When 15-year-old Noah Retherford ran his first marathon in June, he trekked through the woods in the late night and early morning hours against only 19 other male competitors.

On the morning Sept. 24, Retherford will have what promises to be a different experience when he lines up among thousands in the fourth annual Mill Race Marathon. But one thing likely will not change.

He’ll still be the youngest marathoner in the field.

“My mom started doing Spartan races, and I volunteered there, and I liked it,” Noah Retherford said. “So I ran like a mile and picked it up from that and kept on doing it.”

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Spartan races feature running through difficult obstacle courses.

Retherford, a home-schooled freshman from the small Tipton County town of Windfall, has done 14 Spartan races himself in the past four years. His mother April has run two marathons in addition to her Spartan regimen and got him hooked on running.

Noah Retherford has done two half-marathons and has run as far as 20 miles a couple of times, including in the Summer Night Trail Marathon in June at Eagle Creek. In that race, he became a little frightened on the last of four laps and stopped for about 20 minutes to wait for another competitor.

“I think I could have done better if I didn’t get spooked,” Noah Retherford said. “I was cramping up and didn’t want to stay in one spot. If I was more prepared, I could have done it. It was harder mentally than physically.”

Noah Retherford raises cattle and runs for Team Beef, which promotes beef industry. His mother doesn’t have a problem with him running marathons at such an early age.

“I like to encourage him to do whatever he thinks he can do,” April Retherford said.

Meanwhile, recent South Adams High School graduate and soon-to-be IUPUI freshman Katelin Hawbaker, 18, is the youngest female entrant in the marathon field. She ran cross-country and track for her high school team but won’t be competing in college.

Hawbaker, who has an aunt and uncle in Columbus, said she decided to run a marathon for two reasons.

“I wanted to have a goal to train over the summer so I wouldn’t stop running,” Hawbaker said. “And my cousin ran a marathon this spring, and I didn’t want her to show me up.”

Hawbaker has set a goal of 3 hours, 45 minutes for her first marathon. Retherford wants to finish in less than 4 hours.

Retherford also plays basketball in Anderson and football in Indianapolis with other home-schooled and public and private school kids. But running is his favorite sport.

“I like the adrenaline,” Noah Retherford said. “It just helps me think a little bit and be in my own world. It’s like therapy for me. Other times, it’s just a fun thing I want to do. I want to keep running for a long time — as long as I can.”

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.