Molly Seidel’s second-ever marathon was supposed to be at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. Instead it will be a 19-lap race around St James’s Park in the delayed London Marathon.
But the fact she is running professionally at all is testament to her powers of recovery from an athletics system in the United States which is, in her words, “unsustainable and unhealthy”.
Seidel was a standout cross-country and 10km track runner in high school, then in the US collegiate system. But after being put through a one-size-fits-all-genders training method there that leads to eating disorders, broken bones and exhaustion, she had to start again.
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She wasn’t bullied or belittled like athletes who have opened up about Nike’s Oregon Project, or gymnasts in Britain, have revealed. She claims the entire system is broken rather than poisoned by bad coaches.
“I have seen the same process time and time again, of a girl who was very good in high school, coming in, trained into the ground, going hormonally off, developing eating disorders then spat out the back end of this sport,” explains Seidel.
“In college athletics we treat women athletes as simply boys who wear pink. That is simply not how girls develop. Girls can run really fast, then as they develop into a woman their bodies change.
“How it happened with me is you’re really good in high school, you get into college, you start to grow as a woman and your times stop improving – you might not improve for a year or two.
“You might gain weight… and college coaches are like ‘why aren’t you running fast, what are you doing wrong?’ And that mentality then leads to eating disorders. I saw the way that girls were losing weight in order to get ready for meets. My coach was telling me I was too heavy. You feel used, it was quite hellish.
“I have talked specifically about the NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] system because it is an extremely unsustainable, unhealthy approach.
Seidel credits her sponsors, Saucony, and her coach at Notre Dame University, Matt Sparks, for steering her towards recovery.
“My coach actively encouraged me to go to eating disorder treatment and get healthy. A lot of coaches would not have done that.
“Saucony as well have actively supported me in my process to get healthy mentally. When they signed me I had a stress fracture and they knew I was coming from a background of eating disorders. They basically gave me a contract with no reductions. That’s the kind of development we need to take to turn our top high-school athletes into sustainable adult athletes.”
‘In college athletics we treat women as simply boys who wear pink. That is simply not how girls develop’
Seidel switched to the marathon because the longer distance meant less stress on her body. Her first race was the US Olympic trials in Atlanta in January, where she finished second to qualify for Tokyo 2020.
And the prospect of running laps around a London park? “I have only raced one marathon before so everything is new to me! And I come from a track background, running monotonous laps is in my wheelhouse. So I am quite looking forward to it.”
Molly Seidel is supporting the launch of the Saucony Endorphin Pro running shoe, available from selected retailers and saucony.co.uk on 14 October.