Max King beat out Jonas Buud to win last year’s 100k World Championships. This Saturday, he’ll take on Buud again at the UltraVasan 90k, Buud’s home course where the Swede is the defending champ. In the following interview, Max talks about his training and fitness, his plan for racing Buud, and why he likes race courses with extensive history behind them.
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Max King Pre-2015 UltraVasan Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Max King before the 2015 UltraVasan. How are you, Max?
Max King: Good. How are you?
iRunFar: Alright. We’ve just both got here to Sweden. It’s pretty darn nice.
King: It is. It’s beautiful here. The sun’s going down right now over the town. The town’s really nice. We went for a nice little run out in the woods back here. It’s really fairly flat which I expected, but it’s beautiful. The forest is beautiful. The town is beautiful. I’m sure the people are, too. That’s what I’ve heard anyway.
iRunFar: The weather is beautiful. Every time I come to Europe to cover a race, it’s crappy weather for at least part of the week. It’s supposed to be…
King: I look on the weather every day, and it’s “sun”—the bright sun—and it’s 72 or 73 degrees (F) every day straight through. It doesn’t change. It’s hilarious.
iRunFar: Lows in the low to mid-50’s.
King: Same thing all week, so it’s great right now. We lucked out this year. Last year, I think, it was raining.
iRunFar: It should be a pretty good experience out there. You are good at a wide variety of distances. You set the North American 100k record last year. You’ve won mountain-running championships. You can handle trail; you can handle road. Could this even be more of a sweet spot?
King: Yeah, honestly, that’s what I’m kind of excited about. It is. It’s like a really good sweet spot. It’s trail, so you got a little bit of that, but also, it’s going to be really flat. There’s not a lot of climbing. I think there is 800 meters of climbing throughout the race. Actually, it’s point-to-point overall downhill. You lose more elevation than you gain. Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a little while since I’ve done something this long, so I don’t know exactly what kind of shape I’m in right now after the summer. I feel like things have been going pretty well, so I should be fairly ready for it.
iRunFar: So maybe your performances over the last couple months don’t really represent your fitness? The mountain-running championships, obviously, you were race directing.
King: I was race directing. I was sick for it. Yeah, that was like, yeah, it was out the window.
iRunFar: Sonoma wasn’t great.
King: Sonoma wasn’t great. I was kind of going into that more as a training run anyway, so I knew that I wasn’t trying to do well there.
iRunFar: You had a decent run at Chamonix/Mont Blanc.
King: Mont Blanc—I thought that went really well for me as far as a big-mountain race goes. I was finally happy with a big-mountain race, so I was happy with that. That went well. Obviously Comrades didn’t go that well after 60k. It went well for 60k, and then it didn’t.
iRunFar: You think you’re pretty fit?
King: I feel good. I don’t know. We’ll see. It’s one of those things with an ultra—everything could go wrong on race day, and everything could go right. You rely less on your fitness in an ultra race at this point I feel like. It just depends on how your body feels. I can go out and run a hard 5k and know pretty well what kind of shape I’m in. 50k to 100k—it’s kind of a crapshoot sometimes. You get out there and if your legs just aren’t feeling very good, or the other way around, if they do feel good, they can feel not good on the last half of the race.
iRunFar: Or you might not feel like you have that spark or amp beforehand, and you can get out there and that can actually be good because you’ll mellow out the first half.
King: It can be a good thing, exactly, because it mellows you out and you just kind of cruise, and all of the sudden—you’ve been cruising—so all of the sudden you’re clicking and feeling good, and then you take off. I’ve never been able to tell before an ultra how that ultra is going to go.
iRunFar: Do you feel pretty comfortable with the 50-mile distance at this point? You have enough experience to…?
King: I do. I feel much more comfortable than, say, a year-and-a-half ago. You have to still respect the distance even on a flat course like this. Yeah, I feel like I’ve gotten down a pretty good routine as far as nutrition goes, pacing, and all that stuff. I feel like I know I can handle the later stages of a 50 miler at this point which is good.
iRunFar: What have you been tailoring your training to lately because you were training for the marathon trials earlier in the year, and you got a spot? What have you been working on of late?
King: Yeah, honestly after Comrades, I took a little bit of time and my body took a little bit of time to heal up. Mont Blanc Marathon went pretty well. I hadn’t done a lot up to that point. After Mont Blanc, I was kind of in that mode where, I’d been training for half the year. I’m going to just kind of play in the mountains basically. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I had the Steens Mountain Running Camp for two weeks. I went out to the Wallawas for a fastpacking trip for a couple of days a couple of weeks ago. So I’ve been getting in some good mountain miles. I’ve been doing a lot more climbing than I’d usually do just playing in the mountains.
iRunFar: Vertical climbing or scrambling in the mountains?
King: Well, actually a little bit of both. Then the last couple of weeks, I’ve finally started to get in that mode of, okay, time to buckle down and get ready for the fall. So I’ve been putting in some decent workouts. My body has been feeling really good the past three or four weeks other than the mountain running championships where I felt absolutely horrible. After that, things cleared up and I’ve been feeling good again and putting in some decent miles. I’ve had some good workouts. The past probably two weeks I’ve been putting in some good workouts.
iRunFar: Do you have a longer ultra season coming up? Is this part of that or is it varied again over the fall?
King: It’s varied a little bit again, but I’m doing The Rut—so a couple Sky Races—The Rut, Flagstaff, and then capping the year off with The North Face Endurance Challenge in San Francisco. So I feel like, I wanted to play in the mountains and get some vertical in. I want to continue that and get a lot of hill training and a lot of vertical in throughout the fall kind of training for that San Francisco race, and then, of course, Warrior Dash is going to be in there, so I’ve got to keep that speed up, too.
iRunFar: But not a whole lot of specific training for, say, a flat 90k?
King: No, and that’s why I’m kind of going in, “Well, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” because I haven’t been doing a lot of flat stuff. I normally would do a harder long run on Friday and then go out the next day and crank out a 20 miler on the roads in two hours. I haven’t been doing that right now. That’s why I kind of feel like I’m going into this a little bit unprepared, unknown where I’m at.
iRunFar: One guy who thinks he knows how you prepared is Jonas Buud who has definitely been following you on Strava. He’s another jack-of-all-trades who was second to you at the 100k world championships. He’s been second at UTMB—a guy who handles trail and speed… and second at Comrades.
King: Yeah, I know. I’ve been really impressed with his career. He seems like he’s that guy who is second all the time—I feel so bad for him—but he’s a great athlete. The fact that he can go from second at UTMB to second at Comrades and second at world 100k championships, that’s amazing range. That’s pretty cool.
iRunFar: He did take the win here last year. He lives here.
King: He lives here. That does help.
iRunFar: I’m sure he’s got splits from this tree to that rock.
King: Yeah, he knows exactly where to put his foot just to not trip and everything else.
iRunFar: Probably got your… would you key off somebody or…?
King: Yeah, I think he’s a great person to key off. He knows the course. He knows everything about the area. He’s the one who I feel like should be pushing the pace if there is anybody, but who knows, maybe he’s going to sit back.
iRunFar: That’s not his style.
King: No, it’s not his style.
iRunFar: He was definitely not in second for most of the world 100k championships last year. He was place-wise back.
King: Yeah, he may not do that. I don’t know. I am probably going to key off of him. He’s going to be a good guy to key off of and stuff. I know that he can surge late in a race, so I don’t want to leave it too long to where he’s just starting to roll and I’m getting tired. He’s definitely a person to look at. I’d say he’s probably a favorite because of how much knowledge he has about the course, and also, I’ve been kind of watching him, too. He’s been injured since the 100k championships with a stress fracture, so he’s coming into this a little fresher. I imagine mentally he’s there and ready to roll. I hear from a couple people around town that he’s been cranking out some shorter races lately around here, getting course records and stuff. So, I think he’s going to be tough.
iRunFar: You’ve raced around the world in all sorts of disciplines, but do you find there’s a big advantage to having a lot of people around cheering specifically for you? Like here, Jonas is in his hometown, and there’s going to be a lot of people cheering for him. People would cheer generically and might know who you are, but…
King: I don’t know. I don’t think that plays into it as much. I don’t know. You get a little bit of a boost from the bigger crowds where you hear or feel that roar of the crowd. You get a little bit more of an adrenaline rush from that as opposed to people calling your name specifically. I don’t know. Maybe some people do. I don’t feel like it’s… I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. It’s awesome when you’re out there and people are calling your name and you feel like “hometown hero” sort of…
iRunFar: But it could be on the University of Oregon track in a steeplechase race and the crowd’s going nuts…
King: Yeah, it doesn’t matter. Then it doesn’t matter as much.
iRunFar: This race doesn’t have a long history, but VassaLoppet does. What’s it like coming to a course…?
King: We were talking about that today. Peter was taking us around for a little bit of a… took us around and took us for a run and then showed us the finish line and was explaining some of the history about it. Apparently, Sweden forming as a country has a connection to this particular course. It’s pretty incredible that it goes all the way back to the 1500s. It wasn’t a race back then. The race officially started in 1922. The race has been going almost 90 years… is it 90? No, not quite yet, but it’s getting there. That’s incredible history for any sort of a race. The fact that you’ve had so much time for that race to develop and so much history to come before it—I love races like this where there’s a lot of history. Comrades is another race like that. We have our own races in the U.S. like Western States that has a ton of history behind it—a much shorter history, but there’s still a lot there. I love races with a lot of history and traditions behind them. For me, it puts a race into that bracket of being a little more special when there’s that much history behind a race. That’s cool for me. That’s something I look for in a race, and something that takes a race from the big jumbled mess of races and puts it out there in the bucket list of races for me. “Okay, I want to do that one because of that history.”
iRunFar: Cool. Enjoy your experience here in Mora.
King: I will. I already am. I’m looking forward to dinner right now. We’re going to an Irish Pub.
iRunFar: In Sweden. Let’s go do it.
King: Gotta’ get a Guinness.
iRunFar: Thanks, Max.