Max King is one of the favorites going into the 2017 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. In this interview, Max talks about his diverse 2017 of racing in the U.S. and abroad, what’s brought him back a third time to TNF 50, how he thinks this weekend’s race might play out, and if he’s recovered from the cold he caught last week.
Max King Pre-2017 The North Face 50 Mile Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Max King before the 2017 TNF 50. How are you, Max?
Max King: Okay. You’re going to have to speak a little louder. I can’t actually hear out of this ear today. It’s all clogged.
iRunFar: You were sick.
King: I was last week, and for some reason the sinuses are still clogged, and it’s just this ear. It’s this side. Flying in this morning… Yeah, if you could smack me a couple times during the interview, that would be nice. It might clear that out a little bit. Otherwise, I’m feeling pretty good.
iRunFar: You’re feeling recovered?
King: Yeah, because I’ve taken off way too much time the last two weeks.
iRunFar: You actually tapered then for once.
King: I did. I did actually taper. I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes.
iRunFar: You had a long season. You started with the Fourmidable 50k.
King: Yeah, in February.
iRunFar: You had that great race, and then you had Chuckanut. It looked like you had a U.S. season and then a European season. Did it feel that way?
King: Totally. It did actually. It felt like a 50k U.S. season, and then it went on to the bigger mountain stuff. It set me up really well for the rest of the year. I love European racing. It’s great. But I still like to do the smaller U.S. races, the regional races, where you know everybody and it feels like family and stuff. I like that feeling a lot better. I’ll still continue, and I’ll always do races like that.
iRunFar: Have you gotten in some of those races this fall?
King: Yeah, I did Backcountry Rise. I actually got the coolest shirt I’ve ever seen.
iRunFar: That is a darn cool shirt.
King: Backcountry Rise I did. It was a race up by Mount St. Helens a friend of mine puts on. They do a small little race series up near Portland area. I’ve never run around Mount St. Helens area, so to see that stuff was pretty cool, and to do a new race…
iRunFar: How long was that?
King: It was a 50k of course. It went way out and around Mount Margaret which is another mountain next to it. It just felt really, really wild. You weren’t quite in wilderness because you can’t race through wilderness, but it felt very wild out there. We were so remote. It was very backcountry. It was a cool race. I did another one, too, but… yeah.
iRunFar: You had a big season. The foci were… at least in terms of the competition were in the U.S. and Europe.
King: It was definitely the European races.
iRunFar: You had a good showing in Europe with a bunch of races in the fourth to sixth range like Sierre-Zinal…
King: Third… no, second… second… come on, man.
iRunFar: Oh, man. I’m totally wrong.
King: MaXi-Race I was second.
iRunFar: Second to François D’haene… which…
King: Which I’m going to be in a race with him.
iRunFar: Which any human is going to be… you being a human.
King: I was third at Mont Blanc Marathon and Sierre-Zinal. I was so stoked on both of those places running right behind Kilian [Jornet] and some other really good guys. I was so stoked with those.
iRunFar: Those are guys you don’t ever take shame in being second to—a Kilian or a François.
King: No, exactly, and I was really happy with the way the season went over past seasons where I just go into those races and I just blow up and I can’t hang with Kilian for more than a mile or two.
iRunFar: I just had an image of a Zegama Marathon.
King: Yes, exactly.
iRunFar: You’ve also kept the season… last year you did Leadville 100 [Mile], and this year you basically haven’t run… you’ve run some 55k’s, but you’ve basically run 50k or shorter with the exception of the MaXi-Race. Was that by intention?
King: Totally. After Leadville last year, I couldn’t race the entire fall because I was just hurt. Coming into this year, I did not want to do that again. I was like, “50k and below, I’m fine with. I’ll do all the mountain races and stuff.” When I was talking to Greg and working out our schedule for mountain races this year, it was really cool because I had put down all these races like Sierre-Zinal, Mont Blanc Marathon, and a couple of others like Glen Coe. I had this schedule kind of written out. Greg shows me his, and it’s the exact same as mine. Hey, that’s cool.
iRunFar: His schedule for you.
King: His schedule for me. “That’s awesome. I’m totally stoked on doing all those.” Then he throws MaXi-Race in there. I’m like, “Arrrgh.”
iRunFar: So, I kind of guessed that right.
King: That was a “Yeah, that’s going to be a really hard long race, but I’m going to do it and see how it goes.” Then after the fact, you do it, and it goes really well, and you’re like, Ah, that was awesome! That was really cool.
iRunFar: That would not have been on your schedule otherwise?
King: Yeah, probably not.
iRunFar: Was this one on your schedule from the start of the year?
King: Yeah, this one was for sure. I’ve been wanting to come back here for a couple years. I was supposed to be here last year, but with the injuries I wasn’t training enough. Yeah, it’s just one I haven’t really nailed.
iRunFar; I was going to say—two runs here with a DNF and an okay…
King: Yeah, very mediocre. Those were times when I had a lot of leg speed and stuff but not a lot of ultra experience. I have to say I feel more confident going into this, but at the same time, there are so many good guys, it depends on how it gets run on the day and how I feel. That all depends on how it goes in the end. You never know.
iRunFar; I should know this, but have you raced either Hayden [Hawks] or Zach [Miller]?
King: Yeah, I’ve raced Zach a couple times on stuff like this—here obviously the last time I ran.
iRunFar: Okay, he was already running this.
King: Then Hayden, we raced Chuckanut together this year.
iRunFar: Oh, that’s right. He finished right behind you.
King: Right behind me. At that point in the year, he was full-on and in great shape. He’s had a couple rocky races and came back for CCC. I’m looking forward to seeing if he’s back at that top level that he can be at here or what happens.
iRunFar: Are you excited to race two guys who are so fast and who are also pretty aggressive?
King: Well, yeah, definitely. That’s what this is about. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. At the same time, am I still afraid of them? Yeah, but it’s exciting to race those guys, and it’s exciting to race a field like this. You have to be game on in a race like this and go in knowing that you don’t know what’s going to happen. You just go in with as much confidence in your training as you can, and try to race as well as you possibly can. At the end of the day, between the top five or so, a couple of them are going to blow up and a couple are going to last until the finish. You hope you’re one of the ones that last until the finish.
iRunFar: Up until last year, it seemed like many years at this race there would be a train through 10 miles and then 20 miles there are still 10 guys basically running together and it slowly whittles away. It kind of didn’t really happen that way last year. Do you think this year it could pack up again a little bit?
King: Well, it all depends on how Zach wants to run the race. Maybe we can call Zach over here.
iRunFar: “Hey, Zach, are you going to take us out hard on Saturday?”
King: Yeah, how do you want to run this race? It just depends on how those guys want to go out. If they blow it out of the water in the first 10 miles, nobody is going to want to go with them. You know yourself. Everybody is at least fairly intelligent racers, and they know they can’t hang onto a pace like that.
iRunFar: Do you think you have enough experience that if a race like last year happens and Zach and Hayden are battling and going really hard from the gun, that somebody could challenge them late in the race by running a much more meted effort?
King: The way they ran it last year? I don’t think so. It doesn’t seem like it. They didn’t slow down at the end. I don’t think so.
iRunFar: Didn’t they run a sub-16 final 5k?
King: Something ridiculous. In that case, nobody is going to come from behind. What I would think would happen this year is you get five or 10 guys that are hanging on—maybe they take off from the beginning and maybe they don’t—and you still get a pack right behind them of guys who are going to start to mix it up and then see what shakes out from that. At some point you have to decide whether you’re going to bridge that gap and go up to them or whether you’re just going to let people fall off, and you’re going to try to make a move later in the race.
iRunFar: Do you feel you have the speed right now?
King: I don’t know. I don’t feel like my speed is bad. Obviously I always train for some of the faster stuff. I’m not doing miler workouts or anything, but I’ve still been doing some VO2max pace stuff. So, yeah, speed is okay. Hopefully you just kind of hope you can hang on with the endurance to get through about 40 miles here and then have a good 10 miles at the end.
iRunFar: Good luck out there, Max. I hope you nail it out there finally.
King: Thanks. I hope so, too.