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Feature - Alana Hadley - Dyestat - 2013

Published by
DyeStat   on Sep 16 2013, 06:57 PM

Alana Hadley opts for a road less traveled

 

By Chris Lotsbom of DyeStat/RunnerSpace

 

On an early summer night in June of 2010, Alana Hadley stood in a fancily lit New York City restaurant looking up at some of her favorite running heroes. Olympic medalist Shalane Flanagan stood nearby, as did American marathoner Kara Goucher and world record holder Paula Radcliffe. It was the eve of the NYRR Mini-10K, a race where Alana would toe the line among an A-list of athletes, rubbing elbows and gaining valuable racing experience all at the young age of 13.

The look on Alana's face said it all. Bright eyed and excited, it read: "I want to be them one day."

Alana Hadley in action.Three years later and now a junior at Ardrey Kell High School in Charlotte, N.C., the 16-year-old Hadley is making strides in hopes of lining up against the likes of Flanagan and Goucher at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

Training under her father and coach, Mark, Hadley is focused on earning the 2:43 Olympic Trials "B" standard at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on Nov. 2.

"I have always seen the marathon as being the best distance for me as I have enjoyed races more the longer they have gotten," Alana said. "I see the marathon becoming my favorite event."

Hadley is a special outlier to many athletes her age. Instead of racing among the high school ranks, Hadley made the decision to follow her heart and do what she likes best: road racing the longer distances. Training for the most part by herself, Hadley has forgone prep cross country and track in favor of the elite road scene.

"I thoroughly enjoyed the team atmosphere of the track team, but I really didn't enjoy the short distance of the mile and 800," Alana said. "The short race distances just didn't appeal to me. I'm happier running long distances races of my choosing."

Though she had made some noise on the national high school scene in cross country the past two years -- qualifying for the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships her freshman year then just missing out in 2012 due to an Achilles injury -- Hadley has decided not to run cross country at all this season. Instead, she is focusing on her Nov. 2 quest for the Trials.

Since 2011, it has been evident that Hadley had a knack for the long distances. In her first half-marathon, Hadley won the 2011 Alston & Bird Corporate Cup Half-Marathon in Charlotte in 1:21:17, the fastest ever performance by a 14-year-old. Six months later she'd shave more than four minutes from the time, finishing as the top American at the Dodge Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach Half-Marathon in 1:17:15, another national record.

Rounding a corner at the 12-mile mark of that race, Hadley was sporting a wide smile. It was at that moment, Mark says, the father and daughter tandem knew the longer distances were her calling, that she was bound to be a marathoner.

"She just appeared perfectly in her wheelhouse doing that. At that point, I think in both her mind and my mind, we're like 'There is something special here,'" Mark said. Since that race, Alana has set a new personal best of 1:16:41.

In May, the all honors student made her marathon debut at the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, finishing in a respectable 2:58:24. Hadley was on 2:45:00 pace through halfway before stepping on a curb in the 14th mile, injuring her hamstring.

The experience racing the full 26.2-mile distance, and completing an entire marathon build-up, was something both Hadleys learned a lot from and can take into her next marathon in November.

"During the Cleveland Marathon I certainly learned that not only is the marathon distance extremely taxing physically, but also very taxing mentally, as towards the end you are almost fighting with your brain to keep going during the last few miles," she said. "On the build up to the marathon I started to learn the importance of keeping up with little things to ensure my legs fully recover after workouts as they started to get longer."

One question begs to be asked: Does Hadley's decision to focus solely on long distance road races --particularly the marathon -- hint at any trend for the future? Will more teen athletes of Alana's caliber take a stab at the distance? Not likely, both say.

"I don't really see myself as a trend-setter when it comes to going after the marathon trials standard and running marathons while still in high school," Alana said. "However, I would like to become a trend-setter in showing people it is okay to take a different route of doing sports or activities, that you don't have to follow the norm. ... I would like to see more athletes follow the path of doing what they think is best for their dreams and what they want to do in the future, not what they feel like they have to do, or are supposed to do, just because that is what everyone else is doing."

Mark, who ran at Ole Miss with wife Jennifer, and is now the owner and head coach of Maximum Performance Running, agrees wholeheartedly.

"I think what she is doing is encouraging people to take a look outside of the box," he said. "I don't know that the marathon fits 99.9 percent of high school runners. I think it's just not likely they'll be that far along in their training development to make the marathon a real option for them, at least a high level marathon."

Alana has also decided not to run in college once she graduates high school in 2015. Again, citing her love for the roads, both believe it is the best -- and most enjoyable -- decision at the moment.

Hadley does not have an agent or a shoe deal yet, but she's on the market when those opportunities come. (She has already accepted some prize money from road racing).

"I don't know that we'll see a lot of others go down that road, but I think what it can do is encourage people to (ask themselves) 'What's best for me?'" explained Mark, who noted that the collegiate system -- where women top out at racing six kilometers in cross country and 10,000 meters on the track -- doesn't necessarily aid in improvement at the half-marathon and marathon distance.

"For most people, 98 percent of them probably, the current high school and collegiate system are the right answers and would be the best for them. But for some it's not, and those people need to be willing to look down other avenues for what's best for them," he said.

Running between 100 and 110 miles a week, Alana is eager to race her next marathon in Indianapolis. It should be noted that the youngest Olympic Trials Marathon competitor on raceday in 2012 was 22-years-old.

Don't be surprised if a teenager in Hadley earns her qualifying credentials this year.

"I would love to be seen as and considered a marathoner," she said.

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6 comment(s)  
MPR
Alana Hadley has posted a new blog in which she offers some straight forward advice to young female runners about 4 somewhat controversial topics which lead to many a promising young runner's downfall.

Check her advice here: http://alana-growing...le-runners.html

Alana writes this in the hopes of helping others through her experience and understanding.

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley
mulhjo
High school record for the marathon is held by Cathy O'Brien. While attending Dover High School in Wisconsin, she ran 2:34 to finish 9th at the 1984 Olympic Trials. A incredible performance that will be hard to top. She went on to represent the U.S. at the 88' and 92' Olympics and won the LA Marathon in 1991.
DougB
Dover HS is in New Hampshire actually. Cathy (Schiro) was quite a talent.
DougB
Of course a story like this brings up the age-old questions about how much volume is appropriate as a 15-16 year old.

I think with the way professional finances are tilting toward the roads and away from track and field, it's natural that younger athletes are going to recognize that and begin to zero in on it. I recall Eddie Owens running really well in the New York Half Marathon a couple of years ago and thinking that it was unusual for a high school kid to take a stab at something like that.

But not unprecedented. In 1970, a high school girl from Oregon named Carolyn Walker set a world record in the marathon for women when she ran 3:01.
Chris Lotsbom
I believe she could be exactly that. She's done very well on the roads before, age records for the half especially. And she has credentials from 5k to 10k too, even though she prefers the longer races. Only time will tell, but I think she's got something special going on.
Chris Nickinson
Maybe we'll see Alana step up to the plate and run some USARC event next year. It'd be a big step but could she be the Mary Cain of the roads?
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