Boise State redshirt junior Allie Ostrander understands the daunting double she’s undertaking at the 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships better than anyone, and not just because she’s attempted it twice before.
Ostrander graduated from Boise State in May with a degree in exercise science and a GPA of 4.0. She can detail in precise, scientific language the rigors her body must go through in order to compete in the finals of the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase and 5,000 on the same day and still come out the other side a national champion.
When she attempted the taxing double for the first time as a freshman, opposing coaches questioned Boise State coach Corey Ihmels’ strategy. Now they’re emulating it.
“It’s a really difficult double. A couple years ago when we did it for the first time, everybody thought we were crazy,” Ihmels said. “Now we have (six) young ladies who are doing it this year, so obviously we’ve changed the bell curve there a little bit.”
Ostrander is already a two-time national champion in the steeplechase and could become Boise State’s first three-time champ in any sport Saturday in Austin, Texas. For further perspective, only 14 athletes on the women’s side have won three straight national titles in an event in NCAA history.
First, she’ll have to make it out of Thursday’s steeplechase prelims, which are scheduled for 6:32 p.m. MT. Ostrander is one of 12 runners in the second heat, and the top five from each heat and the next two best times advance to Saturday’s final. Broadcast coverage of Thursday’s running events begins at 6 p.m. MT on ESPNU and then switches over to ESPN2 at 7 p.m. MT.
Saturday’s steeplechase final starts at 4:54 p.m. on ESPN2, and Ostrander will then compete in the 5,000 final at 6:25 p.m.
“I think that, physically, obviously it’s pretty exhausting to have two all-out efforts in such a short time frame,” Ostrander said. “But more than that, mentally it’s tough to convince yourself to go back out on the track and push yourself that far again.”
After winning the steeplechase in 2017 and 2018, Ostrander has finished fourth and eighth, respectively, in the 5,000. To win both events would be almost unheard of, but never out of the question for an athlete of Ostrander’s caliber.
She owns the top collegiate time this year in the steeplechase and 10,000 meters and ranks third in the 5,000.
“I am never going to put limits on an athlete, and I’m definitely never going to put limits on her, because she’s somebody that always rises to the occasion,” Ihmels said. “She’s very talented in a lot of different events, but you’ve kind of got to pick and choose your poison a little bit. You can’t do everything. If she could, she would do everything, but it’s just not doable.”
Natural athletic ability, competitiveness and an exceptional aerobic capacity have helped Ostrander become one of the top collegiate runners in the country at a number of different distances. But she’s gained an edge mentally as well through her studies in the classroom.
After practice on Monday at Dona Larsen Park, Ostrander schooled local reporters in casual track conversation with the use of phrases like “thermoregulation,” “metabolic waste,” “lymphatic system” and “glycogen stores.” Her scientific understanding of her own body allows her to push herself further than most and likely will lead her on a path to Olympic preparation as early as next year.
“At the end of the day with all of our athletes, we sit down and talk about what are our three main objectives for the coming year?” Ihmels said. “I’m going to guess — I haven’t asked her yet — but I’m going to guess her No. 1 objective in this next year is going to be the Olympic Trials, as it should be. That’s going to take precedent over everything else we do here at Boise State, because when we recruited her we were going to do what’s best for her.
“Obviously my administration and everything allows me to do that, so I think that’s going to be a conversation we have as we get through this year and into next year. It fits up well for her to be in the same environment for another year and give it a go at making an Olympic team. I think she’s going to continue to get better.”
Ostrander won’t make the trip to Austin as the lone Boise State athlete. She’ll be joined by teammates Alexis Fuller and Kristie Schoffield.
Fuller, a senior, qualified for outdoor nationals in the 1,500 for the second year in a row and has a goal of making her first final. She is the reigning Mountain West champion in the event — beating Ostrander for the title. Fuller runs in the first heat of the prelims at 6:16 p.m. MT on Thursday. The final of the 1,500 is set for 4:41 p.m. Saturday.
“I think the toughest thing for Alexis has always been getting her to believe how good she is,” Ihmels said. “... The first time she beat Allie she’s like, ‘Is it OK if I pass her?’ Yeah, it’s OK if you pass her. But that’s who she is as a person. She didn’t want to hurt Allie’s feelings. It’s like: ‘No, you’re really good at 1,500 meters. You can pass her.’
“That’s been a work in progress, and hopefully this week we get to the other side of that and she can finally have a national meet where she reaches her true potential at the end.”
Schoffield, a sophomore, is back at nationals for the second straight season in the 800 but is looking to make her first final, too. She ran a personal best at the regional meet and will race in Thursday’s third heat (7:44 p.m.). She must be one of the top two in her heat or have one of the two next best times to move on to Saturday’s final (5:44 p.m.).
“I have seen so much athletically over this last four or five weeks. I think she’s dangerous if she can get into the final,” Ihmels said. “But I think she’s got a tough draw in the prelims. She’s probably got the hardest heat, but it’s survive and advance. You worry about the first race and I think if she can get through this first race, it’s going to be tough to keep her out of the top three or four in the final.”
BOISE STATE NCAA NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
Bill Shaw: Skiing (Slalom), 1974
Boise State football team: Division I-AA, 1980
Jake Jacoby: Track & Field (High Jump), 1984
Eugene Green: Track & Field (Triple Jump*), 1991
Kirk White: Wrestling (165 pounds), 1999
Gabe Wallin: Track & Field (Javelin), 2004 & 2005
Ben Cherrington: Wrestling (157 pounds), 2006
Eleni Kafourou: Track & Field (Long Jump*), 2009
Kurt Felix: Track & Field (Decathlon), 2012
Emma Bates: Track & Field (10,000 meters), 2014
Allie Ostrander: Track & Field (3,000-meter steeplechase), 2017 & 2018
*Indoor track season