In anticipation of her first marathon, Alana Hadley did a test run late last month on the quiet, tree-lined streets near her Charlotte home. She set out on a three-mile loop that was as familiar to her as the cadence of her breathing. Soon, the laps and miles began to fall away.
Her mother, Jennifer, and younger brother, Bryce, maintained a refreshment table that featured small cups of Mountain Berry Blast-flavored Powerade, the drink that would be available during the race itself. Her father, Mark, a financial analyst turned full-time running coach, pedaled his bike along the side of the road, monitoring her stride and pace. No detail was too small during Alanas 15-mile run, though there was one scheduling mishap: it was yard-sale day in the neighborhood.
Everyone was like, Are you guys having a race? Jennifer Hadley said. So I had to explain it to them: No, were just practicing.
A sophomore at Charlottes Ardrey Kell High School, Alana Hadley is 5 feet 5 inches and 110 pounds, with a resting heart rate of 50 beats a minute and a preference for pink and purple T-shirts. She consumes about 5,000 calories a day. Her parents grocery bill is enormous.
She also happens to be the top 16-year-old long-distance runner in the country.
Today, Hadley competed in the Cleveland Marathon, which she had hoped to finish in 2 hours 40 minutes a time that would position her as a contender. Her time ended up being 2 hours, 58 minutes, 23 seconds.
(This is what her father posted on Facebook about the race: "About mile 14 Alana tripped on a curb going around a corner and strained/pulled her hamstring. Several aid stations tried to pull her off the course but she refused. She was able to run 7 min pace in some pain the remainder but every time she tried to pick it the hamstring would hurt more. Finished in 2:58:23 and is rightfully proud of herself in roughing it out.")
For a few years, Hadley has been a curiosity among runners, not only because of her sizzling results but also because of her unconventional approach.
High school sophomores do not tackle marathons. They do not run 110 miles a week. They do not get up at 5 a.m. for five-mile jogs to supplement their afternoon training.
The kids at school just dont get it, she said. Its so funny. Theyre like, Dont you ever get tired? Not really! Have you ever not wanted to do it one day? No, I love to run! Ive kind of given up trying to explain it to them.
After averaging 15 miles a day for seven weeks, Hadley recently tapered her workload to conserve energy for Sundays race. Two weeks ago, for example, she ran only 92 miles. She said she was feeling restless at school.
I cant sit still, she said. I want to ask my teachers if I can just stand in the corner.
A typical workout for her is a 10-mile jog in 70 minutes, which she considers an easy tempo. She has personal bests of 16 minutes 51 seconds for five kilometers, 34:59 for 10 kilometers and 1:16:41 for the half-marathon.
Mark Hadley, who met his wife when they were cross-country runners at the University of Mississippi, said their daughters drive comes from within.
It wasnt planned this way, he said. With a kid, who knows if theyre going to want to run next week? Alanas just never stopped.
In October, Hadley was named USA Track & Fields athlete of the week after she won an open cross-country meet in Charlotte that featured runners from college programs like Duke, Florida State and Davidson. She recalled that a few threw elbows in her direction at the start.
Not everyone is a fan of her precocious path. She heard from critics when she revealed that she was logging 55 miles a week at 13, and now that her workload has doubled, the chorus has grown louder: should a teenager be running so much, so soon?
No less an eminence than Bernard Lagat, the Olympic 1,500-meter medalist, voiced his concern during an exchange with Hadley on Twitter last year. Lagat, 38, who is an advocate of rest and moderation, pointed out that her mileage exceeded even his own.
Hadleys approach, though unorthodox, is not without precedent. In 1984, Cathy OBrien competed in the United States Olympic marathon trials at 16 and placed ninth, finishing in 2:34:24. OBrien said she ran about 60 miles a week during training. By the time she qualified for the Olympics in 1988 and again in 1992, she was logging more than 100 miles a week.
I know what its like to have people be critical, OBrien said in a telephone interview. Its one of those things where, whos to say what people are capable of doing? You could make the argument that this is no different than kids who play hockey at 5 oclock in the morning.
There is no evidence that high mileage has an adverse physiological effect on young runners, said Dr. Cathy Fieseler, a primary care sports medicine physician and the president of the American Medical Athletic Association. It has more to do with the cultural stigma of running as punishment, she said.
Certainly, we see kids who get hurt running, Fieseler said, but almost all of them are increasing their training too quickly. I think Alanas dad has been very good about this. Shes balanced. She does strength work. If a kid loves what shes doing, thats great.
Aside from Hadleys smooth stride her forefoot seems to brush the asphalt rather than smack it one of the keys has been a slow build over the past 10 years, said Mark Hadley, who coaches more than 20 runners. He never allowed her to increase her training by more than 10 miles a week over any six-month period, and he typically made her wait a year. With the exception of a strained Achilles when she stepped into a hole last fall, she has not been injured.
You see kids who start running as eighth graders, and by the time theyre sophomores or juniors, theyre running 50 or 60 miles a week, Mark Hadley said. I mean, thats a huge jump. Alanas been adding her mileage slowly, over a decade.
She said she was 3 when she asked her father if she could join him for one of his morning jogs. He told her she was too young. Alana was persistent. I guess I finally bugged him enough that he decided to take me, she said.
She embarked on a mile-long loop and giggled the entire time, her father said. And I was like, Whoa, thats not normal, he said.
She ran her first race at 6, when she persuaded him to let her enter a local 5K. Alana kept referring to the events as carnivals, because she was enthralled by the atmosphere: the fun and games and food vendors at the finish. But during the race, she channeled her energy. Mark Hadley said he nearly missed her at the finish because he thought she would take 35 minutes. Alana needed 27, averaging less than 9 minutes a mile.
It took her another three years to get serious about running, she said. When her father was told that she had broken the North Carolina state record for a 5K by a 9-year-old by running a race in a shade over 21 minutes, she relished the experience. She had tried soccer and swimming, but nothing resonated quite the way running did.
I just decided: this is my sport, she said. This is what Im going to do.
Hadley has always been a young woman of unusual commitment, her mother said. Once she sets about doing something, she does it. Her father used the word diligent, and he said that applied to school (where she gets good grades), to church (where she leads a weekly Bible study) and, of course, to pounding out the miles.
Hadley has a blog titled Growing Up Fast, which she started two years ago after people started asking about her training. In detailing her races and her workouts, she peppers her posts with an inordinate number of exclamation marks.
I figured I might as well just put it all out there, she said. Because a lot of people were like, Well, she must not enjoy doing these races. And I dont know why, but people just assume that I dont like it, that my parents are forcing me to run.
Mark Hadley said: You cant make a teenager daughter do anything. If anything, weve held her back from doing more.
She has long-range goals of vying for medals in the Olympics and at world championships. She does not compete for her high school track or cross-country teams, because she wants to run marathons, she said, and training for the 5K or the 10K would delay her development. When the Olympic trials are held in 2016, she will be 19. Its there in the back of my head, she said.
And though she surely would have her share of Division I scholarship offers, she does not plan to run as a college athlete, and it might be a moot point. When she accepted $450 for a third-place finish at the Tobacco Road Half Marathon in March, one of eight half-marathons she has completed, she essentially turned professional. The N.C.A.A. prohibits prospective student-athletes from taking prize money that exceeds actual and necessary expenses, a spokeswoman said.
Whatever money Hadley makes from racing she could win as much as $6,000 in Sundays race she intends to use to toward college.
Itd be cool to run for my college, she said, but in the long run, it doesnt make sense for what I want to do.
Alana had planned to run her first marathon in June at a race in Minnesota. But then a friend from school invited her to a One Direction concert scheduled for the same day. It was an easy decision. I want to go to the concert so bad! she said.
So she opted for Cleveland instead. She would need to race a month earlier than expected, but starting early had never stopped her before.
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