Josh Hoey Leads HS 800 Rankings, Turns Pro

Josh Hoey was indeed No. 1 among high school 800 runners in ’18. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

The course of No. 1 800 All-America Josh Hoey’s ’18 season marked him as a prep eager to push limits and swing for the fences of the next levels ahead of him. Seen from that angle, the momentous decision taken by the Bishop Shanahan (Downington, Pennsylvania) 2-lapper to relinquish a scholarship offer from Oregon and turn pro is less surprising than it might seem, although even Hoey’s jaw dropped a notch when his dad first floated the idea.

In his senior season, Hoey—just a 1:58 performer as a soph who progressed to 1:49.37 and No. 4 on the yearly list as a junior—aimed to make some noise starting with the undercover campaign. “With the indoor season it was a lot of just training with speed and I wanted to lay down some fast times early,” he explains. He attacked that project from the start with a 1:50.8 distance medley leg in January, a 2:24.64 for 1000m in the same meet, and then a 4:07.42 win in the Millrose Games mile.

After turning a 1:51.49 wearing racing flats later in February on the rebound from bronchitis, Hoey—guided by his dad, Fran, with his workouts written by noted pro coach Terrence Mahon—took a calculated gamble and skipped defending his title at the State Meet to target the High School Indoor Record, Robby Andrews’ 1:49.21 from ’09. For that effort Team Hoey chose an open race at the Boston U Last Chance Meet. There, placing 2nd to pro Christian Harrison, Hoey didn’t just break the HSR, he chopped it but good, running 1:47.67 after a cracking first half under 52 seconds.

Unsure how fast he had run but having spotted the figures 1:47 on the clock, Hoey was soon clued in when he “saw that my dad was running across the infield, going crazy.” As the elder Hoey told, “My first thought was, ‘This is unbelievable.’ I couldn’t believe what just happened. I was running across the infield jumping up and down.”

Hoey’s venture into racing against collegians and pros had paid off, indoor ending as an unmitigated success. “That was good,” he says, “but when we got to the outdoor season what I talked about with Coach Terrence was we wanted to lay more of a stronger foundation that, in fact, would set me up for success not only in that one season, the end of my high school career, but going forward. So I ended up doing a lot more training, a lot more work in the outdoor season, I was able to get the opportunity to run in professional races. So it was more of just building experience versus just trying to run fast like a flare in the pan. It wasn’t about just that one good race, kind of like I had in the indoor season, but it was about more of a long-term view.”

Taking that POV and running with it, Hoey passed on outdoor prep competition altogether and instead in April through the World Juniors in mid-July churned out a 6-race string averaging 1:48.69. He won the USATF Junior crown with his slowest performance in the stretch and drew down the curtain with a 1:48.07 run to 4th in his World Juniors semi. From there a conversation with dad followed.

“This has been a big transition and it’s kind of been a very busy past couple months for me,” says Hoey, speaking of the decision to run professionally and his move along with older brother Jaxon to San Diego to train with Mahon’s group after signing with adidas. “After the World Junior Championships I was talking with my dad about if we wanted to do anything else with the season and he came to me and he said, ‘Hey, we have some more things that we need to think about, actually, and that’s going to be if you want to go professional.’

“And that totally took me by surprise because I was really excited about my indoor season and I didn’t feel like I lived up to my own expectations in the outdoor season. So just from that transition, I was thinking about going to Oregon, but with the coaching change there and everything that was going on, it didn’t seem like it would be optimal. I still have a lot of respect for everyone at Oregon and I respect the coach there now [Duck distance guide Ben Thomas, who moved over from Virginia Tech in the summer]. I even looked at Virginia Tech at the time but I just wanted something a little more stable and to be able to go train with the coach that I had in high school, I could feel really secure about the situation that I’m in now.”

“It’s been really cool these past four weeks because now I have a lot more personal interaction with Terrence [a long-time friend of Hoey’s father]. Now we know each other a lot better and there’s really not much that I would not do for Terrence; I have incredible respect for him.”

Their first autumn workout push will be in the setting where in the first decade of the 2000s Mahon made his name as a coach of the distance stars of the Mammoth TC. “We’re going to do a training camp in Mammoth Lakes, California, which is at altitude,” Hoey says, “so that’s going to be my first time at an altitude camp, which I’m really excited for, just some of the things that I didn’t do in high school that now that I’m a professional I get the opportunity to do. From there, we’re just going to come back and try and look to maybe test out my new aerobic system, run some 5Ks, just like one or two, and then think about the indoor season. I’d like to do more of a full indoor season and mainly focus on the 800 because that’s what I’m best at currently. So my main goals looking forward are to make the final at U.S. Indoor Champs to build on the outdoor season from there.”

Meanwhile, he has no trepidation that he’ll be in over his head training with his elders—including Eric Avila, Chris O’Hare, Mac Fleet and Rio 5000 6th-placer Andrew Butchart. “Terrence is a very personal coach so he is very conscious about me not overdoing,” he says. “He’ll sometimes have me do less than the older guys are doing, the more aerobic guys. So that’s just the way that Terrence interacts with us personally.

“One of our new hobbies is trying out all the new breakfast burrito places in San Diego. It’s like our favorite food so after a long run we’ll go and we’ll sit down and we’ll talk over breakfast about training and just what we’re doing going forward.”