Any runner knows that mental toughness is key to running long distances.
And then there’s the physical preparation.Take Charlotte’s Alana Hadley. She’s one of the top distance runners in the country. She averages about 100 miles a week. And she’s only 16.
Alana Hadley’s running resume begins at the age of three.
That’s when she says she completed her first one-mile run.
By the time she was six, Alana finished her first 5K.
And these days?
“There will be two times a week where I do a 10-mile easy and a five mile (run) in the afternoon. And then there will be two times a week where I do eight miles in the morning and five miles in the afternoon and then of course the other days are my hard workouts."
Those “hard” workouts are 18 to 24 miles. Again, this is every week.
One of those five-mile easy runs through south Charlotte certainly looks easy. Alana has no problem carrying a conversation as she runs. Alana talks about an upcoming One Direction concert and T-shirts she and her friends designed for it.
Last year, Alana set a national record for her age group. She ran the half-marathon in 1 hour, 16 minutes and 41 seconds.
In May, she completed her first marathon. She was one of six women to break 3 hours. Her pace was 6:48 per mile.
Alana is receiving a lot of media attention. There have been stories in running magazines, the Charlotte Observer – even the New York Times.
And with that attention comes scrutiny of her intense training schedule. It’s too much, too soon, the critics say. A recent story in Runner’s World points out that most top runners don’t train at her pace until they’re a decade older.
The questions and critics don't bother her, Alana says.
"I’m not going to take it to heart. If I’m happy with who I am, your negative opinions don’t really affect me."
Her father and coach, Mark Hadley, says Alana's history of staying healthy shows she's not overdoing it.
"I don’t know of another athlete in running or really any other sport who has gone 10 years in their sport training and getting to a very high level and has never been injured."
There have been minor injuries caused by some running hazards like potholes, but the Hadleys say Alana has never had an injury related to her training.
The concerns are understandable, says Charlotte Running Club president Bill Shires. He admits he would also be skeptical if he didn’t know the Hadleys.
“I’m not a medical expert. But I’ve always seen what Mark has done with her. Which is they’ve progressed slowly. I mean it wasn’t like she started out running 100 miles a week ... they started 40/50/60 (miles per week), so they’ve built up over the years.”
Alana is 5' 5" and 110 pounds. That’s a healthy weight for her height, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of course, Alana burns a lot of calories with her training schedule. To maintain that weight, Alana has to eat – a lot. Her parents say Alana eats about 5,000 calories a day.
"Mark and I both are conscious to making sure that she gets the proper nutrition that she needs, making sure she’s getting enough calories when she’s putting in 110 miles a week," says Alana's mother, Jennifer Hadley.
Alana has received interest from college cross country programs, but a scholarship – at least as a runner – is not in her future.
This year, she accepted prize money for the first time - $450 for placing third in a half marathon. She won another $500 for placing second at the USA Track and Field Championships 5K in Winston-Salem. The money makes her ineligible to compete in college, but she knew that beforehand.
“I felt I was fine with not running for college. That’s something that I feel wouldn’t necessarily help me get to where I want to go.”
The Olympics, for one. She’s hopes to make 2016 Olympics in Rio. But no matter what, Alana knows what she wants to do for a living.
“Because I love running so much. I’d love that to be my profession.”