Max King has twice run the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile , but he’s yet to win the race or, indeed, run it as strong as he’d like. He’s back for a third time, but with some residual fatigue from his ninth-place finish at the LA Marathon a few weeks back. In the following interview, Max talks about his running over the past few months, how he’s feeling about racing Lake Sonoma, and how Ryan Bak might fare this weekend. Max also answers what might be longest bonus question(s) to date.
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Bonus: Max King, Kilian Jornet, and Dakota Jones Descending at Advanced Week
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Max King Pre-2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Max King before the 2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. How are you doing, Max?
Max King: I’m good, yeah. I’m doing well. You?
iRunFar: I’m doing alright. It’s a beautiful day here in Sonoma.
King: Yeah, I think we’re going to have an awesome weekend.
iRunFar: Totally. This is a great time of year to race here in California. It’s been a long time since you’ve raced a trail ultra. Was it Revelstoke?
King: Yeah, I was trying to think about that yesterday, actually. I think it was Revelstoke as far as an ultra goes, but I don’t know, it doesn’t feel like it. I’ve had so many other races. The Vermont Spartan Beast—shoot, that was an ultra. That was four hours long. So it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.
iRunFar: In terms of fitness, you’ve obviously been there the last six months—your North American Record at the 100k World Championships. Your time wasn’t super fast at the LA Marathon, but you ran a really strong race.
King: Yeah, it was hot. I think the course and the heat kind of got to everybody. I noticed guys who should have been running 2:13-2:14, they were running 2:16-2:17 pace right where I was. It was surprising to me, but I just was there to get it done and get a time under 2:18 and that was it. That’s all I wanted to do.
iRunFar: It sort of felt like a de facto national championship with so many people trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
King: It was the National Championship.
iRunFar: Oh, was it officially?
King: It was the National Championship, so that was cool to get a fifth place at another road race national championship.
iRunFar: You were only like a minute off second which is pretty good.
King: Yeah, something like that. It was pretty close. Everyone was bunched except for Jared who was up in front.
iRunFar: That must feel pretty good. So you’ve got this road fitness that you’ve showed over the past six months. Here we have a 50 miler on the trails which people think rolling hills like Sonoma. No.
King: No. That’s what I’ve been surprised about the last two years that I’ve been here. I look at it like it should be a pretty fast race. Then you go run it and you’re like, “Oh, crap. That was a lot of elevation gain.” You’re just going up and down the entire time. Yeah, I’m going to be stronger on the roads and stuff, but it doesn’t translate here at all.
iRunFar: So, where does leave you feeling, because you’ve run pretty well here the past two times? You haven’t won the race yet, but you haven’t run badly.
King: I haven’t run well. Yeah, I don’t know. Coming in this year, I signed up thinking I was really going to go for it and have a good race this year. I don’t know, but with everything that’s happened, the marathon took more out of me than I expected. I’m feeling… it just took me longer to recover from that, because it turns out that a road marathon is still really hard on your legs. I didn’t realize that. It’s been awhile. Then with Advance Week, it’s funny because everyone always talk about how beat up they come out of Advance Week, but I actually was really fighting for the time to be able to run and I actually didn’t get enough running in. It was just that it was little pockets of five miles here and there. So I don’t feel like I’m trained up well enough for this race. I’ve kind of written it off as more of a training race. Obviously, I’m going to see how it goes. I’m going to go out there and run. If I feel good, I feel good. If I don’t, it will be a good training run.
iRunFar: Training run for…?
King: That’s what I’m really shooting for. Now I’m getting a little nervous. I’ve got to really make sure that I’m getting a really good training block in over the next couple weeks.
iRunFar: This will be a really good training course for it. There’s more vert than Comrades, but it’s all runnable vert.
King: Yeah, you can run the whole thing. It’s not like a real true mountain course.
iRunFar: It’s not a hiking course.
King: Yes, it would be nice to come out of this feeling pretty good and be able to get back into training pretty soon.
iRunFar: In the past, you’ve done a ton of racing, not necessarily in ultras, but there’s a lot of weekends you race. Are you doing the same thing leading up to Comrades?
King: Pretty much, yeah. No more ultras, obviously, but there are a couple more obstacle races I want to do over the next month. I’m kind of… Lake Sonoma is really the last little race I’ve got going into Comrades. There’s going to be some focused time, a little bit of focused time.
King: It’s not a long time. I’ve only got seven weeks until Comrades.
iRunFar: I did see that. I think Bruce Fordyce put out a tweet yesterday.
King: Yeah, probably.
iRunFar: Not that many days to go.
iRunFar: I signed up, too. It’s a little nerve-wracking.
King: Yeah, it’s close. I want to get some training in.
iRunFar: Coming from Oregon as well, you have Ryan Bak. He ran second at Way Too Cool. He ran faster than you’ve run there, I think?
King: No, not faster there. He was two minutes off.
iRunFar: Okay, pretty close.
King: But he did get my course record at Horse Butte this past weekend.
iRunFar: A 10 miler up in Bend, Oregon?
King: Yes. Fast one. He ran 43-something?
iRunFar: For 10 miles?
King: 53 minutes, sorry.
iRunFar: Thank you.
King: 53-something on a trail, which is pretty good.
iRunFar: Yes, totally.
King: He was 40 seconds under my course record.
iRunFar: So had you ever run with him?
iRunFar: This is his first 50 miler. Would you say he’s a contender to win, or do you think he’ll need a little more time to season himself for a race like this?
King: He’s got the talent and the fitness to win, but because it’s his first one, whether he has the experience to win, I don’t know. That’s going to be the question. I think he could do it. I think he could outrun everybody, but it’s going to be whether he figures out the last 20 miles that he’s never done before. He could. He may on the first time. Other people have. That’s going to be the wild card.
iRunFar: 20 miles and probably way more vert than he’s ever seen in a race.
King: Yeah, it is quite a bit more than he’s been doing.
iRunFar: Good luck out there this weekend. I hope you have fun and that it turns out to be a good race for you.
King: Yeah, it will be fun no matter what.
iRunFar: Bonus question: You mentioned Advance Week in passing during the interview. That’s Salomon’s Advance Week—a week-long, top-athlete, gear-building, team-building week. What was the most fun you had during Advance Week? There’s a lot of running and gear, but there’s also a lot of fun.
King: Yeah, there’s a lot of fun, but for me, that is the fun. The fun for me is the time in those really intensive sessions where you’re talking with product designers about the new stuff you’re going to be able to do and all the stuff you’re going to be able to test and thinking of new ideas and just throwing things out there and having them say, “Ehhhh, orrrr,” or “Yeah, that’s really cool!” That, for me, is the fun part. Then running, obviously, with the best trail runners in the world, obviously, is pretty darn cool. So actually, the most fun I had was—I don’t know if you saw—but there’s a little video of me and Kilian [Jornet] and Dakota [Jones] running down hill on this super technical trail. That was the most fun I had the entire week because I never get to do that. It was awesome. It was so much fun and really, really cool to be able to do that.
iRunFar: Totally opening up with people who would probably challenge you on a descent like that.
King: Yeah, people that can hang with you, and you’re just playing through the woods, and you’re jumping off rocks and swinging on trees. It’s just… it was a blast. That was fun. Talking with all the designers and going through… I sat in a ton of meetings. Like I said, I didn’t get enough running in during the week because I was in a ton of meetings and really just kind of doing a lot of testing of shoes especially of the new X-Series out now for the road stuff. So I was in the road sessions and the trail sessions. So, [it was] a lot of meetings, but also a lot of fun.
iRunFar: It was a real initiation into the Salomon crew since you just joined the team this year.
King: Yeah, it was. I knew a lot of people on the team and a lot of the teammates and stuff, but at Advance Week, you become the family that everyone talks about. You really bond with a lot of the teammates and stuff which is really cool. I really felt that. All the athletes really care about what they’re going. All the designers and people in the company really care about the sport and the spirit of the sport. So I came away with a much bigger appreciation for Salomon than I had before which is what I wanted. I really wanted to feel a part of that team because I’m new to it, and I do now.
iRunFar: I guess this is turning to bonus “questions.” You mentioned designing shoes, and I get excited about that stuff and so do you. Obviously not talking about anything you talked about in sessions there, but if Max King could design his shoe with a ton of technology now—because I know you sort of worked with Montrail a couple years ago—but if you could design a shoe right now, how much would it weigh? What would it look like? What would the characteristics of your trail shoes be?
King: Yeah, I definitely have “my shoe” that I want to design. It’s actually something similar to the Sense that’s out now, but it’s got to be lighter. It’s got to be under six ounces and closer to five with a little bit more flexibility in that shoe. I really want it to roll a little bit better. I always feel like that Sense now is a little bit flat. I want it to roll a little better.
iRunFar: So a little more of that road roll feel?
King: Yeah, a little bit, and just a little bit smoother transition and a little bit poppier and a little lighter.
iRunFar: Minimal lugging probably?
King: Minimal lugging, but you’ve still got to have some. Something that works well for a course like Lake Sonoma actually where it’s really non-technical as far as the footing goes. There are really no rocks. There’s a lot of climbing and stuff, so you still need some protection under foot, some cushion, but you don’t want something that’s really going to weigh you down or something that’s going to be really sloppy.
iRunFar: So something like a beefed up cross-country flat?
King: Yeah, kind of. Obviously that Montrail shoe, they took a lot of my input for that, and it was really close to what I wanted. That works great for things like half marathon to marathon distance. Now I kind of feel like, as I get a little older, I want a little more cushion in there. There are some tweaks I would make. The Sense is an awesome shoe. I’m going to race in that, but there are a few tweaks I’d make to that shoe as well just to suit me personally. The nice thing is I’ve got the S-Lab now that can do that, and they’re happy to do that for the athletes. I can call up Patrick and say, “Hey, I need you to take that rock plate out of there, the film, and I want you to lower the heel and carve this out here and carve this out here, and they can do it.
iRunFar: A couple weeks later…
King: A couple weeks later I have a new shoe. That is amazing. No other company can do that. That’s awesome.
iRunFar: Pretty cool. I’ll be looking at your feet every time I see you from now on.