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“I Know Ryan Will Win Boston”

Josh Cox says Ryan Hall is ready to win.
Josh Cox says Ryan Hall is ready to win.

Ryan Hall’s closest running buddy says he is ready to win in Boston Monday.

Interview by: Matt Fitzgerald

Few people know Ryan Hall better as a runner and as a person than his close friend, teammate, and frequent training partner Josh Cox. An accomplished marathoner in his on right, Cox can offer a unique perspective on Hall’s preparations and readiness for Monday’s Boston Marathon. Cox took a break from his preparations for the May 30 Comrades Ultramarathon to share that perspective with us. How much training did you do with Ryan in this training cycle?

Josh Cox: He’s been back in Boston for a couple of weeks, but before that we did a fair number of runs together. Early on I did a fair amount of training with him—intervals and long runs and all sorts of stuff. But as my training got more specific to Comrades and his training got more specific to Boston we didn’t overlap as much. We did a lot of our maintenance runs together but not a lot of the hard sessions.

From your perspective, how well did this marathon ramp-up go for Ryan?

It went well. Every marathon buildup is different. Terrence [Mahon, who is Hall’s and Cox’s shared coach] is always tweaking things, and they did that with this build-up, so it’s hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons with past ones. Boston is different from a Chicago or a Berlin, where it’s essentially a time trial, so the training is a lot more simple. You just build the engine and get as fast as you can get. There’s not a lot of strategy. You just get really fit and try to hold on to the pace. Whereas in a championship race like a Boston or a New York, there is a lot of strategy. In Boston, your split at halfway if you’re in the lead group could be 1:02 or it could be 1:05.

After Boston last year Ryan commented on how uneven the pace was. They would run 4:20 pace for 600 meters and then settle back into 5:00 pace. That kind of running is what makes the Africans so good—they do a lot of it in their programs. So this time Ryan did a lot of work where the pace was being toyed with a little bit. We’d do 1,000-meter repeats with the middle 400 at 62 to 65 seconds and then we’d settle back in.

So his buildup has gone well, but we had a tough winter in Mammoth and we were driving down [to lower elevations to train] almost every single day. Getting out of the altitude and going to Boston to spend time on the course is going to reap big dividends for him. We’ve been messaging each other often over the last couple weeks and I know things have gone really well for him there. I think it bodes well.

He’s still a young marathoner. He’s very, very, very talented. I know that he will win Boston someday. Will it be this year? Who knows? It has to come together on race day. It took so many years for Meb [Keflezighi, who trains on the Mammoth Track Club with Hall and Cox] to finally win that marathon major. He was the silver-dressed bridesmaid for so many races, and people always asked, “When is he finally going to win?” And he finally did, and I know that day will come for Ryan as well.

Were there any noteworthy setbacks in his training?

He battled a cold, but everyone on our team did. But it wasn’t anything super bad. Meb had his knee tweaked. If I had to choose one or the other, I’d take the sickness. Because if you’re healthy, the legs are feeling good, everything’s good. Also, it can be a blessing in disguise, because you ease back on the hard sessions and the body can really recover.

He only did one tune-up race—the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon in January, which didn’t go very well for him. Did that bother him much or did he shrug it off?

He shook it off. It’s hard to even call that a tune-up race. It was more of a rust buster. It was so early. We hadn’t even done any workouts. We’d just had the holidays, and he was running, but he still wasn’t doing the tempos the way that he’d do in his build-up. It was just a chance for him to get out and race. And [Simon] Bairu comes in and he’s super fit, and he ran a great race. Simon’s a great runner, and I take nothing away from his win there, but Ryan wasn’t anywhere near peak fitness.

More generally, do you have a sense that Ryan sees himself as being in a bit of a rut? His first two marathons were very satisfying for him, but it doesn’t seem he’s been as well satisfied with his last few marathons.

It’s hard, because Ryan has the ability to hit the 500-foot homerun. People see that and they go, “Where’s the next Houston [referring to the place where Hall set his American half marathon record of 59:43]? Where’s the 2:06? But when you run 2:06:17 [as Hall did at the 2008 Flora London Marathon], there’s not a lot of room to improve. That is a phenomenal time. People are talking about a rut when Ryan just placed third and fourth, respectively, in Boston and New York. That’s a testament to how great a runner Ryan is. To even have this conversation—“Do you feel you’re in a rut that you have to break out of?”—Dude, the guy was podium last year in Boston!

Sure, Ryan wants to win, and wants to keep the upward trajectory. But with any kind of endurance sport, things take time. And you need that race-day magic. You need things to come together. Ryan was as fit as he had ever been going into New York. It’s all there. But unfortunately, in our business, you get judged on two days of work a year. The guarantee you get with Ryan is that you know that every single time he gets out there, he will do everything in his power to have that great performance, but how do you find that race-day magic on those two days a year when you have these big events? That’s the real trick.

There’s probably no better indicator of whether a runner is ready to produce a great performance than confidence. How is Ryan’s confidence level at this point?

I think it’s really good. I think going to Boston [early] has been good for him. Getting on the course and getting familiar with it—he’s done repeats, he’s done long runs, he’s done tempos on the course, and I think it’s really helped his psyche. Hopefully on race day it comes together. Ryan will have a shot to win in Boston.