with the prospect of competing, let alone winning a medal, at the Olympics a distant thought – she is the first to admitting that the race “blew everything away from my expectations.”
While many distance runners hit the 26.2-mile marathon distance near the end of their careers, Seidel was a relatively early convert after leaving track running in her mid-twenties.
Partly that was due to her frustration running 10,000m on the track — “I kept banging my head against the wall with that one,” she says — and partly because of the ambitions she had had growing up.
“It’s always been my dream to run the marathon,” adds Seidel.
“I think there’s just that kind of glamor and mystery around it, and especially for a young runner who likes to do distance events in high school, that’s kind of the end goal. Everybody wants run the marathon.”
Seidel’s success at the Olympic trials was not without its challenges. As the pandemic delayed the Tokyo Games by a year, other opportunities to prove its credentials over the marathon distance have been put on hold.
“I struggled with that kind of impostor syndrome after tryouts, especially as someone no one expected to be on 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 come into the Games and feel like I belonged and try to prove that I wasn’t a mistake in this team. “
When the Olympic marathon took place some 18 months after qualifying for the team, Seidel once again exceeded his own expectations with a typically brave and courageous performance in the sweltering heat of Sapporo.
As leaders Peres Jepchirchir and Brigid Kosgei of Kenya drifted away in the final stages of the race, Seidel found herself in contention for a medal alongside Israeli Lonah Chamtai Salpeter.
But with two and a half miles remaining, Salpeter hit a wall and passed out.
A medal was now up for grabs for Seidel, and she duly wrapped up bronze with a shout of joy as she crossed the finish line – the third American woman to medal in the Olympic marathon.
“I have a hard time believing in myself and I have a hard time wondering whether or not I belong at this level, whether I belong as a competitor on the world stage,” says Seidel.
“The Olympic medal kind of showed me: Hey, you belong here, and you can do it regardless of any insecurities you might be feeling,” she adds. “You can always go and get beat up, you can still have a lot of work to do, but you can do it.”
“Yeah, we were coming off that emotional peak winning the medal,” Seidel says, “but there had been so much pent up stress during the Games and before the Games with Covid, with the quarantine, wondering if the Games will take place.
“And so I came back and frankly, I was just tired and emotionally drained and exhausted.”
But obstacles – physical as well as mental – continued to appear. Two broken ribs she suffered before the race had not healed with race day looming, and her trainer Jon Green suggested she was not ready to compete.
“It was an absolute build-up disaster,” says Seidel.
“It was really tough, not just with the mental stress we had after the Games to feel, frankly, no motivation. And just trying to find that motivation to get going again for another tough race right after a huge race that I I had been training effectively for two years.
“And then it was like problem after problem after problem, and injury after injury.”
Even with two of her ribs broken, Seidel says she “felt amazing” during the race, setting a new course record for an American of two hours, 24 minutes and 42 seconds and placing fourth.
She had planned to return to the streets of New York this weekend for the NYC Half, but announced on Tuesday that “training setbacks” – which are not uncommon when running up to 135 miles per week — meant she made the decision to stay at her training base in Flagstaff, Arizona, ahead of the Boston Marathon.
“It’s super tough,” Seidel said of his high mileage schedule.
“It’s tough, but I think it’s about learning balance. Your body adapts over time and I make sure I get enough rest and stuff. It’s a challenge, but I like the challenge.”
A lot has changed in his racing career since then. The broken bones healed and Seidel established herself as one of the best marathon runners in the world. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any more goals to pursue, or that there aren’t any more lessons to learn.
Each marathon, she explains, brings with it a new experience and a renewed sense of joy.
“I feel like every time it’s a little wild,” says Seidel.