Leander Forbes had one last conversation with his father before stepping on the track at Chiles (Fl.) High last Thursday for the FHSAA Region 3A-1 Championships.
"He said to me, 'Son, this your last time running in Tallahassee before states. I want you to do something special,'" Forbes remembered. "I told him, 'I feel good today. I feel like I'm going to do something special.'"
Forbes did exactly that.
The Leon (Fl.) High senior, one of the state's top 400m runners, shattered his former previous best by over a second, winning in a time of 45.95 seconds.
He became the third runner nationally this season to capture a time under 46 seconds -- coincidentally, all three runners are from Florida -- and set the stage for an epic showdown at the FHSAA Track and Field Championships on May 5-6 at IMG Academy in Bradenton.
"He's been working hard all season," Forbes' coach, Andrew Wills, said. "He's trained all season. We're not peaking early, we want to peak late. We didn't necessarily see 45 coming, but we are glad where he's at now."
It's at states where Forbes, who will also anchor Leon's 4x400 team, will face off against US No. 1 Tyrese Cooper, who has a nation-leading time of 45.45 seconds in the 400m.
Cooper, one of the country's best sprint talents with Miami Norland High, has run six times under 47 seconds and twice under 46, including his most recent outing at the Region 3A-4 Championships in 45.69 seconds.
Forbes, who goes by "Lee" to close friends, didn't run once under 47 seconds until last Thursday.
"When I ran it the first time, I was kind of shocked," said Forbes, who broke the school record of 46.5 with the effort. "When I came across the line, I actually saw the number 44 and was like, 'Woah.' Then they told me it was 45 and it definitely hit me."
Can Forbes do it again? He has PRs of 21.96 seconds in the 200m and 1:55.91 in the 800m.
"I think when you have someone else who's running 45 (in the state), everyone knows where the bar is and wants to catch that person," Wills said. "Leander knew he had to improve greatly to be on that level, and honestly, we didn't know he'd get there. But when you know someone else is running it, you know you can achieve more."
Forbes had sensed a shift from runners in his area when he stepped on local tracks, too.
"Here in Tallahassee, I heard people say they were afraid to run against me," he said. "They saw me as Tallahassee's Tyrese Cooper. I don't see it that way."
But Forbes definitely has a proven plan now.
In prior races, he had adjusted his focus from either one half of the race to the next. But at regions, he said, he had everything figured out: attack the last 200m with everything he had in the tank.
"I was trying to tell people that everything started to go slow," he said. "Everything slowed down during that race.
* Forbes runs a meet record 47.09 seconds at the FSU Relays in March
A little over a month prior, Forbes had set a meet record at the FSU Relays, running a then-best 47.09 seconds. Before the meet, he told his mother "I'm about to break this record," and she replied, "I know you can do it."
Ultimately, Forbes said, his base in the 400m came from his training with the distance team. Wills said Forbes was a big proponent of 400m intervals with short recoveries.
"I think that kind of let him know he was fit when he started to handle those later in the season," Wills said. "We started to see big results."
Forbes and Wills still remained a little in shock after the race.
"He knocked it out of the park," Wills said.
Heading into the state championships, Forbes isn't thinking about running 45 again or even keeping up with Cooper.
He's focused on his own race.
"If I go out there and run my own race, everything else takes care of itself," he said. "I don't want to go into it afraid. I've raced Tyrese before. I didn't go in scared and I won't go in scared here."