After an injury, the pro runner is heading into one of the biggest races off the year with an entirely new mentality.

By Lauren Mazzo
Credit: lev radin/shutterstock

This year, Allie Kieffer's training for the 2019 New York City Marathon has been a bit unconventional.

After she strained a hamstring early this fall, Kieffer took about three weeks off training despite being a mere two months away from the race, which takes place this year on Sunday, November 3. For any runner, taking weeks off just prior to a huge event (aside from traditional pre-race tapering) would be both a huge mental and physical setback. (Or, TBH, straight-up impossible.)

But Kieffer—who emerged from running retirement in 2017 to finish 5th among pro females and 7th in 2018—doesn't have the top 10 in her sights for 2019. In fact, she doesn't even know if she'll finish the race: "Going into New York, I just want to see how it feels; I want to run pain-free, and if it starts hurting, honestly, I'll just stop," she tells Shape. "The trials are the bigger goal." (Related: How NYC Marathon Champion Shalane Flanagan Trains for Race Day)

Kieffer's had an injury-riddled past: recurring back injuries, sciatic nerve issues, and a stress fracture that kept her from the 2012 Olympic trials. The lead-up to the 2020 trials and games in Tokyo, however, will hopefully be different—and that's exactly why she's not going to pound pavement towards a new PR in New York City on Sunday.

"It is a little harder when you're a pro because there's this extra pressure because it’s your job to run," says Kieffer, an Asics-and Oiselle-sponsored athlete. "I don’t want to run from this stressed place. Last year, I was so excited to be out there on the line. This year, I just want to go have fun, I’m not going to worry about PRing, because I don’t want to be stressed over my performance or stressed to the point where I can’t enjoy it. I’m going to run as much of it as I can." (ICYMI, Kieffer has some pretty amazing, real-talk things to say about body image, too.)

With her hamstring recovery behind her, Kieffer has had just about 2.5 weeks of training prior to this weekend's race day. "It feels better right now and I can train, but I never would have planned to take like three weeks of in the most critical part of the season," she says. "I was really upset about it at first, but I think I was overtraining myself a bit. Now, I’m trying to take it as a blessing in disguise."

At first, she said she tried to hop in the pool to cross-train, but "it hurt my back, I was miserable, I just didn't want to be there," she says. "The one thing I need in order to do the type of training I want to do is being healthy. So I just decided to take a break."

While this might seem like a logical next-step after injury for the average recreational runner or gym-goer, that's not the usual reaction from a pro athlete, someone whose life (and usually paycheck) revolves around their sport, their body, and their ability to be active. (Related: An Open Letter to Every Runner Working Through an Injury)

"I decided to take time off running, and lean into other things in life—and it was actually kind of relieving," says Kieffer. "I binged Netflix shows. I got dinner with my boyfriend. My exercise for the day was walking to get froyo or walking my dog."

For a week, Kieffer said she enjoyed the time off. Then, she got antsy—but it wasn't just about getting back on track for the race.

"The hardest part about the time off wasn't just about training for New York," she says. "Running is like my social hour and a sort of therapy, too. That’s what makes a break harder." (If you're semi-addicted to the runner's high, you know exactly what she means.)

If you see her toeing the starting line on Sunday (or, if her hamstring cooperates, crossing the finish line) with a big ol' smile on her face? You'll know she met her goal...not a PR or a podium spot, but the simplest of running feats: to run happy.