Max King won the 2017 Chuckanut 50k, beat a highly competitive men’s field, and reset his own stout course record in the process. In this interview, hear how Max decided to race last minute, how the race played out from his perspective, and where he thinks he’ll next take his current high fitness level.
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Max King, 2017 Chuckanut 50k Champion, Interview
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Max King after his win at the 2017 Chuckanut 50k. It’s a couple days after. We’re here down at the Salomon Ultrarunning Academy in Castle Valley, Utah. Some good stuff.
Max King: Yeah, it is. It’s fun. It’s Moab, man. It’s 65-70 degrees and no snow.
iRunFar: No snow. It’s perfect. We went over to Fisher Towers today. I live in Moab. I’ve never been there because there’s so much awesomeness down here. Did you have fun running that today?
King: It’s fun. Anytime I’m getting into Moab and playing around on the rocks and stuff is awesome. It was a short trail but pretty spectacular in the amount of time we were up there.
iRunFar: You got to teach some people some uphill running technique?
King: Yeah, you’re talking about guys who have been running a long time themselves at the ultrarunning academy here. They have a lot of experience. I don’t know how much I actually taught them, but hey, I tried. I gave it my best shot and gave them all the tips I know.
iRunFar: You prefaced [your session] with, we all have our own techniques and strengths and using them. Just talking about it with other people, you learn something about yourself.
King: Yeah, I think you do. Practicing things and taking tips off of people… everybody has a little different thing they’re going to say and talk about. It might be something small you pick up on, and you can use that in your own running. That’s what I hope.
iRunFar: I’m guessing you had some good uphill running at…WOW! We just got some wind!
[pause for wind and dust]
King: It was calm the entire time we were talking.
iRunFar: We just had a nice time hanging out on a rock for awhile talking about life.
King: What happened? I’ve got grit in my teeth.
iRunFar: You need more grit, I think.
King: Yeah, I need more grit.
iRunFar: Chuckanut—you won and set a course record there… your own course record.
King: I did. Yeah, it was my course record. I got that a couple years ago, three years ago, I believe.
iRunFar: The conditions were tougher this year, yes?
King: I don’t know. It’s always muddy there, so it’s always so hard to tell exactly how muddy it was three years ago as compared to now. Everybody was saying, “Yeah, it was a pretty tough year.” Krissy Moehl, Race Director, was saying that if anyone was going to get a record, it was going to be the competition that sets it because it’s not going to be a course record based on how it was running.
iRunFar: Heck yeah, from the outside it sure looked like the competition helped things along.
King: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. That’s the only reason I signed up. It was kind of a last minute sign up after Fourmidable. I had a good race there, and I was like, starting to look around. I saw the Chuckanut list. Oh, shoot, there are four or five others guys here who are going bring this race and bring the competition. My course record is going down whether I’m there or not. I’d better show up. That’s why.
iRunFar: Watching from afar—we weren’t up there but were getting reports from Ellie [Greenwood] and other folks up there—it looked like you were with Hayden [Hawks] and Sage [Canaday] early in the race? Were they setting the pace? Who was setting the pace early on?
King: Yeah, I let Hayden set the pace. I let him go out. We were cooking down the Interurban path…
iRunFar: 10k flat road and pavement?
King: It’s not pavement, but it’s flat and it’s hard and there are no traction issues. 10k—we were cooking down that pretty good. I think we were probably faster than previous years, but it’s hard to say. It was a group of six of us there going down that. Then as we started to climb, Hayden and Travis [Morrison] took off. I kind of hung back in third. Sage and David Laney were right behind me, so we were kind of all together a little bit just spaced out a little bit depending on how we were climbing. Then, Hayden started having a little bit of trouble based on the shoes he was wearing. If we get that boy some trail shoes, he might do okay. Then we got down to Cleater Road, and then up Cleater Road we kind of all bunched back up into a pack of four. Tyler Sigel was right behind us, but it was a pack of four—me, Sage, Travis, and Hayden. Then you go across that really technical ridge trail, and me, Sage, and Travis just cooked across that pretty good and dropped Hayden off at that point. Then it was the three of us up until Chinscraper basically. Then Chinscraper—it’s like a 600 meters or half mile climb that is super steep and muddy. You can run it if you’re feeling really good, but it’s going to take something out of you.
iRunFar: Were you feeling good?
King: I was feeling good. I ran most of it. I took a couple steps hiking and stuff just to moderate my heart rate a little bit. I got a little bit of time on Sage. At that point, I got into the lead. Then, at that point it’s downhill—four miles downhill to the Interurban Trail.
iRunFar: You’re a pretty good descender.
King: Yeah, I think so. I feel like it. I’m pretty quick, and I used some leg speed at that point. I took it down the road. I just… [wind pause]… at that point, I was just hoping… I’m just waiting for the flat. I keep going downhill. When is this going to end? My legs are starting to get thrashed. I was running about 5:15-5:30 pace down that—pretty quick. Then, I hit that Interurban flat six miles back all the way into town.
iRunFar: Did you have any sense of how much lead you had at that point?
King: About a minute over Sage at the bottom of that hill. I knew Sage was still there, but I did not know where Hayden was. So I just booked it as hard as I could for that last 10k and used every ounce of energy I could.
iRunFar: Did you ever have a sense of people cheering for Hayden from behind because it got close?
King: I didn’t. I didn’t hear anything. I didn’t see anything. At one point I looked back, and I must have had a minute or minute-and-a-half at least and didn’t see anybody. That was getting towards three miles to go, so I’m like, Okay, I feel like I’ve got it. Then you kind of go down into this drainage a little bit and then go back up, and then it’s a mile flat back to the finish. Going down into the drainage, I ran hard up that, and then going that last mile to the finish, I was starting to hurt. I’ve been running hard for a long time at that point. I kind of let off the gas a little bit not thinking there was anybody there, and then there was. I could see back a ways. I let off the gas. I think I ran a 6:20 last mile.
iRunFar: After 5:40s or so before that?
King: 5:30-5:40. I had a 5:27 in there, a 5:30 in there, and a 5:40. For the end of a 50k, that feels like you’re running five-minute pace.
iRunFar: Even though he closed to within 30 seconds, that’s because that last mile you did back off and maybe could have punched a little bit more? Could you have picked it back up again maybe a little bit?
King: Maybe a little bit but not much.
iRunFar: You weren’t gassed?
King: If I’d seen somebody, I think I could have picked it back up. But no, I didn’t know he was there. I crossed the finish line and turned around, and then he crosses. I was like, “Oh, oh geez, he was close! Oh!” He ran his fastest mile that last mile. He ran a 5:13 or 5:16 or something like that. That was picking off that minute of time or gap that I had right there.
iRunFar: He was closing fast. How long was that after your win at the Fourmidable 50k?
King: Four weeks—a good amount of time.
iRunFar: Those are two really good performances back to back. After 2016 which… you’ve had some pretty spectacular years. 2016 was probably not one of them.
King: Yeah, especially the last half. The last half was terrible. I was pretty proud of the Trials last year and how I ran Comrades. I was happy with the first half and all the road running stuff in there. I just had a rough last half of the year.
iRunFar: All after Leadville? You’ve run 100 miles before at Western States. What was it at Leadville that took something out of you?
King: I was actually injured after Leadville for about three months. I had some hip issues where I would run and my pelvis would basically just contract. It just didn’t let me stride. It didn’t feel good. It hurt. I could run a little bit but not train. That was basically it. Leadville just cooked me for awhile. I think it was a combination of… you might say I was running fast, maybe a little too fast, but I think more than that it was actually…
iRunFar: That course record pace feels easy to Winfield?
King: Yeah, it feels super easy… no. The altitude and then going up over Hope Pass two times, that really got to me.
iRunFar: Do you feel like you’re back to your normal self again?
King: Yeah, I feel good again. Things are… workouts went well this year. Going into these two 50ks, I was training for cross country more than anything. Doing all that hard work for cross country, the tempo runs and the interval work, really prepared me well to run these two fast 50ks.
iRunFar: Are you doing… there was one year where you did more obstacle racing and mud racing. Last year you had the Olympic Trials. Are you staying focused on trails a little more now?
King: Yeah, definitely. More than anything it’s… this year was less of a “focus on trails” year than it was a “step back and shorten things up and have some fun.” A lot of the things I’m doing this year are going to be bigger mountains races that maybe I’m not as adept at, but at the same time, I want to get better. It’s kind of a bettering year at some point, too. These two 50ks kind of fell in my lap. They’re kicking off the year really well, but it wasn’t something I really had on the schedule. I’m happy with the way things are going already, but we’ll kind of see how the year progresses as I do some of those bigger mountain races.
iRunFar: What is next on the schedule? What do you have in the next couple months?
King: A couple regional races and then I’m supposed to do the 110k Maxi Race in late May. We’ll see. After that it will be Mont Blanc Marathon.
iRunFar: But you did just qualify for the Trail World Championships if you want. It’s a Trail 50k. It could be a race that suits you well.
King: I think it would. I heard it was about 6,000 feet of elevation gain and about 55k. I think it would suit me pretty well. We’ll just have to see.
iRunFar: You have a couple World Championships, and it would be another one. You’ve got the mountain running championships; you’ve got the 100k on road. It would be kind of fun to put something in the middle?
King: It would be actually.
iRunFar: Not just in terms of distance, but in terms of terrain and…
King: Yeah, kind of a difference between… kind of splitting the difference between the mountain running championships and the road 100k championships. Yeah, I’m not saying it’s out of the question. I’d like to do it. I’ve got to see how the year plays out and what happens.
iRunFar: At the last two races, Salomon has a huge shoe line up. You have the S-Lab Sense shoes. You’ve got the S-Lab Sense Ultra. What were you wearing out there?
King: I had the [Salomon S-lab XA] Amphibs on. They were the most perfect shoe I could have ever imagined for a race like that. I wore them for Fourmidable and for Chuckanut. It’s a swim-run shoe.
iRunFar: Which in theory just sounds absurd—that Salomon made a swim-run shoe…
King: For all ten people who are doing the sport.
iRunFar: I think the really interesting thing is that it’s actually performing really well for you at 50k trail ultra stuff.
King: It’s basically a [Salomon S-Lab] Sense Softground. It’s the midsole and outsole of the Sense Softground with the upper that has almost like a plastic mesh upper. Once it gets wet, it doesn’t stretch at all like most shoes do when your foot starts to slip around when it’s wet. It doesn’t do that at all. It keeps your foot locked down really well. It has an integrated sock-liner in it, so that’s not going to slide around. Then it has integrated drain holes all around the toe box. As soon as you step in that creek, the water just runs out of it. It dries out and lightens up back to it’s original weight just like that.
iRunFar: That’s some steeplechaser knowledge coming out right there.
King: Yeah, it’s like a steeplechase shoe but for trail running.
iRunFar: Congratulations on your win, Max. Look forward to seeing you out there again.