DULUTH – Alana Hadley spoke with the ease and authority of a wily running veteran.
Her words and goals aren’t much different from other elite runners who have traveled to Duluth for Saturday’s Grandma’s Marathon along a picturesque Lake Superior that was only a rumor on Friday because of heavy fog.
But unlike her peers, Hadley is still technically a kid, even if her pile of accomplishments is already impressive.
The 17-year-old from Charlotte, N.C, who just wrapped up her junior season of high school, will compete against some of the best on Saturday, including Sarah Kiptoo, Grandma’s reigning female champion and the owner of the course record (2 hours, 26 minutes, 32 seconds). Kiptoo, 24, bested her previous top time by nearly 13 minutes in setting the record last year. Others at the elite table during Friday’s news conference had years or decades on Hadley, who will be running her third marathon.
For a kid who wanted to run soon after she could walk, though, it’s been a long time coming.
“She’s always had more of a diligent type personality,” said her father and coach, Mark Hadley. “She just decided it was something she wanted to do and she kept doing it.”
Hadley, who ran the fastest half-marathon for an American 15-year-old before running the fastest half-marathon for a 16-year-old, ran a 5K at age 6 with her mother, Jennifer. Her father, who was also a marathon and ultramarathon runner before getting into coaching, was stunned when his daughter came whipping across the finish line after about 27 minutes. Instantly, Hadley said, she was smitten. She would egg one of her parents into doing a 5K, which she called “festivals,” with her every month or so. Soon, she graduated to 10Ks. Then half-marathons.
“It seemed like every time I got farther in distance, the more and more I enjoyed it so I thought, ‘Why not try the marathon?’ ” Alana Hadley said. “And I loved it more than I loved anything else.”
Putting in the associated time didn’t seem to be an issue. During the school year, Hadley wakes up at 5 a.m. and runs about 5 miles before putting in another 10 after school. She piles on more over the weekends. When you do the math, it works out to 111 miles a week, all in between her schoolwork and the occasional “CSI: Miami” episode.
The commitment has already paid off. After a disappointing debut at the Cleveland Marathon in May 2013, Hadley posted a time of 2:41:56 at Indianapolis’ Monumental Marathon in November, making her the youngest person to qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials since 1984.
With 2016 looming, Hadley has already thought about just how many Olympics she could qualify for — potentially six. After all, mature résumé aside, she’s still just a teenager.
“Just that feeling, going across the finish line, seeing that time, taking that next step to qualify … it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt before,” she said.
Back in the state
Nick Arciniaga, 30, will compete at Grandma’s for the first time after narrowly winning the Twin Cities Marathon in the fall. The California native, who trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., has competed in the half-marathon — which starts midway through the marathon course — three times.
“The first half of the course will be brand new to me,” he said. “I think running on the lake will be kind of familiar because the second half is like that as well, but I just hope to stay with the lead pack as long as possible and be able to be in contention for the second half of the race.”
• At least 44 countries and 50 states plus the District of Columbia will be represented among the 7,964 participating in the marathon on Saturday.