This runner knows weight loss isn't the secret to speed. We caught up with Kieffer as she gears up to smash her PR (and stereotypes) in the NYC Marathon.

By Liz Doupnik
October 26, 2018
Photo: Oiselle

Pro runner Allie Kieffer knows the importance of listening to her body. Having experienced body-shaming both from online haters and past coaches, the 31-year-old knows that respecting her body is key to her success.

"As women, we're told that we should be skinny and that our self-worth should be based in appearance-I don't agree with that. I'm trying to use the platform that I've created through running to spread a better message," she tells Shape. As Kieffer has smashed PRs-she placed fifth in last year's NYC marathon, the second U.S. female to finish after Shalane Flanagan-she's also crushed the misconception of the "perfect" body type for long-distance running. (Related: How NYC Marathon Champion Shalane Flanagan Trains for Race Day)

Kieffer-who's sponsored by Oiselle, Kettlebell Kitchen, and New York Athletic Club-has created a platform for body positivity and acceptance in a community that has historically emphasized the idea that the leaner a runner is, the faster she'll be.

She's openly clapped back at online haters who have suggested that she's "too big" to succeed, which is not only upsetting (and untrue), but sends a terrible message to those who may not fall into the petite body type category. "I feel like if people are running-that's healthy! Why are people trying to discourage others from running by telling them that they're not fit enough? It just doesn't make sense," she reflected. (Related: How Dorothy Beal Reacted to Her Daughter Saying She Hated Her "Big Thighs")

Common or uncommon, Kieffer is speedy. Over the past year, Kieffer placed fifth in the 2017 NYC Marathon, fourth in the 10-mile U.S. championship, won the 2018 Doha Half Marathon, placed fourth at the USATF 10km road championships, and second at the U.S. 20km road championships. Oh, and she just won the Staten Island Half Marathon. Phew!

With these accolades-and seriously addictive Insta-vids that showcase her impressive training-have come doping accusations from online trolls who suggested that someone with her body type couldn't achieve that level of success without performance enhancers.

What those bullies don't know is that Kieffer has a thick skin, developed from years of hard work and her share of challenges.

Absence Makes the Legs Grow Stronger

Despite qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 10km, Kieffer struggled to achieve the success she felt possible. Compounding the trouble, finances to pay her coach dried up. Kieffer figured she had reached her full potential. "In 2013, I quit running and I just thought making the Olympic trials was the pinnacle-and I was really proud of that. I felt like I could walk away happy."

She moved home to New York and started nannying for a family in Manhattan. What Kieffer didn't know at the time: Her professional running journey was just beginning.

Her return to professional running happened naturally, she says. "I just ran for fun and to stay healthy. It organically got more structured," she says. "Then I joined a New York Road Runner running group." Shortly after, she decided to join a running group that emphasized training styles-like track sessions-she required to rebuild her speed.

As Kieffer slowly immersed herself back into running, she started to coach others, too. "I had one guy who was getting really good-and I couldn't keep up with him anymore. I wanted to be a good coach. One of the main reasons he picked me as a coach was because I could run with him," she explains. She upped her training as a response.

And while Kieffer was working on her physical side, her mindset got a refresh, too. "In 2012, I felt really entitled-I felt like [a sponsor] was definitely going to pick me up," she says. That didn't happen. "When I came back, I was just happy to be running."

Strength Is Speed

In 2017, Kieffer wanted to see how close she could get to her previous PRs. So, in addition to running, she picked up strength training. "I think [my fast times] were because I was stronger. I really think that strength is speed."

Strength training was integral for her comeback-and staying relatively injury-free. But online critics voiced their skepticism that Kieffer wasn't capable of such a mighty return, especially with her body shape.

"There's an expectation that elite runners are stick thin like string beans and that if you're not like that then you can still get faster [by losing weight]. There's this association that lean or skinny is fast." And it's not just online that she's been told she's "too big" to keep pace with the competition. Coaches have suggested that she drop weight, too. "Coaches told me I'd be faster if I lost weight, and some of them gave me really unhealthy tips to do so," she says.

Playing the Long Game

Kieffer has witnessed the ramifications of following that dangerous advice. "I haven't seen anyone that's gone the route of losing a lot of weight to get faster sustain their speed or have a long career," she says.

This past March, an old foot injury flared up. Despite a bout of major frustration, Allie listened to her coach and an Oiselle rep (who is also a doctor) about being patient in her recovery. Her comeback relied on gradually building up her mileage-and eating healthy. (Related: How an Injury Taught Me That There's Nothing Wrong With Running a Shorter Distance)

Nourishing her body and placing an emphasis on recovery has been key to her ongoing success, Kieffer says. "It's hard because you see really skinny people excelling and making it," she explains. But Kieffer notes that an unhealthy path will never lead to longevity. That's why she uses social media to encourage others to fuel, rather than restrict, themselves. "A pro like Shalane Flanagan, who's had a long career, hasn't really been injured because she fuels herself." (Related: Shalane Flanagan's Nutritionist Shares Her Healthy Eating Tips)

It may have taken her longer to rebuild her speed and strength post-injury, but she's playing the long game. "It's taken a while to get back to this place [pre-injury form], but I've done it in a way that's healthy and sets me up really well for the New York City Marathon," she says.

What does she have to say to the skeptics doubting her? "See you on November 4th."


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