But unless you're Normandy's Darwin Price and can run in front of the pack, the race can also be measured in how much traffic you fight through to get to the finish. Price, a Normandy senior, won the event for the second straight year, and Johnson was third for the second straight year.
"I'm really proud of him," Central coach Lawrence Brookins said of Johnson. "I thought he competed well. He fought through a lot of the elbows and traffic.
"He caught a couple of cleats and some elbows on the far side, and a kid fell down on him in the turn. He handles that stuff pretty good, though. He doesn't lose his cool."
Johnson was a little miffed about being told at the finish line he placed second and then being placed third when the medals were handed out. The finish had to be reviewed by photo to determine the correct placements.
Running along the inside much of the race, and getting boxed in occasionally, Johnson made a strong move along the inside of the final 150 meters to close from seventh to third. The senior nearly ran through Ozark's Sam Jones at the finish line.
"I pretty much did," Johnson said.
"I got boxed in like three times," Johnson said. "Everybody was trying to get to the outside.
"I was good until the backstretch, and then I was like a car putting along. I picked it up at the 200 and then some kid fell and I got clipped on the back. I had to regain my speed again, and I guess I didn't speed up enough to get second."
Both Johnson and Jones were given times of 1 minute, 56.15 seconds. It was a season-best for Johnson, but off his 1:54.63 from last year.
Price, who also became the first boys runner to win the three distance races in the state's largest classification by also claiming the 1,600 and 3,200, was a sliver slower than last year, finishing in 1:54.39.
"If this had been a normal track meet," Johnson said, "I felt I could have got to where he was. But there were times I was boxed in and it was hard to get to the front.
"Third place, I'm not too happy about it. I felt I should've got second, but I'll settle for third."
"Last year," Brookins said, "he had to run through the same thing and made some moves a couple of guys couldn't have made."
Perryville placed in two relay events in the Class 3 state meet, finishing fifth in the 400 relay and eighth in the 800.
The foursome of seniors Brandon Kennon, Ryan Lorenz and Kris Cottner and junior Josh Perreault ran both events.
The same group last year had the 11th-best preliminary time in the 800 relay.
"We really worked hard and turned it around this year," Kennon said.
"Actually, we didn't turn in good times until three or four weeks ago," Perreault said. "It's been good ever since. We worked on handoffs a lot more and became closer as a group and started hanging out a lot more."
Cottner, a Southeast Missouri State football recruit, last year placed seventh in the 400 individually, but did not make the state meet this year. He was satisfied with the relay success.
"It feels good; definitely cool," he said of his two state medals. "We knew we just wanted to go to state and once we got there, we were aiming to win it, and wherever we finish, we finish."
In the 400, the Pirates (43.80) finished behind Jennings (43.02), Lincoln College Prep, Miller Career Academy and state team champion Berkeley.
"There are some fast guys up here," Kennon said.
Notre Dame's 1,600 relay team of Ricky Harrington, Neil Kanneberg, Blake Kirkpatrick and Mark Zimmer finished seventh and ran a school-record time of 3:25.43. The Bulldogs shaved more than 2 seconds off their preliminary time.
Sikeston coach Jerry Dement, a Cape Girardeau resident and former Central coach, capped his coaching career with a fourth-place team finish in Class 3 from his Bulldogs, whom he dubbed "Jump City" this year.
Sikeston scored 37 points as a team, all in jumping events. Junior Cal Lane picked up 30 points with first-place finishes in the high jump (6-6), long jump (22-9) and triple jump (48-10).
Dement, who coached at Central for six years and said he spent "on and off, 20 years" at Sikeston, has been a big proponent of the sport.
"I very much love track," he said, "because it encompasses everything — all levels of ability and there's a lot of different events."
He said he was going to be succeeded by Terry Flannigan, the former Scott City football and track coach who just completed his second year at Marionville.