You’ve just completed a marathon, all 26.2 miles. If you’re most people, it’s time for a Gatorade, a pat on the back and a shower.
If you’re Josh Cox, you run another five miles.
Cox is probably the most accomplished American Track and Field Athlete you’ve never heard of because he’s always on the run. Josh holds the American record in the 50K (31 miles!) and last year finished an infinitesimally small seven seconds off the world record.
We sat down with Josh as he gears up for another run at the 50K world record later this year to find out what makes him lace up his shoes and head out the door for a few hours. With an insane training regimen that includes running 160 miles a week, Josh may well spend more time running than most any other person on the planet. Who better to curate the ultimate running playlist!
Most of us have to work up the motivation to workout for 30 minutes or, gasp, as long as an hour. But that’s barely your warmup — what drives you?
Each January I write down my goals for the year, some broad, some specific. I graduated school in May 1998, the following January I took to the pen and wrote “I will do everything in my power to maximize my gifts. Hard work. No Shortcuts. Believe in the dream.”
Making a commitment to pursue my dreams meant giving up the short term “good thing” for the long term “best thing” – I couldn’t always control the end result but I could control the process and my preparation. I didn’t have a paying shoe contract out of school. I got free shoes, clothes and PowerBars, but unfortunately bill collectors don’t take PowerGels and warm-up jackets as forms of payment. I worked full time and ran races to make ends meet. Today, I still remember the mantra that got me through the lean times, it’s served me well.
The reality is, the professional world is competitive, no matter your discipline. Doing something only when you “feel like it” is a guaranteed formula for failure. Passion isn’t enough, talent isn’t enough, you have to commit to putting in the work. Somewhere there’s someone just as passionate and talented as you that’s willing to hone their craft daily. They’ll beat you on game day. Pursue your passion and be willing to put in the painstaking work it takes to succeed. Lots of folks want success without sacrifice but life doesn’t work that way.
How many hours or miles is your ‘typical’ long run?
When I’m in full-blown marathon training I’ll run up to 160 miles in a week (I once did 188 but that was stupid). My long runs range anywhere from 18 miles to 36 miles if I’m getting ready for an ultra. Typically, they’re about 20-26 miles, which can be anywhere from 1:45 to 2:45.
When you’re 2 or 3 hours into a run, what are you thinking about?
It depends how bad I’m hurting! If my teammates and I are in a friendly battle I’m focusing on the rhythm of the run, making sure I’m getting my fluids and doing my best not to get dropped! If I’m alone I’m usually searching for my power playlist.
You must work up an appetite burning all those carbs. What’s a typical meal for you?
I eat every 2.5 to 3 hours, I typically have some coffee in the morning, a light meal with some fats and carbs before the run. Lunch is my biggest meal, typically it’s a mixture of green veggies, complex carbohydrates and grilled fish. We try to buy local organic food whenever possible. When I’m trying to lean out and get to race weight I’ll eat more green veggies and consume about four liters of water a day.
What role does music play in your training?
One of my favorite quotes about music is from Ben Harper, he said, “Music is the last true voice of the human spirit. It can go beyond language, beyond age, and beyond color straight to the mind and heart of all people.” I’m a music junkie, I have a library of over 50,000 songs, I train in a group so I don’t listen to music when we’re together but before our hard sessions, when running alone or when the group breaks up I put in my Polk Ultrafit Sport Headphones and fire up the music (when you’re running twice a day everyday, having the right headphones is just as important as the tunes). The right mix can take me away to another place, keep my head in game, or give me the mental tenacity to access the reserves in the well. Different days call for different playlists.
What do you typically listen to before a race?
I’ve listened to U2’s “Where Streets Have No Name” before every race since 1989, the first line is my mantra. The Joshua Tree album is one of the best albums of all-time. My wife and I saw U2 perform in Dublin and it was insanely awesome. Other than that I have a slow playlist with some music like David Crowder Band’s How He Loves and Hillsong United’s Search My Heart (that song was playing when my son Asher Legend was born, it always reminds me how blessed I am). I use the slow tunes to gather my thoughts and prepare my heart for the battle ahead. I have a faster mix that gets my head in the right place before the start, a handful of those songs are in the playlist below.
Of all the places you could live, why the little mountain town of Mammoth? Favorite running route?
Mammoth Lakes offers so much as a training locale. From late spring through early winter we can run repeats as high as 9000 feet, 7100 feet and 4500 feet, all within 40 minutes of each other. There aren’t many places on the planet that provide those options or the hundreds of miles of trails we have access to. Our small mountain town plays host to many of the best runners on the planet, I’m fortunate to be a member of the Mammoth Track Club. Group training has paid huge dividends for us all, iron sharpens iron, success breeds success, the confidence builds, the momentum mounts; you see one guy do it, and you know you can do it too. My favorite route is running up and around Lake Mary for 15 miles then descending down 2,000 feet to finish off the run. After which I hop in the creek to ice the legs (the music plays a key distracting role here as well!).
You’ve appeared in several spots along side Kenny Powers of East Bound and Down fame. What do you think is on Kenny’s playlist?
(laughs) Danny, I mean Kenny, is a hilarious guy. We had so much fun on those shoots, even if I can’t send the links to my mom. I’d guess Kenny would have a good stash of AC/DC, Kiss, Black Sabbath, Megadeath, Slayer and Iron Maiden… but I have this image of him secretly listening to Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” on repeat.
The toughest step is just that, getting off the couch and getting out the door. The first step is the best step, it’s where intent meets action. Don’t talk about it, be about it. First time runners shouldn’t worry about distance, rather, focus on the time spent on your feet with your heart rate elevated. If you have a 30-minute run, go out for 15 minutes, turn around and try to make it back to the start under 30 minutes. This is called a “negative split,” it’s the formula for good training and racing. Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to others. Life is about being the best YOU can be. “Fast” is a relative term, it’s not a podium position or race time. Running, and life, is about finding YOUR fast… and listening to good music along the way.
To check out Josh’s playlist, click here