On the “Largest Stage,” Allie Kieffer Is Getting Ready to Have “The Best Day” Once Again

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In 2017, Allie Kieffer finished the TCS New York City Marathon 26 minutes faster than she had ever run a marathon on the roads, surprising the distance-running world by placing fifth in 2:29:39 in a world-class field. She followed that effort with another top-10 finish in 2018, this time placing seventh while lowering her best time by another minute and 27 seconds to 2:28:12.

On November 3, 2019, Kieffer, who turns 32 in September, will step to the TCS New York City Marathon start line once again, looking for a third-straight strong finish in the five boroughs before she shifts her focus toward the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Atlanta in February.

Read the full announcement of the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon professional athlete field.

Originally from West Islip on Long Island, and now training in Austin, TX, Kieffer is looking forward to competing again in the Empire State. “It’s just like a wonderful homecoming for me,” she says. “I think it’s the largest stage to have the best day, so I’m just really fortunate that I got two good ones there, because no one usually gets to go home to a caliber of race like the New York City Marathon.”

 
Kieffer at the front of the lead pack in Brooklyn at the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon.

Kieffer at the front of the lead pack in Brooklyn at the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon.

 

Kieffer’s success while competing at West Islip High School—she qualified for the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championship as a senior—earned her a scholarship to run at Wake Forest University. Injuries kept her out of competition through parts of her first two track seasons, and just before her junior year began, her older sister was killed in an automobile accident. As she processed the loss, Kieffer would redshirt that cross country season, but would return her senior year to lead her team in every race in which she competed and earn all-conference honors. She then transferred to Arizona State for a postgraduate year, where she would be named to the all-conference team in cross country.

Out of college, but still determined to see how close she could get to her full potential, Kieffer then moved to Boulder, CO to train with a professional running group. Soon after, she recorded new best times on the roads and track. In 2012, she qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 10,000 meters, but an injury kept her out of the competition. After nearly three years in pursuit of a professional career, Kieffer took a break from competition in 2013 and moved to New York City to work as a nanny while she figured out her next steps.

Not included in those "next steps” were actual running steps. Kieffer says she didn’t run for about six months, opting instead to take CrossFit classes and lift weights.

With time, she found herself coming back to the sport she loved, but more for social than competitive reasons. “I picked up running as a hobby to make friends in New York,” she says, but the momentum bringing her back toward running built up quickly. “One person led to [me running on] a team, and then that person led me to another team, and then I started running with girls in the morning, and then I started coaching people, and that’s what really got me going,” she says.

As she watched some of her athletes train toward goal races, her training began to pick up, but for more for her athletes’ benefits than for her own. “I had one athlete who was doing pretty well and training for a marathon, and I just couldn’t keep up with him,” she says. “I really wanted to be able to push him towards the end of his workouts, and so I needed to get my butt into shape, too.”

As she continued with her own mix of running and weight training, she soon found herself thinking, “Oh, if I’m gonna get into shape, I might as well do some of these races,” and as her early results show, she was able to pick up right where she’d left off.

In May 2014, Kieffer entered her first New York Road Runners event, the four-mile Japan Run. She won by nearly a minute and a half. Her next race with NYRR would come that November where, having become a member of the New York Athletic Club, she won the Race to Deliver 4M, finishing just ahead of one of her NYAC teammates and training partners.

She began 2015 with another tape break at the NYRR Joe Kleinerman 10K in January. In total, of her first six NYRR races, she won five, including a first-place finish at the 2015 NYRR Team Championships to lead NYAC to the women’s team title. 

 
Kieffer breaking the finish-line tape at the 2015 NYRR Joe Kleinerman 10K.

Kieffer breaking the finish-line tape at the 2015 NYRR Joe Kleinerman 10K.

 

In January 2016, she traveled to the Miami Marathon with the intention of entering the race’s half-marathon division, but, sensing a stronger opportunity for prize money in the full marathon, she switched to the longer race at the last minute. Despite not training specifically for her first go at the distance, Kieffer won the race in 2:55:30.

Three months later, she signed up for the Armory NYC Indoor Marathon—a race that called for 211 laps of the New Balance Track and Field Center at the Armory in Washington Heights—and would set what was an indoor world record at the time in 2:44:44. 

That June, she lined up for the NYRR New York Mini 10K, placing 21st in a field that included several athletes who would represent their countries at that summer’s Olympic Games in Rio. Her next experience with an NYRR professional field would come more than a year later, and it would  reshape the course of her career.

In the intervening year, Kieffer moved from New York City to Buffalo, and she entered the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon as a relative unknown—at least when compared with the likes of Mary Keitany, the three-time defending champion, and Olympic medalist Shalane Flanagan. Her personal best, listed as the 2:55:30 from Miami, placed her at the back of the women’s professional runner field, but once the race set off from the Verrazzano–Narrows Bridge, she quietly began to put her race plan into action.

 
Kieffer, to the left of center in the middle of the pack, at the start of the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon.

Kieffer, to the left of center in the middle of the pack, at the start of the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon.

 

As gaps began to form in the main field, Kieffer continued running her own race, finding herself alone in some sections but increasing her pace ever so slightly as she passed each five-kilometer checkpoint. As she moved up through the later parts of the race, she recorded a negative split of 3 minutes and 33 seconds over the second half, closing her last mile—a 5:30 split—with a final sprint to jump from seventh place to fifth in the final meters. Her official time of 2:29:39 netted out to an average pace of 5:43 per mile.

Having made herself known in the elite running world in 2017, Kieffer returned to the five-borough race the following November and put together an even stronger result. Although she dropped two places, to seventh, she ran more than a minute faster than the Olympic qualifying standard.

“I feel like in 2018 there was a lot of pressure and expectation, and I feel like I lived up to what I thought I was capable of,” she comments. “Being able to duplicate it means that it wasn’t a fluke.”

With eyes toward making Team USA in 2020, she will draw upon her experience in the five boroughs as she moves closer to race day in New York, in Atlanta, and, hopefully later, in Tokyo: “I think I have a confidence in myself, and I would say that it’s from races like doing well in New York City,” she says. “New York gave me confidence that I could be a good marathoner, and I could try to make the Olympics.”

With 89 days to go until the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon, she maintains, “I have a sense of confidence that if I do the work, I will be able to excel.”