It was about two weeks before the New York City Marathon and Allie Kieffer broke down. She had been dealing with tendinitis in her right leg. Running was painful. Not running was depressing. Maybe she wouldn't make it to the start line. Maybe her parents should save their money and not go to the marathon.
"My boyfriend talked me off the ledge," Kieffer said. "He made sure I made it to the race, telling me to heal myself each day and focus on that."
After all, Kieffer had put in all the work. Her tendinitis was manageable, creating in essence a four-week taper to race day instead of a traditional two-week taper.
Maybe now, she jokes, she'll become an advocate for the four-week taper.
Kieffer placed fifth overall in Sunday's New York City Marathon and was the second American, behind winner Shalane Flanagan. Kieffer finished in 2:29:39, beating her personal best in the marathon by 26 minutes. To be fair, while she had run the marathon before, including briefly holding the somewhat obscure record for the indoor marathon, she had never really trained for a 26.2-mile road race before.
But the native of Long Island who moved to Western New York less than a year ago was ready to tackle the distance in earnest. And after training all year in Buffalo, she's adopted the area while becoming a bit of a celebrity in the local running circuit.
"It feels like a win for us all," Kieffer said of the support she's received from her Buffalo running mates.
Sunday morning, Kieffer started with the elite pack for about the first mile before the lead group of runners separated themselves. She had planned to run with one of her elite friends, but the friend had an off day and fell back. The lead pack went ahead. And there was Kieffer. All alone.
"I thought this is the worst nightmare. I'm alone and didn't want to get into running alone," Kieffer said Monday morning from her mom's house on Long Island. "For 12 miles of the race it was like everyone came out for a block party for Allie Kieffer. I was running the streets completely alone and everyone was screaming my name. It was incredible."
While she was alone, she she still could see part of the pack in front of her. Studying race splits from years past, Kieffer felt if she could hold herself back for the first 20 miles, she was confident she could make big gains over the last two miles.
"I was holding myself back to run the race and pace I wanted to go out at," Kieffer said. "And I still was able to run faster than I wanted to, yet I wasn't feeling I was running very fast. I looked at my watch and wondered how do 5:30s feel so good? It was completely wild."
After Mile 19, she was ready to start making moves. She passed American runner Diane Nukuri, who placed fifth last year.
"I could see the next girl and I kept motoring through," Kieffer said. "It got really hard with 2 miles to go. There was a pack of three girls together and one a few seconds ahead of them. I wanted to catch them. I had a little bit of self doubt at that point. I just needed to make it through the hills. I've run Central Park a million times and that was harder than I remember.
"I just crept closer and closer. I knew if I didn't get them, I'd still have an amazing performance for myself. At that point, I just had to keep running my race and I was so determined not to let the people behind me get closer to me. I never looked back. I was running to solidify and not lose anything. Once I saw the sign 800 meters to go, it's uphill a little bit. I thought, 'you can get them, but don't go yet.' I was a little afraid of dying myself. That was the toughest I've ever been at the end of a race."
Self-doubt aside, it was a matter of how much she wanted it. And in the last 400 meters, she passed the group of three, falling just three seconds short of getting fourth.
"I surprised myself," Kieffer said.
Next up, Kieffer has her sights set on making the U.S. team for the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships scheduled for March 24 in Spain.