She's only just turned 13 but Parua Bay runner Bella Earl is already turning heads after winning the National Under 15 Cross Country Championship.

What made Earl's win in Wellington last weekend even more spectacular was that she beat the national secondary schools girls' champion, Edie Kozyniak, by 13 seconds, or about 80 metres.

But what is amazing about her success is that this is the first year she's had any formal coaching - Whangārei athletics coaching guru Ian Babe first spotted her talent about a year ago before deciding to coach her - and it was her first national tournament.

Babe was supposed to be retiring from coaching, but after spotting Earl's raw talent he just had to get involved with coaching her to make sure she got the right training to fulfil her potential.


She won on the 3km course in a time of 12:51.

''She did very, very well. It was a very challenging 3km course in Wellington. It had been raining quite a bit in the lead-up so the course was really boggy. It was one of the more difficult cross country courses I've seen, but Bella took it in her stride and won very comfortably,'' Babe said.

''And what's more remarkable is that she won against girls up to two years older than her.
She only recently turned 13 but she's already showing that she can be a really good runner. The girl she beat into second was the reigning NZ secondary school champ and Bella beat her by 13 seconds, which is about 80 metres, so that was by some distance.

''And she's only going to get better as we give her the appropriate training.''

As well as cross country Earl has also competed in 1500 metre races and has already broken a Northland age group record that had stood for 36 years. Earl recorded 4:55.01 for the 1500 metres at a North Island meeting in March to break the record. She reached the mark after first recording 4:58.7 in February and Babe says she will get even faster with the right training.

''She had no real experience at this before, so she's very much still learning. We've got to build up her short speed work and just make sure she gets all the appropriate training - and make sure she doesn't do too many races, that she keeps that love of racing there.''

Her father, Adrian Earl, said Earl just loved to run and had been interested in it for a long time. She started taking it seriously this year and that inspired him to get back into cross country running himself and he took part in the 45-49 category at the national champs and came 13th.

However, he said, his daughter is already streaking ahead of him.

''The course (last weekend) was very muddy, with the mud well above my ankles, but Bella was really determined and focused and loved it,'' he said.

Bella Earl took part in the AIMS Games in Tauranga last year, and was running in bare feet so, her father said, she slipped. But this year she'll be back at the AIMS games in running spikes and is keen to make her mark there.

''She's going back this year and she's ready for it. She was barefoot last year but she's got her spikes now and is ready to go.''

Babe reckons Earl has got real, natural talent and the sky's the limit for her - with the right training.