Winter Vinecki Part III: Hear From Her Coach, Mark Hadley

Winter Vinecki
Winter Vinecki

Over the last few months, I’ve introduced you to the young activist athlete, Winter Vinecki.  I shared some insight into her training for 7 marathons on 7 continents before she turns 15 years old – all while training with an elite aerial skiing development team.

I’m happy to report that Winter is continuing to rock her goals.  She ran her 3rd marathon on March 30, and during that race, she came in 3rd overall female and set the world record for becoming the  youngest person to run a marathon in Antarctica.

I feel lucky to share with you this interview with her coach, Mark Hadley.  Hadley grew up as a runner in North Carolina, and for over 20 years he competed in long distance events and over the last 10 years he has focused on coaching.  He now coaches athletes of all ages (youth to masters) and all levels (beginners to professionals), specializing in training elite marathoners and is currently heading up the 2016 U.S. Marathon Trials project.  He has coached 2 runners to Top 10 rankings in the marathon in the U.S. during the last 2 years!  Also among his star athletes is his 16 year-old daughter, Alana, who is participating in the U.S. Marathon Trials project and holds quite an impressive running resume herself.

Without further ado, let’s talk to Coach Hadley and hear his insights about coaching Winter and other young runners.

How long have you coached Winter? I have coached Winter in running since January 2012.

How did you get to know her? Winter’s mom contacted me in January 2012 after searching for a suitable coach for Winter.  She and Winter located me after they read some articles about young runners, my coaching and my daughter Alana (who is also a very talented young distance runner).

Were you hesitant to coach such a young girl? No. I am not hesitant about coaching young runners.  I actually think its a blessing to help young runners get a solid foundation in the sport.  I just try to make sure it’s something they want to do, that they are working at the right level, and that they follow a physiologically sound program so they don’t get injured.  It is important that they learn the proper way to train things from the start.

Do you coach other young people? I coach my daughter, Alana, and I have coached and/or advised many other young people over the years.

[pullquote]When I see an athlete have a drive and strive for a big goal, I feel moved to do whatever I can to help them achieve their goal. I am happy to be able to help Winter in some small way with her mission.[/pullquote]

How do you alter training programs for kids? With all runners, I strive to ensure they work in a physiologically sound fashion.  Specifically, I want them to increase their quality and/or quantity gradually and to take proper recovery after any stress workouts.  Kids are often very enthusiastic, so you have to make sure they work in a sustainable manner and not overdo it too quickly.  As a coach, I always think in advance what the logical next step is for that runner to advance them towards their goals in an incremental manner.  I then slowly advance to that next step when and only when they are ready. With kids this “plan” needs to be in pencil and flexible.

Are there any specific factors you consider when working with kids that you may not emphasize as much with adults? Working with kids is a great opportunity to teach them good habits and the proper way to do things (warm-ups, cool-downs, etc) right from the start, so that can stay with them their whole lives. By doing so you can eliminate many of the things that can cause problems for others down the road. I am always careful to talk to young runners about the right effort level much more than I am about specific paces. I stress that it is OK to work hard but they must also work within themselves. I go into my philosophy on coaching kids in greater detail in the presentation I gave at a conference last year that can be found here.

Winter ran her first marathon in Eugene. What kind of volume did she train at, did you have her run specific workouts and how did you help her reach her goal time? Because of all the activities Winter does, skiing, triathlons, etc. her schedule is pretty dynamic, but we try and get in 4-5 runs per week with 2 main workouts and then 2-3 easy maintenance runs of 4-6 miles easy.  One of her two main workouts is endurance oriented – usually an easy pace long run gradually building up as she approaches a marathon. The other workout will have a quality element to it and may be some type of fartlek, speed work, or tempo section to it depending on what goal races she has coming up. Before a marathon, we try and gradually ramp her long runs up to 20 miles about 2-3 weeks prior to the marathon.

Her goal time was 3:45 for Eugene and she NAILED it! How did you feel about the race and what was your involvement in it (were you there; how did you celebrate; etc.)?   Winter is a great natural competitor and very mentally driven and tough. She always raises her game on competition day and Eugene was a great example of that. She did a great job executing her race plan and achieved her goal. I was in Charlotte and followed the race on-line and then got a call from Winter afterwards. We had spoken several times in the days leading up to the race to review her training and formulate her game plan. I was very happy for her and proud of her hard work and execution.

Marathon 2 was harder as it was in Kenya. Was training any different? Did you revise goals at all? How did you feel about her performance? Given the warmer weather, higher elevation and greater hills in Kenya, we had to slow her pace expectations for the Kenya race. Her training was similar to what she had done earlier but she did more runs at elevation before this one and tried to incorporate more hills in her runs.  Her performance was again strong, which is Winter’s MO. She is a tough and determined young woman, and the race in Kenya just underscored that.

Marathon 3 was delayed.  But you both readjusted and she did great, coming in 3rd female.  What are your thoughts on this race? The Antartica Marathon I think showed just how mentally tough Winter is, not only did she have the delay when the race date was changed, but then you have the trip to get there and the extreme conditions in the race. But Winter handled things perfectly. She is mentally tough and fearless, and once again executed on her plan and met her goal.

Is it hard to fit in marathon training with her elite skiing training? Every runner has other considerations to look at when planning their training and Winter is no exception. The key is to take a look at everything and determine how much can be done and it still be sustainable and manageable.  Once you determine how much you can do, you decide how best to use the time you have to get the most out of it. This is exactly what we do with Winter, we see how much she can handle given her school, skiing and personal appearances and then we work to best use that time to allow her to continue to accomplish her mission.

Have you had to deal with any injuries and what do you try to do to avoid injuries? Winter is a great all around athlete (obviously) and she does a lot of great strength work for her other sports and works with a personal trainer for that as well. This helps Winter stay strong all around keeps even development between her muscle groups. This and a natural efficient running form and being careful not to increase anything too quickly has helped Winter stay away from any significant injuries.

What do you think of Winter’s mission to set world records for her dad?  Winter is an incredible young lady and I have soooo much respect for her mission and drive. My father recently battled prostate cancer (successfully) so obviously I am personally behind and grateful for all Winter does to raise awareness. When I see an athlete have a drive and strive for a big goal, I feel moved to do whatever I can to help them achieve their goal. I am happy to be able to help Winter in some small way with her mission.

Thank you, Coach Hadley, for sharing your insights on coaching Winter and training young people to race long distances!  

Mindi is a serial marathoner. She is a private practice attorney, wife and mom of two awesome (and super fast) boys, ages 12 and 14. She coaches Girls on the Run and is a big advocate of youth running.

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