Max King started the Western States 100 back in 2009. He’d hoped to compete in the race that year, but an injury left him making only a token start for the experience. In the following interview, Max talks about how he’s prepared for his first 100 miler, whether he’s feeling confident after his poor showing at the Lake Sonoma 50 and strong race at the Ice Age 50, and what he’s got out of his ultra-mentor Jeff Browning.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Max King Pre-2014 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Max King before the 2014 Western States 100. How are you, Max?
Max King: Doing good.
iRunFar: This is not your first time coming to the start line at Western States.
King: No, it’s not my first time. It’s not my first rodeo as they say.
iRunFar: How far did you make it that first Western States?
King: Three miles to the top, or four depending on who you talk to.
iRunFar: So, took the Cowman A-Moo-Ha route?
King: Yeah, well, I was injured coming in and I knew that was all I was doing. I just came down because I’d already paid the entry fee.
iRunFar: Was it 2009?
King: Yeah, 2009. I just figured I’d come down and get the experience of the whole festival and the start knowing that I’d do it again eventually at some point.
iRunFar: But you did have the intention of running Western States in 2009 before…
King: Before I got injured, yeah.
iRunFar: So what made you wait another five years?
King: Just other races. This is finally the one chance I had that there’s no mountain running this year (an up-down year anyway); there’s no track championships this year. Well, there are track championships this year…
iRunFar: Down the road in Sacramento.
King: I thought about running the steeple on Thursday, which is today, but I figured that was maybe not a good idea. I don’t know.
iRunFar: So you’re not racing the Montrail 6k tomorrow?
King: I thought about doing the steeple, the 6k tomorrow, the 100, and then making it into the finals of the steeplechase on Sunday. I thought that would have been a good block of racing.
iRunFar: If you’re Mike Wardian.
iRunFar: Or you.
iRunFar: But you’re not doing that.
King: I’m not doing that.
iRunFar: You’re focused on this race.
King: I’m fairly focused on this race.
iRunFar: You’ve had a diverse set of races this spring, but you’ve run more ultras over the last couple of months.
King: Yeah, knowing that I wanted to get into Western, this spring has kind of been more focused and ultracentric. I’ve tried to kind of back off on racing a little bit and not do as many just to see how that would shake out.
iRunFar: Which of the March 50k’s did you jump into?
King: Chuckanut. Yeah, just Chuckanut.
iRunFar: And that went well.
King: Yeah, Chuckanut went well finally. It was the third time. Got that one out of the way.
iRunFar: Sonoma wasn’t…
King: Sonoma didn’t go that well. This was the last time you interviewed me was at Sonoma. I’m hoping this isn’t setting us up here.
iRunFar: Ice Age, however…
King: You did not interview me and it went well.
iRunFar: Aww, crap. Ice Age did go really well. It was the first ultra longer than 50k that you’ve nailed probably in the last couple years?
King: Yeah, JFK was probably the last one I really nailed. But this one I actually even felt better than I did at JFK—strong all the way through and had a really good last 10 miles which I’ve never been able to pull that off before. That was going out pretty hard for this one, too. The difference here than Ice Age was that it was half the elevation gain as Lake Sonoma had. I think that plays into it a lot.
iRunFar: So the flatter course suited you.
King: Maybe. I think so.
iRunFar: But that’s got to give you some confidence no matter what the course that you’re fit right now.
King: Yeah, I mean, I knew I was fit going into Sonoma, I just don’t know what happened. It’s not like I wasn’t fit because I ran Ice Age two weeks later. Whatever.
iRunFar: It’s nice to have that confidence still.
King: Yeah, it’s nice to get that confidence back. After Sonoma I was like, Well, I’m never going to run an ultra again because I suck at ultras.
iRunFar: It’s not as high profile of race, but the Ice Age record was stout and it stuck around for a long time.
King: Yeah, it was a good record and it had been challenged by some good guys. Yeah, I felt pretty good about that one. It wasn’t like I went to an easy 50 mile and just blew away the old record that didn’t really mean anything. Yeah, that was good.
iRunFar: How have you prepared coming into your first 100 then?
King: Same way I do for a 3k on the track basically.
iRunFar: Yeah? Lots of tempo running?
iRunFar: Strides every day…
King: Yeah, that kind of thing—track work and stuff. No, I just was doing longer long runs and back-to-back doubles, a little more hill climbing, but trying to stick with the speed though and still getting in some of that track work.
iRunFar: You said, since Ice Age, you’ve run some ultra-distance training runs. Is that something you’ve done in the past?
King: Yeah, I mean, I would always run some ultra-distance training runs. We’re not talking big ultra distance, just 30 miles. Yeah, I’ve done a couple of those.
iRunFar: Was there more purpose in these?
King: There was, yeah. Definitely a little more focused on big ups and downs.
iRunFar: Not just going out and adventuring.
King: Right. Yes.
iRunFar: How do you feel coming into Western States?
King: I don’t know, hopefully like I can make it through 100 miles. I don’t know though. I’m not coming in here thinking I’m going to win the thing. If I had a really good day we’re talking maybe top-10? Really, my goal right now, it’s probably pretty disappointing to everybody out there, I’m going for 24 hours. I’m going for the belt buckle. We’ll have to see how I feel. It all depends on how I feel probably when we get to Foresthill. I could be first to Foresthill and then blow up and walk it in the rest of the way and hopefully still get in 24 hours, but that’s the goal right now.
iRunFar: You want 24 hours.
King: I want the belt buckle. Yeah, so that’s what we’re going for.
iRunFar: But you’re not going to hold back the first 60 miles to make that happen.
King: No, I’m just going to run how I feel and hopefully run my own race and not let anyone else dictate that. Hopefully I’ll find myself up there a little ways. In a race like this where everyone is kind of holding back, I could totally see myself leading through Foresthill and totally blowing up and then just… then my purpose is to finish and racing goes out the window.
iRunFar: I don’t think this year is going to be a year where a whole lot of people… there are going to be people not holding back.
King: Yeah, I mean…
iRunFar: Reasonable temperatures; there are a lot of fast guys, not just the trustworthy, they’re not trustworthy but they’re long credentialed guys who run Western States strong every year. There are also a bunch of…
King: There are a bunch of fast guys, yeah.
iRunFar: Do you think that’s going to change the dynamic of the race with you and those guys in there?
King: I don’t know if it will or not. You’ve got guys like Rob [Krar]; he goes out slow. He doesn’t go out fast. He’s not crazy fast. You’ve got guys who will go out a little faster. If everyone is looking at Rob, and I don’t know how Ryan [Sandes] goes, but if he goes out slow, people are going to be watching those two and keying off of them. That may not change things much. It may go out a little slower than people think.
iRunFar: Do you think you could, if the pace isn’t very fast per se and people aren’t pushing it, that you could actually still hold yourself back and run with suspected favorites—Krar, Sandes?
King: Yeah, I don’t know, maybe. I have no idea how it’s going to play out. I’m not running it like I did Lake Sonoma. I ran that one like a sissy and really held back and shot myself in the foot. I don’t know exactly what happened there. I just didn’t feel good after halfway there. My legs were just gone. So I’m hoping my legs feel better, but I’m not going to hold back like I did there.
iRunFar: Have you had a chance to get on the course at all?
King: Yeah, I ran the Western States training run here and a couple weeks ago ran 70 miles of the course which was pretty nice.
iRunFar: Do you feel that the training up in Bend has prepared you well for it?
King: It’s hard in Bend because we don’t have enough climbing per se to really hammer your quads. So I’ve had to drive some places to get some good runs in, but yeah, I think training has been going pretty well to prepare me for the course.
iRunFar: And you’ve actually tapered?
King: Yeah, the last day or two, yeah.
iRunFar: You haven’t raced in a month.
King: Yeah, I haven’t raced, just training, which has been nice. I get more quality. Racing almost seems like too much of a taper for me. Yeah, you have the hard effort of the race which probably takes some out of you, but training, if my training is more consistent I feel much better and fitter than if I’m racing more often. I feel like you race and then a couple days before you’re a little low on miles, a couple days after you’re a little low on miles, so you never feel like you’re as fit as you would be if you’re training consistently?
iRunFar: What do you have the most trepidation about the race? Is there any aspect?
King: It’s 100 miles. Yeah. That would do it.
iRunFar: The longest you’ve run is 100k?
King: I keep telling everybody, I run 100 miles all the time, every week. No problem.
iRunFar: On the other hand, you want to finish and you want to get the belt buckle. You’ve also probably dreamed about what you could do here. What do you think that is?
King: Sure. Yeah. I don’t know. I’m sure everybody has the thoughts of running across the finish line first, but it’s probably not going to happen. There are a lot of guys more experienced and a lot faster than I am. We’ll see.
iRunFar: You’ve been around the ultra scene for almost eight years or something like that?
King: Yeah, has it been eight? No, it’s been six years—2008 was my first ultra.
iRunFar: Quite awhile still. During that time, coming into this race, would you have anybody you’d consider a mentor for running your first 100 at Western States?
King: Yeah, I get a lot of advice from Jeff Browning who lives in Bend. I see him all the time; we run together all the time. We do a lot of long runs and stuff. He’s probably the one that’s given me the most advice on how to do this. Everything I structure my ultra racing around—nutrition, pacing, gear—all that stuff kind of comes from him which he’s helped a ton. He experiments with himself all the time. I do, too. He’s kind of the one that kind of helps further that a little quicker rather than me just trying it out on myself on my own.
iRunFar: This is your first go at 100. I’ve heard that you’re not going to have a pacer. Is that correct?
King: Yes, no pacer.
iRunFar: Do you prefer running alone?
King: Yeah. I like racing myself and I like either racing with myself or competition against somebody else. To have a pacer kind of… they’re not in the race. I don’t see how that’s going to help. If it does help you and they’re not in the race, I don’t know, is that cheating? I don’t know. I don’t know. I decided not to do a pacer. I’m not totally opposed to it. I’m not saying people shouldn’t have one or the race should ban them or anything like that. It’s just a personal choice; I decided not to do it.
iRunFar: You’ve got a crew though, right?
King: I do have a crew.
iRunFar: Who’s helping you out this weekend?
King: Tonya Littlehales, who I work with at Footzone, and her husband and my dad will be out here as well and my aunt. Little crew.
iRunFar: You normally don’t at races, is that correct?
King: I usually have someone at a 50 miler hand me something at halfway—whoever wants to that I see at the start line that morning. “Here. Hand me these at 25 miles.”
iRunFar: Is that a little different like almost having to plan that or did you just tell your crew, “Have some stuff for me and I’ll decide on the way?”
King: No, it’s definitely a little more planned and stuff. Tonya has done 100 milers and 100ks and [her husband] Geof crews for her. That helps. They know what they’re doing which is good because I don’t. I’m just laying out kind of what I need. I’m pretty simple. I don’t need that much. This is a little bit different because of the heat and stuff, but as far as gear goes and swaps and changes I’m pretty simple and don’t need much.
iRunFar: Pretty much just gels and water bottles.
King: Give me a bottle of gel and water bottle, yeah. I’m good.
iRunFar: A lot of ultrarunners have a concoction or something…
King: I do, yeah, it’s a special concoction called Roctane.
iRunFar: Just for you.
King: Yeah, just for me.
iRunFar: And anybody else who wants to buy it…
King: Yeah, it turns out anybody else who wants it can get it, too. It’s pretty handy.
iRunFar: And you can just do straight Roctane?
King: Yeah, that’s what I’ve done my best 50s off of is straight Roctane the whole time every 15 minutes. So, yeah, pretty easy.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there, Max, and get that buckle.
King: Thank you. Alright, we’ll try.