Alana Hadley is fast, by virtually any measure.
She only enters a race once every month or two, but when she does, she almost always wins. The Shamrock 4-Miler in March? 23:36, beating out more than 400 female runners and winning by more than a minute and a half. The Skyline 5K Run in April? 18:15 -- another win, another 400-plus female athletes finishing behind her. Hadley breezed to victory at the Right Moves for Youth Twilight 5K in May, then made all the right moves to win the Summer Breeze 5K in June.
In fact, it took Caitlin Chrisman to hand Hadley her first second-place finish of 2009, at last weekend's Yiasou Greek Festival 5K. And Caitlin Chrisman, 23, was not long ago a star on the Wake Forest track and cross-country teams.
Oh shoot, I'm sorry -- did I mention that Alana Hadley is a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Community House Middle School?
That makes her accomplishments even more fascinating and unusual. So I did something this week that I am 100 percent sure I will never do in a 5K: I caught up with Alana ... to get her thoughts on everything from her focus to her local running heroes to how it feels to be so much faster than so many people two, three, four and five times her age.
Q. When did you realize that you had a real gift for doing it? When I was nine years old, when I ran faster in a 5K [the Hit the Brixx 5K] than the state record for 9-year-old girls. [Time: 21:07.]
Q. How the heck did you get so fast? Because I love running, and so like to practice it a lot. I also think it is in my blood because both of my parents ran track and cross country in college. That is how they met.
Q. Any other runners in the family? Yes, I have a 9-year-old brother named Bryce who enjoys running a lot. He and my mom run together.
Q. Do you remember the first race you won -- not where you were competing against other kids your age, but where you were competing against adults -- ? The first race I won first female overall was in 2007 at the Lowe’s YMCA Starfish 5K [time: 20:37]. I remember it because the award was a bobble head runner girl trophy. That is my favorite award so far.
Q. Other memorable races? One of the most memorable races for me was at Greenville, S.C., in January of this year [the Greenville News Downtown 5K]. In the last half-mile of a 5K there was a boy near my age a few feet in front of me. We were running up a pretty good-size hill and I was tired, but I still gathered up the energy and was able to pass him before the finish. Girl Power!!! [Time: 18:05.]
Q. How tall are you? I am 5-1 and have grown three inches already this year!
Q. As you're passing people twice your size during races, what kind of comments do you hear? They normally do not say anything. Occasionally, they say, "keep going little girl" or some other words of encouragement.
Q. Is it a weird feeling to be so much better than so many adults at such a young age? At first it seemed pretty weird. But now, since I have been running for several years, I am used to it and know a lot of the people I race against.
Q. Have you ever won a prize/award at a race that you weren't old enough to collect? Yes, at two races in the last year, I wasn't old enough to have the prize I won as they were bottles of wine. I have also had to pass up prize money awards to maintain my eligibility for high school and college track.
Q. Are there local runners who you look up to? Yes ... runners like Bill Shires and Nathan Stanford, who are great at running an even pace, because that is something I want to be able to do in my races. I also admire runners like Lori Hageman because she has been good for so long and is very encouraging to me, and Megan Hepp, who ran so well in the last Olympic trials.
Q. Is there anything you don't like about running? No. I really enjoy it; it has always been a very positive thing in my life.
Q. Ever had any serious injuries? No, never been injured.
Q. Do you ever worry about getting burned out at a young age? No ... because I love to run and have always increased my mileage very slowly, and don’t over-race. I usually race just once every four to six weeks, and so I really look forward to it when I get the chance. I can't imagine ever not running. It makes me crazy not to run. Twice a year, my dad makes me take some time off and I get stir-crazy after a couple of days.
Q. What are your long-term running goals? To continue to get better, and to one day become a professional runner and compete in the Olympics.
Q. Who's your coach and what's the most important thing you've learned from him/her? My coach is my dad, Mark Hadley. To me, the most important thing I learned from him is that, "it is not the time that matters, but the effort you put into the run, because that is the only thing you can really control."
Q. How many miles do you run a week? I do about 50 miles a week right now in a normal training week. But I have built up to that pretty slowly over the last six years.
Q. Got any advice for other young runners? The most important thing is to make sure you have fun when you run. It's a great sport, and can be a lot of fun as well as be good for you. Also, you cannot start out running 50 miles a week. You need to start small, and gradually work your way up in miles, slowly over time.
Know of another running fool? Tell me about him or her in an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.