Max King is one of the men’s favorites for the 2015 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships. In this interview, Max talks about what he learned from racing to 11th place here in 2013 that he will apply to this weekend’s race, how he’s adapted his training in preparation for this style of race, and how he thinks the men’s race might strategically play out.
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Max King Pre-2015 The North Face EC 50-Mile Championships Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here at the… where are we?
Max King: We’re in the woods.
iRunFar: We’re in the woods…
King: This is actually close to Muir Woods.
iRunFar: We are. The national park is just over the hill that way.
King: Yes, but it still feels… it has that same ambiance.
iRunFar: It does. I’m with Max King. It’s the day before The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships. This is your second time at this race, yeah?
iRunFar: How are you feeling?
King: Pretty good. Coming in with a little bit of experience here, I know what to expect more and how I totally failed last time. I’ve had a really good training block. It’s not like I’ve been… I haven’t raced much in the past three months, so I’m just kind of coming in feeling a little bit better about training and stuff like that. It’s one of those things where you never know how it’s going to go and you just kind of see, but training has been good. I’m hopeful.
iRunFar: I want to start by asking you about your first experience here. You’re a guy who races all different distances, all different disciplines, but there are certain things that you do return to. This is a race you’re coming back to.
King: Yeah, because it’s got a couple things I really look for in races. It’s a beautiful course, it’s got really great competition, and I failed the first time.
iRunFar: “I have motivation.”
King: I do. I definitely… if I don’t do well at a race, there’s always that encouragement and that motivation to come back to see if you can train a little bit better or smarter and then race it a little bit more up to your potential.
iRunFar: I feel like this is a good course to have as a championship, highly competitive event. It’s got a ton of runnable terrain, but it also has a fair amount of climbing and descending. When you look at the course as a whole body, what do you think of it? What do you think about your strengths and weaknesses on it?
King: I think you’re right. It’s got a lot of varying terrain which makes it a good championship course because it plays really well toward mountain runners—maybe it doesn’t have a lot of technical stuff, but it has a lot of climbing in it—but it’s all pretty runnable. You do need to have both aspects of that in your quiver. You need to be able to run. You need to be able to climb. Climbing is something I’ve never been able to do very well in the past. I can do a running race that’s flat, and I do really well at that. That’s kind of one of my strengths. It’s trying in training to figure out how to better prepare yourself for all the climbing as well. That’s what I’m hoping I’ve done this time, but we’ll see.
iRunFar: Strava says you’ve been busy in training, and Strava says you’ve found some altitude change. Can you talk a little bit about some of the specifics of your training, some of your key workouts?
King: Yeah. I’ve tried to just add in more climbing this fall. That I’ve done before. What I’ve tried to do this fall and what I’ve changed in my training is specific strength work focused on running climbs faster. I’ve been doing a lot of heavy lifting and getting in the gym twice a week because I really haven’t been racing. I’ve really kind of focused on getting stronger along with doing the high mileage and the hill and the climbing and stuff. That’s what I’m hoping has kind of changed in my training to get me more prepared for this race. We’ll see. I’ve had a great training block in there where I was running 120 miles/week and climbing 20,000 to 30,000 feet/week. It was just some really good long runs where I’ve had some long runs of 7,000 or 10,000 feet of vertical and stuff like that.
iRunFar: In 2013, the competition was pretty robust. It was a pretty deep field. They obviously went out hard. There was a big group of dudes going out hard. I kind of anticipate the same thing happening. When you look back strategically at how you approached the field and the race in 2013, are you going to make any strategic, game-day changes?
King: Yes. I know everybody is going to watch this video.
iRunFar: “So I’m not going to tell you. I actually plan on…”
King: It will change more because of who is in the race than anything. In 2013, you saw Rob Krar who kind of sits back a little bit and Sage [Canaday] and stuff and nobody was really pushing from the front. I’m kind of anticipating Zach Miller will just be, boom, off the front. See ya later. Okay, I’ve got to keep up with you in order to be there in the end. So that’s going to change the dynamics, I think, just because of who’s in the race. I don’t know everybody’s racing style, but he’s pretty consistently like that. We’ll see. He’s probably listening to this thinking, “Ha ha, I’ve got you! I’m not going to do that this time!”
iRunFar: “I’m going to sit right by you!”
King: “I’m going to sit right behind you.” I don’t know. I’d rather not go out hard, but if we do go out hard, it’s not like I’m not prepared for it and can’t handle it. I’ve had both types of races in a 50 miler and done well both ways and done poorly both ways. I think, for me, what I’ve noticed is the training can be there and I’ve had the training there for good races and bad races and that’s been consistent. What has not been consistent is the taper. So, what I’ve noticed is for a short-distance race, I’ve nailed the taper. I know what I’m doing. That comes from a lot of experience in college and post-collegiate running. Then I get into ultras, especially a 50 miler, and I’ll taper how I feel like I need to taper, and usually I go back to what I was doing in college and those same types of principles. Whether it’s a good race or not is more like a 50/50 chance. It’s really weird. I’ve not nailed that taper. I’ve not figured it out how to actually do that taper so I’m more consistent in my ultras. I’m very consistent in steeplechase, cross country. I can go out and if the training’s there have a good race 90 to 95% of the time. But in ultras, it’s more like 50%, and I just have not figured out why that is.
iRunFar: It’s interesting. You’ve been at it for a couple years and the ultra taper is still an experiment.
King: It is. A lot of it is that people just don’t know what to do, and there are so many different things going on in the ultra world right now in terms of training with people doing different things which is really interesting to me. One person has a completely different training regimen than I do but yet similar or good results, similar results.
iRunFar: Like opposing tapers—the taper down then ramp back up, totally anti-tradition.
King: Or basically go hard and long up to the day of the race. Shoot! Who knows? I don’t know how or what the body is doing to get ready… what you need to do to get ready for an ultra race. For a short race, it’s taper off quantity, your mileage goes way down, but you keep the intensity higher, and you’re ready to go on race day. But for an ultra, I don’t know. It’s still an experiment. That’s what’s interesting about the sport right now.
iRunFar: I want to ask you about, because in my mind, this race always attracts—I don’t want to call them randoms, but they are randoms—like new arrivals to the sport or a couple road runners who want to see what running an ultra is like, want to experience the competition, think they can do pretty well. There’s a huge passel of recent-from-college guys who haven’t run 50 miles or maybe have run one 50 miler, many more this year than previous year. Do you think that’s going to change how this race goes?
King: Yeah, a lot of them if they’re coming from a track background like I was at one point, that pace just feels slow and easy. “Shoot, I might as well push from the front.” So they take off the front. I think it kind of plays to their strengths a lot more in a race like JFK, a flatter race where you’re really trying to use some leg speed and turnover. It doesn’t work as well here. Those guys who go off the front if they don’t have any experience end up blowing up, or they stick with the pack because they’re smart and they don’t have the strength to climb all those hills. They don’t have that leg strength built in yet and that climbing ability. This race, in particular, is difficult for someone who is new to the sport to come out and actually have a really good race. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s more difficult in this race than a flatter ultra. Legs can handle the distance, it’s the climbing and stuff they can’t handle.
iRunFar: Last question for you. There’s another race going on this weekend, the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship. That’s a race you have a relationship with, too. How did you decide your battle?
King: Ever since I started running XTERRA and running ultras at the same time it’s always been kind of a choice. I did XTERRA for five years when I wasn’t quite ready for that ultra distance yet. Now that I’ve moved up, I think this is more, not in my wheelhouse, but more the direction I’m going. There’s more incentive to be here now at this point in my career than there is to be at XTERRA. I’m not saying I won’t go back to XTERRA, though. I’d love to go back to XTERRA. Some year if I’m not running this, I’ll probably end up doing that. I need to do CIM at some point. I’ve never run that marathon. I’m kind of from Sacramento. I lived there during summers and stuff, so at some point I have to do CIM, too, while I’m still doing marathons.
iRunFar: “Stop scheduling races for the first weekend in December.”
King: There are too many races this weekend.
iRunFar: “Can you guys spread things out?”
King: This is close to home. It’s a beautiful race. It’s a 50 miler which I’m kind of moving in that direction now. It’s competitive. Why not…if I’m ready for it?
iRunFar: Best of luck to you tomorrow. We look forward to seeing you out there.
King: Alright, thanks.
iRunFar: Bonus question, Max. You said after you won the 2014 Warrior Dash World Championship that you used your huge payday to put up solar panels. You won the 2015 Warrior Dash World Championship, and you earned another $30,000. What are you going to do this time?
King: I don’t know. I’ve totally been trying to figure that out. We did the solar panels last year, and that was awesome. I really want to put it towards something good. I honestly have not figured it out yet. I don’t know what it’s going to be. It might just go in a bank account for now. It might be part of my retirement.
iRunFar: That’s another important thing, too. Thanks, Max.