Every track fan from San Jose to Santa Cruz knew that 12 year old Jeremy Kain was fast. He was undefeated in track and cross country at Scotts Valley Middle School, was a star in Little League baseball, played soccer and basketball and dabbled in swimming and cycling, and once a year for six years won the Silicon Valley Kids Triathlon.
Last spring and summer things got serious. On May 5, Jeremy Kain ran the mile in 4:57 at a Middle School dual meet at San Lorenzo Valley High. After posting a 4:26.26 in the 1,500 meters at the USATF Pacific Track and Field Championship at De Anza College on July 8, Jeremy’s father Pete Kain suggested the time was right that son go for the 12-year-old mile record. After all, the existing record was in sight - 4:43:20 set by Jonah Gorevic of New York on June 4, 2016. Kain’s 1,500-meter performance was the mile equivalent of 4:47 – just four seconds away.
“After I ran the 4:57,” Jeremy told the San Jose Mercury News, “I knew I wanted to beat the record.”
With two months until his 13th birthday, there was one obstacle. Jeremy was committed to his Little League All Stars team. “They definitely had me working almost all the time,” he said. “I rarely could go out on a good solid run. It was hard to balance.” When the baseball season ended, Kain only had a few weeks to train before his race.
When young Kain stepped on the track at the Los Gatos Track and Field All-Comers Meet at Los Gatos High School, he was wearing spikes for the second time in his life and wasn't totally confident. But the stage was set. He would be paced by Bellarmine College Preparatory School senior Alex Scales and recent Bellarmine grad Dylan Doblar. Kain’s running coach and Los Gatos race director Willie Harmatz said the plan was to run 69 seconds a lap.
Kain said he was nervous when Scales and Doblar seemed to take the first lap easy, but was encouraged when they hit the 800-meter mark in 2:16 - four seconds ahead of schedule. When he matched his pacers on the third lap, Scales and Doblar stopped running to leave the stage to Kain. While Masters runner Lenin Zapata kept going and won in a time of 4:35.17, the cheers were for Jeremy Kain, who smashed the existing 12-year-old mile record by 6.4 seconds with a time of 4:36.80. Underlining the magnitude of his personal breakthrough, Kain bettered his mile PR by 20.2 seconds.
Jeremy Kain inherited remarkable talent from his parents. Pete Kain was a competitive swimmer and water polo player at Los Gatos High and Whittier College and raced as a professional triathlete from 1988 to 1993. He won more than 40 triathlons overall and was a 4-time ITU Age Group World Champion, an 8-time USA Triathlon Age Group National Champion and was the 2002 USAT Age Group Overall National Champ. Mom Shari Kain has an impressive athletic résumé as well. She played on the UCSB Volleyball team ranked 5th in NCAA Division 1 in 1987. She won the XTERRA Pro Women's World Championship in 1999, competed for the team USA in the Women's Tour de France in 1993 and won a Pan Am Games gold medal in the 1991 cycling team time trial.
Pete and Shari make their living running Kain Performance, a triathlon and multisport training team for athletes of all ages and levels based in Los Gatos. Pete also does personal coaching, online coaching and runs a Masters Swim group. This was the atmosphere where Jeremy and his accomplished older sister Jessica started coming to Kain Performance workouts when they were under the age of six.
“I remember running up and down the turf of a track doing striders with my dad’s team,” said Jeremy. “That is one of the vivid memories I remember about it, and of course that was fun. And I was always put up against the older guys.”
“I think it definitely helped me seeing a huge group of people with good sportsmanship, to see them cooperate and work together,” said Jeremy. “And I think that seeing my mom and dad working out when I was younger and now seeing them still working out, encouraged me to try and get stronger.”
As he got older, the Kains encouraged Jeremy to try many sports including baseball, soccer, basketball swimming and cycling. “I think the main reason I tried out all these different sports was because it allowed me to get out and meet new people. Plus all these sports were active and allowed me to run. My parents encouraged me but never forced me.”
“We have always encouraged the kids in all their sports,” said Pete. “They are pretty gifted athletically (like their mom!). I think since we had success in sports it made it easy to encourage them, but not be that crazy parent that lives vicariously through them.”
Jeremy is emphatic that he derives much of his inspiration from his sister Jessica, who is 16 and is a junior at Scotts Valley High who played competitive soccer and now focuses on cross country and track. Jessica is a four-time Junior Olympic Cross Country All-American who recently set a mile PR of 5:17. ”When I was in middle school, I wanted to be just like my sister,” said Jeremy. It was only last year that he first beat his sister in training runs.
While their sporting success inspired Jeremy and Jessica, Pete and Shari felt the most important thing they imparted to their children was attitude.
“Shari and I emphasized that they should treat people the way you would like to be treated,” said Pete, “to encourage others, especially those that may not be as athletic, or need more encouragement. To never be full of yourself, which they have never done.” Pete told Jeremy that win or lose, “Always be a good sport. I tell him that everybody has good days and bad days. You learn something with every experience and use that when going back out the next time.”
Jeremy takes those lessons to heart. “My parents always talk about good sportsmanship,” he says. “It’s part of the race really. I will be the first to shake the hand of whoever finished in front of me or behind me.”
Jeremy is proud of his parents’ accomplishments, but as he grew older he had a few heroes in sports and running like San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey and Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt. “I also know about Steve Prefontaine,” said Jeremy. “Even though he passed away, he has made a crazy impact on my life just because of his determination and willing to lead the pack.”
While the Kains urge their children to be supportive of others and have a generosity of spirit, they also provide Jeremy and his sister Jessica with examples that fuel his innate competitiveness and mental toughness.
“Seeing my parents toughen through the pain has helped my sister and I. Every time I play any sport I am in pain, just of going as hard as I can, but I always tell myself I just have to finish this mile, finish this soccer game, and I get through it. I see that in my sister too.”
Jeremy says his dad has offered some direct advice as well. “My dad says ‘Just never give up.’ He always tells me to keep pushing - and then push harder.”
Pete runs with Jeremy on the trails around Los Gatos, Cupertino, Saratoga and now near the family’s new home in Scotts Valley near Santa Cruz. But these days the balance of power has shifted a little. “JK and I run together quite a bit,” said Pete. “He is faster than me now, but I can go longer. He is good for about 6 miles, then calls it a day. But he starts out much faster than I do these days!” Dad happily accepts his son’s superior gifts. “I swam and played water polo in high school nut I did not run much until starting to train for triathlons in college,” said Pete. “I do remember running a 6:18 mile when I was in 7th grade, so Jeremy's 4:36 would blow me away!:
After years of dominating in his age group, Jeremy seems quite ready to accept the challenge of competing with older, faster runners. Recently he competed in the 13-14 division at the USATF Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee. He was the first 13 year-old to finish, and notably he was 14th overall including many older competitors in a field of 450. “That was probably the best race I’ve ever run,” he said. “In all of my middle school meets, I was always leading, and I didn't really know how to be in the pack. In Tallahassee, I had to be, and that required me to be calm and understand I had to stay with this fast group of people. I ran my heart out at the end of the race telling myself to pick one off at a time, and I ended up going from 20th to 14th with 200 meters to go.”
While reaching for the stars for his 12-year-old mile record, Jeremy remains realistic. “I don't think I will ever set a goal I don't believe possible,” said Jeremy. “To set a goal saying I would get first in Junior Olympics this year would’ve been impossible. However, my goal was to get top 25, and I did that, I think it’s because I wanted to achieve my goal, I put in all the work and effort for that one race.”
So the record quest goes on, driven entirely by Jeremy Kain. He plans to break the 13-year-old mile record of 4:29.0 set in 1969 by Andrew Barnett of Great Britain. “I told my parents I was going to try to break this next record too,” said Jeremy. “I feel like it’s totally within my reach, I just have to put some effort into it.”
While he is focusing on the present, Jeremy Kain has some far off goals to dream of. “I want to become an Olympian, that’s my biggest goal out there,” he said. “I want to be able to inspire kids like me now when I am older.”
Jeremy is growing fast. He stood 5-feet 9-inches and weighed 128 pounds in July. Right now he says he stands 5-feet 10 inches tall and weighs 135 pounds. Cracking the 13-year-old record will require cutting 6.8 seconds off his PR. After that, the steps get steeper and steeper. The 14-year-old mile record of 4:19.73 set by Ryan Silva of Portland will require a jump of 9.27 seconds. The 15-year-old mile record of 4:08.8 by Jim Arriola of Long Beach, California will require a jump of 10.93 seconds. The 16-year-old mile record of 3:56.29 set by Jacob Ingebrigtsen of Norway is 12.11 seconds better.
With growth spurts coming in irregular order, it might be wiser think more long term and focus on joining the 10 young U.S. men who have broken 4 minutes for the mile while in high school. “I haven’t thought about it [much],” he said. “I mean, I've discussed it with my dad. He says I can do it and I’m going to work my butt off and try to do it.”
While he is undefeated in his age group in the Silicon Valley Kids Triathlon, Jeremy Kain prefers running. “I might be interested in triathlon, but I don't know if that will be for me,” he said. “Triathlons take the best of the best in everything, and I probably could be there one day, but swimming isn't very appealing to me.”
Whatever honors sport brings to Jeremy Kain, it seems that his parents have set him up for lifetime success. “I think running is just a good way to open your mind up to the world, you can run through the forests and just reflect on your life.”