Running Is A Family Affair For The Alders

For the Alders, running has always been a family affair.

When Janeth was pregnant with each of her five children, she continued to run. And when the kids were toddlers, she would simply strap them into a stroller and run with them almost every day. 

Now, minus the stroller and add a few years, Janeth still routinely runs with her husband, Dan, alongside their children, Carmen (15); Vanessa (12); Lily (10); Michael (8); and Angelina (5).

But what sets apart the Alders, who live in Pinehurst, N.C., is their long history of success on the competitive running stage.

It starts with Janeth and Dan, who both raced collegiately at the Division I level. Janeth even competed internationally as a junior and professionally after her collegiate career.

And the four oldest children-Carmen, Vanessa, Lily and Michael-are no less than dominant on the track. All four qualified for this year's USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships, and each has raced at nationals at least once in the past. Even little five-year-old Angelina has shown interest in racing, competing in a few meets this season.

Go to a youth track meet in the state, and you're almost guaranteed to see those four Alder kids racing at the front of the pack in the distance events in their respective age groups, with their parents passionately coaching them from the stands. The kids sport jerseys with the Franklin Elite Athletics logo across their chests, representing the club track team founded and led by Dan and Janeth.

One can certainly consider the Alders the first family of North Carolina youth track. And running is what truly brings them together.

"Everything is as a family," said Lily.

A passion from the beginning 

Janeth's passion for running dates all the way back to when she was just a young girl growing up in the South American country of Ecuador.

"I start[ed] running when I was nine," said Janeth.

She blossomed as a runner throughout elementary school, and was selected to represent Ecuador internationally a mere five years later at the age of 14, running cross country and track.

For the next four years, Janeth competed in numerous South American and World Junior Championships in both cross country and track, even finishing sixth at the World Junior Cross Country Championships in Boston in March 1992.

But one of her proudest moments came during the summer of 1992: representing Ecuador at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.

"The Barcelona Olympics was one of my main accomplishments," said Janeth. There, she raced the 3000 meters on the biggest stage for track and field, competing as an 18-year-old against other world-class runners.

From South American junior championships to the Olympics, Janeth enjoyed having those prestigious moments in her running career at such a young age. "It was an awesome experience," said Janeth.

Those experiences helped Janeth earn a scholarship to run at Brigham Young University, bringing her to the United States. That's where she first met Dan, who was also on the BYU track and cross country team.

Dan grew up in cougar country right in Provo, Utah. He too was a talented young runner like Janeth, winning two Utah state cross country titles in high school. Mainly a long distance guy, Dan focused on the 5000 meters and the 10,000 meters at BYU.

While at BYU, Dan heard talk of a stellar middle distance runner on the girls team-an Olympian from Ecuador. He immediately knew that he "had to meet her."

The rest is history. Janeth never returned to her home country and ventured into professional running after college, with Dan right with her. Even after Janeth ended her professional career, she continued to run recreationally here and there.

Running helped shape both Dan and Janeth, and the experiences they had with the sport as kids and together as young adults touched them.

"That's kind of our background and where we developed our passion for running and for coaching," said Dan.


Exceptional talent

The Alder family's first collective entrance into the track and field scene didn't come until 2013 when they moved to the small town of Pinehurst, which is best known for the world-famous golf club that has been the site of numerous U.S. Open championships. But Dan and Janeth didn't immediately rush to involve their kids in running as they raised them.

"We didn't want to force our kids to accept running as a sport," said Dan.

Instead, they put their kids into other recreational sports-swimming, soccer, gymnastics, basketball. However, they noticed that as Carmen, Vanessa, Lily and Michael competed in these other activities, the four always seemed to gravitate back towards running.

"As they would try running, they were successful and ended up liking it more than the other sports," said Dan.

It also didn't hurt that the kids had an exceptional talent for racing. The four admitted that they weren't nearly as skilled in the numerous other sports they pursued. That made running all the more enjoyable for them, winning races and succeeding.

"I think running was the one that I was very good at and I enjoyed," said Lily.

In a matter of time, the Alder children began to pick up on that love for running that's ingrained in their parents' lives.

"We've kind of found ourselves in the sport," said Dan. "And I think our kids have picked up on our passion for it."

From there, involvement for the Alders in youth track and field soared. Janeth and Dan founded the Franklin Elite Athletics Track Club in the Pinehurst area, allowing for them to share their running knowledge with other young athletes, as well as their own children. In their coaching, they strive to develop well-rounded athletes while also helping young kids learn to love the sport.

Training philosophies vary from coach to coach, and Janeth and Dan have experimented with several. However, what they've found to be most successful is a plan called nonlinear periodization, which emphasizes working on both speed and strength year round with varying volumes.

They also preach quality over quantity, which means that their athletes don't necessarily run large volumes of slow mileage. Many people even believe in the opposite-that more mileage equates to better performances. "Sometimes people are shocked to hear that our kids only run up to 20 miles for their maximum weeks," said Dan.

But the Franklin Elite training program Dan and Janeth live by has catapulted the Alder children to distinction on the track.

Not every athlete is able to refer to their parents as mom, dad, and coach. The Alder siblings admitted that it's very different than most kids' athletic experiences, but it's something they wouldn't trade away.

"They love you no matter what you do, but they also want you to kind of do better and stronger," said Carmen.

And having two former collegiate runners and a former Olympian as both parents and coaches ensures them that their training is always in the right hands.

"It's really reassuring because I know I have an Olympian and both very experienced runners coaching us," said Vanessa.


Successes as siblings

Carmen, the oldest and a rising high school sophomore, has built one of the most impressive youth distance running careers of anyone ever in North Carolina. She first dropped onto the scene in 2014, winning the 3000 meters in the 11-12 age group at the NC USATF Association Cross Country Championships. Since then she has raced at two USATF National Junior Olympic Outdoor Track and Field Championships and has won a whopping 56 combined youth, middle school, and high school track and cross country races.

Most notably, she won one indoor and two outdoor NCHSAA 4A Track and Field individual state titles as a freshman this past year. She also has wins in the 3200-meters at the 2018 adidas Raleigh Relays and in the freshman 1600 meters at New Balance Indoor Nationals under her belt. With her experience and talent, it is never a surprise to see her confidently run out to the front of a race right at the starter's gun, leading from start to finish.

Vanessa and Lily are following in Carmen's fast footsteps. They too have competed in two USATF Junior Olympic Outdoor Nationals, and each continues to win race after race in the distance events for their age groups.

Michael also competed at last year's Junior Olympic Nationals and qualified again for this year's championships.

It really is a sight to see four athletes all from the same family run in consecutive races at a youth track meet-with each of them almost always winning. Each meet, you can hear the meet announcer excitedly call out the name "Alder" four times in the 1500-meter races, listing off each child's race statistics as they circle around the oval.

The group of siblings enjoys relishing these winning experiences together, and depend on one another heavily for advice, companionship and fun while competing and training. "It's fun to go on runs too and be able to talk and be able to relate with so much that you're doing, and give advice," said Carmen.

They also look up to one another as superior role models. With two older sisters, Lily appreciates all of the advice she receives from each of them, hoping that someday she can become as fast as they are.

"It's really fun to have sisters who are faster to learn from them and to know how to [become a] higher-leveled runner," said Lily.

And Michael, the only brother surrounded by four sisters, enjoys having the special opportunity to run and race with his three oldest sisters at meets. "It's unique," said Michael.


Family first

Many Saturday mornings, you can find the entire Alder family up and after it on family long runs. It's a time when they each get to just relax and talk, whether it be about school or pretty much anything in general.

Or they may be traveling to a track meet, driving together and conversing about the upcoming event with eager anticipation.

But one thing is always prominent as they navigate youth track and field together: family.

"We all train together, we all cry together, we all celebrate together when we all do really well," said Carmen. "It's definitely a team effort."

When the four oldest kids were asked what makes them such successful runners, each attributed their growth and strength as runners to the encouragement from their family members.

"What makes me a good runner is all the support that everyone gives me," said Lily. "[It] helps me to know that I can do this and [that] it's not so hard."

Looking ahead at the future, each of the children confidently expressed the lofty goals they have for themselves. They aspire to continue to grow physically and mentally stronger as racers, in hopes of possibly following in the footsteps of their Olympian mom someday.

"I want to go to the Olympics and compete internationally like my mom," said Vanessa.

But the Alder family already has much to look forward to just this week at Junior Olympic Nationals. The four Alder siblings will look to excel in the 1500-meters and 3000-meters in Greensboro, and many of their Franklin Elite team members will compete alongside them as well. Six other members will join the Alders at nationals: Lauren Wimberly, Molly Kuzma, Brooklyn Doorey, Adrian Archer, Zack Gilbertson and Giovanni Rincon.

As supporters of the strong USATF and club team presence in North Carolina, the family hopes the Franklin Elite Team can make the state track and field community proud. "For us, we hope that our team can represent North Carolina well," said Dan.

However, what matters most to the Alders is not the number of medals Carmen, Vanessa, Lily and Michael earn. What matters to them is the experiences they get to share together revolving around a common passion, a passion with roots back to when a state-caliber runner from Utah met an Olympian from Ecuador.

Dan's old high school coach used to tell him that if he saw his former athletes still running 20 or 30 years after high school, that would be a true example of success in his mind. Both Dan and Janeth follow this same philosophy, and they desire to help their kids learn to love a sport that has given both of them so much.

"It's nice when you have success, but that's not the end goal," said Dan. "The end goal is to help them develop something that's going to be with them for the rest of their lives.