Fast forward to 2022, and three marathons later, the 27-year-old Seidel can now call herself an Olympic medalist and the fastest American woman ever to run the New York City Marathon.
Having moved to the starting line for her first debut marathon in Atlanta hoping to be in the top 20 – with the potential to compete, let alone win a medal, at the Olympics – she is the first to admit the race “amazed everyone of my expectations”.
While many distance runners climb to the 26.2-mile marathon distance at the end of their careers, Seidel was relatively early on after switching from track racing in her mid-20s.
Partly because of her frustration with running the 10,000m on the track — “I kept hitting my head against the wall with that wall,” she says — and partly because of the ambitions she had growing up.
“I’ve kind of always dreamed of running a marathon,” Seidel adds.
“I think there’s that kind of magic and mystery around it, and especially for a younger runner who enjoys doing distance events in high school, that’s kind of the end goal. Everyone wants to run a marathon.”
Seidl’s success in Olympic trials has not been without its challenges. As the pandemic has delayed the Tokyo Games by a year, further opportunities to prove her credentials at the marathon distance have been put on hold.
“I’ve had this kind of impostor syndrome after trials, precisely because it’s probably the person that nobody expected to make the team and the person who probably received the most criticism like: Hey, why is this girl on the team?” she says.
“I think I really struggled with that, I struggled going to the games and feeling like I belonged there and trying to prove I wasn’t wrong on this team.”
When the Olympic marathon came about 18 months after she qualified for the team, Seidel once again exceeded her expectations with a daring, brave performance in the sweltering Sapporo heat.
With captains Peris Jepchercher and Brigid Kosgei withdrawing from Kenya in the final stages of the race, Seidel found herself vying for a medal alongside Israel’s Lunah Chamtai Salpeter.
But with two and a half miles left, Salpeter hit a wall and faded from the feud.
Seidl was now losing a medal, duly finishing bronze with a shout of joy as she crossed the finish line – the third American woman to win a medal in an Olympic marathon.
“I struggle with confidence and find it hard to question whether or not I belong to that level, and whether I belong as a competitor on the world stage,” Seidel says.
“The Olympic medal was kind of showing me: Hey, you belong here, and you can do it regardless of any concerns you might have,” she adds. “You can still get beaten up, you can still do a lot of work, but you can do it.”
“Yes, we were coming out of that big emotional win of the medal, but there was a lot of pent-up tension during the Games and it led us to the Games with Covid, with quarantine, wondering if the Games would happen,” Seidel says.
“So I went back and honestly, I was just tired and emotionally exhausted and passed out.”
But the obstacles – both physical and mental – continued to appear. No one has healed two broken ribs she suffered before the race as race day approaches, and her coach John Green suggested she was not ready to compete.
“It was a real disaster from the military buildup,” Seidel says.
“It was really hard, not just because of the mental stress we went through after the games where we just felt, frankly, lacking in motivation. And just trying to find that motivation to re-race for another tough race right after a massive race I’ve been training effectively for two years.
“And then it was like problem after problem, injury after injury.”
Even with two broken ribs, Seidel says she “felt incredible” during the race, setting a new course record for an American woman of 2:24:42 to finish fourth.
She had planned to return to the streets of New York this weekend for the first half of New York City, but announced on Tuesday that “setbacks in training” — which are not uncommon when you run up to 135 miles a week — meant she made the decision to stay in Her training base is in Flagstaff, Arizona before the Boston Marathon.
It’s very difficult,” Seidel said on her mileage schedule.
“It’s tough, but I think it’s a matter of learning how to balance. Your body adapts over time and I make sure I get enough rest and all that. It’s a challenge, but I love the challenge of that.”
A lot has changed in her sports career since then. Broken bones healed and Seidel established herself as one of the best marathon runners in the world. But that doesn’t mean there are no more goals to pursue, nor that there are no more lessons to learn.
She explains that each marathon brings with it a new experience and a renewed sense of joy.
“I feel like every time it’s kind of wild,” Seidel says.