Allie Kieffer has run this 26.2 miles before. She knows the dips and the turns, and how the crowd can swallow you whole and buoy you up as you come off the Queensboro Bridge and head onto First Avenue in Manhattan. That crowd helped propel her to fifth place in the 2017 New York Marathon, and seventh the year after.
But despite all that familiarity – Kieffer is from West Islip, so this is home turf, too – this Sunday’s marathon will bring a completely foreign experience.
Kieffer will not run to win. She won’t run to place. She might not even run to finish. Kieffer will run this marathon to run – the product of a slowly-recuperating injured hamstring that took three weeks to heal, right in the prime of her training period. She hasn’t run 13 miles in five weeks, she said, and even told the New York Road Runners not to send her a plane ticket (Kieffer lives in Austin now). They did anyway.
“It’s kind of freeing, because there’s no expectations, there’s no pressure,” she said. “But that’s also kind of sad in a way because last year, I was so excited to compete and be at the starting line to see where I stacked up, and I want to be there at the Olympic trials (in February) but I can only control so much at this point…All I control is that I get to be here and have fun with that.”
The fun, though, stops there. Kieffer has her eyes set on those Olympic trials, a precursor to the Tokyo Olympics, and has a score to settle, too. She qualified for the trials in the 10,000-meter race in 2012, but a stress fracture cost her that chance. So, Sunday will be a test: A test of how much she can do and how well she feels doing it. She won’t risk hurting herself again, though – not at age 32, an age where Olympic running dreams either start coming true or start running out of time. And though she’d like to do well, she won’t push herself just to push herself. Her goals are very different.
“At first, I was completely devastated,” Kieffer said. “You do start to think about the trials. And even my (last) marathon, which was supposed to be London and I didn’t make it to the start line, which is why I decided to be here, at this start line, even though things didn’t go 100 percent. I shouldn’t take it for granted anymore, that I get to be here still.”
And New York is a good a place as any to take in the marathon atmosphere. Marathon officials expect over 1 million spectators in all five boroughs on hand to cheer on an estimated 52,000 finishers this weekend. Kenyan Mary Keitany is racing for her fifth NYC Marathon title, while Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa goes for his second straight NYC Marathon win.
Kieffer won’t be in that mix, though she hopes to hang in with the elite runners for as long as she can – ideally for the whole race. But her predicament also brings perspective. And for once, Kieffer can concentrate fully on just taking it all in.
“I’m going to run with them for as long as I can and make some race day decisions, of if I should go with the pack, leave the pack, if I have to drop out,” she said. “I honestly don’t know…I’m just going to go have fun and hang as long as I can.”