Since Brianna Hartley ran her first strides at Harbison State Forest, her father has been with her step for step.
Three years ago Dan Hartley, the race director of the Columbia SC Marathon, brought his family to Harbison to show them where he’d been running. Brianna, who is called Bri by her family, immediately became infatuated with the trails. Dan began incorporating Bri’s runs into his workouts, and soon the two were running together on an almost daily basis.
“Running is a huge part of our family and what we do,” says Hartley, who runs ultra races of 35 to 100 miles. “Anywhere we go there’s running involved.”
Now 10, Bri is a force on the trails. Her clear blue eyes make her look sweet and adorable, but this girl takes no prisoners when she races. After winning the women’s overall division of the Rudolph’s Rampage half marathon at Harbison in December, she returned in February to win the women’s overall division in the Make My Day 12K.
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Yes, she’s a skinny 10-year-old kid who can beat women twice her age — and size.
Bri can’t compete at scholastic meets until she’s in seventh grade, but she runs about one race a month in the Columbia area. Her father helps her train and pick out races. Dan, 40, will be managing the marathon on Saturday, and Bri will be running the 10K.
“I try not to put any undue pressure on her,” says Hartley, whose 13-year-old son, Alex, also runs. “I don’t want her to ever look at it as a job or something she has to do ... but if she keeps going the way she has been, she’ll be incredible. She’ll have a huge running career.”
Bri agrees that she never feels pushed.
“It’s always a choice,” Bri says. “I can’t imagine my life without running.”
Bri ultimately wants to run ultras like her dad. She also wants to run cross country as she progresses through school and then in college. She’s already started training with the coaches at Dutch Fork Middle School, but says she’d rather run with her dad than anyone else. Her mother, Allison, is a hiker.
“We’ve had a bigger bond since we started running together,” Bri says.
What began as short, 30-minute runs have stretched into two hours of running — and talking.
“Right now, there’s nothing in her life that she can’t tell me about,” Hartley says, who seems to have the perfect balance of father, coach, running partner and friend. “We share everything, and I hope that regardless of what she’s able to accomplish in high school or college or beyond, running is something that we’ll continue to do together and share.”
When asked what kinds of things they do outside of running, the two look at each other.
“Um ... do you know?” Bri asks.
Hartley is stumped. They both start laughing.
Hartley says they enjoy watching running movies and reading running books.
“Maybe that sounds kind of boring, but it’s a big part of our lives,” Hartley says. “Running is what we love to do.
“We don’t do it because we feel like we have to, but for no other reason than we truly love to do it.”