Asked when exactly he fell in love with the sport, 9-year-old Kade Lovell joked that he “came out running.”

It’s difficult to doubt him.

The fourth-grader in St. Cloud, Minn., ran his first 1k race at 18 months old, according to his mother. He has run competitively for about three years and even participated in Junior Olympics cross-country meets with USA Track and Field. So, the 5k run Kade participated in last month wasn’t supposed to be a challenge — after all, he had run them “plenty of times.”

But the outcome of the Sept. 21 Francis Franny Flyer 5k in Sartell came as a shock to Kade and his family — and has since garnered national attention.

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“He’s never run this long, even in practice,” said his mother, Heather Lovell. “This helps boost his motivation even more."

Heather Lovell grew mildly concerned as she watched other participants in the 5k turn onto its last leg — Kade is usually a top finisher, so she assumed he was just having a bad race. Her worries intensified, however, when children she knew to be slower than her son entered the home stretch.

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The mother flagged down a fireman and other race officials to search for Kade, to no avail. Heather Lovell’s mother even drove the course to see if Kade had fallen or pulled a hamstring.

But he was nowhere to be found.

“I start panicking,” she said. “I’m bawling; my son’s gone. Is he hurt? Is he stolen? What happened?”

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Then, salvation: Another spectator called a relative who was running in the 10k race, Heather Lovell said. That runner was reportedly blown away by a “cute boy who was doing really well.”

Heather Lovell was initially upset when she realized the young runner in question was her son.

“Now I’m mad — what the heck?” she said. “Why would he run the 10k? Why wouldn’t he tell me?”

It turns out Kade had no idea, either. Volunteers had figured he was a willing participant in the 10k, which equates to a 6.2-mile run. It was also organized by the St. Francis Xavier Church and followed a near-identical route. When Kade approached the turn for the 5k, he said a woman instructed him to continue running straight. He obliged.

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After learning her son was okay, Heather Lovell returned to her previous vantage point to wait for him to finish. Still upset, she concluded he was in last when she saw him running by himself.

The two reconvened at the finish line. As Kade tearfully explained to his mother that the mix-up was an accident, a race coordinator notified them that he had come in first place for the 10k.

“I was like, ‘In his age group?’ ” Heather Lovell recalled. “She said: ‘No, out of all of them. No 10kers have finished yet.’ ”

“We were all kind of in shock,” she added.

Her son had finished in just over 48 minutes — about a minute faster than the 40-year-old woman who came in second, according to Heather Lovell. The coordinator told them the average age of the top 10 finishers was 38.

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Kade told The Washington Post that he was “tired and a little excited” upon learning of his first-place finish. But his mother recalled a slightly different version of events.

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“Once he found out he had won first, he was excited, then he was like, ‘No way!’ ” she said with a laugh. “He had no clue he was in the lead.”

Heather Lovell said her son wants to continue running competitively. Kade said he plans to train for a marathon, eventually.

He’s off to a blistering start.

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