A champion distance runner in high school and currently one of the nation’s top collegiate runners, Allie Ostrander has enjoyed phenomenal success at a young age. Now 21, the Boise State University runner understands that longevity in the sport requires as much patience and restraint as grit and determination.
“This is something that I really struggle with and I am constantly trying to improve,” says Ostrander, who grew up in Kenai, Alaska. “Trying to push to run more and harder is not always what will lead to optimal performance. Sometimes your body needs rest to rebuild and become stronger.”
It’s a lesson Ostrander acknowledges she has learned the hard way. Stress fractures forced her to miss one cross-country and two track seasons in her freshman and sophomore years. Earlier this year, she had to take brief breaks from training after suffering a stress reaction in her lower leg. Still, she won the NCAA Division I 3,000m steeplechase in June, earning back-to-back national titles in the event.
Knowing she needed to recover from her collegiate races, Ostrander decided not to defend her crown at this year’s Mount Marathon, a grueling 5K mountain race held every Fourth of July in Seward, Alaska. In 2017, Ostrander won the women’s race, becoming the second-fastest woman in the race’s history.
Ostrander first competed in the legendary event when she was just nine and holds the girls’ course record. “I’d definitely like to do it again someday, but when I do it, I don’t want it to take away from collegiate training, and I don’t want to go into it unprepared,” she says, noting that this year she didn’t have an opportunity to practice on the mountain ahead of time.
Corey Ihmels, head cross country and track coach at Boise State, says he let Ostrander decide whether she would compete in the race, but told her she had to take a break at some point during the summer. “I think she is starting to realize the importance of rest and not being able to do everything,” he says. To help prevent injuries, Ostrander has also embraced new ways of training. In addition to running fewer miles every week than in the past, she does some of her runs on an underwater treadmill. “Training is an art, not a science,” she says. “There isn’t a formula for success that can you plug into everyone.”
Ihmels has watched Ostrander’s impressive growth as an athlete and person since her freshman year, when she joined the team as an accomplished mountain runner with relentless drive. “She has started to understand what it means to train and not just going out and running hard every day,” Ihmels says. “Each year she is able to stay healthy and train at a high level, the more she will continue to progress.”
With American women distance runners delivering stellar performances on the world stage in recent years, Ostrander has plenty of role models. She especially admires two-time Olympian Kara Goucher for her long elite career and commitment to advocating for clean sport. Ostrander is also a fan of rising marathon star Allie Kieffer, who finished fifth in last year’s New York City Marathon. “She has taken an unorthodox path toward professional running—quitting the sport for an extended period and competing and training without a sponsor or coach—but has managed to find success,” she says.
Soft spoken and modest about her achievements, Ostrander says injuries have also made her view herself as more than a runner. “It forced me to find other areas of self-worth,” she says. “Another thing that helps me a lot is having my family and friends, who will show appreciation and love for me, which is completely unrelated to my performance or running ability.”
When she’s not running, Ostrander enjoys cooking, going to concerts, rock climbing and reading. And if sleeping was a sport, she’d be a champion in that, too. “I’m not a night owl or an early-morning person—I am mid-day person,” she says. “I like to go to bed early and sleep in.” Ostrander is also an exceptional student and maintains a perfect grade point average as a kinesiology major. If running professionally after college doesn’t work out, she hopes to become a coach.
As she heads into her third cross-country season at Boise State, Ostrander says her first priority is to stay healthy. That’s critical as she and her team train for a strong performance at NCAA cross-country nationals, where the Boise State women took sixth in 2017. Ostrander finished second and fourth as an individual in previous years, but she is reluctant to discuss where she hopes to place this year.
“There has been a huge team focus throughout summer training and going into the season,” she says. “It’s more about how the group does as a whole.” Ihmel says there is no doubt Ostrander runs for her teammates as much as she runs for herself. Last year during a cross-country race in Wisconsin, Ostrander fell early in the race, but battled back to finish in ninth place. “She knew how important it was for her to finish for the team, and she wasn’t going to give up,” Ihmels recalls. “It really showed her grit and desire, but also how important team success is to her.”