When I reached Alana Hadley on Tuesday night, she was just another University of North Carolina student with a paper due on Monday. But this Sunday, the 18-year-old will toe the starting line of the 2015 New York City Marathon as the fastest American in the field.
Hadley has been running professionally since she was 16, and ran her debut marathon in a time of 2:58. Her toughest workouts are done under the watchful eye of her father, who is also her coach, and the 120-mile weeks, which often consist of two runs a day, are either by herself or with guys from the school’s running club.
Though Hadley’s PR of 2:38:34 is much slower than it will take to win in New York, that isn’t her end goal. Instead she’s hoping to run fast enough to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon “A” by running a time of sub-2:37. It’s an arbitrary goal. The race is the official selector for the national Olympic marathon team, but thanks to a new ruling by the sport’s world governing body, which effectively set the minimum age for Olympic marathon competitors at 20, she won’t even be eligible for the Olympics until 2020.
All this, then—the miles she puts in before class, the New York City Marathon, and the Trials in February—are just a prelude. “[The Olympics] feel really far away when I think about it,” Hadley says, “but the year has just flown by, so I know that it’s not going to feel like a long time.”