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In 2013, then-16-year-old Alana Hadley ran a very fast race at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, where she barely dipped under the qualifying standard for the Olympic Trials Marathon. Her 2:41:56 was good enough for fourth-place that day. Last year, the same young runner returned to the same race and won, broke the course record and barely missed the “A” standard for the trials. Her new PR—2:38:34—placed her in the top-50 marathoners in the country.
And on Nov. 1, 2015, Hadley will line up with some of the world’s best 26.2 runners at the New York City Marathon, one that always attracts a deep elite field, and, on the cusp of an Olympic year, a small taste of who to watch at the trials next February in Los Angeles.
“I definitely want to get a new PR and the ‘A’ standard for the Olympic Trials,” says Hadley of the November race. “I’ve been in shape to do it for awhile now, and I just haven’t had the opportunity to just get that standard, which is under 2:37. I really feel like I’m in shape to do it for New York, and I really want to.”
(Editor’s note: Athletes who meet the “B” standard are allowed to participate in the trials. Athletes who meet the “A” standard are provided funding support to participate.)
The young runner, who also tackles a minimum schoolwork load at University of North Carolina in addition to her training, says she’s grown up with the sport. Her runner parents met at their own cross-country practice(!) and often joined her on training runs—until she got too fast for them!”I’ve always been going to road races since I was little, and it built up to the point where I was running with a lot of adults and winning some of these 5Ks overall for women,” Hadley recalls. “I wanted to keep going for longer races—I enjoyed the longer stuff. I tried different distances to find out what I enjoy doing, and I thought, I might be able to make a career out of that. I decided that I wanted to be able to make this my profession and be a professional marathon runner.”
The now-18-year-old, who runs under the guidance of her father, opted to forfeit collegiate eligibility to compete at UNC to pursue her dream of becoming a professional marathon runner—a dream that appears very likely to become a full-blown sponsored reality before she celebrates her 20th birthday.
“I think it’s kind of cool that I’m one of the youngest ones,” she says of qualifying for the 2016 trials. “However, the way I look at it is through running age, not physical age. I’ve been running for 12 years, so I feel like I am a pretty experienced runner. I don’t think being younger than a lot of them is going to make a huge difference. I think that I’ve been running for so long will help the most.”
Another runner who has defied the odds when it comes to the “age” question? Meb Keflezighi, who, come February, will undoubtedly be one of the oldest runners to hit the streets of LA in pursuit for another spot on an Olympic marathon team. “He’s on the other side of the spectrum that age doesn’t really matter,” says Hadley, who also gains inspiration from the “powerhouse marathoner,” Paula Radcliffe, who recently retired.
Although the rising phenom trains at a much higher level than most of her peers, her tips for runners are important for any level of athlete. “Be consistent, consistency is definitely a very big key. Recovery; make sure you’re getting enough fluids and foods and taking care of your legs. Sometimes people forget about those ice baths or Epsom salt baths, so make sure your legs are recovered. And be confident in your training; know that you can do this.”