One recent Sunday morning, my mum and grandma drove me to a 5km race not far from where we live in St Cloud, Minnesota, in the US. There was a fierce thunderstorm, and when we got there I had to wait for it to pass beneath an overhang with the other runners. I started to feel a little nervous, because some of the people there looked really fast. They had proper running leggings and long, skinny legs. They were all different ages. I wasn’t wearing running clothes; just a normal T-shirt and shorts.
I’m nine years old now, but have been running competitively since I was six. I love it, because it makes me feel good. I have a lot of energy to use up and I can do it by just moving my legs. Sometimes I run for the sake of it, other times I run to win. That morning, I wanted to win.
An hour after the official start time, even though it was still raining, the race organisers said we could go. The starting line was crowded, but I positioned myself at the front and in the middle because I like to get out ahead.
‘I kept going’: Nine-year-old enters 5km race … and accidentally wins 10km event
That morning, I was running confidently and feeling strong. The route went through a neighbourhood and there were quite a few people cheering us on, but I didn’t see any faces I knew. It started to pour again, but I love running in the rain: it keeps me cool and I can keep going for longer, even when I get tired. When I run, I don’t wear a watch or look to see what distance I’m at; I just focus on moving, breathing and how my body feels.
At one point, I came to a split in the course. A woman who was directing us blocked off the route I thought I was meant to take and told me to go the other way, so I followed her directions. I was confused, but just kept running. I knew I must be close to finishing the 5km, but I couldn’t see the finishing line.
After a while I saw route directions for a 10km race. I was worried and thought I was lost, but had to keep going. My body started to get tired and my muscles a little sore. I said to myself, “You’re almost there. Just keep breathing.”
Eventually I saw the finish line and spotted my mum. She looked angry. I got past the line and she was yelling, “Why did you do this, Kade? You are in so much trouble.”
When she didn’t see me at the 5km finishing line, she and my grandma had gone looking for me and couldn’t find me anywhere. They thought something bad had happened and Mum had got really upset. She’d even given a photograph of me to a fireman, before someone said they’d spotted me in the 10k. I said, “I didn’t do this on purpose, Mum! It was a mistake.” She calmed down when she realised I hadn’t intentionally run the 10km race without telling her. I felt bad that I had worried her.
My mum went up to the lady who was timing the race. She told my mum, “He finished first. He won the race.” It’s funny, because in the pictures of the finish, there is no one in front or behind me. Mum assumed, as I was on my own, I had come in last. I had no idea where I was in the race. My mum checked whether the lady meant in my age group but she said, “No, he won the whole thing. No other 10k-ers have finished yet.”
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know I was running a 10km and I had won it. My mum and my grandma were so excited and kept hugging me. I was still trying to catch my breath. I felt so happy and proud. It was my first time running such a distance.
A 40-year-old woman came in second, about a minute after me. After she finished, she shook my hand and congratulated me and said that I had run smart and she was impressed. I thought it was funny, because everyone else had trained harder than me and been running longer.
The rest of the day was pretty normal. We went home and I had a bath with salts in it, then did my homework and played with my dog.
I hope my story inspires other people to run, too. It has made me want to do more 10km races and marathons, even. A local marathon runner has volunteered to help me train. One day I would love to go running for five days in another country. That’s my dream now.
As told to Candice Pires
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