NEW YORK — Alana Hadley first burst onto the running scene in 2010 when, as a precocious 13-year-old, she competed against elite athletes in the New York Road Runners Mini-10K.
Five years later, Hadley is in the nascent stages of professional marathon career filled with promise. On Sunday, she will compete in her first World Marathon Majors race when she toes the start line for the TCS New York City Marathon.
The 18-year-old freshman at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte will be the youngest runner in the history of the women’s elite field and, with a 2:38:34 personal best from her victory in the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon last November, will be the top American woman in the race.
We spoke with Hadley on the eve of the race about her career coming full-circle, her preparation, and her outlook for the biggest race of her life.
On Sunday, you will be the youngest athlete in the history of the women’s elite field here. How does that feel?
It feels really good.
We saw you for the first time here in New York in what seems like many moons ago. You were 13 years old when you ran the Mini 10K. What have the last five or six years been like?
The last five or six years have definitely been crazy since I explored the longer distances. When I was 14, I started running half marathons and really enjoyed them. At 16, I started running the marathon. Now I’m 18, almost 19, and I’m back here where it all started which is why I wanted to run the full marathon here. It’s one of the World Marathon Majors, but it’s also where everything started. It kind of feels like I have come around full circle. It was the start of where I started to think I could make it professionally. I feel like I have asserted myself into that field of professional athletes in the marathon now that I am part of the elite field here.
What has the trip here been like for you the last few days?
It’s been crazy. Yesterday, I went as what part of the closing bell ceremony for the stock exchange (NASDAQ), which was really crazy. It was so interesting and exciting to be there. A whole bunch of different press stories have been pouring in the last couple of days and I have been trying to keep up with all of the social media. It’s kind of overwhelming but it’s kind of helping prevent me from being nervous. It’s more making me really excited for it.
You’re missing sociology class right now as we speak. How difficult has it been for you balancing college life and studies with the training necessary for this race?
It's actually been going really well. I think it has been a lot better than high school in terms of balancing everything since I have classes that are just two days a week and at different times, different days. It’s really nice because instead of this huge chunk of time that I have to be at school, I can work my schedule for classes around when I want to train. That’s really nice.
How has this training block been for you in comparison to some of your other marathons?
Coming off that successful block, what are you anticipating in terms of time and performance on Sunday?
My biggest goal for Sunday is to put 100 percent of myself out there, leave everything out there on that course. I’m hoping that gets me under 2:37. At least a PR is what I want, but I focus on what I can control, which is the effort that I put into it. As long as I give the very best that I can, because I can’t give any more than I have, I will be happy with the time that it produces.
Have you done much research into the course and where are some of the points that you are looking forward to most, and maybe some that you aren’t?
I have definitely put a lot of look into the different hills and the bridges, just because I am not used to running on the bridges. My dad has helped me out. We’ve been looking at the elevation of those and seeing if there are any hills that I can run on in Charlotte that will kind of have the same elevation so I know what to expect. That has really helped because I found that there are actually quite a few hills that I normally train on that have the same elevation profile as some of the bridges that we have to go on. Definitely the bridges are something that I am kind of worried about, but I am actually looking forward to the Queensboro Bridge coming off it where you are kind of by yourself on the Queensboro and then being able to turn off of it onto First Avenue and hit what they call the wall of sound. I’m really excited for that part.
That’s also probably the trickiest part of the course…
It is, because you have to watch yourself because easily, without even trying, you pick up your pace because of all that atmosphere and all of that adrenaline rushing through. It’s kind of the part that everyone is looking forward to, but at the same time you could lose a race during that part by going too fast without trying.
Where does this race fit into your overall racing plan? Obviously, you will be running the Olympic Trials even though you’re not old enough to make the team for Rio. Is this a table-setter for that race?
This is definitely helping me in preparation for the Trials. This is a really good race to be in such a high-caliber field like I will be in at the Trials. I also wanted to be able to take some time off my PR before the Trials to put myself in a good position to be in the mix and hopefully be in the Top 10 at the Trials.
Not many people come to the New York City Marathon looking to improve their PR as this is usually not the place for that to happen. Is the key going to be trusting in the training and staying within yourself or is there something else that you feel you need to do well in order to PR?
I definitely feel like I need to be racing smart. There are definitely parts of the course where it could be very easy for me to take off and let my pace quicken or slow down without trying. I’m definitely going to have to be very on top of my cadence and my pace for the race, but I am very confident with my training. I have not only been training physically but since this summer I have been reading books on sports psychology to try to help myself mentally to get myself in a position to put it all out there in this race.