What I Learned About Running From a 6 Year Old

Even though I’ve only been running since October, 2014, I consider myself an experienced runner. I’ve ran quite a few half marathons, a full marathon, and I have more races on the calendar later this year. I’ve been a couch to 5k coach and I have been a running mentor to several friends. I still have so much to learn about running, but I had no idea that my 6 year old nephew would be the one teaching me. This year Rex, my nephew, wanted to run a 5k for the first time. He did a couch to 5k program to train for his first real race, and I was constantly blown away by his positive attitude and perseverance. He may only be 6, but he is wise beyond his years and a runner through and through . Here are his words of wisdom.

If you want it, you have to work for it.

My sister-in-law, Jennifer, and I have been running together from the beginning. Both of us have always been athletic, but neither of us had ever been runners. After finishing our first half marathon only a year into running, we were hooked and we have collected quite a few medals over the years. One day, Rex asked Jennifer if he could have one of her medals, but he didn’t really understand how much work was put into our collection and the sentimental value each medal holds. She told him if he wanted a medal, he had to earn one. Not long after they had a talk about medals, Rex came to her and asked if he could run a 5k so he could get a medal like her and Aunt Nancy. She told him he would have to train and it would be hard, but he was determined and still wanted to to do it. At first, he wasn’t really a fan of running because he started to learn how hard it was, but after a few weeks, he found his legs and really got into the training. He stuck with it and followed the program. The harder it got, the harder he tried. He knew what he wanted, and nothing was going to stop him from reaching his goals. If we approached our goals with the same ambition as a determined 6 year old, we would accomplish more than we ever dreamed. He was faced with many road blocks, but never once did he lose sight of his end goal.

Medals are great, but some things are more important.

Once Rex asked to run a race, Jennifer and I were on the hunt for a 5k that gave out medals, but it was not an easy task. Most 5ks don’t give out finishers medals, but we finally found one, so we immediately registered. We were so excited that we even told some of our friends who had kids and they registered too. Just a few weeks before the race, we found out the coordinators had a change of heart and were no longer giving out medals. Jennifer and I were frustrated and angry because we knew how heartbroken Rex would be. He was working so hard to reach his goal of getting a medal, and it wasn’t going to happen. We withdrew from the race and signed up for a smaller race closer to Jennifer’s house, but they weren’t giving out medals either. Jennifer sat down with Rex and explained what had happened. At 6 years old, he took the news with grace and maturity, more so than most adults. He told her he understood, but as long as he got to run with her and Aunt Nancy, he still wanted to do the race. I was absolutely blown away by the maturity displayed by a 6 year old. He had every reason to be upset, but instead he reminded us that there are things that are more important than a collection of medals. Doing things you love with the ones you love should always come first.

When it rains, you run faster.

As race day approached, so did thunderstorms. The forecast showed a lot of rain and the potential for thunder and lightning. Jennifer and I were both pretty concerned about running in the rain as well as the possibility of a race cancellation. We have both ran in the rain many times before, but we didn’t know how Rex would take the news. As usual, he had the most positive outlook and turned a bad situation into something good. He told her “I hope it does rain. If it rains I won’t get as hot and I’ll be able to run faster.” Out of all the times I’ve made myself run in the rain, never once was I excited about it. At 6 years old, he taught me that we can’t change the weather, but we can change our perspective.

Even though it is really hard, just don’t stop.

On race day, we were accompanied by Rex’s good friend, Clara. For her New Year’s resolution, she told her mom she wanted to run a 5k. While waiting for the race to start, Clara and Rex were playing and talking and were both really excited for the race to start. I asked them if they were both going to run the entire race, and Clara made a comment about how hard running the whole race would be and she didn’t think she could do it. Rex jumped in and said “When it get’s really hard, you just don’t stop. You have to keep going even though it is hard.” I couldn’t help but smile hearing him say this. It isn’t really new advice, but to understand this at such a young age is so inspiring. Through his training, he learned that running is hard, but he also learned you don’t just quit because something is hard.

Even if you are last, never give up.

Race day finally arrived, and both kids were beyond excited. The course had a lot of hills, and they took on each one like the little champions they are. They flew through the first mile ahead of the pack and started the second mile. The humidity was high due to the approaching thunderstorms and it was already getting hot. They finished the second mile and were on their way to the finish line. Rex started getting hot and needed to cool down, and about halfway through the last mile, he got really upset. It was completely understandable considering the heat and humidity, but Jennifer and I kept encouraging him and he kept going, tears and all. Even as we approached the finish line, I thought he would be happy to finish his first race, but he just continued to get more upset. Friends and family were waiting for us at the end, including Clara. I pulled them both aside and let them know how incredibly proud I was and awarded them both with medals for finishing their races. Rex thought he wasn’t getting one, and immediately went from being upset to all smiles. We hung around for the awards ceremony and Clara ended up getting first in her age group and Rex came home with second place in his age group.

After the race, Rex finally explained why he was so upset so close to the finish line. We were well on our way to the finish line and he could see all the people in front of him, but when he turned around a looked behind him, no one was in sight. He thought he was in last place and everyone was ahead of him. Even though he thought he was in last place, he still finished the race and pushed all the way to the end even though he was upset. He realized after the race was over that there were still a lot of people out running, but in the moment, he didn’t know that. He ended up finishing 22 out of 64 runners overall. At 6 years old, this is an exceptional accomplishment. As runners, we tend to be so hard on ourselves and we forget that it’s not always about how we compare to all the other runners. Whether you come in first place or last place, all that matters is you are out there doing the work and trying to be better than you were on your previous run or in your previous race.

-xo Nancy