The last couple miles of a marathon can be brutal, but they can be even more challenging when you're competing for a medal at the Olympics. For Molly Seidel, she says she had a little help from above to get her through the race.
The Team USA marathoner stunned the world by taking home a bronze medal in Tokyo in just the third marathon of her career, and she told TODAY that one of her mom's favorite prayers gave her the boost she needed to persevere.
Seidel's mom had texted her the prayer from St. Jude, who just so happens to be the saint of the impossible, and the athlete found it comforting to recite during the homestretch of the race.
"My mom went to the sister school of Notre Dame, where I went to university, and she found it in the grotto at ND when she was in school," Seidel told Savannah Guthrie and Craig Melvin on TODAY Tuesday. "She prays it all of the time, really in times of difficulty or in times of need."
Crunch time in the final portion of the race in 100-degree heat with an Olympic medal on the line certainly qualified as a time of need.
"With about four miles to go of that race, when I was sitting right around that fourth, third place, and I didn't know whether or not I was going to medal, it was getting really, really tough," Seidel recalled. "I just started mouthing it to myself and was just hoping and praying that I'd be able to keep pushing through to the finish line and come away with a medal."
St. Jude helped her bring it home, as Seidel, 27, became the first American female marathoner to medal since Deena Kastor won bronze at the 2004 Olympics.
Seidel opened eyes around the world by finishing in the top three despite only previously running two marathons in her career. In the first marathon of her life, she finished second at the U.S. Olympic trials in February to qualify for Tokyo.
She has a background as an elite distance runner and was named the national Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year when she was a high school senior. Seidel then became an NCAA cross country champion at Notre Dame and won NCAA titles in the 3,000, 5,000 and 10,000-meter races.
Her relative inexperience with the marathon distance of 26.2 miles did not stop her from grabbing a spot on the podium in Tokyo.
"Just the type of training that I do for the marathon, I truly love it, even though it's hard, it's long, it's grueling," she said. "I run upwards of 130 miles a week. I just love every part about this race, where my brain goes in the race. I think I'm just really well built for it, and I don't know, it just kind of sets my soul on fire when I do the event."
Seidel's journey has also included struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder and an eating disorder that led to myriad injuries and broken bones because of the stress it put on her body. She was an Olympic hopeful in 2016, but instead of deciding to turn professional out of college and competing in the U.S. Olympic trials, she went to treatment for her eating disorder.
"I think that's the only reason I am here today as a medalist," she said. "In 2016, I was really struggling with my mental health and it had exacted this huge toll on my body. I couldn't compete at a high level any more, and so I had to make a really difficult decision to go into treatment for that.
"And over the last five years, I've worked really, really hard to get my mental health to a place where I can compete at the highest level. I just feel like it makes me a healthier person all around, and it lets me compete at my best."
After running the race of her life in Tokyo, she plans on being back in Paris in 2024 for another shot at a medal in the marathon.
"I definitely hope so," she said. "American distance running is in such an amazing place right now that just being able to go out and compete for that team for Paris 2024 is going to be very competitive. But I'll keep running marathons between now and then, and that's going to be my biggest goal now, to come back and try and do some great things on a world stage again."
Despite being exhausted after getting back from Tokyo early Tuesday morning, she plans on running a 7-mile race for charity in Boston this weekend.
"That'll be nothing," she said before smiling.