How young is too young to run 26.2 miles? Organizers of several major U.S. marathons—Boston and New York among them—have minimum ages of 18, but that’s not the case in Cleveland, where 16-year-old Alana Hadley will line up and compete this Sunday, May 19.
The Cleveland Marathon will mark Hadley’s 26.2-mile debut, though the tenth-grader from Charlotte, NC, is not your typical first-time marathoner. She’s already competed in two half-marathons this year, and back in February, her time of 1:20:19 at the Mercedes Half-Marathon in Birmingham, AL, was good enough for fourth place.
On February 18, 2012, she achieved her personal best in the event, setting a course record at the Myrtle Beach Dasani Half-Marathon with a winning time of 1:16:41.
“The longer they've gotten, the more I’ve enjoyed the races,” Hadley told Cleveland.com. “Doing the marathon in Cleveland, I’m excited for it.”
There’s even a chance she’ll begin her marathon career with a victory—much like she did in March 2011, when she made her half-marathon debut by winning the Alston Bird Corporate Cup Half-Marathon with a time of 1:21:15. Last year’s Cleveland Marathon winner, Mary Akor, finished in 2:39:49, and Hadley’s goal is to break 2:40, according to Runner’s World.
Regardless of Sunday’s results, Hadley’s mere presence in the race is causing some controversy.
“There’s a misconception that children and adolescents are just smaller adults, and that’s just not the case,” said Aaron Mares, executive medical advisor to the Pittsburgh Marathon, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The way they handle stress is different from both physical and mental perspectives.”
As it happens, Hadley has been training with plenty of adult supervision, and her father, Mark, is a former University of Mississippi scholarship runner who coaches the U.S. Marathon Trials Project, a program aimed at grooming 2016 Olympic hopefuls. Alana is one of 12 athletes enrolled in the program, and while there’s no doubt that Mark has high hopes for his daughter, he says he’s not pushing for a win this Sunday in Cleveland.
“The main thing, from my perspective, is that her first marathon is a positive experience for her, that she goes in with a realistic goal and doesn’t go out too fast,” he told Cleveland.com. “We sort of did the same thing with the first half-marathon she did; we made sure it was a positive experience for her."