Allie Ostrander was ready to vomit.
The Boise State track star is running this spring after missing the cross country and indoor track seasons with a lower leg injury. Ostrander redshirted last outdoor season, making the March 31 meet at Stanford her first collegiate outdoor race.
That pressure, combined with the fact that Ostrander was competing in the 3,000-meter steeplechase for the first time in her life, made her queasy as she approached the starting line. Her only hurdling experience was in high school.
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“That’s probably one of the times I’ve been more nervous for a race,” Ostrander said. “Before the race, I was super nervous. I kind of thought I was going to throw up.”
Ostrander entered Boise State in the fall of 2015 as one of its best recruits in school history, regardless of sport. She was a 10-time Alaska prep state champion in track and cross country. As a true freshman, Ostrander finished second at the 2015 NCAA Cross Country Championships and eighth in the 5,000 at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Running is like breathing for Ostrander, who won the Stanford steeplechase in 9 minutes, 55.61 seconds. It was the second-fastest time in school history.
Head coach Corey Ihmels isn’t surprised by what his star runner does anymore.
“Nothing ceases to amaze you,” he said.
Ostrander’s victory marked the end of a lengthy recovery process. Her leg injury was worsened by preparing for the Olympic Trials, and became too much for her to take during cross country training in the fall. Ostrander was forced to take a three-month break from running.
“I don’t think she liked me for quite a while. She probably still doesn’t. I was the enemy. She’s like any athlete; she wants to be out there,” Ihmels said. “To be great at anything, you can go up and down the history of athletics, and any football or basketball player goes through a time where they have it taken way from them. And I think that resets things for them and gets you to really be thankful for the process of actually doing it.”
After light running for two months, Ostrander began “feeling like an athlete again” and started training. When it came time for her to compete again, Ihmels did not want Ostrander competing against herself in her previous events. That’s why she ran the steeplechase.
“For us, it was more having something to start with where there was no reference point,” Ihmels said. “A little crazy, a little unconventional, but for an athlete like her who’s raced at such a high level, having something that’s a little out of the comfort zone and no preconceived notions of anything one way or another (was good). It made a lot of sense.”
Ostrander feels close to 100 percent. The main lesson she’s learned over the last few months is simple: not every day has to consist of rigorous training. There’s a time to ramp it up and a time to take it slow. Understanding the latter part is the next step in Ostrander’s development, according to Ihmels.
“(If we can) get her to understand that you don’t have to kill everything. ... You can go through the motions, which is hard for somebody like that to understand, but that’s the battle,” he said. “The battle is, can she stay even-keeled and not try to overdo it all the time?”
Slowly but surely, Ostrander is learning to manage herself. Whether that future contains the steeplechase, however, is yet to be determined.
“I’m absolutely getting better at training smart. When I need to go slower one day, and maybe go a little bit faster another day, when I need to back off and just do bike for one day,” Ostrander said. “I have to remind myself that it’s way better and way easier to take one to two days off than one to two months.”