Max King, World Champion at 100 kilometers, AR 100 kilometers, The RunBlogRun Interview, by Sarah Barker

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Max King, World Cross Country, March 2011, photo by PhotoRun.net

Max King may be the most versatile runner in the U.S. In 2012, the guy was sixth in the U.S. Olympic Trials steeplechase in 8:31. He has run a 2:14:36 marathon, and has made multiple World Cross Country teams. 

RunBlogRun asked Sarah Barker to interview Max King on his newest win: the World 100k title, where he not only won, but set a new American record of 6:27:43! Running 6:14 pace for just over sixty-one miles. 

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Max King, photo by Bryon Powell/iRunFar.com



Max King calls what he does "just running," in the same way that climatic conditions in the Midwest are "just weather." Easily the most versatile, widely accomplished runner in the US, and possibly the world, he's been successful at distances from 3,000 meters to 100 miles, track to roads to mountain trails. If there was a World Championship of Variety, he'd be a shoo-in.  


The 34-year-old all-terrain vehicle was recovering at his home in Bend, OR from some running he did recently in Doha--100K of flat and hard, in a North American record time of six hours, 27 minutes and 43 seconds, a brisk 6:14 minute/mile pace. This bit of exercise was good for the World 100K Championship title, joining his other world titles: 2011 World Mountain Running Championship, three XTERRA Trail World Championships, and the 2014 World Champion Warrior Dash. He's got big stacks of national championships and medals and belt buckles from events ranging from 3,000-meter steeplechase (he was sixth in the 2012 Olympic Trials) to 100 miles (he was fourth at this year's Western States). 


Add to this highly various resume King's other roles as husband, father of two, youth coach and footwear buyer, and you've got "just living." We talked by phone.


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Max King wins World 100k title in AR! photo by Bryon Powell/iRunFar.com 

RBR, #1: Of all running surfaces, it seems like you enjoy trails and cross country. Why did you choose this mind-numbing 100K on the road?

Max King: It came out of ultra trail races I've done--the flatter the course, the better I would do. JFK, American River, Ice Age--those are all fairly flat. In mountain races, I could see where my  weaknesses were. I wanted to go for a really fast time, and it doesn't get much flatter than Doha.


RBR, #2: Were you drawn by the chance to get the 100K record? Did that play into your decision to do this race? 

Max King: No, actually I didn't know what the record was. Someone told me what the American record was the day before. I don't necessarily think about going for records, but I was planning on running fast, so in that regard, I guess the record was in the back of my mind. 


RBR, # 3: Are records important to you? 

Max King: Sure it's important. I can't try to be the best at what I do without getting records. And the North American 100K record is pretty important, it's a pretty big thing for me.


RBR, #4: The course was twenty 5K loops, on pavers?

Max King: There was about 2K that was this hard tile, 1K of these sort of uneven pavers and 2K of pavement. It was funny--after a while, I was like, Ahhhh, pavement. So smooth. Pavement was the best part of that course 


RBR, # 5: My gosh, how did you keep it together mentally?

Max King: I don't know. It was really boring. Normally, I think about how my body's doing, eating, pace, which I did but...this was more boring than any other race I've done.


RBR, # 6: I'm going to list off all the types of races you've done--road races, track, cross country, trails, mountain running, road ultras. Is that all?

Max King: Well, you could add obstacle racing.


RBR, #7: Why the all-over-the-board variety?

Max King: It keeps me motivated to continue training, and it keeps it fun. I mean, it's all running. The training is about the same anyway for trails, ultras or road marathon. Mostly, I switch it up for fun. 


RBR, # 8: Is it better financially to be more diverse? If you don't specialize, you can run more races, and potentially earn more, right?

Max King: Yeah, a little bit. There aren't that many obstacle races, so, yeah, if I was just doing obstacle races, that would be limiting. Winning the Warrior Dash world championship, that was $30,000.


RBR, #9: Wha? Really?

Max King:Yeah, that was my biggest paycheck by a lot, probably six times more than any road or ultra win. So jumping around like I do, there is some financial advantage. 


RBR, # 10: You have a 2:14 marathon PR--why not just focus on improving that? 

Max King: I'd love to improve my marathon time, and I think I can with what I'm doing now. If I focused solely on the marathon, and I'm the tenth fastest US marathoner in, say, 2:12, what does that do for my sponsors [King is sponsored by Montrail, Mountain Hardwear, Swiftwick, Gu Energy Labs and Flora Health]?  Financially, it doesn't make sense to focus on one thing. And mentally, I find it really challenging to train for a single goal. Having the same purpose for all your training is hard to do.


RBR, # 11: think a lot of people would find your multi-focus hard to do.

Max King: [laughs] Yeah, maybe.


RBR, #12: You've labeled yourself mediocre, though you've won a lot of championships for a mediocre talent. Isn't specialization the way to excellence? Or are you trying to own mediocre?

Max King: A little bit of both. A lot of people consider me good but not great. Maybe mediocre isn't the right term: I'm decent at a bunch of things, and that has played in my favor. 


RBR, #13: Obstacle races, trails, ultras used to be sort of fringey things done by people who were not that great on the road or track. Now it seems like those types of races are attracting top notch talent--have you noticed that?

Max King: Yeah, and that's a lot of the reason I'm doing this kind of thing. I love to be where the competition is. Around 2008, trail running turned a page, it got more competitive, so I jumped in and started winning some money. Then a lot of people came over from road running and the level of competition exploded. The same thing happened with obstacle racing: It favors bulkier guys. Not Crossfit guys or traditional road runners, but really fit guys who can run fast. They found their niche.


RBR, # 14: Are you shooting for (choose one or all) excellence? Maximum variety? Having fun? Work/life balance?

Max King: I always have fun first! Variety is not really a goal, but it keeps it sustainable for me. And I want to be excellent. I want everything, all of the above. It's all integrated. I work with kids--I coach a middle school team and Junior Olympics. I'd love to do better, to be the best I can be in the sport, so I can be inspirational for the kids. If I can help kids by being excellent and getting them excited about running, that's great. That's motivates me to be better.


RBR, #15: Common theory is that doing a 100K will kill your speed. True? 

Max King: I think that's a common misperception. No, I won't say ultras kill speed. I mean, we ran 6-minute pace for the whole 100K, which is faster than my easy runs. Most of my easy running is at 7- 8 minute pace. I've always believed you can maintain speed by doing trails and ultras for strength. I did ultras and mountain running, and then jumped back on the track in 2012 and PRed in the steeple, so it didn't kill my speed. I will say, I'm having an issue with the 100 miler [Western States, in June]. It's more of a recovery thing rather than anything permanent. If I do one once a year or once every two years, it won't be a problem. If I did a hundred-miler every six months, yeah, it would affect my speed.


RBR, # 16: What could you do a mile in right now?

[Max King:laughs] Right now? Probably 7 minutes. In a couple weeks, 4:20, 4:15. 


RBR, #17: Does variety in running increase longevity in the sport?

Max King: Yeah, I think so, if nothing else, for the mental aspect. Physical? I don't know. Trail races are usually easier on your body, and obstacle races makes you stronger, you use your upper body and different systems, so it may be healthier.


RBR, #18: Do you maintain a basic level of fitness, and then tweak that closer to a target race? How long do you do race-specific training? 

Max King: Pretty much. That's what everybody does--long runs, tempo, VO2 max. For the 100K, I put in some long runs on the roads--a 25-miler, a 30-miler. I did tempo runs and mile repeats on the road. Usually I hit 100 miles/week; I did 110 for this race. 

As to how long I do race-specific stuff, it depends on the race. I do mountain running all the time, trails with a lot of elevation change. It's high-intensity stuff. I'll do some race-specific workouts six to eight weeks before a track race. For the 100K, I started a lot further out, eight to twelve weeks out, with some long road runs.


RBR, # 19: You're sponsored by Montrail--is there pressure to do trail races more so than, say, track?

Max King: No, not really. Montrail doesn't really make a road shoe, but I ran the 100K in Montrail shoes. The advantage for them is in getting into a different arena. People think of Montrail as only trail gear, but when they see me wearing them on the roads, it opens up doors for them.


RBR, #20: In 2012, you ran the US marathon trials in January and the track trials in June. Are you going to go for Rio in 2016? Marathon? What about steeple? Or are you done with track?

Max King: Oh yeah, I'm doing the LA Marathon in March to get a trials qualifier and look at the course [Olympic marathon trials will be in LA in 2016]. Yeah, I'd like to try for the steeple again. I miss it; I feel like jumping back onto the track, but after the LA Marathon this spring, I'll need to get ready for Comrades [at the end of May].  After the marathon trials in 2016 though, I want to get back on the track. I don't necessarily want to run a 10K on the track, but my college coach has this theory--his thinking is that to run a good marathon, you need to run a 10K on the track. That is a hole in my running; I've never done a track 10K. I may need to fill that hole.


RBR, #21: Between running, coaching and footwear buying, is the livelihood as good as chemical engineering?

Max King: [laughs] No. It's a pretty steep pay cut, but enjoyable, so, worth it.


RBR, # 22: In your deep and wide running career, what are you proudest of?

Max King: I've had a lot of good races...well, the 100K, getting an American record and a world championship--that's right up there. The World Mountain Championship was a big win. Sixth in the Olympic trials steeple, and the 2002 NCAA steeple. There've been a lot of highlights; they all rank pretty close together. 


RBR, #23: Long-term running goals?

Max King: Well, the Olympics is always a long-term goal, but it's not something I put a lot of hope in. It's not a serious goal because I know it's pretty tough to get on an Olympic team. To win at Western States, a win or top five at Comrades [54 miles]. There's going to come a time when I'm not going to be hitting records and winning, but I figure I've got some good years left.


RBR, #24: You've put it out there that you'd like to get some guys together and do a persistence hunt, in which you simply run an animal to exhaustion, all paleo. Has that happened?

Max King: Nope. Every year it gets put off because September is always super busy.


RBR, #25: Why September?

Max King: That's hunting season. I definitely want to do this legally. 


RBR: I want to be there when you apply for your persistence hunting license.


To learn more about ultra running, RunBlogRun suggests that you check out iRunFar.com. We also want to thank Bryon Powell, the photographer for iRunFar.com, who shot the photos of Max King. 

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