By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2017 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

PHOTO: Allie Ostrander competing at the 2016 USA Olympic Trials 5000m in Eugene, Ore. (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)

EUGENE, Ore., USA (09-Jun) — When Allie Ostrander ventured into the steeplechase this year, some pundits questioned the decision. The injury-prone redshirt freshman at Boise State had always been more of a 5000m runner who was particularly good at cross country. But for the 20-year-old, the discipline came naturally and actually took her back to her roots in the sport.

“I don’t mean to brag, but I was third place in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Middle School Championships 100m Hurdles race. That was in eighth grade. So, it was kind of a big deal,” Ostrander said straight-faced last night, referencing when her hurdling career began. Succumbing to laughs, she added “I’m surprised you guys didn’t know that already.”

In fact, Ostrander’s athletics background spans 100m hurdles (middle school PB of 17.52 seconds); 300m hurdles (high school best of 48.31); and even the triple jump (8.41m in middle school). Choosing the 3000m steeplechase in college was a way to inject some fun into training.

“It’s just something new and exciting to try. Given last year I struggled with injuries, I wanted something that took a bit of pressure off and put more fun into the sport. In addition to that, it’s kind of a family tradition now. My sister and both my cousins do it so I had to join the club,” Ostrander said, speaking softly. Her sister, Taylor, was a consistent NCAA Division III qualifier and all-American in the discipline at Willamette University, while her cousins, Mariah and Riley Burroughs, compete in the event for the University of Alaska-Anchorage.

Practicing hurdles once a week, Ostrander has run consistently in each of her three collegiate steeplechases: she ran a debut 9:55.61 at the Stanford Invite last March, then a 10:00.02 at the NCAA West Regionals two weeks ago, and finally a 9:50.55 lifetime best to finish third in her prelim here yesterday. Her 9:55.61 performance debut ranked fourth in the NCAA entering the meet, only behind New Hampshire’s Elinor Purrier, Penn State’s Tori Gerlach, and Minnesota’s Madeline Strandemo.

“It felt really good. It was a PR, but it felt smooth and like I still have something left for Saturday,” she said. “Each one gives me a lot more experience. Last time it doubled and this time added another 33-percent. It’s one of those races where you can practice and practice for it but nothing can quite emulate the race perfectly. So it’s really important getting that sort of experience.”

Though steeplechasers tend to have a high risk of injury (especially considering the awkwardness of water jumps), Ostrander isn’t fazed by the risk.

“I think that the actual racing part is such a small percentage of the impact on your body that it’s not going to make a notable difference,” she said. And about clearing the hurdles considering she’s five feet tall? “The hurdles are pretty short, 30 inches, right? I think it’s not so much about height but just about form and getting your legs up. You don’t really have to jump.”

Along with Purrier and Gerlach, Ostrander will enter Saturday’s final as a co-favorite. It’s her best chance yet at an NCAA track title.

“I think that there are a lot of girls that have run faster times towards the end of the season. At the beginning of the season it kind of looked like it was going to be a weak steeple year, but after seeing the prelims it looks like everyone has a lot left for the final and I’m excited to duke it out.”

The fastest in the prelims were Northern Illinois’s Hope Schmelzle (9:50.51) and Gerlach (9:50.54). Strandemo was fourth in the heat just behind Ostrander in 9:52.74.

When she crosses the line on Saturday, Ostrander won’t be able to celebrate too long no matter the placing: she’s entered and plans to still run the 5000m alongside teammate Clare O’Brien. Figuring the winning time in the steeplechase will be around 10 minutes, Ostrander will have an hour and 20 minutes in between the two races.

“The 5000m is the last event, last race of the season so I don’t really see any reason other than something medical to not give it a go,” she said. After all, this season has been about reviving the fun in running and trying something new.

“This is my first outdoor track season in college and it really has been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed the experience with the team. Each season is a little bit different than the others, and this outdoor season has been really great. I’m so excited that I have two other teammates here… It’s really cool to have the team aspect in an individual sport.

PHOTO: Allie Ostrander competing at the 2016 USA Olympic Trials 5000m in Eugene, Ore. (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)