Allie Kieffer heads to this year’s NYC Marathon with nine strong weeks of training and the confidence she’ll need to perform well on race day.

On October 14, 2018, Oiselle runner Allie Kieffer won the Staten Island Half Marathon women’s race in 1:10:58, and in 10 days she’ll line up at another New York Road Runners start line—the TCS New York City Marathon, to be exact. After her strong (and somewhat unexpected) fifth-place finish in last year’s NYC Marathon, the Long Island, N.Y., native is eager to reach for the podium on November 4 even as she realizes that many of the factors which ultimately determine who wins are out of her control. “I’m going to try to run my own race still, what’s right for me and my comfort zone,” Kieffer said in a recent interview with Women’s Running. “I hope that I show my city of New York that a hometown girl can get it done.”

We last spoke in July when you were announcing your involvement in New York Road Runners’ Run for the Future program, which was created in an effort to give back to young runners in New York City. How has your experience as a Run to the Future coach been thus far?

It’s been really fun to be part of other people’s New York City journey. We mostly marketed it as people that are also doing New York City. The Strava group had like 10 spots to give away, because they partnered with the New York City Marathon. They’re all women, so I’m super excited about that one. Oiselle helped me make some shirts, so we’ll have an “I ran with Allie” crew out at New York City Marathon, and all the proceeds go to scholarships for the girls in the city. It’s been really cool.

I love coaching in person. When I was living in New York City, I had a group of girls that would meet twice a week, and it was fun to see them all working together. Strava has done a great job of making it a group effort. It reminds me of that group of women; we just all happen to be in different places. People are tagging me on Instagram in their training, so it’s been fun to be able to see them a bit and keep up with it. It’s totally different when you see people online versus in person. I think everyone is doing well and is excited. It gives me more motivation for my own running. It’s always better to have people to be on the journey with, even if they’re not with you geographically.

What parts along the course are you looking forward to revisiting?

Last year was my first New York, but I have spectated before and cheered on my friends. Going into Central Park for the first time…so late in the race a lot of people were kind of falling apart by then, getting tired; but I was actually feeling really good. I’m so familiar with Central Park that it was just this great feeling of coming into the park, this place that I knew. I didn’t have much time left in the race but I was moving up pretty quickly. It was exciting to run past the New York Athletic Club (I run for them), so that was my favorite spot last year.

After doing so well at last year’s marathon, what’s your mentality like approaching this year’s race?

You always want to do better than last time. I definitely want to do better; I want to run faster, place higher. I’m not in control of all those factors, though. The field is incredible. Running faster may not mean placing better. The weather could be worse, and you won’t run as fast. I’m going to try, and the expectations are obviously different now, but I’m going to try to run my own race still, what’s right for me and my comfort zone. That’s what I did so well last year, and I think that’s a big part of why it was a success. I didn’t go with the top women; I just did what I thought was best for me, and hopefully I can stay with them, because I’m in that kind of shape. I also want to be true to myself and what feels good. I didn’t go by the watch that much last year; I just went by the feeling of what was right. I’m going to try to keep it the same as much as I can. I’d like for it to be a very similar race as last year.

How has your pre-marathon training changed from last year’s preparation?

I did a shorter buildup this year. Last year I did 13 weeks, which I think is really typical. This year I’m doing nine weeks. I went into the training in better shape than last year because I came off [the USATF 20K Championships] where I got second to Sara Hall, who’s fantastic. I was in good shape; I just hadn’t done the 20-, 22-mile runs that I was doing the previous year. I don’t think everything can be the same. In 2017, I came into training for the New York City Marathon after a long break. I’d taken a couple of vacations and time off. I’ve put in a lot more miles; I’ve run 115 miles a week for the past five weeks, and the most I did last year was 104. The mileage will be a lot more, but [there have been] fewer weeks of it.

I feel confident in where I’m at. I don’t know how that compares to other people, but I’m not really concerned with everybody else. I would love to move up and be on the podium; that’s a goal of mine. I’m just not in control of that. I’m focused on the things I can do right, that I can do better, and putting my energy there. I don’t feel like I need to be nervous about that, because I get to make the choice and do the right thing. I feel confident that I can pull through.

Last year I was tired in training a lot, and I’ve been doing more miles and feel better. Thankfully for [my sponsor] Oiselle, I have their support. Now I can see a chiropractor or a massage therapist or a nutritionist or get my blood work done—it’s all just ahead of where I was last year. And my coach; having Brad around—I was doing it all alone last year. Even if the race doesn’t go the way I want it to, I’ve had so much fun in this buildup and it’s been such an enjoyable past few months that it’s been a success already.

You’ve become known as a strong advocate for body positivity over the last year. What message do you most want young girls and young women to take away about body image?

There are a lot of messages they need, and all sorts of people need different messages. I just try to use my story and who I am to create a better world. A lot of my stories are from my life, some to just lighten the mood. I did a post about eating a bunch of candy before last year’s New York City Marathon. That’s real life! It can be a lot more carefree than people make it seem sometimes—especially about food. People get crazy about what they eat or don’t eat. People are like, “I can’t have cheese,” or, “I can’t have this.” It’s funny because I just got off the phone with my nutritionist—he was saying that I need cheese in my diet. I was saying, “You’re the best nutritionist!” I have never heard anyone else be like, “Eat all the cheese.”

People focus so much on what they can’t have and the restrictive side of it, and the message needs to be on the other side. That’s the side that I try to give; not that I’m not trying to be a healthy person (I am) but I think “healthy” is everything in moderation. That’s the message that women—especially girls—need.

I went to Bird Camp, which is Oiselle’s running camp, and I gave a couple talks. Before I started talking, I did this little game with everyone where there was basically a line in the middle of the room, and you cross the line if you agree with the sentiment of what I’m saying. At first, it was negative and everyone crossed the line, because everyone feels some negativity. And then it was positive: “You had a run and you deserve the cake,” or, “You look awesome in this pair of jeans,” something like that. Again, everybody crossed the line.

Beauty is not about body image; there’s something about everyone that’s beautiful. That is a great message for people of every age to hear. We have an opportunity to focus on things that are good. Of course people want to change things about themselves, but you don’t have to focus on those things, because not everything can be changed. If you have cellulite, that’s kind of genetic. You can’t do a ton about it, but you can focus on things like how great your butt looks. Just don’t think about the cellulite.

It gets to the point where you’re like, “I have to eat healthy all the time. I can’t go to this restaurant, or I can’t eat these kinds of things; I’m just going to get a salad.” Is that healthy? I’ve gotten to this point before where my mom’s like, “I don’t know which restaurant you’ll eat at.” Putting yourself in a bubble and not being able to do anything because you’re afraid you can’t make a healthy choice isn’t healthy, either. We’re so far on the other end that it’s not healthy.

How does it feel to be part of this wave of American pro women that has captured the imagination of so many runners this last year?

Women are where it’s at now. Who is even talking about the men? The New York City Marathon had the opportunity to get some men, and they picked the women’s field; they decide where they’re going to put their money. It was like that at Boston this year. It’s just been a really exciting time, especially for the Americans, and I think they’re picking up on that storyline. The public is interested in the women’s field. It’s humbling to be part of that. It’s really exciting to be part of that. I hope that I show my city of New York that a hometown girl can get it done.