Young runner smokes competition at Greenway Challenge

Fred McCormick

As a race events coordinator, Jen Marsh has seen a lot of runners run fast. But she couldn’t help but be impressed by the runner who finished fourth, two spots ahead of her, in Black Mountain Greenway Challenge 5K on April 9.

“Man, that 10-year-old was fast,” Marsh, fitness instructor at Cheshire Fitness Club, said. “I watched her in front of me the whole race,” she said of Abby Smith, who finished the race fourth overall with a chip time of 22:54.6. “She was super steady. Where I would slow down halfway up the hill, she just kept going with a nice, even, fast pace.”

Smith’s ran 7-minute, 22-second miles, a slightly better pace than her father John, who finished between his daughter and Marsh. “She kept asking me, ‘Why didn’t you run faster?’” John Smith said of his daughter. “She takes running pretty seriously.”

Finishing the race in under 23 minutes “felt really good,” Abby said. She said the day was particularly memorable for several reasons.

“My best friend was there, and she was cheering for me,” she said. “It was great to finish the race, and I got to finish with my dad.”

Abby’s love for distance running can be traced back to John, who coaches cross country at Asheville School. But the fifth-grader also loves the sport because “it’s super fun.”

The Black Mountain Greenway Challenge was not her first foray into racing, but the fourth-place finish is her best race yet. It was the latest accomplishment in a year in which she feels she has grown as a runner.

“This year I have impressed myself sometimes, actually, with how I’ve been running,” she said. “The more I practice the better I get.”

Some of Abby’s improvement can be attributed to her father’s encouraging her to spend time outdoors as opposed to playing indoors with electronic devices.

“I really stress to my children the importance of getting outside and being active,” John Smith said. “I think that is at least part of the reason that they excel athletically.”

And Abby tries to find as many opportunities to run as possible.

“I love running,” she said. “I do a thing at school called the ‘100-mile club,’ and it’s when we run 100 miles over the course of a few months.”

She participates in Girls on the Run of WNC too, a program that encourages positive emotional, social, mental and physical development. The program gives her a chance to do what she loves to do while spending time with her friends.

Bess Bryan is a teacher at Carolina Day School where Abby is a student. Abby was “so proud” of her performance in the Greenway Challenge and shared her experience with the group, he said.

“She is an incredible spirit and athlete, and I have loved teaching her both in the classroom and in Girls on the Run,” he said.

Jodi Antinori, who teaches at Carolina Day as well, said Abby is a “great role model for her peers.”

“I look forward to seeing where her talents take her in the future,” she said.

Her father was particularly happy with Abby’s performance in the Greenway Challenge.

“It was an unbelievably proud moment as a father. Especially for someone with an above-average understanding of the sport, as a coach,” John said. “For someone her age, 10-years-old, to be running sub-23 minutes is pretty impressive.”

But it may have been Marsh who was most in awe of Abby’s performance in the 5K.

“I kept thinking that maybe I could catch them,” she said. “Nope.”