WHEN THE C19 PANDEMIC forced the postponement of basically all the ’20 outdoor season, Allie Ostrander decided to use the unexpected break to her advantage. The 3-time NCAA steeplechase champion had been dealing with a nagging Achilles injury and with the Olympic Trials no longer on this year’s schedule she took the opportunity to address the problem head-on.
On April 2 she received platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy to help accelerate the healing. The PRP procedure involves injections of one’s own platelets, which can help mend muscles, tendons and ligaments, among other things.
“The injury had been bothering me for quite a while, since last outdoor track season, actually,” says the 23-year-old Boise State alum. “So it was something I was constantly rehabbing and working on to be able to try to run through it.”
It could take as much as 6 to 12 months for the injury to fully heal, but Ostrander was cleared to begin running again in mid-May. Early indications are that the therapy was a success. “I started running and it hurt a little bit, but it felt better than before the injection,” she said in early June. “The pain has actually been dropping the more that I run and the longer away from the injection it gets. So it’s kind of like magic, different from any other injury I’ve had where I started running more sometimes and it would flare back up.”
Injuries have popped up throughout the Alaska native’s career, disrupting her training and racing so much so that when she graduated last year she still had NCAA eligibility remaining for a full academic year in cross country, indoors and outdoors. But shortly after winning her third straight NCAA steeple title last June she made the decision to turn pro, signing with the Brooks Beasts and moving to Seattle to train under Danny Mackey. A 4th-place finish at the USATF Championships secured a spot on Team USA for the Worlds. (Thanks to Emma Coburn’s having a wild card as defending world champion, the U.S. was able to send a quartet of steeplers.)
In Doha she narrowly missed advancing to the final, but did cut nearly 7 seconds off her lifetime best in clocking 9:30.85 in the heats. “I wasn’t super-stoked with my performance. It was a small PR, but I was really hoping to make the final,” she says. “But overall it was a positive experience and I hope that will help me in the future be a little bit less starstruck at World Championships events and feel like I really belong there.”
As the new year began the OT (and hopefully the Tokyo Games) were top of mind, and Ostrander kick-started the campaign at altitude camp with her teammates in Albuquerque. Her training partners include 1500 specialists (and NCAA champions) Karisa Nelson and Marta Pen Freitas, and 5000 runner Allie Buchalski.
Despite the Achilles issue, Ostrander looked sharp in winning the Millrose Games 3000 in February in a PR 8:48.94. She followed that up with a frustrating 7th-place finish in the same event at the indoor nationals. “I felt like I had my best race at Millrose and never quite put it together for my other races,” she says. “But I was really glad with how my training went and I was building a lot of fitness leading into outdoors. So I was excited.”
Then came the coronavirus crisis and the worldwide pause on life as we know it. In addition to addressing her injury, Ostrander has taken advantage of the forced break by engaging with the running community. “I’ve done more podcasts, talks and videos than ever before,” she says. “That’s exciting and been a good distraction through the whole pandemic.” (Continued below)
As to a return to racing, Ostrander remains hopeful there might be some competitive opportunities before the end of the year. And she expects to continue to pursue the 5000 and 10,000, where she sports impressive PRs of 15:16.38 and 32:06.71. “I’m not putting myself in a box just yet,” she says. “I’d like to see what I can do in other events besides the steeple.” As for her bread and butter event, she’s not concerned about a lack of hurdle practice while getting back in shape. “In college I never did much steeple practice at all,” she admits. “I did normal workouts, but never threw in any barriers.”
Of course the main focus is now on 2021, when life and the sport (hopefully) return to something close to normal. “It’s pretty advantageous for me to have another year leading into the Olympic Trials since this was my first year as a pro, and that’s a big adjustment period,” she says. “That will help me build strength and speed and give myself the best chance to make the team.
“My outlook is still the same: I’ve gotta work hard to give myself a shot. Nothing is going to be easy, nothing is going to be given to me. And that’s the way I want it. I want to know that I earned it.” ◻︎