The American record holder in the 50K sits down with PrayFit to chat faith, running Josh Cox is one of the world's best at putting one foot in front of the other for unseemly distances. A native of San Diego (Calif), Cox set the American record in the 50K (31.05 miles) in 2011 with a time of 2 hours, 43 minutes and 45 seconds, smashing his own previous U.S. record in the process. Over his career, he's encountered adversity both on and off the course, all of it setting him on the path the Lord had in store for him the entire time. Now, this father and husband -- he and his wife welcomed a son, Asher Legend, in 2011 -- dishes on what's made him so successful, both in running and in his walk.
“Jimmy and the PrayFit team embody the words Paul penned to Timothy, ‘For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.’ (1 Tim. 4:8) Their daily devotional feeds my spirit and inspires my sweat!” --Josh Cox, elite ultramarathoner, American record holder in the 50K
Josh Cox Height: 6'0" Weight: 147–156 Hometown: San Diego, CA Residence: Mammoth Lakes, CA Family: Wife, Carrie; Sons, Asher Legend, Joshua Tristan Armor Race Highlights: 2011: PF Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, 1st. 2010: Boston Athletic Association 5K, 1st; Comrades Marathon, 180th; Moeben Ultra 25K, 1st; Malibu Half Marathon, 1st; Zappos.com Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, 1st.
PRAYFIT: As one of the world's premier long distance runners, you spend a lot of time running solo. Where does your mind wander during a long run?
JOSH COX: Fortunately, I train with an amazing group, the Mammoth Track Club. I’ve heard it said that we become the average of our five closest friends, so I try to keep fast company! Having workout partners works wonders for accountability. Being surrounded by talented individuals who share a common vision and a common goal always reaps rewards. It’s like what Solomon said, “As iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
With that said, running is a solitary sport, even when training in a group. Growing up, I was a soccer player -- I loved the game but in order to really practice I needed others. With running, all I needed was an alarm clock and open road. I still love that about the sport. Running is my alone time, my thinking time, my praying time, my creative time, my time away from the calls, social networks, and the business of life. Running has always served as my daily reset button. You could say it’s my therapist. And by mile three I usually have amazing clarity.
PF: How has your faith played in to your life as an athlete? How has it affected your perspective?
JC: I’ve been blessed with longevity. I’m now in my 14th year in the sport. My perspective during that time has done a 180. When I qualified for my first Olympic Trials in ‘99 it was all about the teams, titles and records. Sure, I’d thank God after races and talk about Him in interviews but it was mainly words. Don’t get me wrong, I believed what I was saying but what was I really doing? Was giving interviews really God’s big commission for my life?
Then came 2005, a horrible year. If I live a thousand years it will be tough to top my terrible 2005. I experienced spiritual oppression beyond my worst nightmares, I was in a bad relationship, lost $60,000 in an investment...I could have been a case study for Murphy’s Law. As bad as that year was, when November came, things got worse. The doctor delivered the news: my dad had stage four cancer and seven months to live. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My dad and I didn’t have the best relationship; I knew I needed to be by his side.
A month later my brother and I were living in a hotel room next to my dad near MD Anderson Cancer Hospital in Houston. Suddenly, running, and everything else in my life, didn’t seem as important as being there for my dad. Talk about a reset button.
My dad had it all: looks, charisma, made millions in business, had a big house, convertible Mercedes, the works. But in the end he had a mountain of regrets: putting work first, not spending more time with the family, failed relationships with his children and his divorce from my mom after 34 years of marriage. My dad opened up and our relationship was restored on this side of eternity. It’s tough to put an old head on young shoulders but those months with my dad did just that. I was holding his hand and looking in his eyes when he took his last breath that July. In the aftermath I did a lot of soul searching. Did running matter? Why was I spending my life trying to lower my time on a clock? What’s the end game? A medal? A contract? A record? A team?
I nearly retired from running and went to seminary full-time; I even took some classes. Being willing to give it up was where God wanted me all along, when I came back to sport in 2007, things were totally different. Sure, I still had the drive to win and set records but I knew their proper place. My performance was no longer the verdict on me. The reality is, titles are forgotten and records are on loan but when we use our platform to do God’s work we impact lives, outlive our life, and leave a lasting legacy. That’s winning.
PF: Lots of people run. Very few people run well. What's your best, most basic advice for achieving a proper stride on a long run?
JC: With regards to form, we want everything going forward and back -- any lateral movement is wasted energy. A midfoot strike is what we’re after because it keeps the body over the foot at impact and allows the knee to act as a shock absorber. Heel striking is braking –- it slows you down and beats the body up. But frankly, for most of us, the issue isn’t form, it’s about having the discipline to get the run in. The key is to lace up the shoes and get out the door. The first step is the best step -- it’s where intent meets action. Some folks workout when they feel like it. The key to success is doing what needs to be done even when you don’t feel like it.
The first step is the best step -- it’s where intent meets action.
PF: Should distance runners only run steady paces for long distances, or is there some value in sprint intervals?
JC: Long slow distance makes long slow runners. If you want to run fast you need to run fast. Every good running program should have three key components each week:
• Intervals (400 meter sprints, with recovery in between): 3-8 miles • Tempo Runs (your goal race pace): 4-18 miles • Long Runs: 12-26 miles
The idea is to get efficient at goal race pace. Faster intervals will allow you to relax at this pace. The tempo run is when you run your goal race pace, and long runs give you the strength. All have their place in training. Run your hard days hard and easy days easy. "Stress + Rest" is the formula.
PF: With such a busy training schedule and a new baby, how do you find time to get into your bible?
JC: I’ve had loads of regrets in my life but I’ve never spent time in the Word or gone for a run and said, "That was a waste of time." It’s just like working out -- if you want to get it in you have to make it an important appointment worth keeping. I also download podcasts, books and sermons to my iPod and listen to them on my easy days.
PF: You do a ton of work for charities. Can you describe your involvement in charity and give us a bit about how people can help out?
JC: Faith is something to be lived, not sat around and talked about. I want my walk to back up my talk. I want my deeds to align with my creeds. I want to live out what I believe. Oftentimes, the church (meaning the believers in the church) is caught up in catering to others in their building, when being a Christian is so much more than going to Sunday School and Bible studies, it’s remembering the poor, remembering the oppressed, helping the widow, being the hands and feet of Christ, these are things we’re called to do.
Faith is something to be lived, not sat around and talked about. I want my walk to back up my talk. I want my deeds to align with my creeds.
Ghandi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” The way we be like Christ, the way we follow Christ, is to serve as He served. My goal in athletics, and life, is to pursue my passions and use my gifts to serve. Anyone can use a gift for personal gain; the key to success is making your gift valuable to someone else. Asking, "How can I help?" and delivering on that question will open dozens of doors. The more you serve others, the more impact you make. The most influential folks in history –- those with statues and streets bearing their names –- are those who used their gifts and passions to serve mankind. If you want to have long, lasting, real success, find a way to use your aptitudes to serve others. Help someone reach their potential; in helping them reach theirs, you'll reach your own.
I’ve partnered with Team World Vision for years. World Vision is one of the world’s largest NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) -- they empower the indigenous people and give them the tools and support to pull themselves out of extreme poverty. They’re giving folks a fishing pole rather than the fish. No one does more life changing work on the ground. This year we’re partnering with Lopez Lomong, a former Sudanese Lost Boy and U.S. Olympian to bring clean water to his homeland. Fifty dollars provides clean drinking water for one person...for a lifetime. Few things are as rewarding as bringing clean water to a child in need. Folks can get involved or donate here, no amount is too small: Click here to support Josh's efforts for South Sudan
This year I’m beginning a partnership with Stand Up To Cancer. This is passion of mine for obvious reasons. We hope to do some fundraising around an effort of mine in the fall.