It was about 10 minutes into the race when Andy zoomed past me. Mrs. Josh had given me the sideways glance, and her head shake said, "Don't burn yourself out." And that was it; I quickened my pace and the race was on.
The Fort Lauderdale A1A Half Marathon wasn't only my first half marathon, it was also my first long distance run that felt like a race. Sure, Mrs. Josh and I had run a full marathon a few months earlier, but that was different. We ran the Space Coast Marathon in Cocoa Beach, FL for fun, to finish, and hopefully meet a time goal. A1A was a friendly competition with bragging rights on the line -- at least in my head it was. Seeing Andy blow by triggered something inside of me, and my feet were itching to compete.
Mile 2 - My Garmin beeped. I had picked up my pace by about 30 seconds per mile. It was early in the race and we were running down Las Olas Blvd. Runners settled into their paces as we headed east towards the beach.
Mile 3 - I headed north on A1A, the beach to my right but I was looking straight ahead. I was feeling good, my legs still fresh, and my breathing was steady. My pace had also dropped by another 6 seconds.
Mile 4 - The split came just as I rounded the corner onto Sunrise Blvd. My lap was barely a second faster than the third mile and the field was thinning out. This was a good thing since the route narrowed as it headed into Hugh Taylor Birch State Park.
Mile 5 - The first mile through the park was where I caught a glimpse of my second South Florida Runs member. He was a bit ahead of me so I thought I'd catch up and have someone to run with for a bit. It knocked 12 seconds off of my split but the mental boost from finding a partner helped pull me through it.
Mile 6 - The second mile in the park was a lot easier running with someone from the group. We chatted about race goals, it was his first half marathon as well. As the end of the park approached, he said to go on without him. He was going to slow down his pace a bit.
Mile 7 - I exited the park and headed back north on A1A. It was close to 7am and the sun was rising. I had downed an energy gel around the start of the mile and my pace was steadily increasing. I felt energized by the halfway mark. The rest of the course would be an out and back down A1A.
Mile 8 - As I crossed the one hour mark, I ran into another South Florida Runs member. He moved over to the side of the path and was rubbing his calf. I guess it was starting to cramp up so he was taking care of it before it got worse. "There's no crying in baseball!" I yelled to him as I passed. He looked, shook his head, and smiled. It worked though and he jumped right back in to finish.
Mile 9 - The turnaround through the Galt Ocean Mile. There were still four miles to go but it felt like it was the home stretch. There is something about backtracking during a race that makes the way in seem shorter than the way out. My pace quickened with anticipation. I had dropped over a full minute off of my pace since the start of the race. I wasn't sure if I needed it or not, but I took my last energy gel as a just in case. I wanted to finish strong.
Mile 10 - There he was, Andy, running along ahead of me. He was pretty far away but I must have been gaining on him. I felt like I had a decent reserve of energy still so it was time to come up with a plan. I knew Andy and I knew that he would speed up if he knew I was behind him.
Mile 11 - My plan was working; slowly gaining on him but keeping far enough back that he wouldn't notice. I even made sure to run behind people to block his line of sight in case he turned to look back. My pace over the previous two miles had quickened to the point that I wasn't sure if I could keep it going.
Mile 12 - The Garmin dinged and I was closing the gap. There were only 1.1 miles to go and I needed to make a move. I decided it was time, I pushed the pace, and I caught up to Andy.
Mile 13 - The last split was the fastest mile of the race. Andy and I kept a solid rhythm through the final mile. The crowd support was tremendous. We approached the end of the race at South Beach Park and I prepared to make my move. I needed to sprint the last 1/10th of a mile and cross that finish line first.
Mile 13.1 - The finish line. I mustered up the energy for the final kick. It was only 1/10th of a mile, but it clocked in at a pace that was 2 1/2 minutes faster than when I started the race. I pulled ahead of Andy, crossed the finish line, and nearly jumped out of my shoes in excitement.
I beat Andy!
I was also exhausted. I could barely walk once I stopped moving. I put more effort into that race than I had put into all of my training runs combined. It was my moment of glory. Not only did I finish first, but I also didn't know that I was could run that fast for that long.
Andy and I grabbed a beer at the finish line and we recapped the race. "I didn't know you were trying to catch me." he said. "I shouldn't have stopped for that beer."
Veterans of the Fort Lauderdale A1A race may have noticed a couple of guys with their own unofficial water table around mile 11. A table where they hand out beers instead of water. It's a staple of the race, a badge of honor, to grab one on your way in. Andy stopped to have that beer as I would come to find out. I was still happy that I crossed the finish line before him, but I wouldn't exactly say it vindicated the asterisk from our prior 5k match up.
The times were posted and that's when I learned the difference between gun time and chip time.
Age Group Results:
Timed road running events are known for having large crowds at the starting line. The congestion is such a problem that they have two different means of timing, gun time, also called net time, and then chip time. Gun time is the time from the starting gun until you cross the finish line. This is the timing that they use according to USATF rules for overall winners. The first three people to cross the finish line are 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. Then there is chip time, this is the technology-assisted timekeeping method where each runner has a "chip" either attached to a bib or on a disposable band that uses RFID to calculate the time from when you cross the starting pad until you cross the pad at the finish line. Chip time is how they compensate for how long it takes a runner to get from the back of the pack to the starting line of the race.
According to gun time, I beat Andy by 5 seconds. According to chip time, and that is the time that counts, Andy beat me by 46 seconds. Forty-six seconds faster and he stopped for a beer. It makes sense though, and I was happy with the outcome. Andy ran in school and he was the one who guilted me into this running nonsense in the first place. I beat my highest expectations for myself and that is the type of progress I hoped for.
When I first started running, I was inconsistent and my schedule was sporadic. I ran slow and I walked a lot. I thought I was horrible and that I'd never run a mile non-stop. There were more days than I care to admit when I would run for five minutes and then call it quits.
I only kept at it because I had a group of friends who also ran. A group of friends who motivated me, a group of friends who kept me accountable, a group of friends who scheduled runs during the week. The schedule made it a habit, and the habit is what led to improvement.
I didn't become a runner overnight. I started small by adding three miles a week into my schedule. I kept everything else the same. My diet didn't change, and I wouldn't miss happy hour. I still ate pizza and cheeseburgers, but I'd make sure not to miss my runs. I was slowly building a running base that would help me get to where I am now.
It has been three years since Andy beat me at the Fort Lauderdale A1A Half Marathon. A lot has changed since that race but one thing remains the same; I am still making small adjustments.
This month I am running the Boston Marathon. It is a huge milestone for me but it doesn't end there. I'll take a couple of weeks off to recover, but before you know it I will be back at it. Summer months are for building a base. Easy runs during the week, the Linton Bridge on Thursday, and long slow distance on the weekends. Race season will be back before you know it.
See you at the starting line!
Josh Johnston is one of our LEAD Pack Ambassadors and you can always find him out running the streets of Delray Beach and Boca, at Gravity + Oxygen, or eating cheeseburgers. If he had his choice, he would do all three at the same time. You can follow him on Instagram at @joshjruns to check out his daily adventures.