Allie Kieffer and Betsy Saina: How Two Pro Competitors Became Training Partners
Editor’s note: In the time between her interview and this article being published, Allie Kieffer was forced to withdraw from the United Airlines NYC Half with an injury. She will, however, present her RUNTalk at the NYRR RUNCENTER as planned on March 16.
Allie Kieffer, a West Islip, NY native, bettered her personal best by more than 15 minutes at the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon, running 2:29:39 to finish in fifth place, and as the second American woman behind winner Shalane Flanagan.
While in town for the Marathon, Kieffer was introduced to Kenyan Olympian Betsy Saina by a mutual friend.
The two hit it off immediately.
“I first met Betsy at the New York City Marathon,” Kieffer said. “In a last-minute panic before the start of the race, I asked her for help sorting out my bottles. I didn’t know how many bottles, how to decorate them, or label them. Thankfully, Betsy went out of her way to help me.”
Following her personal-best performance, Kieffer looked to leave the U.S. for the winter season to train somewhere warm.
Kenya, the home of her new best friend, was naturally a great fit.
Without hesitation, the 30-year-old booked a plane ticket and flew over there before sorting out the rest of her travel itinerary.
“When I landed in Kenya, a friend, who was only in town for one more day, picked me up from the airport and dropped me off at Betsy’s the following day. From then on, she has helped me get an apartment, furnish it, hire a house helper to cook and clean, ran with me, introduced me to a massage therapist, her friends, a pacer, and so much more. I have a great life here in Kenya thanks to her.”
Learning the Kenyan culture and experiencing a different way of life has opened up her eyes to new outlooks on life.
“There are so many differences from life in the U.S.,” Kieffer said. “In Kenya, time isn’t a real concern; there is no concept of wasting time like in the U.S. If you are invited to someone’s house for a meal it is important to go hungry. It’s looked down upon to not eat a lot of food or not take the traditional Kenyan tea," she says. "Many people ask if I have children, because here it is seen as a bad omen to not have conceived a child by my age. One of the most common traditions is to shake hands and formally greet one another.”
The last three months, Kieffer has really started pushing the boundaries both on the roads with her racing—with a long-term goal of competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics now in her mind—and off the roads with her recent popular post for SELF about body image and running. She’s gone from working as a full-time Nanny in New York who was struggling to find her footing to a powerful woman who young girls are looking up to for advice about running, body image, and weight.
In Kenya, she trained with Saina under Patrick Sang, who also coaches 2017 TCS New York City Marathon champion Geoffrey Kamworor, along with Eliud Kipchoge and Lucas Rotich. On January 11, she recorded a three-minute personal-best of 1:10:40 to win the Doha Half Marathon and made an even bigger name for herself.
Saina, an 11-time NCAA All-American at Iowa State who was not able to finish the TCS New York City Marathon in her debut last year, has been learning just has much by hosting Kieffer in her home country.
“To have someone around you who has the same goals and determination is encouraging,” Saina said. “Living next door means we get to hang out with each other and share some of our experiences. Part of figuring out what went wrong in the TCS New York City Marathon was to talk with people who did well in that race. To have Allie around means I get to talk with her about it every day.”
The next time they meet on the starting line, though, they’ll be adjusting their mindsets.
“I see Allie as a friend,” Saina said. “But there will be a period that she will be a competitor. Before the gun goes off, we will be friends, and will continue to be so after the finish line.”
Kieffer echoed those thoughts.
“I see Betsy as a friend, a teammate, and a competitor,” Kieffer said. “My hope is that we can work together throughout the race, but ultimately it’s each woman for herself."