Running’s Renaissance Man: An Interview With Max King

Running’s Renaissance Man: An Interview With Max King

📅August 17th, 2015, 20:50

Anyone who considers themselves part of the endurance community here in Bend most likely recognizes the name ‘Max King’.  Besides having an enviable surname, Max is arguably one of Bend’s most versatile athletes.  On one end of the spectrum, he was within spitting distance of an Olympic berth with his 6th place finish in the 3k steeplechase in a time of 8:30 at the 2012 Track and Field Olympic Trials.  On the other end of the endurance spectrum, he is the current North American road 100k record-holder with his victory at last year’s World 100k Road Championships in Doha, Qatar, which he ran at an astounding 6:14min/mile pace.  Oh, and did we mention he’s also an accomplished obstacle course racer who won last year’s inaugural Warrior Dash World Championships?  He’s clearly got a lot more going for him than a cool last name (though we love the local saying…”It’s good to be King!)!  Find out more about his background, training approach, and what makes him tick by reading the interview below by IRunFar.  Be ready to be inspired…we are every time we see him on flying on the trails, training at Recharge, or organizing awesome local events! 

Running’s Renaissance Man: An Interview With Max King
The hardest thing about interviewing Max King is pinning him down long enough to ask some questions and get answers–the guy’s one busy dude. Mountains, track, trails, road ultramarathons, and obstacle courses: Max is truly running’s renaissance man.iRunFar: Max, I’ve seen you in action. You always seem to have unlimited energy and are ready for the next run or training session. Have you always been this way? Were you an energetic kid and how did you expend all that energy as a young fellow?Max King: You’d have to ask my mom but, yeah, I think I was. I played outside a lot, ran around in the woods for a couple years and played sports through middle school and high school.iRunFar: Cool. So you’re an Oregon dweller now but you grew up in Sacramento, California, right? Was the outdoors a big thing in your family? Is that how you got introduced to the mountains?King: I lived in Sacramento until I was about six. Then, when my parents divorced, I moved to Oregon with my mom and continued to spend summers in California. We were fairly outdoorsy, though. I’ve been camping since I was two or so. The first outing, however, resulted in a midnight repack of the car and a drive home because I wouldn’t stop screaming. After my mom moved to Oregon, we lived out in the boonies and I ran around the woods every day, playing army and building forts. Summers with my dad were spent working outdoors in manual labor, boating, waterskiing, and backpacking. I was outside a lot and loved the forest and mountains.

iRunFar: As far as running goes, what’s your earliest memory of actually ‘running,’ as opposed to sprinting around and playing. Did it become apparent early on that you were gifted?

King: Yeah, it was pretty early. I played baseball until seventh grade and I was terrible, although I did hit an in-the-park homer because I was fast enough to get around all the bases. I would do the physical-education mile and beat all the other kids so I was just waiting until seventh grade when track was offered for the first time. The rest is history.

Max-King-3iRunFar: Seventh grade, you started track. How did your running progress? Can you tell me about some of the standout memories from your early years?

King: I had some immediate success. I won our district meet my seventh-grade season. That was as far as we could go then; there was no ‘state’ meet. Only track was offered through middle school so I didn’t get to do cross country until ninth grade. When I got to high school, I was right in the mix with the varsity kids and by my sophomore year, I was the fastest on our team. I also made it to state that year and finished 31st. My junior and senior years were pretty similar. I was fifth/sixth at state in cross country and never did make it to state in track. My success in track came later after finding the steeplechase. Plus we had a pretty deep district that I competed in and I remember one of the ways that I got better in track and learned how to push myself was to get into a race with another local kid who would usually beat me and just sit on him until I couldn’t anymore. It toughened me up and usually got me a PR. You can really learn how to hurt by just using your mind to tell your legs to keep moving. Mental strength is powerful.

I would never say that I had much talent because of how hard I’ve always had to work to attain a goal, but I guess I had enough to keep me going in the sport. I never had so much that I didn’t have to work extremely hard to get where I am now.


iRunFar: It’s interesting about you saying that you’ve always worked super-hard to get results. As someone who trains a hell of a lot, what are your thoughts on the reported overtraining syndrome in ultrarunners that was highlighted recently with the Outside Magazine article?

King: After doing my first 100 miler, I would totally agree. It seems that it’s mostly related to those doing hundreds or absurd weekly mileage. Maybe there’s a threshold somewhere. Maybe there’s not. There are plenty of track 10k and 5k runners doing 100-plus miles per week and not getting burnt out and on the flip side there are 800-meter runners doing 40 miles a week and seeing the same overtraining syndrome that 100-mile runners are experiencing. I think a lot depends on the person and what that person can handle. However, different people can handle vastly different weekly mileage but it would seem that a 100 miler or several in a year are hard on any body. I just don’t think you can train your body up to that distance to be able to truly handle that amount of stress.

iRunFar: And how did the running culture and your own approach to running differ at university level? Did you step it up there?

King: The main difference was coaching. In high school, I loved my coach but he wasn’t the best when it came to knowing how to coach distance runners and I went out every day and just hammered until I slowed down. In college, I learned the value of easy rest days, hard workouts, hills, and all the associated stuff that a runner needs to know to get better. I didn’t have that in high school so I kind of plateaued. We also worked incredibly hard. My college coach, Jerry Smith, was a bit of a masochist. Our workouts broke just about everyone on the team except me. I just got better. I thrived under the relentless workload. We did one hour, 45-minute hill workouts leading up to the cross-country season and a 100 X 200-meter workout leading up to track. Eventually it was school and a lack of sleep that got me in the end, though.

iRunFar: Your running tastes could maybe be best described as ‘eclectic.’ You like to mix it up. You recently tried your very first vertical-kilometer race in Chamonix, France. What did you think?

King: Oh, it hurt so very, very good. Man, it was 37 minutes of redlining fun. So difficult, but I love those all-out, pedal-to-the-metal efforts.

iRunFar: In contrast to that, one of your main focus races for this year was the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, one of the world’s largest and oldest ultras. How was that experience?

King: The experience was great, the race, not so much. The traditions, the culture around the race, and the prestige that doing well there offers are all things I like about it. I’d love to go back and give it another shot. I’m still torn between how much I’ll have to train for that to be good at it and how there is a definite pull toward the mountains for me. I want so bad to be good at both but being at the highest level at both disciplines is proving to be challenging. I feel pulled in two directions right now.

iRunFar: As someone who races in almost every form of running from track to cross country, trail, mountain, and obstacle-course races, how does the general vibe and ambiance differ in each?

King: What I love about it is that every discipline has its own eclectic people and type of person it draws but at the end of the day we’re all runners and, in general, people I love hanging around with. That said, the difference between the track at an elite level and the trail are pretty different. An elite track meet tends to separate the sport into the runners and the fans. In trail running, they’re one in the same because the people coming out to a trail race are racing and at the end of the day we all hang out together. You know, it’s different, but the same.

Read the full article here originally published by and written by Robbie Lawless.