Tuesday, March 16, 2010

3 of city's fastest women share backstories

While putting the finishing touches on my story about 13-year-old Alana Hadley, which appeared in Sunday's Observer (and lives online here), my editors asked me to add a paragraph or two that might put her success at such a young age into context.

The idea was to check in with a few of the fastest women in Charlotte and find out how young they were when they got into running. This is what wound up in the newspaper:

Generally speaking, [USA Track & Field spokesperson Jill Geer] says female distance runners tend to peak during their late 20s.

For instance, 28-year-old Shalane Flanagan, a former UNC Chapel Hill star (whose photo adorns Alana's social studies notebook), broke the U.S. 5,000-meter record when she was 26. Megan Hovis, 28, a local runner who finished 12th at the women's Olympic trials marathon in Boston in 2008, started running competitively during her senior year of high school.

But that was the super-abridged version.

There was plenty of info I gathered from Megan (pictured at right) and two other top female runners that wound up on the cutting-room floor. Of course, none of it answers the question Is such a young start a good thing or a bad thing?, but from an anecdotal standpoint, it was still an interesting survey. Sharing those outtakes now for those who might be interested.

Megan, who has never raced Alana head-to-head but has a faster 5K PR, told me she started running her junior year of high school. "I ran on my own a bit in seventh grade to get ready for soccer, but never on any sort of team." As mentioned in the story, she didn't run competitively until her last year of high school, "and really started to progress by junior year of college." Her time at that Olympic Trials marathon in 2008 was 2:37:29.

Caitlin Chrisman, who was also mentioned in the story, ran a 28:51 to win the Winter Flight 8K women's race on Feb. 21; Alana finished second in 29:27. As I mentioned in the story, Caitlin was a star at Wake Forest -- in her senior year (2007), she ran a 20:54.10 in a 6K race at the NCAA Southeast Regional Cross Country meet, placing 12th out of 225 runners.

As for how old she was when she started running: "That's tricky. I think I did my first mile 'fun run' when I was in fifth grade, and my dad ran with me the entire time. Both my parents were training for marathons during my childhood and my sister ran cross-country in high school. I did not run regularly during the week, unless you count the games of tag I played every day on the playground. ... So really, to answer your question, I started running in seventh grade when I joined the middle school track team. I maybe ran 12-15 miles a week, and my PR in the mile was something like 6:11. I ran maybe five days a week with two to three miles as my training runs. I also went to the Southern Illinois University recreation center almost every night with my parents for 'fun,' to lift weights."

As for when she started running competitively: "I ran my first run over four miles the week before I started high school, when I was 14 years old ... . My high school coach wanted me to peak in my junior and senior years, so my mileage was increased each year. Freshman year I ran maybe 30 miles a week, sophomore 40, junior year 50, senior 55."

And finally, there's 25-year-old Tanya Zeferjahn -- currently the top women's runner for Division II Queens University's track team (last year she won an NCAA outdoor national championship in the 10,000 meters). Tanya ran a 17:06 to win the Runway 5K women's race last Oct. 31; Caitlin finished second in 17:30, Alana finished third in 17:49.

Says Tanya: "I guess you could say I started running in junior high, but I wouldn't really call it running. We maybe did 15 miles a week.

"In high school, I was on the cross and track teams and ran about 25 miles a week. This is when I would say I really started running. But I would say I didn't start running competitively until college. In high school, my fastest mile was only 5:24 and my three-mile cross time was 19:02 -- so not very competitive, especially for California; I couldn't even qualify for the state meet.

"It was all just for fun in high school, but in college, I upped the miles to about 45 miles per week and was able to earn All-American in cross country. My college -- California State University, San Bernardino -- did not have track, so I was never competitive in track until I came to Charlotte to run for Queens University."

By the way, I mentioned that Caitlin and Tanya have beaten Alana, and implied that Megan probably could (although Megan is more of a longer-distance specialist). Just a reminder that they're among the only women in Charlotte who can outrun Alana.

Maybe sometime in the future we'll get to watch these four battle it out in the same race. How awesome would that be??


Cool Down Runner said...

Theoden, I found the observation that women peak for running in their mid 20s interesting, but was this for middle distance events or for longer events such as the marathon?

rebecca said...

great and interesting info on 2 of my favorite girls in the world. :) and they are pretty awesome runners as well :) i believe the key is probably what feels right - if alana was being forced to run that would be different but it seems the common thread is that all the girls started running when they felt the urge to. my kids love to run - if they asked me to run more i would probably let them. i think it's like anything else when it comes to kids and their interests. i have learned you have to just hide, watch and encourage them when they find something they want to participate in. i have seen alana (from the back) at many races and she looks like she is having a blast. sounds like all the girls started running because they wanted to - and when it was evident they had a talent they worked to develop it. anyway - i really was just happy to see 2 of my favorites :) great as always to read your blog theoden!! i am excited to see all the talent we have, what amazing girls. they certainly raise the bar for what is considered fast.
p.s. i too am curious about what the above poster asked about distance - it seems for longer distance (marathon) the peak is in the 30's.

rebecca said...

or maybe i am just hopeful. i would like to hear the peak is in the 30's, after 3 kids and surgery on the feet.... HAHAHA!

Thomas said...

In regards to when women runners might peak - We know there's the 'general rule' but then there's always those exceptions.

For instance - Lynn Jennings -

She's always been one of my favorite female runners and she had a lot of fantastic accomplishments throughout her running career and quite a few notable achievements while in her thirties.

At age 32 she was the bronze medalist in the 10K at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

At age 38, she ran 2:38 in the Boston Marathon.

And she had some great 5K times while in her thirties.

At age 38 - 15:46
At age 36 - 15:21
At age 35 - 15:24
At age 34 - 15:35
At age 33 - 15:35
At age 30 - 15:31

So for the remarkable local women runners that you profiled, all in their twenties and of course the teen wonder - I think they have plenty of time to compete and achieve at high levels.

Have fun...!