American 50k record holder, Josh Cox, will race in San Antonio.
American 50k record holder, Josh Cox, will race in San Antonio.

The former wunderkind hopes to prove something to those who have jumped off his bandwagon.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

Josh Cox is making a comeback. He became an overnight sensation when he placed 10th in the 2000 Chicago Marathon in a time of 2:13:54 at age 25. American running fans forecasted a bright future for Cox. But that bright future never really quite materialized. Nine years after his breakthrough, Cox still has not improved upon his breakthrough marathon performance, and his half marathon personal best of 1:03:58, set in 2002, is almost as old.

What happened? A variety of things. He fell victim to a penchant for overtraining, got distracted by opportunities such as appearing on the ABC reality show The Bachelorette, and briefly quit running in 2007 after the death of his father. But all of that is behind him. Now 34 years old, Cox says he is as fit as he has ever been—and that’s a claim I can verify, having recently watched him average 5:08 per mile for 15 miles in a tempo run performed near his home in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., elevation 7,100 feet.

The competitive phase of Cox’s comeback will begin Sunday, when he runs the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Half Marathon. He is approaching the race as a tune-up for the California International Marathon, to be held in Sacramento on December 6. In a recent interview, Cox discussed his goal for the Rock ‘n’ Roll race.

“I’m always hoping to win,” he said. “I’d also like to run a PR. I don’t want to totally go to the wall, but I really want to run a fast time, because the faster I can run in San Antonio, the easier the first half will feel at Cal International. If I can run 1:02, 1:03 in San Antonio, coming through the half in 1:05, 1:06 in Sacramento will feel really pedestrian.”

Cox’s specific goal for Sacramento will be determined by his result in San Antonio, but his general goal is to take his career to a new height. “I’ll sit down with [my coach] Terrence [Mahon] and talk about what the best strategy is in terms of pace,” he said. “Hopefully I can get some of the guys from the group to come out and pace me a bit. But my hope is that on December 6 I will be able to put down a big PR. I’ve been in this game long enough to know that you can do the training, but it has to show itself on race day. Lord willing, things will come together and I will have a big PR.”

After years of searching, Cox finally seems to have found the perfect situation as a member of the Mammoth Lakes Track Club, whose other members include American record holder Deena Kastor and recent New York City Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi. And a big part of that perfect fit is coach Terrence Mahon, who understands how to get the best out of the sometimes overzealous Cox. “Terrence has been very helpful,” Cox said. “This is my first buildup working exclusively with him. He created a program for me and it’s really helped. He’s not pushing me to new heights; he’s sort of putting the reins on me.”

Many observers have written off Cox as a washed-up one-hit wonder. But he knows that 34 years is not that old for a marathon runner, and that other runners have achieved new career heights after surviving lower lows than any he has suffered through. Take Keflezighi, who suffered a career-threatening hip injury two years ago, yet came back to have arguably the best year of his career in 2009.

“I’ve known Meb for close to 20 years,” Cox said. “He’s a couple of months older than me; we’re both 34. To see him accomplishing the things he’s accomplished this year—setting PR’s in both the half marathon and the marathon, and coming out on top in New York—it’s given me a lot of inspiration. “