Allie Kieffer entered the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon as a relative unknown in the professional athlete field, but she used that underdog status to her advantage. She worked her way through the lead pack over the course of the race, eventually putting herself in position to kick from seventh place to fifth in the final meters. Along with the top-five finish, she also set a new personal best by more than 26 minutes, running 2:29:39.
After following that effort in 2018 with a seventh-place finish in 2:28:12, it’s understandable that she might have even more of an expectation to perform in her third-consecutive appearance in the five boroughs.
Allie Kieffer leading a chase pack in the women's professional race at the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon.
But about three weeks ago, returning from a two-month altitude stint in Flagstaff, AZ, to her current training base in Austin, TX, she found herself dealing with a hamstring strain that has kept her out of running for much of the time since then.
Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances leading up to the race, Kieffer states confidently, “I think the injury has been a blessing in disguise.” She explains her way of thinking, saying, “I think that with each successful race I've done, I've put more pressure on myself,” adding, “This injury's actually taken the pressure off a lot. I've been able to change my mindset to 'I do this because I love it.'”
For the first week of her injury, she attempted a much lighter training schedule when the injury still hadn’t subsided, she took the second week completely off—no cross-training to compensate for aerobic fitness, nor any sessions in the weight room for strength work.
That amount of time on the sidelines could derail many runners’ race plans entirely, but Kieffer has found peace of mind and positivity in returning to the mindset that made her successful to begin with.
Kieffer in the lead pack of the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon in Brooklyn, running alongside 2018 champion Mary Keitany of Kenya
“I think it's a much better place for me to be,” she says of her current situation. “And saying that doesn't mean that I'm going to have the performance I had two years ago, in 2017; I think that was amazing but my training was a lot more consistent than it has been recently.”
While her training log may be less filled-out for this year’s race, she may be running on more rested legs than she had in 2017. “I'm also fresh now,” she says, “I'm not overcooked, and I was probably overtraining before.”
She entered the 2017 race as a relative newcomer to the event—her only prior marathon on the roads was essentially a training run, which she finished in 2:55:30. Now she's charting her own course for how to approach the race in 2019.
“I don't really have any expectation on myself at the moment because I don't know what someone should even be capable of when they've missed three weeks. A week I can handle, but three weeks is kind of a lot,” she adds with a laugh.
Kieffer notes that, in contrast to her 2017 race, where she aimed to stay within her own abilities for most of the race, in 2018, she began comparing herself to some of her fellow competitors.
“Last year I was so focused on running everybody else's race,” she says, citing Des Linden, the reigning Boston Marathon champion at the time, as one of the runners with whom she was looking to maintain contact last November.
Kieffer following Des Linden on the Verrazzano–Narrows Bridge at the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon
Now with two years of experience in the TCS New York City Marathon pro field, Kieffer has reached a point of realizing how to make her race the best it can be, and that doing so must come on her own terms.
“Everyone has their own path and their own ways that make them successful,” she says. “I'm not doing the race to see how I stack up; I kind of was doing it like that last year, like I wanted to see who I could beat.” She goes on to say, “I'm getting to a place where I'm a bit more focused on myself again, which is really nice, to be honest.”
Kieffer is aiming to keep her concentration fixed on herself and on her own effort as she looks to compete in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in February, where she’ll face many of the same athletes that she’s set to race in New York on November 3.
“I don't think that the Olympic Trials is make-or-break,” she states. “I want to be back for another four years.” Looking at the overall picture, she comments, “Women's marathoning is amazing right now in the U.S., and it's exciting to be a part of, but my success, or my definition of success, doesn't hinge on how everybody else does, or how I stack up against them.”
Once she steps foot onto the five-borough course, she’ll have the experience that guided her to back-to-back top-10 finishes playing to her advantage. She grew up in West Islip on Long Island, so she’ll also have plenty of friends and family coming into town to support her on the course on race day.
However her race turns out, she’ll be keeping her mindset focused on thinking, “I do this because I love it, because I want to see how far I can go.”
Read more about Allie Kieffer's road to the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon, and watch a replay of her Instagram takeover of the TCS New York City Marathon account: