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Gripping the steering wheel of her Audi Allroad while driving on an Arizona highway three days ago, Molly Seidel spoke breezily on her cell phone about what it’s like to go fast. Seidel, whose stunning second place finish at the USA Olympic Team Trials nearly a year ago in Atlanta catapulted her into the national spotlight, enjoys both running and driving fast.
“This thing goes fast,” she said of her car. “I’m a bit of a leadfoot.”
Seidel, 26, will be returning to Atlanta on February 28, where she will run a special edition of the Atlanta Half-Marathon which will be held at the sprawling Atlanta Motor Speedway, partly on the facility’s 1.5-mile race track. The race, part of Atlanta’s Marathon Weekend organized by the Atlanta Track Club, was moved from the streets of the city a year ago to the racetrack grounds in order to offer athletes of all abilities a COVID-safe, in-person running competition. Seidel said she’s never actually run on a racetrack, but she’s very excited by the concept.
“When the race opportunity came up in Atlanta we immediately jumped on that,” Seidel told Race Results Weekly. She added: “I’ve had a lot of exposure to race tracks because my dad and my brother race cars semi-professionally. It’s super cool to watch. I love it.”
Speed is what Seidel will be after in Atlanta. She’ll be using this event as part of her build-up to the Olympic Marathon in Sapporo on August 7, and thinks it fits perfectly into the training plan she and coach Jon Green have devised. She is trying to use as productively as possible the extra year of preparation time she’s been given by the pandemic in advance of the Tokyo Olympics.
“Basically being in kind of a unique position of having already secured the spot several months out we, my coach Jon and I, got to plan backwards a little bit,” Seidel said. “A big part of that is try to, like, get in a combination of strength and speed that I need for Sapporo. For me I really wanted to be able to focus on the half-marathon a little bit more just because… doing stuff on the roads gets me a little bit more excited than doing stuff on the track. The half-marathon is a distance that I haven’t been able to deeply explore yet. It’s been fun getting to learn that distance a little bit better.”
It’s hard to believe that Seidel only ran her first half-marathon on October 26, 2019, at the low-key Cape Cod Half-Marathon in Massachusetts. Facing no competition, she clocked 1:14:10 and finished ahead of the next woman finisher by more than eight and a half minutes. Some five weeks later, she ran her first serious half off of full training, winning the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio & Half-Marathon in a very elite 1:10:27, bettering Shalane Flanagan’s course record by 22 seconds. That performance was pivotal because it qualified her for the Olympic Trials where she made her marathon debut.
Since then, Seidel has lowered her half-marathon best to 1:09:20, a mark she set in a “micro race” outside of Las Vegas last month which only had 37 finishers. For that event, called the Las Vegas Gold Half-Marathon, Seidel said that she went into it with no set goals and just tried to have fun.
“It felt great,” she said of the race which was only for elite athletes. “Really my coach just told me, don’t look at the watch. Just go out, hop between groups of guys as they come back to you, but have fun with it. That’s really what it was. It was just a chance to bust a run, trying to get back into the swing of things, try out the new shoes. Yeah, it was a good day.”
The “new shoes” were her Puma racing shoes, the first time she wore them in competition after announcing she had switched sponsors from Saucony to Puma last month. She’s excited by that transition, and got very comfortable with her new competition footwear by wearing them extensively in training.
“Everybody at Puma, from the first time I went in to meet with them to now when I’m working with them in an official capacity, has been just awesome,” said Seidel whose cell phone signal cut out a few times as she drove through a forest. “That was one of the reasons I wanted to go with them, like, really game for some awesome ideas. It’s really a lot of innovation going on and a really cool attitude. It’s been very fun. It’s been a really good transition. I’ve been enjoying it immensely. Even more so getting to wear, frankly, a really great pair of racing shoes, not only training in them but racing in them, exploring new things that I can do.”
As good as her performance was in the Las Vegas race, Seidel was quick to point out that it did not represent a full effort off of dedicated preparation. The Atlanta race will be different. She wants to see what she can do after putting everything into it, like a race car driver bringing out a new car with a newly tuned engine.
“The Vegas one we just kind of trained through that,” she explained. “We just used that as a workout. This one we’ll go into it with a full-on race mentality, taper a little bit that week.”
While Seidel wouldn’t offer a specific time goal, the Atlanta Track Club has recruited two male pace makers to shepherd her through the two-loop, record-eligible course at a sub-1:09 pace. Depending on how she feels, it is always possible that the American record could enter her mind. The USA record is 1:07:25 by Molly Huddle set in Houston in 2018. Only four American women have run sub-1:08 on a record-quality course: Huddle, Emily Sisson (1:07:30), Deena Kastor (1:07:34), and Jordan Hasay (1:07:55). (Kara Goucher also ran 1:06:57 at the slightly downhill Great North Run in England in 2007).
“Road racing is just exciting to me in a way that track racing is not,” Seidel admitted. “Not that track racing isn’t exciting, but it’s just a different style of running. It’s much more similar to cross country in college, rather than that exacting nature of hitting your exact paces every lap on the track. I think I love the competition and… the fact that it will be different every time. I personally find that road racing lights my soul on fire more.”
Of the other 16 elite women entered in the race at least two, Eilish McColgan of Scotland and Natosha Rogers of Rochester Hills, Mich., could challenge Seidel. McColgan, the 2018 European Championships silver medalist at 5000m, will be making her half-marathon debut. She has covered the distance before, unofficially, working as a pacemaker at the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon last October where she went through halfway in 1:12:26. She was supposed to run the super-fast RAK Half-Marathon in Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates, but that race was recently cancelled due to the pandemic. Rogers, now part of the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project, was the USA half-marathon champion in 2017 where she set a personal best of 1:10:45. Seven women in the field have run sub-1:14.
Motor racing may excite Seidel, but she won’t be driving her father’s race car any time soon. She’s 5′-4″ (163cm), and the driver’s seat is permanently set for his six-foot height.
“I’d love to but, frankly, I’m not tall enough,” she said with a laugh. “It’s very set for their specific heights. So, I’d need to wear stilted shoes, or something. I do enjoy driving very much. I’m definitely not the fastest in my family, though.”(02/21/2021) Views: 47 ⚡AMP