Molly Seidel has run a lot of loops.
Four loops on a course that wove through Atlanta in the Olympic trials when she qualified for the Olympic Games in her first-ever marathon of February 2020. Nineteen loops in October 2020 as part of the elite-only London Marathon that circled Buckingham Palace (again, and again, and again). And the three loops of the Olympic marathon course in Sapporo, Japan, when she won a bronze medal.
“Doing a point-to-point is going to be wild for me!” she said, referring to the New York City Marathon, which this week she announced she would run. It will be her most conventional 26.2 mile race thus far.
She chose the Nov. 7 race out of a packed fall schedule. Marathons in Boston, London, Los Angeles and Tokyo now join the already busy schedule of marathons in Berlin, Chicago, Washington and New York because of postponements earlier this year.
Coming off a whirlwind of press tours, celebrations and, yes, even another race, Seidel said she decided on the New York City Marathon for several reasons — the difficulty of the course chief among them. It’s a world away from the pancake flat marathons in Chicago and Berlin, routes that many elite runners select to aim for personal bests or world records.
The New York route is hilly and tactical, perfect conditions for a marathoner who has seen her greatest success when the going gets brutal.
Seidel qualified for the Olympics on a windy, chilly and hilly course in Atlanta that slowed the pace of veteran marathoners. She earned her bronze medal at the Olympics in swampy conditions in Sapporo, a city 500 miles north of Tokyo that Olympic organizers hoped would have more moderate temperatures.
“Oh, it was hotter in Sapporo that day than it was in Tokyo,” she said. Hours before the gun went off for the race on Aug. 6, the start time was made earlier, at 6 a.m. Temperatures at the start were still 78 degrees Fahrenheit with 82 percent humidity. “I feel like that’s just the universe laughing at us,” she said.
Still, she hoped for an advantage. Perhaps Peres Jepchirchir and Brigid Kosgei, two world record holders, would be slowed from world record pace in the steamy conditions (Jepchirchir of Kenya won the gold and Kosgei the silver but neither came close to a record).
“I think if it had been perfect conditions that day, they would have gone out and taken it hard from the gun and just run an unbelievable time because it was a very fast course.”
Seidel’s strength comes from the ability to, in her words, prepare for a race to “kind of suck.” She looks at unfavorable conditions as opportunities to level the playing field a bit, to let her body do what it is trained to do.
“When it gets really tough and things start to equalize out a bit, that’s when I start to thrive,” she said.
The timing of the New York City Marathon is especially advantageous for those who competed in the Tokyo Olympics, coming some 14 weeks after the Games.
Seidel will be joined by Jepchirchir and other formidable competitors like Des Linden, Emily Sisson, Ruti Aga, Laura Thweatt, Stephanie Bruce and Kellyn Taylor. Both of Seidel’s Olympic marathon teammates, Aliphine Tuliamuk and Sally Kipyego, will also be lining up on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.
The marathon will be Tuliamuk’s return to racing since she dropped out of the Olympic marathon at 20 kilometers, citing hip problems. She is on the road to recovery and optimistic about her performance at this year’s race, calling it a building block and a sweet spot in the calendar for her.
“New York really is the marathon that made me believe in myself,” Tuliamuk said over the phone, her 7-month-old daughter, Zoe, babbling in the background. “Back in 2017, when I ran the New York City Marathon, I felt like I could be a marathoner. I went back in 2019 and had a really strong race and that was the race that made me believe that I could make the Olympic team.”
The men’s elite field will be headlined by the Olympic silver medalist, Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands; Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, and Jared Ward and Ben True of the United States.
They will be joined by another 33,000 marathoners eager for an ounce of normalcy. Tuliamuk and Seidel both spoke wistfully about the joy of seeing fans on the streets again. Tuliamuk is eager to greet her daughter at the finish line. Seidel is hopeful to finally run a race in front of her family again.
But, Seidel said, as excited as she is for that kind of experience, this is not a post-Olympics fun run. “If I’m going to the line of a marathon, I want to make sure that I’m being competitive,” she said. “I don’t want to phone it in.”