EDITORS NOTE: Mick interviews Coach Mark Hadley and his daughter Alana. Mark shares some solid coaching principles and clears up his philosophy on youth runners going into marathons and how to coach a young athlete with some promise into a successful distance career. Alana and Mark get into her training and goals for the future.
Alana Hadley has ambition and big dreams. The high school senior, who was a Footlocker Finalist as a freshman, is pursuing a dream of representing the United States as a marathoner. Alana ran 2:41.55 at the 2013 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, and will toe the line in Indy again in 2014. She has already qualified for the 2016 US Olympic Trials. Thank you, Mark and Alana, for the opportunity to talk about running. Special thanks to Reto Meier for his help!
Mick: It is very impressive what you both have done. Please give our readers a brief bio of each of you.
Mark Hadley: Having grown up as an active runner and racer in the mountains of North Carolina, Mark has been involved in the sport of distance running for over 30 years, the first 20+ years as a competitor (competing in high school, college and on the roads) and the last 10 years as a coach. Mark has always had a veracious appetite for all aspects of the sport, constantly reading, attending clinics, researching and talking with other coaches and athletes. Over the last decade Mark has developed and refined a training and racing philosophy outline and uses it to help numerous elite, emerging elite and age group athletes explore their potential in the sport.
Alana Hadley: Alana began running at the age of 6 yrs old when she decided she wanted to run a local 5k with her mom. Alana quickly developed a love of the sport that has grown and blossomed to this day. Alana has slowly and carefully built up her running over the years, but with such an early start she has been able to excel and reach a high level in the sport at a relatively young age. Alana’s career highlights so far include:
- Alana is the second youngest qualifier ever, and youngest since 1984, for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials when she qualified for the 2016 Trials with an impressive 2:41:55 performance at the 2013 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon at just 16 years old.
- Alana also holds the fastest performances by a U.S. female in the half marathon for ages 14 and 15 yrs old.
- Alana hold the U.S. high school freshman record for the 10,000 meters – 34:59
- Alana, (now 17 yrs old) is currently pursuing her goal/dream of being a successful professional marathoner and representing the United States well in Olympic and World Championship marathons.
- Personal Bests: 16:51 - 5k, 34:59 - 10k, 1:16:42 - Half marathon, 2:41:55 - Marathon
Mick: What is your philosophy for developing young athletes?
Mark: I believe there are 5 tenets of training for distance running that apply to everyone, young, old, fast or slow. Those 5 tenets are: Consistency, Capacity, Frequency, Mixture, and Passion. I seek to balance each of these together in the runner’s training so that we get a synergy from it. Additionally with young runners it is important to establish the fundamentals of training early so they never learn any bad habits and have a sounds grasp of the basics from the beginning. Things like proper warm-ups and cool-down and the correct way to execute new workouts when they are introduced take precedence over times and winning. One thing I have found very useful with young runners is to have them focus more on the appropriate/desired feel of a workout than the actual time/paces. If they learn this first their running will be more productive long term, and they can then later layer in paces and times as a feedback tool. With any new runner, especially with a young runner, I spend some time initially talking to them about the stress and recover principle and how we can’t go hard every time we run. Again, I think the fundamentals come first. We as parents and coaches have an awesome opportunity and responsibility to help young athletes get started off on the right note with a solid foundation in the basics that they can carry with them their whole athletics life.
Mick: I'd like to get into how you assess young athletes and develop training plans.
Mark: The assessment of young runners is a very individual thing in that each athlete will have a different background and have their own unique situation. As you know this is one of the biggest challenges of any team coach, having dozens of runners of different backgrounds and at different levels. As a private coach I work with individuals rather than teams, so my first priority is to understand the runner’s background, goals (short term and long term), dreams, experiences and life set-up so I can find what will work best for them. I usually start with a questionnaire and phone or in person conversation and go from there. To me this is one of the funniest but most challenging aspects of the sport as a coach – getting to meet and know each athlete and understanding their unique situation.
Mick: What comes first; speed, aerobic development or something else?
Mark: Initially I think it is safest to gradually build a platform of some easy aerobic conditioning from which to work. It helps prepare the muscles and cardio-vascular system for quality work later on. Then once we have established that base of we should develop a mixture of work to help the athlete be a well-balanced runner and able to continue to progress well without outstanding weaknesses. This mixture of course will change and vary depending on the athlete’s event focus and season they are in. Then as dictated by the 5 tenets of training, we would gradually increase their work capacity slowly as the years go by.
Mick: What event(s) would you put new runners in?
Mark: I think that depends on where at their interest is. I would never force an athlete into an event. Building and safeguarding an interest in and passion for the sport comes first and foremost in my mind. Especially with kids, let them explore and determine what they like and do well, over time they will usually gravitate to where their physical and mental predispositions are.
Mick: Are you more likely to start with short or long events?
Mark: I think you need to look at 2 factors: what events do they have an interest in or passion about and are they physically ready to handle that event. I never believe in letting an athlete try and race something they are not physically ready for. This rules out some longer events for new runners. So even longer distance runners usually start out racing shorter races at the beginning. Alana for example didn’t run a 10k until her 6th year of running (11 yrs old) and didn’t run a half marathon until her 9th year of running (14 yr old). Her first several years were 5k’s only.
Mick: What method do you use to move them up in distance (800-mile-5k-etc)?
Mark: I never let Alana move up to the next distance (5k, 8k, 10k, 15k, HM, Marathon) until I felt she could race it at close to the same level she did the next shorter races.
Mick: What are your general recommendations for training volume for youth and high school runners?
Mark: I always look at a person running age more than their chronological age. So if you have a freshman who has been running for 4 years then he would get trained differently than one who is just starting out. In the case of my daughter she had been running for 7 years by the time she was a high school freshman so had safely worked up to doing more than most seniors who had only started running as freshman. Also playing into their mileage level is whether or not the kid runs year round, and what their event focus is. All of it is a very individual assessment.
Mick: What is your opinion on frequency of racing for youth and high school kids? Many high school kids run around 40 miles per week and race 40 times per year. At the same time, pros might do 100 miles per week and race 10 times or less per year. I understand that frequency depends a lot on your event. Do you care to get into the topic of OVER-RACING (and over-training)?
Mark: The best way to increase fitness in distance running is through solid blocks of sustainable training. But we train in order to be able to race, so obviously racing is important as well. So then it becomes important for kids and parents and coaches to find a good balance between training and racing. We want to allow enough solid blocks of training in order to continue to improve fitness levels, and enough races to demonstrate and reap the benefits of that fitness level as well as gain experience from it. That balance will depend on many factors including race distances, goals (short term and long term), desires to race, and quality opportunities. In general it has been my experience that many high school and collegiate distance runners race more than the optimal amount for a goal of improvement and development. If the best practices of the elites is to race 8-10 times per year and you are racing 30+ times a year, then you need to be asking why you are doing that and if it is in the best interest of the athlete’s development.
Mick: How do you assess recovery?
Mark: I stress the importance of recover to every runner I work with. I am always telling them that we don’t get the benefits from a stress workout until we have adequately recovered from it. One of the things that I think helps them with this is giving them a focus for every run they do. So on an easy recovery day the focus may be to get in some easy aerobic miles to keep aerobic fitness high while letting the body recover from yesterday speed workout. I stress to them racing, running to hard, pushing the pace all undermine that purpose, just as much as does skipping the run does. One of my favorite sayings is “The path to great success is to execute excellently the purpose of each day, 1 at a time.”
Mick: More for Alana, where do you see your running career going over the next many years?
Alana: I plan to continue to work at making my goals/dreams a reality. I want to have a long successful career as a professional marathon runner. I want to represent the United States in the Olympics, World Championships and major races around the world. I also want to use my running to help me start a charity that provides kids with Autism with the therapeutic resources they need.
Mick: What goal setting method(s) do you use?
Alana: I like to decide on where I want to go long term, what my big goals and dreams are, and then fill in the shorter term and mid-term goals that fit well with that.
Mick: The path you have chosen is not the traditional path. How did you come to choose that path and what advice would you give young runners regarding selecting events and long term goal setting?
Alana: I would tell them to follow the path this best for them, that they are passionate about, not just the traditional path. Usually those will probably overlap but not always, in those cases you need to think outside of the box and follow your heart and dreams.
Mick: Given the high cost of a college education (and given Alana's talent) she will be/would have been recruited and received offers from many Division I college programs, why not defer turning professional and maintaining NCAA eligibility to compete in college?
Mark: That is a fair question and one we thought through and talked about considerably for some time. Ultimately it came down to what is Alana's passionate about, what are her goals in the sport, and what are her predispositions in the sport. Alana’s predispositions (natural talents), interest area, passions and goals in the sport all revolve around the longer races distance – mainly the marathon and also the half marathon. In the NCAA D1 system there are not much opportunities for women to run longer races. XC races are 4k, 5k and 6k in length, indoor is mile, 3k and 5k, and outdoors it is 1500, 5k and an occasional 10k. These race distances don’t fit Alana well, isn’t what she was passionate about racing, and didn’t mesh well with her goals. She felt like she would be sacrificing her love of the sport and pursuit of her dreams in order to stay in the scholastic athletic system. Other factors that played into it was that she was use to racing only 8-10 times per year and for the last 10 years and in college she would likely be racing 3x times that much. Her mother and I were both D1 scholarship athletes and realized the demands she would be under and didn’t think it was advisable to enter that situation unless you are passionate about what you’ll be doing and Alana just isn’t passionate about racing those shorter races. Fortunately for Alana she has reached a high enough level in the longer races that she will at least be able to partially pay for college with the money she earns racing longer roads races professionally. Between that and the opportunities for some academic scholarship (she is a strong honors/AP student) she felt she could continue to keep her academic and athlete lives separate.
Mick: Alana, What are you looking for in a college?
Alana: I want to get my undergraduate degree in exercise science and then get a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. My goal is to one day work with and help kids with special needs. My little sister has Autism and so I see daily the need for help in that area. I also want to make sure the college is in a good training environment for me as a runner.
Mick: Is Alana training solo or part of a training group.
Mark: Alana largely trains solo – with her mother or I accompanying her on a bike for some of her workouts each week. On occasion there will some someone in town who may join her for a run or two.
Mick: We've seen the benefits of distance runners training together and motivating and pushing each other. Is it better to train solo or as part of a group/team?
Mark: I think there are advantages and disadvantages to group training. It can be helpful to have others out there in workouts to help motivate and push you when needed, and people to pass the time with on longer runs. A spirit of comradery can also keep the spirits high. Downsides can be that the temptation to run someone else’s pace, rather than the one best for you on that day/workout, can be high. And just as positive attitudes can be contagious, so can bad attitudes. The marathon is somewhat of an individual sport in that you need to be prepared to run for long periods by yourself in a race and need to be sure to follow you own race plan so training that way sometimes can be helpful.
Mick: How has Alana’s weekly average mileage developed over the last few years? It looks like she is over 100/week now.
Mark: Here is a basic outline on how Alana has progressed in terms of number of runs per week and mileage per week over her years in running. Please note that this may have been different if she had shown an interest in and talent for the shorter races rather than the longer ones.
Mick: Is there a max mileage volume for marathoners? Is it more an individual adaptation to volume and intensity?
Mark: I think each runner will have their own personal maximum effective mileage. For many of the top marathoners in the world that is usually somewhere between 120 – 140 miles per week. But it is important to note that this is most effectively achieved over many years to allow the body to slowly adapt to the increases and still be able to handle the quality aspects of training. I think Deena Kastor is a good example – she was running about 80 miles per week when she graduated college and began working with Coach Joe Vigil, and he gradually increased her mileage about 10 miles per year over the next 6 years until she was in the 140 mile a week range when she set the American record in the marathon with a win in the London Marathon.
Mick: What kind of relationship between training volume & intensity and race results do you recommend for coaches of youth and high school runners?
Mark: I like to look at training as having 3 phases: A Fundamental training which is a good balance approach in which every aspects of running (speed, stamina and endurance) is worked on regularly in order for the runner to stay balanced and promote all around growth, a Specific Phase in which the scope of work is narrowed down somewhat to focus more on the specific demands of the goal race so as to peak for a goal race(s), and Regeneration Phase in which the runners takes a short break from training in which to recharge the physical and mental batteries. I think that youth and high school runners are best off to spend as much time as possible in the Fundamental Phase of training in which they are regularly working on all aspects of running. By doing this they will further their overall development the best. This Fundamental Phase can be adjusted a little based on the primary area of interest/focus of the athlete (mid distance or long distance) but should allow them to race effectively across a fairly wide array of distances.
Mick: What type of hard day/easy day philosophy do you use?
Mark: The stress and recovery base unit is at the heart of all physical training and so must be carefully paid attention to at all levels in the sport. Usually this involves a stress workout followed by some easy runs for recovery. How many easy runs is required to adequately recover depends on the volume and intensity of the stress workout. For many athletes (including youth and high school runners) this usually involves 2-3 days allowing for 2-4 stress workouts per week (2-3 being the most common).
Mick: Do you think the current high school structure is good or bad for long term development?
Mark: I think whether or not the current high school structure is good for development depends a lot on the individual’s situation, goals, school and coach. I do think that the whole scholastic system does over emphasize racing and that may not always be in the best interest of the longer term development of a distance runner. The current scholastic system probably works fine for 90%+ of the athletes as their goals are largely short to mid-term in nature, to run well in high school, maybe run for their college or earn a scholarship, and/or they are focused on the middle distances, all of which can be done successfully in the scholastic system given the right coach and team situation. But unfortunately it can be a tough road for those other 10% as there isn’t much of an accepted alternative path. Alana and I have taken considerable grief from many coaches, officials, parents and other runners for not selecting to go that traditional route.
Much of that 10% that the traditional system may not be best suited for are the kids with longer term and/or longer distance aspirations. For these athletes it is best to begin and emphasize aerobic development early as it is largely what will determine their long term success and is something that takes many years (if not decades) to develop to an elite level. Given the shorter races distances (800 – 5k) in the scholastic system much more emphasis is placed on speed development and VO2 Max as these are the critical factors in the shorter events. But significant development in these areas usually max out quickly within a few years of serious training and physical maturity, so many athletes who focus on this area find that they stagnate at that point because they don’t have the aerobic development work behind them to leverage. The most successful high school and college programs I have seen are the ones who run a less aggressive race schedule, and instead spend more time allowing the runners get in solid blocks of training that includes both aerobic development as well as speed and VO2 Max development.
Someone like Alana is an out layer. She has a very predominant long distance predisposition, physically and mentally, which makes her a natural for the longer races. The high school and college systems (women’s especially) are just not set up well for someone in her situation. She would have to spend her time working on and specializing in areas in which she will never be strong given her predisposition. It was our worry (Alana and my wife and I) that doing so for the next 6-8 years would end up killing her passion for the sport. Instead she has decided to leverage her natural strength to pursue what she is passionate about. Fortunately for her, she has been good enough early enough at these longer distances, and had the right coaching and support structure in place to make it work for her. Unfortunately many other young runners with a passion and/or predisposition for the longer races don’t have the coaching or support structures in place to make a go of it doing what might be the best path for their development. These are the young athletes I worry about us losing or at least under severing in our sport.
Mick: Alana, Do you do a lot of core stuff, running form drills, etc?
Alana: I do a core circuit of 6-8 exercises 4 days per week and a drill/strength circuit of 8-10 exercises twice per week. My core circuit usually takes about 20 minutes to do and I do it in the evenings with my brother. The drill/strength circuit I do takes about 30-40 minutes and I do it in the afternoons before an easy run. It helps me build all around strength, stay away from injuries and make me a better all-around athlete.
Mick: What are a few of the MOST important things young runners should do over and above their runs?
Mark: The 4 big things I think every runner, especially young runners, should do outside of their runs:
1) Eat – eat enough and eat a good variety of foods – your body needs enough food to recover from you workouts. You have to eat enough and the right things to get the most out of your hard work in training.
2) Sleep – you need to make sure to get enough sleep. Our body recovers best when we sleep, so if you don’t sleep enough you won’t get the most out of your workouts.
3) Warm-Up / Cool-Down routine – get into a good habit of doing a good warm-up and cool-down routines. Do them before and after every run – it will help you stay away from injuries and stay flexible.
4) Strength Circuits – do some core work and some drill and strength work several times a week to keep all your muscles balanced so you can avoid injury and have better running form.
Mick: Why has Alana decided to get into coaching already?
Alana: I got into coaching so that I can share and spread my love for the sport. I love getting to help someone with their running. My dad has taught me so much I wanted a chance to share that with others. I am only doing it on a pretty limited basis right now as high school and my training only allow so much time.
Mick: Tell us about your marathon coaching philosophy.
Mark: See the website: www.elitemarathoning.com
I would like to address the issue of children running marathons.
Many people assume that I am a proponent of kids running marathons and that is not really the case. I believed that a runner should have slowly progressed in their training to the point where their mileage allows for them to run a marathon in a safe environment before trying to RUN one and then that mileage should be at a higher level before they try and RACE one. Given this very few young runners will have progressed to the point to be ready to do this. I think it is a mistake to push the increases in mileage quickly in order to be ready to do a marathon. Doing so increases the risk of injury as the body has not had as much time to time to adapt to and absorb the training and increases. It also promotes focus on just 1 aspect of the 5 tenets of training (namely Work Capacity) and does so often at the expense of the other tenets (namely mixture). I think this rapid increase can serve to compromise over all development. So my advice to young runners with a passion for the longer races is to slowly build up and only add the next longer race distance once your training has slowly and naturally gotten there. Be patient. Alana didn't race a marathon until she had been running for over 9 years.