She went back to her apartment and packed for Buffalo. She had her spring all planned. She would race the 13.1-mile NYC Half Marathon in mid-March and the full London Marathon in April, a twosome that would give her a clear sense of where she stood heading toward the 2018 New York City Marathon on Nov. 4.
Just before her flight home, as she was knocking out what was planned to be a quick 14-miler, she felt a pain in her right foot. She figured it was probably nothing -- she'd hurt like that before simply from tying her shoes too tight -- but she noticed it didn't go away even after the run.
She took a short Jambojet regional flight from Eldoret to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. By the time the plane landed in Nairobi, she was limping across the tarmac.
Kieffer spent the day of the NYC Half Marathon on the sideline with her right foot strapped into a medical boot, an MRI having revealed a stress fracture in her second metatarsal, the same place in the same foot that she repeatedly injured in college. London would be impossible too. She couldn't run at all for seven weeks -- the same amount of time she'd just spent in Kenya working herself into the best shape of her life.
She swam and cross-trained, rode the elliptical and bicycle, but it wasn't the same. Runners need to run just as pitchers need to throw. She passed her days watching Netflix, gaining weight and feeling depressed that her body had let her down yet again.
By this point, though, she had a reputation to uphold as a voice of body positivity. She couldn't just go online and complain. She had to stay on message. Wearing a bikini, she posted another set of side-by-side photos of herself on Instagram: one with a thicker midriff and one thinner, an illusion created simply by hiking up her bikini bottoms. "Me," read the caption on the skinny picture. "Still me," read the other.
She received biomechanical training and physical therapy for her foot at the Oiselle headquarters in Bend, Oregon, and in April returned to running a few miles at a time. She felt grateful for those miles but also frustrated that she'd lost so much fitness, saying, "I'm nowhere near where I was in Kenya." It became clear that she wouldn't have a chance to race 26.2 miles before the fall.
As a stopgap measure, to get at least one big race on a national stage, she entered the 49th annual Peachtree Road Race, a July 4 event in Atlanta that served as the de facto 10K national championship. It wasn't a marathon, but it was something.
The day before the race, organizers held a news conference at a genteel Atlanta restaurant to announce their racers of note. The rapper Jeezy, for instance, would be running this year's Peachtree. He came up and said a few words about losing 60 pounds while training to the sweet sounds of Billy Ocean. Five elite women -- described by a race organizer as "one of the best American women's fields in the history of the Peachtree Road Race" -- were then invited onto the dais to answer questions and have their pictures taken. Kieffer was not one of them.
She remained in the audience while her rivals spoke. Yes, she had been recently injured, but it was hard for her not to think she'd been snubbed for other reasons too. Was it because she didn't look the part, or have the name recognition or history of success? Did they not take her seriously? As the favorites spoke, she sat in a chair and stared straight ahead with her hands clasped in her lap.
The next morning, Kieffer woke up for the race at 4:10, ate a bagel with peanut butter and went outside to warm up, which was not difficult in the Georgia summer swelter.
When the starting gun sounded at 6:50 a.m., with the sun barely above the horizon, the air was already swampy. A pack of 30 or so women ran shoulder to shoulder for the first few steps, and quickly the elites began to separate themselves. By the time they hit the first mile marker, about half the pack had dropped back -- and half again at the second mile -- after a blistering five-minutes-flat pace heading into mile 3.
Kieffer stayed with the leaders through the third mile marker, passing Gwen Jorgensen, who had won gold in the Rio Olympics as an American triathlete, and stayed within 31 seconds of the top three finishers -- two-time All-American runner Stephanie Bruce, Kenyan-born Aliphine Tuliamuk and former U.S. cross-country champion Sara Hall -- all the way to the end, where she promptly collapsed onto the asphalt and lay flat on her back in the heat, her face flushed crimson.
She'd finished fifth in New York, and now she was fourth in Atlanta.
Fifteen days later, Kieffer announced she would return to New York for the 2018 marathon. And around this time she began to face a public backlash.
"Not buying it. Nobody runs that time at that weight without EPO or blood doping," wrote one anonymous user on the popular LetsRun message board, as part of a thread titled "Allie Kieffer clean?"
Another was even more pointed: "There's no way she should be able to run the times she has run with the body type that she has."
Perhaps it was inevitable. She had come out of nowhere in 2017 to crash the party, and then she'd decided to stay. Who did she think she was? "People think doping," Kieffer had told me in Iten. "Especially now that I'm here in Kenya, I'm sure they really think doping."
She has never failed a drug test. New York City Marathon race director Peter Ciaccia has insisted she didn't cheat at his race. "No, no, no," he said in an interview for this story. "That's not the case." But fifth place in New York followed by fourth place in Atlanta means, injuries or not, Kieffer has lost her status as charming underdog; she is now a legitimate and persistent threat to established runners who have spent years jockeying for position at the front of the pack.
And the attacks have revolved around her body. Everyone knows she has struggled with it. Everyone knows that if you want to get in Allie Kieffer's head, you go straight for her body. Everyone knows that an athlete in her 30s, who looks nothing like anyone at her level, can't break out of obscurity to challenge the best in the sport. Except this one has.
In a cruel irony, the crowning achievement of her life has made her struggles with body image more intense. Before New York, she says, "No one was really looking at me, so no one really cared what I looked like. And then once I crossed the finished line in fifth, it was like: 'Why is that girl bigger?'"
In August, Kieffer acknowledged the skepticism head-on and read the LetsRun comments aloud in a series of Instagram videos. One by one, she ticked them off. Then she addressed the camera directly.
"Unfortunately, I'm the type of person who actually cares what people on these message boards write about them," she said. "The words that I'm too old and I'm too big and I'm doping? Those hurt." She was seething with anger now. She knew she couldn't stop the chatter at this point in the year. But in November, New York would come back around again.
New York would be her answer. She would speak through her body. From now on, she would control the message.
"I'm going to use your words as ammunition -- to prove you wrong," she said into the camera. "Because I'm not too old. And I'm not too big. And I'm not doping. I'm here to stay."
A longtime runner and writer now based in California, Nick Marino has covered fashion for GQ, fitness for Men's Health, and food for The New York Times. This is his first story for ESPN.