In comeback race, Ostrander wins Freihofer’s Run for Women in 15:48

Allie Ostrander crosses the finish line to win the Freihofer's Run for Women in Albany on Saturday.

Allie Ostrander crosses the finish line to win the Freihofer's Run for Women in Albany on Saturday.

ALBANY Allie Ostrander didn’t look over her shoulder on Saturday.

That doesn’t mean she wasn’t keenly aware of what was behind her.

The 25-year-old former NCAA champion steeplechaser stuck to her game plan and gradually pulled away from Allie Kieffer and Cleo Boyd to win the 44th Freihofer’s Run for Women 5k in 15:48.

Afterward, Ostrander reflected on a sabbatical from competition she took last year that included six weeks at a treatment center for an eating disorder. The Freihofer’s Run was her first race since last June, when she was eighth in the steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Trials, and Ostrander said she’s now happy to serve as an example of someone who makes mental health a priority and can perhaps help destigmatize that process.

“I feel like it’s super-important to send the message that focusing on your mental health and your physical health is not a sign of weakness, it’s not being wimpy, it’s not being afraid of competition or failure,” she said. “It’s making sure that you are in your best state to perform and to have lifelong wellness.

“We saw that with Simone Biles at the Olympics, and a lot of people were giving her hate because they said she was a quitter, when in reality she could’ve been seriously injured if she competed, and that could’ve affected the rest of her life.

Ostrander, an Alaska native who lives in Seattle, picked the Freihofer’s Run for her comeback race because of its low-key atmosphere while also offering tough elite competition.

Plus, she had planned to be out east for some track meets and to visit her boyfriend’s family, so there was a lot to like about this spot on the racing calendar.

She didn’t get back to serious training until three months ago.

“I was really nervous beforehand because I haven’t raced in over a year,” she said. “Workouts have been going well, but you never know until you put it out there and see what you can do in a race.

“Beforehand, I felt physically ill, just from nerves, so I’m glad that didn’t carry over into the race.”

On Friday, she drove the loop course, which starts near City Hall and includes a tour of Washington Park and a fast downhill to the finish.

Ostrander’s plan was to run a little conservatively for the first two miles, then, with “gravity on my side,” she wanted to kick down the hill to the finish.

The lead trio got through the first mile in 5:17, and Ostrander had a couple steps on Kieffer at the two-mile in 10:29, as Boyd fell 12 seconds back.

“Going into the third mile I really tried to focus on increasing my cadence, maximizing my stride length and pushing through that downhill all the way to the finish.

“I was glad that everything went to plan. That doesn’t always happen. But even if it didn’t, I think it would’ve been fine. Out of this race, I really want to remember what a race effort feels like. I really wanted to push myself, respond to what the field was doing, and I got everything I wanted out of this race.”

Kieffer finished in 16:15, with Boyd another seven seconds back in third.

“I’m super-happy,” Kieffer said. “I kind of overtrained for a marathon in April and had a hard time getting back into it. I think my body and mind were kind of fried, so I’ve just been doing what I feel like doing, and I’m super-happy to come away with a good time and second place.

“She’s [Ostrander] a very good runner. When I saw her, I was like, oh … shoot. You come to these races and want to be the best version of yourself, so it’s exciting, but it’s also money out of how much I win, so you just try to rise to the occasion against whoever’s here. I saw her and knew it would be a battle.”

“I put a couple seconds on Allie Kieffer, and Cleo started to drop back a little bit,” Ostrander said. “I heard that over the announcement when we went through the two-mile split. Because I never look over my shoulder, because I’ve seen too many people get passed or trip or whatever.

“The last mile was just all gas, trying to put everything I had on the course.”

Ostrander, a 12-time All-American at Boise State who won the NCAA Division I championship in the steeplechase three years in a row, from 2017-19, had been running professionally with the Brooks team last summer when she decided she needed a break.

After spending six weeks at an eating disorder treatment center in Denver, she ran the Olympic Trials, then suffered an injury shortly after that.

“And that was literally and physically and metaphorically my breaking point,” she said. “I said, ‘You know what, I’m trying to push through all this and prove my physical health while also pursuing athletic excellence, and it’s just too much for my body and my mind, honestly.’

“About three months ago I started seriously training again for running. I’ve been loving every moment of it, loving the process, feeling super-strong and also feeling like a way better example for younger runners who may encounter some of the same difficulties that I did.

“Athletic performance is so important to elite athletes and all levels of athletes, but that doesn’t mean that should come at the cost of your overall wellness.

“I think too often it does.”

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