Max King just won the IAU 100k World Championships in 6:27:43 in his very first attempt to run the distance on roads. Oh, and he broke Tom Johnson’s 19-year-old North American 100k record of 6:30:11 while he was at it. In the following interview, Max talks about the how his race unfolded and how various motivations (the win, the team, the record, just wanting to be done) factored into his race.
For more on the 2014 IAU 100k World Championships, check out our results article.
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iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Max King after his win and record-setting performance at the 2014 IAU 100k World Championships. Max, what a day out there.
Max King: It was a night actually. It was all night because I never actually did go to sleep after that, and so I’m exhausted now.
iRunFar: So it’s kind of like a finish-line interview. It’s just delayed by 12 hours.
iRunFar: Don’t worry, I haven’t slept either.
King: Okay, good.
iRunFar: So you ran with a big pack of people for a good portion of the race. Were you just biding your time or were you just trying not to use mental energy? What did it feel like running with that group?
King: You don’t want to run a race like that by yourself the whole way, so running with that pack of guys was great just to kind of pace off of them. We were actually going at a pretty… it was reasonable, but it was a pretty quick clip. We were pushing it pretty good. I was really comfortable and everything, and I think everybody else was, too, at the time. I think the course and the pounding of the ground out here got to most of the people. I think that’s what started bringing people back. Then it was right around 50k where I kind of put a surge in. I didn’t really need to, but…
iRunFar: So you were the one who broke the pack up?
King: Well, it was kind of starting to break up with about a lap to go before 50k. Then right around 50k is where I kind of got a break. At that point, I was kind of trying to go after the guy who was in front, Vasily [Larkin]. It just happened that it kind of broke things up. I didn’t really mean to. I thought people would kind of go with me. I only surged by like 3 or 5 seconds on the lap. It wasn’t a huge surge. It just seemed to break things up, and then I just stayed out after that. I noticed that after each lap I would put just a couple seconds on the Spanish guys. Pretty soon, we were three-quarters of the way through the race and then they really started to drop back. At that point, obviously, then you have to go. So then I was just trying to hang on, running scared, and making sure I didn’t get caught.
iRunFar: Let’s walk back to you catching Vasily Larkin, the Russian leader. You caught him very quickly. Was that a matter of you surging pretty hard or a combination of you surging and him going out a little quick.
King: Mostly he was coming back. Right at the beginning, we were hitting right on 19:10 laps. Then we started hitting 19:20. Talking to Steve [Way], the British guy, he wanted to be hitting 19:30. So we were a little bit quick for what he wanted to do originally, but everything was pretty comfortable so we all kind of stayed in that little pack. Vasily and a couple of the other guys really just surged out front. I think one of the guys had a bathroom break and came back, and so Vasily was out front at half way. At that point, it was like… then I dropped it back down to a 19:10 lap, so I didn’t surge very much. Vasily was starting to come back at that point. That’s how I caught him. He must have started adding on 20 seconds per lap or more to his time and started really kind of slowing down.
iRunFar: Yeah, because when you moved up rather quickly relative to the rest of the field around you, you looked really comfortable and controlled.
King: Yeah, and my lap time wasn’t any faster than it had been. It was about 10 seconds faster. It wasn’t a huge difference like I made a 30-second jump. I didn’t do that at all.
iRunFar: So you move into the lead. This is not your first time at a world-championship event. You’ve run cross-country worlds.
King: Cross-country worlds, road-running worlds, mountain-running worlds.
iRunFar: You’ve been in the lead at World Mountain Running Championships, but that’s a short race. Here, you’re out in the lead and you’ve still got 30k to go?
King: More like 50k to go.
iRunFar: You’ve got a lot of time. You’ve got three hours…
King: Don’t remind me. I was so mentally stressed. I was like, Oh, gosh, I still have 30 miles to go around this stupid loop! Gosh, no.
iRunFar: What was more taxing—the fact you had 10 more 5k laps to go or the fact you were leading because you don’t know… I mean, you can find out sort of what’s going on behind you?
King: Yeah, I actually… I mean, this course is good for that because you could see at several different places how far in front you were which was mentally a little bit easier. I really do well being chased anyway, naturally. I do well running scared in whatever I’m running. So that kind of helps—just running scared. But the fact that you have to run scared for 30 miles makes it a lot harder. I started counting down with 10 laps to go. The only thing I was thinking of at that point was, Just get through this lap, and when I get to three laps to go it’s going to be so nice. Then it was like, nine laps… eight laps… and they’re 20-minute laps so you’re out there for awhile and you come through…
iRunFar: How many times are you thinking ‘eight laps’ in one lap?
King: A lot. A lot. Things are just moving so slow. It’s a 100k on road in just a 5k-loop course—it’s boring, really boring! How many times did I say that to you, “I’m bored?”
iRunFar: A number of times!
King: Yeah, it’s just boring and monotonous and everything else. You’re racing, but it’s hard to really keep your focus in a race like this where you’re out there for so long. You don’t want to focus that long because you can’t. It’s mind numbing and really mentally challenging to do that.
iRunFar: It must be strange because you’re leading a race but you’re lapping people of all sorts of different laps and you’re lapping teammates and the women’s team…
King: That’s kind of cool just getting to see people several times and stuff like that. On a course like this, it’s wide enough that you never really have to worry about running into people except for the one woman who was kind of weaving. I passed her twice and she weaved right in front of me both times. “Seriously! Stop weaving!”
iRunFar: Straight lines.
King: “Straight lines!”
iRunFar: You don’t need to run 112k.
King: No, she was seriously weaving back and forth across the course. Otherwise, that part of it wasn’t too bad. You get to see some other people and stuff like that.
iRunFar: Going into the race, did you know what the North American or U.S. records were on the roads?
King: I didn’t know North American; I knew American was 6:30. Somebody had said it before the race. Going into the race, I knew that. Then we got through half way at 3:12 and I was like… Well, I won’t worry about it right now, but in the last three laps or so I’ll see how I’m going and maybe I’ll start thinking about it. I was talking to Zach [Bitter] who said, “Well, if you run the race and you add on… if you positive split by 10 minutes, that’s pretty good.” So I figured, Well, I’ve got that kind of a barrier there or roughly that, so maybe I can do it. I didn’t want to think about it at 50k. As I got closer with three laps to go and I was still kind of hanging on, slowing down a bit but still kind of able to get about a 6:30 mile or so. I was losing time on the record, but I was like, Well, I’ve still got a big enough cushion to where if I hold this pace, I’ll be okay.
iRunFar: On that third lap to go, you were a little bit slower and that cushion if you extrapolated it out very quickly evaporated.
King: Yes, it does and it gets close.
iRunFar: If you lose a minute per lap, it’s gone.
King: So I was hanging on. I was kind of hemorrhaging some time here or there and just making sure I wasn’t losing too much.
iRunFar: You were thinking about it, so it maybe gave you something new to focus on those last laps?
King: Yeah, it kind of gave me some motivation to kind of stay on it and keep going. I knew the Spanish guys were right back there.
iRunFar: And there’s this guy, Jonas Buud.
King: Yeah, well, I didn’t really think much of him actually because he was back at least fourth or fifth during the race. I never saw him after about 50k again because he had dropped off significantly from the two Spanish guys that were right behind me. So, I didn’t really think about him much until the last lap. I came around the out-and-back on the road and [Mike] Wardian was like, “Jonas is right ahead of me!” I was like, “Holy crap! No!” I’ve got like a half a lap left to go and that means he made up significant amount of time in those last couple of laps. He went from me not being able to see him at all to three minutes in back of me and we’re passing on the out-and-back. I’m like, whoo, getting a little scared. That got me going on the last… I had 2k left to go, so I wasn’t too worried, but it got me going. It kind of lit a fire in my butt.
iRunFar: You know he’s a guy who has experience.
King: Yeah, I know he’s good, and everybody always says he’s second place. I don’t know how many times. I feel bad for him.
iRunFar: This is his fourth time at World 100k, not to mention Comrades and UTMB.
King: I feel kind of bad for that.
iRunFar: Not too bad. What did it feel crossing the line? What is the first thing that pops in your mind as you break that tape?
King: It was so nice to be done, so nice to be done. That was the only thing I could think about those last couple of laps, It’s going to be so nice to be done. I don’t know, it was a pretty amazing experience. It’s my second IAAF World Championship title and to be… to go from mountain running to 100k, that’s pretty cool. I was really happy to do that and really lucky. I feel blessed that I have all the support I do from everybody and just to be able to do it.
iRunFar: There was a lot of chatter online after the race, “Is there a more diversely accomplished runner?”
King: I don’t know.
iRunFar: It’s a pretty spectacular range. The year you won the world mountain running title, what was the distance?
King: It’s 12k.
iRunFar: 12k trail, 100k road…
King: Yeah, they’re close, right?
iRunFar: Vaguely in that they’re running. Where do you find the next challenge?
King: Ahhh, there’s always another challenge out there. The next race I do will be another challenge. I don’t know. I might jump back on the roads next year. I want to do… I’m doing Comrades next May and then leading up to that I want to do probably LA Marathon is the plan. I’ll try and jump back on the roads, well, I’m on the roads here but it will be shorter roads.
iRunFar: You’re doing Comrades. Does that mean you’re thinking about Western States?
King: No, unfortunately, States is not in the cards next year. It was kind of tough giving up that spot. I’m not too worried about that. I can always get that back, but just to be back there and try to do a little bit better. I know I can run that race smarter and a little bit better.
iRunFar: It was your 100-mile debut.
King: Yeah, but right now I’m not ready for another 100 miler mentally or really physically. I’ve got to work on that a little bit and maybe come back in a year or two and see what I can do there. I want to do Comrades. I think Comrades and Western would be doable, but I do want to run the mountain-running championships next year, too.
iRunFar: When is that?
King: I believe July 25th in Bend.
iRunFar: I know it’s 12 hours later, but can you see yourself running another 100k on the roads?
King: No, huh-uh, not right now. Oh… I can’t even walk. You’re lucky I’m sitting down here.
iRunFar: It was a little laborious in process.
King: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know. Comrades isn’t too dissimilar, but I think having a 54 miler on the road with a point to point is going to be so much mentally easier that it’s not even going to be anywhere close to the same. I’m thinking about doing this again next year in the Netherlands. I’ve heard that the Netherlands is a much better course as far as speed goes. It’s faster. I don’t know. I’ve got to decide.
iRunFar: You’ve got some time.
King: I’ve got a little bit of time.
iRunFar: Amazing job out there. The team aspect—mid-race, you guys were looking strong but then some Americans faded but hung in there. You could see your teammates.
King: Yeah, they did awesome at hanging in there. We were moving pretty good, the three of us, me, Zach Miller, Nick Accardo. We were all moving pretty good and just hoping they could maintain and stay in there. Zach did a great job of hanging in there and maintaining. Then Zach Bitter came up from behind, which I knew he would. I knew we would see him again later. He came up from behind and managed to get in there for our second man which was awesome. Yeah, it was unbelievable. It’s cool. That’s part of the fun of these is that team aspect. I like that. It makes everybody kind of work a little bit harder because they know that your teammates are relying on you to be up there doing your best.
iRunFar: Did you think about that during your race at all?
King: Absolutely, yeah, definitely, in making sure I wasn’t going to fade and making sure to see where my teammates were and how we were doing compared to the Spaniard guys and the Italians and letting them know because Giorgio [Calcaterra], the Italian guy who’s won the last couple times, he didn’t drop out but he was walking. I lapped him a couple times. So I was just letting the teammates know that he’s out and we’ve got Italy and we’ve got to make sure we get Spain and stuff like that.
iRunFar: So unlike cross country, it’s time based. You, if you slow down 10 seconds or 20 seconds or 30 seconds, even if you win, that could be…
King: Yeah, then everybody else has to be pretty close. Making sure that… that’s why, as somebody on the team, you know your teammates are relying on you so you’ve got to get going even if you don’t lose any places in the last couple of laps or anything, you’ve got to make sure you don’t lose much time or anything.
iRunFar: So you won double gold as did your Montrail teammate, Ellie [Greenwood].
King: Yes. Ellie had a phenomenal performance. Good on her. Man, that British women’s team was amazing. What did they go—one, three, and four. That’s pretty impressive.
iRunFar: Impressive. So is Ellie a good luck charm? You both come here and you win this. You both won UROC the same year.
King: We were talking about that.
iRunFar: Chuckanut. Who is the good luck charm?
King: Did we do Chuckanut? I think we did Chuckanut.
iRunFar: This year.
King: Yeah, I guess we did, then UROC and JFK as well. JFK was the same scenario. I got a course record and so did she that year. I don’t know.
iRunFar: Comrades next year.
King: I know! Yeah, I don’t know, maybe we’re synergistic.
Joe Uhan writes about the hip-hinge position for efficient running.
Results from the 2020 Western States 100 lottery.