Josh Cox is one of the great American runners, but it wasn’t that long ago when he was dirt poor with awful hair. When K-Swiss had their four-day shoot to restart their awesome Kenny Powers “MFCEO” campaign, With Leather’s Josh Zerkle was invited to check it out and spend time with the athletes supporting the California-based shoe brand. Among those was ultramarathon runner and reality show alum Josh Cox, who discussed some of the tools of his trade with Zerkle in a roundtable discussion last month. While you may never set the American record for the 50K or run a marathon in 2:15:01, you might try after reading this inspiring discussion. Portions of this Q&A were edited for clarity and space.
With Leather: So how long can you actually run on a single pair of shoes?
Josh Cox: That’s an interesting question. I was on the standard athlete shipment, so I assume I was getting these shoes like all the triathletes are getting and everyone else, and I’m like, “I need more shoes, man!” [laughs] Shoes will typically last up to 500 miles. That’s the rule of thumb, but now the way that they’re made, the treads don’t wear out as fast. I look at the bottoms and I think, “My shoes look great.” But what you want to look at is the cushioning system. Look at the side of the shoe, and when you start to see a breakdown through the sole, that’s the cushioning system breaking down. You won’t realize it until you put on the fresh pair and go, “Whoa! These feel awesome!”
In your peak training, is that a new pair every two weeks or so?
Yeah. But I like them new and I get them for free. I like to get new shoes after every 350 miles or so.
Did you ever use those barefoot-simulating shoes? The ones with the toes in them?
Oh yeah. So…[long pause]…I have a large social network, and I get guys on Twitter and Facebook and they’re always asking me, “What do you think about these?” These are guys that identify themselves as barefoot runners. “Barefoot Runner Mike,” like that’s literally his screenname. Whatever. But I’ll tell you this: I thank barefoot running for learning how to run properly. It’s a great tool and we actually do some of that. You want to strike you foot in the middle of your foot. You don’t want a heel strike. Heel striking is breaking.
A lot more stress goes into the leg when you’re heel striking. It’s a shock. When you strike on the mid-foot, the shock happens underneath the body. When you’re out on your heel, it’s too much. Lots of injuries happen that way.
I’ve been to Africa. I’ve trained with the Kenyans in their camps. And I’ve been out there with them, and yeah, the schoolchildren are chasing us while they’re carrying their books and yelling “Mazunga! Mazunga!” That’s Swahili for “white man!” They would come up to me and say, “Why are you running? Europeans don’t run.” And I’d say, I’m not European. But they’ve been doing this since they were four years old, and they’re built…they’re Kenyan. They weigh 120 pounds and they’re running on dirt.
I wish I had a nickel for every Barefoot Runner Mike who reached out to me in the last year, saying he was dedicated to barefoot running and later said, “I’m injured.” People want to go out and run 20 miles barefoot and I know it’s cool or whatever but you’re gonna get hurt. And to each his own, but…
Would you recommend doing that once a week? Or–
Yeah. In small doses, I think it’s fine, it’s actually a good idea. If you can start by walking around the house, the mall in your bare feet [Editor's Note: Ew.], there are a lot of muscles in your feet you don’t use because we have shoes. Then, when you start running with those things, stay on soft surfaces. There’s nothing worse as a runner than being injured. When you want to get out the door, and you can’t, it’s horrible. You need to start slow. That would be my advice.
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