In the summer of 2016, Molly Seidel received a call from a friend, Stephen Haas, asking if she wanted to assist Sally Kipyego — the silver medalist in the 2012 Olympic marathon — with a workout for the upcoming New York City Marathon, setting up hydration stations along Kipyego’s training route so she could simulate running while taking in fluids.
Seidel, a four-time NCAA champion in cross-country and track and field with Notre Dame, didn’t hesitate. She joined Kipyego in Flagstaff, Ariz., where she trained.
“I idolized her,” Seidel said. “I remember thinking ‘I hope someday I’m as cool as Sally Kipyego.’ ”
The 25-year-old Seidel, now a Boston resident, may have accomplished that.
On Saturday, Seidel, running in her first marathon, finished second in the US Olympic marathon trials in Atlanta in 2 hours, 27 minutes, 31 seconds — and finished 1 minute, 21 seconds ahead of Kipyego.
Five months from now, Seidel will be running alongside her idol and trials winner Aliphine Tuliamuk at the Tokyo Games.
Seidel qualified for the trials with a third-place finish among Americans at the Houston Half Marathon in December.
“A lot of people from the Boston running community were down here and being able to share this with all of them, after all the ups and downs, was so much fun,” Seidel told the Globe in a phone interview.
Seidel’s route to this point in her accomplished running career was like a marathon. As a high school senior, the Wisconsin native won the Foot Locker national cross-country title in 2011. She won her first NCAA title as a Notre Dame junior, taking the 10,000-meter title at the 2015 outdoor NCAA track and field championships. In the fall of that year, Seidel became the first woman to win national cross-country titles in high school and college — despite being ill from mold in her dormitory.
In winter 2016, Seidel won indoor titles in the 3,000 and 5,000.
But behind Seidel’s success was a near-invisible adversary that manifested itself in bulimia. In a Runner’s World profile, she discussed her struggle with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) from a young age and how it affected her at Notre Dame, especially during her junior season. Seidel’s OCD compelled her to repeat patterns, touch and knock certain things in certain ways, and then, because of running, it caused her to eat specific items which developed into bulimia.
“It’s a control mechanism to keep your anxiety down, but it really affects your living,” she said. “When my OCD is really bad, it’s like a radio turned up to the highest volume in your head and you can’t do anything to make it stop . . . it’s a constant balancing act. It’s always there.”
Seidel moved to Boston in 2017 after signing a three-year deal with Waltham-based sportswear company Saucony. She shares an apartment with her sister in the Fenway area and enjoys running along the Emerald Necklace and Franklin Park, two areas within the BAA Half Marathon course. When she’s not training, she makes ends meet by working at a coffee shop and babysitting.
Seidel, who has a penchant for donuts, has assimilated well into life in Boston with regard to her donut shops of choice. She said she had never tried Dunkin’ before moving to Boston, but she’s become a fan of the New England staple, evidenced by her Saucony shoes emblazoned with the Dunkin’ logo and hat with a sprinkled donut on it.
Her favorite donuts, however, come from Union Square Donuts and Davis Square Donuts & Bagels in Somerville.
“The first time I had a Davis Square Donut, my coach brought some after a training session and I nearly cried because it was so good,” she said.
There is uncertainty surrounding the 2020 Games. The marathon was moved to Sapporo — a cooler region — due to extreme heat concerns, and now the coronavirus outbreak has spectators wondering if the Games will be cancelled. But Seidel isn’t worried about that. This race means too much to her.
“If USOC decides it’s not safe, we’ll obviously follow what they’re doing,” she said, “but if it comes down to it, I’ll race in a mask if I need to . . . it’s the Olympics.
“I understand the gravity of the situation . . . but from the bottom of my heart, I really hope it doesn’t affect the Games.”
Seidel will return to Boston to decompress before she receives information on when and where to begin training with the Olympic team. The last 24-48 hours, the last few months even, have been a whirlwind. She didn’t expect to start training for an Olympic marathon so soon in her career, instead aiming for the 2024 Games in Paris. She will, however, participate in the US Olympic Track & Field Trials in June at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon in the 10K. But for now, she’ll savor this moment.
“I’ve kind of had this really long-term approach to it. That’s been the mind-set the past couple days because I’ve been doing this a lot sooner than I thought I hoped I would,” Seidel said. “For the time being, I just want to savor being back home and training with my favorite people.”
Clarification: Because of incorrect information provided to the Globe, the caller who asked Molly Seidel to assist Sally Kipyego in 2016 was misidentified in earlier versions of this story. The story has been updated.
Correction: Because of a reporter’s error, Seidel’s margin over the third-place finisher in the US Olympic marathon trials was incorrect in earlier versions of this story. Seidel was 1 minute, 21 seconds faster.
Brandon Chase can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.