The fascinating running career of marathoner Josh Cox is about to get a bit longer: 7.81 km longer to be exact.
Cox, 33, will attempt to run the fastest-ever 50 kilometers on the road by continuing to run past the finish line at Sunday's P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon in Phoenix. Working with race organizers, Elite Racing, Cox will continue on a special USATF-certified route to a different finish line where his 50-K time will be recorded.
"It's a full-on certified and pre-validated record attempt," wrote race director Tracy Sundlun in an e-mail message to Race Results Weekly. "All the T's have been crossed and I's dotted."
The 50-K distance, 31.05 miles, is not an IAAF record distance. However, statisticians mostly agree that the best-ever 50 km was run by South African Thompson Magawana en route to his second victory and course record at the 56 km Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town in 1988. Magawana clocked 2:43:38, an impressive pace of 3:16/km (5:16/mi.). The official American record recognized by USA Track & Field is 2:51:48 set by Alex Tilson on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2002. Tilson averaged 3:26/km, or 5:32/mi.
For Cox there is no doubt which mark he would like to achieve. "I will be attempting to better the unofficial 50-K world record (2:43:38) set by the late Thompson Magawana of South Africa in 1988," Cox wrote in an e-mail message yesterday.
Can he do it? Running at an even pace, Cox needs to get to the standard marathon finish line in 2:17:50, then hold that pace for nearly 8 kilometers more to break Magawana's mark. To surpass Tilson's mark, he needs to be right around 2:25:00 through the standard marathon finish line. Cox has a marathon personal best of 2:13:55 set in Chicago in October, 2000, but his best time in the last two years is 2:20:57 run in 2007.
"I love running long and I love a seemingly impossible challenge," Cox continued, recalling how when he was in college in 1997 he ran the Mountain Masochist 50 Miler in the Blue Ridge Mountains, setting a course record 6:57:10. "All that to say, this isn't my first rodeo."
While that was Cox's only official ultramarathon to date, he's also paced friends in the notoriously difficult Hard Rock 100-Miler and the Rio Del Lago 100-Miler. Cox thinks much better times could be achieved at distance past the marathon if the world's top runners would attempt them. Currently, outside of South Africa's two big ultras, the Comrades (85+ km) and the Two Oceans, there has been little financial incentive for top marathoners to run longer races.
"I love ultras so much that I would like to change the way they're raced," Cox explained. "There are a lot of limits that haven't really been put to the test. I'm here to do that; we don't have enough elites trying these ultra events. That's how I came up with the idea of piggybacking the 50-K onto a marathon. I think many of the pundits and critics underestimate all that the human body is capable of sustaining and maintaining in training and ultimately delivering on race day."
Cox said that his father's death two and one-half years ago had a big impact on him, and is part of his motivation for this record attempt. "Before my dad passed two and a half years ago he kept telling me that he thought he'd have more time," Cox recounted. "He had so many hopes and plans and dreams that he never acted on because he thought he'd have his chance later. The truth is tomorrow is promised to no one." He continued: "I was holding his hand when he took his last breath. Before he passed he told me to be faithful with my gifts. That's why running matters, it's a gift that's been entrusted to me."
Sunday's P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon & ½ Marathon will be the sixth edition of the race in the popular musically-themed marathon and half-marathon series. Last year's event recorded 26,729 finishers for both events. The marathon course records are 2:10:33 by Kenya's Haron Toroitich in 2004, and 2:31:15 set by Ethiopia's Adanech Zekiros in 2007. The official marathon website is http://www.rnraz.com.