By Rubin E. Grant
Lainey Phelps began running as a way to spend time with her mother, Alli, even though it meant the then-6-year-old had to get up before sunrise.
Mother and daughter started out running a mile and eventually worked their way up to running three-mile loops in their Homewood neighborhood.
“That was the most exciting part of my day, getting up at 5:30 a.m. and going out to run with my mom,” Phelps said.
Although the morning runs with her mother have long since ceased, Phelps hasn’t stopped running. Now a senior at Homewood High School, she is one of the top distance runners in the state.
Phelps captured the Class 6A cross-country title as a freshman in 2016; but she did not run cross-country as a sophomore in 2017.
“I was training for track and taking a break because I needed to refocus,” she explained.
She returned to cross-country as a junior in 2018 and won the state title again.
With Phelps leading the way, the Patriots won the AHSAA team championships in 2016 and 2018, the only two girls cross-country titles in school history.
Phelps also has won multiple track and field state championships, including the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs last spring in the AHSAA Class 6A outdoor meet.
“The thing that makes her special is her determination,” Homewood cross-country coach Josh Donaldson said. “She wants to be the best she can be. That might not be winning every race or setting personal records, but it’s pushing herself to be at her best.
“She also has a strong network of friends and she has a good support system from her family.”
The friendships she has made from running is why Phelps loves the sport so much.
“My favorite thing about running is the people you meet,” Phelps said. “I’ve also gotten close with my teammates. I really enjoy the social aspect of it.
“Plus, putting in the effort, you gain confidence. Whether you run good or bad, you know you’ve worked for something.”
Training for a Win
Phelps has set some lofty goals for her final cross-country season with the Patriots. She wants to win another state championship, and she would like to run in the low 17s, bettering her personal record of 17 minutes, 42 seconds.
To meet her goals, she altered her training regimen during the summer.
“I used to concentrate on speed intervals and not miles,” Phelps said. “But this summer I have been running around 45 miles per week, which is 15-20 miles more than I used to run. I am excited to see how it translates into this season.”
Phelps also went out on Saturday mornings with her dad, Pete Phelps, hitting biking trails. But she wasn’t riding.
“He rides his bike while I run,” Phelps said with a laugh. “We have a good time.”
Donaldson is eager to see what difference Phelps’ more intensive workouts make in her performance this fall.
“We’ve all known what she’s capable of for a long time,” Donaldson said, “but she’s looked better than she’s ever looked before this summer. I think she’s going to surprise some people.”
Phelps is part of a strong senior class of Homewood runners that includes Celie Jackson, Edie Smith, Adah Allen, Isabel Burgess, Zoe Nichols and Laura Kemper.
“We’ve been together since seventh grade,” Phelps said. “We really want to go out together with a big bang.”
The Patriots opened their cross-country season last weekend in the Early Bird Challenge at Montevallo. They will compete in the Chickasaw Trails Sept. 6 in Moulton.
Phelps hopes a successful senior year will lead to a track scholarship.
“That’s a big motivator for this season,” she said. “I want to run in college. My intentions are set on earning a scholarship.”