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Photo: Instagram/@kiefferallie

Allie Kieffer was the 5th woman to cross the finish line at the 2017 New York City Marathon last Sunday, outshining her own personal best in the process with a time of 2:29:39. And the 30-year-old says no one could’ve been more shocked than she was to find herself participating in the post-race press conference. “I was sitting next to Mary Keitany and Shalane Flanagan,” says the starstruck athlete of the defending champion and 2017 winner, respectively.

Kieffer isn’t humble-bragging. A decorated runner in her own right—Kieffer set a world record for the indoor marathon back in 2016—injuries almost sidelined her from this year’s competition. “[Two weeks before the marathon], I ran in shoes that were just a little too small…for 24 miles,” she says. Tendonitis resulted. “I was at the point where I was like, I can’t do this and my boyfriend said: ‘Let’s not think about what’s two weeks away. Let’s think about getting you healthy enough to race again someday.'” This shift in thinking, she says, saved her, because it helped her to focus on the little things she could do every day to enable recovery rather than the bigger, and more daunting picture.

“Focusing on why I love to run rather than on being great has made me a better athlete.”

This wasn’t the first time Kieffer’s faced physical adversities. In 2012, she was sidelined by an injury just prior to the Olympic trials, a setback she calls “devastating.” After, she put competitive running on the back burner but ultimately found her way back to the sport. She credits Nike’s new Break Through running program, which she participated in this fall, for teaching her to train differently.

“For a long time I felt like I didn’t recover super well, but I did a lot of little things in training this time, and they all added up to recovering great,” she says. Through the program, Kieffer received massages twice a week, added strength training into her regimen, and was provided with meals. “I was so strong on the hills and strong at the end of the race, and I have to think it had something to do with all of the strength training,” she says. And yes, she admits, she still struggled with an injury, but it wasn’t (as is the norm for her) caused by overuse.

A post shared by Allie Kieffer (@kiefferallie) on

She’s also adopted a new mental trick, which has forever changed the way she trains. It comes from the book Chasing Excellence, which was written by CrossFit trainer Ben Bergeron. “He says that the base of being the best athlete is actually your character,” she says “Next is nutrition, and then on top of that is training, and finally, the strategy for how you’re actually going to compete.” This performance pyramid, she explains, has taken some of the pressure off of the sport for her. “Focusing on why I love to run rather than on being great has made me a better athlete,” she says. It’s also, ironically, made her great in the process.

Avoid buying the wrong running shoes by following these pro tips. Plus, here are more recovery tips for those who might likewise want to focus on “the little things” when training