Whoops, I am a runner? Part 2 - Josh runs a 5k

Josh runs a 5k

“Hey Josh, you should sign up for a 5k.”

The first time Andy suggested I sign up for a 5k I did what any self-respecting runner would do -- I made excuses. How would I race a 5k? Had I even run 5k? How long is a 5k? Races are for runners. I am not a runner. I run to offset beer and cheeseburgers, end of story. Andy was a member of my running group. He was also the one who guilted me into running in the first place. He knew how I ticked, and lucky for me, Andy didn’t give up that easily. The second time he asked, I begrudgingly accepted. There was a caveat: I would sign up for a race as soon as I knew I could finish in under 30 minutes.

With a goal set, I had to get serious about running. At least serious enough to run a 5k. There was a problem though. I didn’t know how to train for a race. I figured I should increase my usual distances so that 3.1 miles wouldn’t feel so far. That meant running the entire four mile route at the Wednesday night group run. I would also run three to four miles after work on Friday. Two days a week with an occasional Sunday run was my kind of serious. Sometimes I ran hard, sometimes I struggled to finish. I didn’t have a set plan and only a vague idea of how to train. It wasn’t perfect but it worked for me. I kept motivated and I wasn’t burning out. A couple of months later I was hitting my goal of running under 10 minutes per mile.

The first Friday in December I received the following email:

  December 2nd, 2011
  From: Andy
  To: Josh

  Run a 5k or 10k you wuss

For the record, the real email called me something worse. With those words uttered, I couldn't stall any longer. I had to pick a race from the list Andy attached to his email. I looked it over and found one that fit.

  December 2nd, 2011
  From: Josh
  To: Andy

  I can do the it’s a wonderful run on the 10th!

And just like that I signed up for my first 5k. It was close to home, not too early in the morning, and had a free pancake breakfast! How could I go wrong? There was no turning back . . . eight days until go-time.

You always remember your first race, the training, the anticipation, the nerves. The race is never what you expect, yet it is wonderful nonetheless. Sure, mine was wonderful, wonderfully painful. It was also my first encounter with my nemesis Greenman. Greenman was a daunting figure in a head-to-toe green spandex getup, a Morphsuit. But I digress. I will save that story for another blog post. What I remember most about my first 5k was how hard it was. I hadn’t run a race before and I had no idea how to pace myself or what effect race day adrenaline would have. I went out too fast, couldn't keep up the speed, and was forced to walk. The pattern repeated itself two more times before I finished. If I had a graph of my pace, it would look like a rollercoaster at a theme park. Despite my yo-yo pace I placed in my age group and that sparked a fire. I couldn’t wait to sign up for my next race.

Oh and Andy blew me away.

That winter I ran a mud run with some friends. I went into that race thinking I was a big shot because I was the only one of my friends with prior race experience. Boy, did I overestimate how experienced I was. The “experience” I brought to that race was my seesaw pace. Later that spring, I ran a few more 5ks that all followed the same pattern. My times were improving, but there was one thing that remained the same: I had no idea how to run an even pace.

By the summer of 2012, running was a regular fixture on my weekly schedule. Although I had six races in the books, I still considered running a social activity. My longest distance had also increased. On weekends I was running six miles with the running group. I even ran eight miles one day by myself.

I ran a few times alone every month but my main motivation was camaraderie. I was freelancing at the time which meant that I spent most days working at home alone. I loved the midweek group run and the dinner social afterwards. Weekend runs forced me out of bed early enough to enjoy breakfast with the gang. We tried restaurants all over the county. I even met my future wife at one of the Wednesday runs. Life was good, running was good, and I had a great circle of friends who kept each other motivated.

The future Mrs. Josh had her own athletic street cred. She wasn’t an elite runner, but she grew up playing sports and now ran most days of the week. When we met she had already raced a few 5ks and half marathons. She was disciplined about her race training and this was perfect for me. Not only did we share the same hobby, but she kept me honest on days I wanted to skip running. Instead of sitting home eating cheeseburgers and drinking a beer, I would have a Chipotle “salad” and run a few miles.

It also meant that a longer race was inevitable.

The inevitability came over the summer when the future Mrs. Josh announced she wanted to run a marathon. That’s right, a full marathon. Oh, and she suggested I should run a half marathon. “OK, Let’s do it!” my mouth said before my brain could shut it down. We spent the week researching training plans and finding a marathon. Toward the end of the week she said “It is going to be too hard for us to train for different distances. Our long runs won’t match up. I’ll do a half marathon with you instead.” I am not sure if it was my competitive instinct, plain stupidity, or me trying to impress my new girlfriend, but I couldn’t squelch her running goals. “I’ll run the full with you. It will be easier that way,” I replied.

What did I get myself into?

We decided to run the Space Coast Marathon in Cocoa Beach, Florida. The race could be a weekend road trip. It was a flat course, it had a cool Space Shuttle medal, and November was a nice time of year. Future Mrs. Josh found a novice marathon plan on the Internet and we started our training. That summer was hard. The plan was 18 weeks long and had us running our first few long runs on hot and humid mornings in July in South Florida.

The future Mrs. Josh knew how to hold a consistent pace. She didn’t have a GPS watch and thus didn't check her pace every 15 seconds like I did. She made sure I knew it too. Training runs were like working out with a drill sergeant. She yelled if I was too fast, yelled if I was too slow, yelled if I woke up late or lollygagged getting out the door. It wasn’t all yelling though. She congratulated me when I reached a new distance and applauded me when I pulled through a rough run. She kept me motivated, injury free, but pushed me to reach my potential. It was exactly what my running needed.

Our training plan started at 25 miles per week and it increased to 45 miles. We ran, we ate, we ached, we ate, we tapered, we ate. After 18 long weeks we were ready to run 26.2 miles.

As we toed the line for our first marathon, we were as ready as we could be. We planned to run the race together and to run it conservatively. We just wanted to finish the race and avoid “The Wall.” We hit a consistent pace until mile 20 and that is where our training paid off. Instead of hitting the wall we realized we had enough in the tank to pick up the pace. We ended up running negative splits and even beat our goal time, side by side. (It's ok to gag a little.)

Space Coast

A convenient side effect of marathon training mileage was that I was also getting faster. I was finishing the Wednesday loop in the middle of the pack instead of the end. I would test my speed on occasion when I ran alone. I wasn’t greased lightning, but I had a gear or two in me faster than turtle mode.

With the endorphins in full effect from the success of my first marathon, I signed up for the 2012 It’s a Wonderful Run. The race was two weeks after the marathon. I hadn’t tried my hand at a 5k since the summer and I wanted to see how well I would fare. Let me tell you, there was something to this marathon training. That 5k race ended up being a personal best by two and a half minutes.

Best of all, I beat Andy.

Full Disclosure: Andy’s shoe came untied in the first mile. It took him around a minute to recover. He ran faster than me, but he wasn’t able to make up the difference.

Josh & Andy

That month my running group announced they were going to run the A1A Fort Lauderdale half marathon. There was a lot of interest in the group and bragging rights were on the line. I had already run a full marathon and I thought I should run a half marathon as well.

The A1A half marathon was two months away. I had ample time for recovery and managed to cobble together an abbreviated half marathon training plan. My fitness from the fall marathon carried over and I was able to focus more on aerobic training to hone my endurance.

For those of you keeping score, it was Andy: 1, Josh: 1*. I technically won our second duel, but it wasn’t a clean win. I’m sure that Andy would have beat me had his shoe not come untied. The A1A Fort Lauderdale half marathon was my way to erase the asterisk. I had eight weeks to go and one goal in mind -- beat Andy. This was a longshot of course so I hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, especially not Andy.

Race day morning was cold for South Florida. Temperatures were in the mid 40’s, the sky was clear, and a slight wind out of the northwest. I arrived early enough to run a couple of miles as a warmup, then made the rounds looking for members of my running group. The crowds were thick, yet I managed to find the usual suspects. There was one glaring omission: I didn’t see Andy.

The morning air was full of excitement. The racers were stretching, talking about their pacing, and figuring out where to meet at the finish. Ten minutes before race start, the future Mrs. Josh and I lined up around the 1:40 pace group. We had decided to run this race together and thought it would be a good pace to start. I could always speed up or fall back depending on how the race felt.

The starter gun fired at 6:04 am.

The sheer mass of bodies at the start of a race this big makes it hard to pace your first mile. I kept speeding up to clear the obstacles, passing walkers and dodging children, and the future Mrs. Josh had to reign me back in.

Ten minutes into the race, we were out of downtown and crossing the Las Olas Blvd bridges. I happened to look to my left and there was Andy. He came flying up from behind, running down the median to avoid the slowpokes. He must have been running a seven minute mile. Andy was far enough to my left that he didn’t notice me running down the middle of the course. A minute or two later he was out of sight.

My pace quickened. I glanced at the future Mrs. Josh. She could tell that I was about to do something stupid. “You’re going to burn yourself out,” she said. I could feel her rolling her eyes. I had 11 miles to catch and beat Andy.

And just like that I was off.

Grand Masterflex

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. 

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