Going the Distance
Running prodigy Mary Cain sets pace on track and in classroom
Kid Reporter Samantha Coffey with 16-year-old running prodigy Mary Cain after the Wanamaker Mile at the 2013 Millrose Games. (Photo courtesy Samantha Coffey)
It's February 16, shortly after 8:30 p.m. on a winter night in New York City. A cluster of world-renowned runners are on the track of The Armory, ready to compete in the Wanamaker Mile at the 2013 Millrose Games – the most famous indoor track and field meet in the country.
By the time the race is over, the biggest cheers are for Mary Cain, a slight, pony-tailed 16-year-old junior from Bronxville (N.Y.) High School — the fastest high school middle-distance runner in American history.
"I've always loved to run," Mary says. "I've always enjoyed the feeling of running fast. I also love racing, especially against competitors who can really push me."
Mary – who is also a straight-A student - crossed the finish line in 4 minutes, 28.25 seconds that night, breaking her own U.S. record. The previous record had been set more than 40 years earlier, in 1972. In early March, Mary, who owns U.S. records at three other distances, captured the women's mile at U.S. indoor championships in Albuquerque, N.M.
Cain's passion for running started in seventh grade. She made varsity and quickly emerged as a standout talent, winning state cross-country titles in 2011. Competing at 800 meters, she almost made the U.S. Olympic team for the London Games in 2012.
"Mary is a prodigy, a once-in-a-generation talent," says David Monti, the publisher of Race Results Weekly and a widely respected track and field expert. "It's hard to put a limit on how far or how fast she will go."
Despite training two hours a day and running up to 60 miles a week, Mary still manages to be near the top of her class academically. She believes the key is to stay organized and work hard – and to embrace every challenge.
Most of all, even with all the fame she has achieved, Mary wants to keep her passion for running alive. That is her advice for any young athlete.
"Whatever your sport, do it because you love it," she says.
You might think Mary would feel a lot of pressure because of the expectations people have of her. But she has learned to relax before races by thinking of the expectations as a compliment – and by appreciating all the support she gets from family and coaches.
Aside from running fast, Mary's greatest attribute may be her humility. She wants to keep improving. She doesn't consider herself special or better than anybody else.
The record-breaking teenager smiles.
"I'm just Mary," she says.
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