Though she's only 13, Marianne Abdalah already knows what it's like to compete athletically on a national scale.
She placed second in the 13-14 age division of the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics Cross Country Championships on Dec. 8 in Balloon Fiesta Park near Albuquerque, N.M.
Abdalah, who is a student at Marshall Middle School, hung with the leading three runners through most of the 4-kilometer race over terrain that was highly varied, including grass, dirt, rock and even sand.
As the pack went into the last 800 meters, Abdalah passed leader Sophia Cantine of Bellevue, Wash. She said she was determined to fight fatigue during the last fifth of the race.
"My arms were starting to get tired," Abdalah said. "But I knew that if I wanted to place when the other girls were coming behind me, I had to start kicking it in."
That's when she made a move. With about 300 meters to go, she passed Molly Klein of Albuquerque.
Abdalah wasn't able to overtake Mary Bell of Sacramento, Calif., for first place. Bell, 14, had won California's Division 2 high school cross country championship this fall as a freshman.
But Abdalah surprised herself as well as her competitors with her strength at the end of the race.
"I was surprised," she said. "For the past few years I haven't had the best kick."
Abdalah noted that she'd been working on her finishing kick; a feat that allowed her to turn in a time of 14:40.50. Her father, Dr. Marvin Abdalah, and mother, Kim, who both ran competitively in college, do much of her coaching and training throughout the year.
Abdalah's achievement was no surprise to Jason Winschel, the head coach of the North Allegheny middle school cross country team, which combines students from the district's three middle schools -- Marshall, Carson and Ingomar. Winschel coaches Abdalah during fall cross country as well as spring track.
"As far as running cross country goes, I suspect she's probably the fastest girl to ever run in this part of the state," Winschel said. "At her level, no one's even remotely close for any duration [of a race]."
Winschel added that Abdalah went undefeated and broke North Allegheny records in her meets this year, including the Fox Chapel Invitational and the North Allegheny Invitational.
Abdalah had qualified for the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics Cross Country Championships by first winning the district meet at California University.
Abdalah then won the USA Track and Field regional meet, from which only 20 runners advance to nationals. According to Kim Abdalah, there were a total of 236 runners in the national championship race. Although Abdalah is a remarkable talent, she owes much of her success to hard work.
"Marianne is the prime example of a 'lead-by-example' kind of person," Winschel said. "The kids see that it's not merely a matter of talent, it's a question of working hard. She is a great asset to the team. [Other members of the team] can see that you excel by working hard and that it's not all just a given."