Heading toward the finish line of the 2013 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, then 16-year-old Alana Hadley knew she was cutting it close to the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon standard of 2 hours and 43 minutes.
“When I looked up at the clock on the final straightaway and saw I was going to get the standard, I got really emotional and started bawling,” recalls the now 18-year-old Hadley, who finished fourth that day in 2:41:56. “All your emotions are heightened after a marathon when you are super tired, and I was very overwhelmed with happiness.”
That performance made Hadley, who was a junior in high school at the time, the youngest person to qualify for the Olympic Trials Marathon since Cathy (Schiro) O’Brien did so in 1984, also at age 16. O’Brien, who finished ninth at the ’84 Trials in a still-standing high school record 2:34:24, went on to make two Olympic teams in the marathon—1988 and 1992—a feat Hadley hopes to replicate in a few years.
“While I have achieved a lot at a young age I believe that I still have plenty of areas for me to improve, which I am excited about,” says Hadley, who ran her first road race, a 5K, when she was 6 years old. “I estimate I will be at my physical peak as a marathoner around my late 20s to early 30s.”
Last November, Hadley returned to Indianapolis, winning the race, breaking the course record and lowering her personal best to an impressive 2:38:34—currently the 49th fastest time on USA Track & Field’s qualifier list. A professional since the age of 16—Hadley accepted prize money and the Olympic Trials qualifier bonus at Indianapolis in 2013—she willingly forfeited her ability to compete in high school and collegiate athletics so she could focus on her own long-distance goals.
“I think [longer distances] are the best fit for me physically as well as mentally,” explains Hadley, who is unsponsored. “I started out by running on the roads and in road races, so those will always have a special place in my heart.”
Hadley, who has been coached by her father, Mark, since she started running at age 6, logs 110-120 miles in her biggest training weeks—a total that has progressed an average of 10 miles a week each year. Running twice a day most days, Hadley does five main speed or stamina-focused workouts every two weeks, in addition to core work, plyometrics and form drills.
“Because we have undertaken a balanced and slow growth path to training she has been able to get to a high work capacity level needed for the marathon without serious injury and with very strong bones, joints and ligaments and I don’t see any reason why this will change during her career,” explains Mark. “Ultimately I think she has the potential and capabilities to be one of the very best marathon runners in the U.S., and potentially stay there for a good amount of time.”
In August, Hadley moved into her dorm room at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she’ll study exercise science, taking a minimum course load so she can still pursue running at the professional level while concentrating on her studies and still having a social life. Being close to home, she’ll also continue staying involved in her community—she taught Bible study in high school and volunteered at special needs camps in the summer months—while also spending time with her family and serving as a role model for her younger siblings.
“While my main focus is on my running, I also find it important to have other things going on in my life to provide a balance,” explains Hadley, who has donated a portion of her prize winnings to Autism charities. “If I only have one thing going on I tend to overthink it sometimes and stress myself out, so having other things to maintain a balance in my life is important.”