Max King (Montrail) continued his winning ways by pulling away from Sage Canaday and the rest of the field in the second half of the 2012 Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) 100k, which was his debut at the distance. In the following interview, find out how his race played out, how he changed his training and fueling to find success at longer ultras, and where he sees himself racing over the next year, which may include another change in focus for this multi-talented runner.
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Max King, 2012 UROC 100k Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with the winner of the 2012 UROC 100k. Your first 100k, buddy.
Max King: I know. I was pretty surprised, let me tell ya.
iRF: You were a little worried going in.
King: Yeah, I was worried. I’m still a little worried right now about my legs.
iRF: You’re worried about tomorrow and the next day?
King: They hurt, dude, yeah. It’s going to take me a couple of days to recover from this one.
iRF: So right out of the gate, you and Sage are together and running really strong. You go 3-4 miles out and there’s a turn-around, but there’s not marking for the turn-around.
King: Yeah, there was no marking for the turn-around, and I don’t know why. So we ran a little further and saw the lady running up the hill with the sign, so it wasn’t that far. We only ran maybe an extra quarter mile.
iRF: So that happens, and Dom Grossman was telling me there was some sort of “gentleman’s regroup?”
King: Yeah, everyone sort of regrouped and it was like a restart in the race. “Alright, everybody… GO.” It was like a restart.
iRF: That doesn’t happen in a track race. If somebody falls in steeplechase…
King: Well, it was little different. We were lost down there and everybody was together down there anyway, so it didn’t really matter. It was just a little restart, so no worries.
iRF: You and Sage get another lead.
King: Yeah, we ran up that hill pretty strong. Sage and I were feeling good. We looked behind us and we were like, “Where is everybody?”
iRF: Well, he did run up that Mount Washington and you do run up hills pretty well. But…
King: Turned out they all took a left turn.
iRF: Nobody told you that time?
King: Well, they were back a ways at that time, so we didn’t see anybody anyway. So there was this camera man sitting in the middle of the road and we’re both going up it, so we go around the camera man, and we were kind of looking at him. Turns out there was a left turn right there where he was standing. He didn’t bother to tell us. He was filming right there, right next to the turn. We run by him and he doesn’t say anything. I’m like, “What’s up, man?”
iRF: So how did you guys get back on course?
King: Well, we figured it out. There was a lady that came up in her car and said, “Are you sure you’re going the right way?” We looked around and said, “No, but we thought so.” So we went back down and around and we ran the right course and we came back out onto almost the same spot where we’d gotten to. It was maybe three quarters of a mile around where this trail ducked into the woods for a while then popped back out onto the road. Me and Sage looked around, “We should have just gone straight.”
iRF: So how do you deal with this? You weren’t even 10 miles into the race.
King: Because of that we weren’t too worried about it. We knew we had another 50 miles to go. At that point, we were like, “Alright, relax and try to catch back up,” because we had quite a bit of time. We probably lost about 6 minutes. We probably had 2 minutes on the group, so maybe 6 to 8 minutes, because we had 1 to 2 minutes on the group. We went down around and came back up and caught Ellie [Greenwood] first, and then a couple miles later we hit the aid station and they said the leaders were 4 minutes up on us. So I figured in that span of a couple miles, we at least made up 2 minutes. It had to have been that we lost 6-8 minutes or something like that. So I’d say we were off by a mile. My GPS running watch kind of confirmed that out at the end. I was about a mile ahead of where the aid station mile marker was supposed to be.
iRF: I kind of heard reports that you guys were working together.
King: We were running together off and on kind of switching places a bit. Yeah, we were trying to catch up and get back up into the lead where we left off.
iRF: So, you guys push on. When do you guys get back in the thick of it?
King: I think it was about mile 20 to 25. We ducked into a trail section in the middle, and that’s where we caught Dave Riddle and Dave Mackey. So at that point, we ran with them for a while and we’re like, “Okay, we need to chill out and rest for awhile, because we’ve been going kind of hard.” So after that, we went through the trail section with those two guys. We got back up on the road and then me and Sage kind of opened up a little gap. I opened up a little gap on Sage and we both opened up a gap on Mackey and then took off. Then we had the long road, the dirt road, and more road out to the Dragon’s Back. At that point, I had about a minute on Sage and my legs were starting to get a little shaky there. Then I had a Hammer bar; that actually helped quite a bit. I felt really good on the trail section, that out-and-back.
iRF: Did you feel good or were you making a conscious effort to push?
King: A little bit, but I was feeling pretty good on the trail. I maybe pushed a little bit, but I wouldn’t say much. I was pretty comfortable. Then at the turn-around area of the out-and-back, I had probably 2 to 3 minutes on Sage. So I knew I was putting some time on him. Then when I got back, I had a few more minutes—6.
iRF: Then you just steadily built a lead from there. Any low patches?
King: No, it was pretty steady actually, pretty consistent. My legs started to cramp every once in awhile. Then I’d get some salt in me, and it would kind of go away. I was pretty consistent though. I felt pretty consistent and pretty good. I just kind of steadily built that lead up. I was pretty surprised about that. I wanted a lead going into this last uphill, and I didn’t expect to continue to build that lead through those trail sections. I figured either Sage or one of the guys behind him who were moving up really well would start to get into that lead a little bit and cut into it.
iRF: Didn’t happen.
iRF: I was driving and came past you on that last hill and you were in full-on work mode. You were driving hard.
King: Yeah, I was trying to get this thing over with.
iRF: I’ve never seen anybody breathing that hard with two and a half mile climb in an ultra to go. You were redlining it.
King: I was working. I knew that I had enough of a lead to take it, but I didn’t want it to last any longer than it needed to; so I needed to work hard to get it over with. That’s what I was doing. I was trying to get it over with, so I was working hard up the hill. What was worse was the downhill before the stupid hill. My legs were killing me coming down that. Then I felt pretty good coming up the hill and … it’s pretty steep. I think the average on that two and a half mile section was 10%. So it’s a pretty tough climb. There were definitely some sections of 12 to 15% grade where I was having to work pretty hard. I was getting tired at the top and slowed down a bit, but then it was over.
iRF: You were done.
King: I was done.
iRF: Before the race we talked a little bit about how in your past attempts at longer than a 50k, you’ve had some rough times in most of the races. Did you do anything differently today?
King: Yeah, well, I’ve been working on climbing and hills a lot this summer. I think that’s what’s made the biggest difference in being able to sustain strength through the entire race. I’ve been working on hills a ton and doing Speedgoat helped a lot. Doing the mountain races like Pikes Peak this summer helped. I felt great after Pikes Peak even though I had a crappy run there. But coming down I felt really good, and the next day my legs weren’t sore from that downhill at all. So I knew things were starting to click a little bit. My legs were just getting stronger. So, yeah, coming into this, I knew it was hilly and stuff, but it’s longer than anything I’ve ever run. So hills helped the most. Then I changed my strategy on nutrition. I took in about 200 calories per hour for the first three and a half hours, which is normally what I do for a 50k. At the 4 hour mark or so, it seems like everything starts to shift and change a little bit and I need more. So I upped it to 300 to 400 calories per hour—basically a gel every 15 minutes.
iRF: So you were doing a gel and water?
King: Yes. Gels and water and 2 Hammer bars—one at 2 hours and one at 4 hours. I meant to do one at 6 hours, but I didn’t get my drop bag. I was trying to get that from you the rest of the time, but we kept missing each other. It ended up being okay, but that’s what I changed. I found that on my longer training runs in the mountains, I’d eat the Hammer bars. I found that I can digest them pretty well. They help with a little bit of sustained energy a little bit longer than just the gels. It seemed to help on my training runs, so I thought, ah, I’ll try it here and see what happens. It does. It definitely makes a difference there and helped a little bit.
iRF: You’re talking about working on hills. How, in particular, have you done it? What kind of hill workouts have you done?
King: Not too many “workout sessions.” I’m just running a lot of elevation gain—as much as I can get in in Bend. Living in the mountains it’s actually ironic that it’s really pretty flat in Bend. I have these two hills in town that are maybe 800 feet high that I can do repeats on during the week. Then sometimes on the weekend I’ll get up into the mountains on the Sisters. A couple weeks ago I did South Sister pretty hard up and then went down the other side, went down and then up middle, came down, got lost in the woods, then went over Green Lakes area. So it was a good day of probably about 10,000 feet of gain in 25 miles that took me 6 hours. It was a good training day like that and some other stuff kind of similar to that.
iRF: Well, it was really cool seeing you at the finish. Here you won a very competitive race on the men’s side. You won a nice prize purse.
King: Yeah, dude, that was sweet.
iRF: Yeah, five grand, not going to complain. But you were psyched. You were high-fiving Gill, the race director because you finished 62 miles. How strange is that for you because with your other events such as the steeplechase or the marathon, it’s about the time or the place on that day?
King: I know that I can get through a shorter race. I know I’m going to be strong throughout it; it’s just how fast can you go? A race like this or a 50 miler—it took me a long time to figure out the 50k. I finally figured that out. Then I’ve done two 50 milers where the last 15-20 miles have gone terribly; I’ve just basically walked. So trying to figure out this longer distance is taking me a long time to do. With the hill training, that’s what I changed the most. So I was really hopeful for this race that that would actually work; and it did. So I was really psyched on that. It’s taken me so long to do that, but I finally kind of figured that out. This could be a fluke, but hopefully not. It was definitely a pretty rewarding experience. My legs are absolutely killing me right now.
iRF: They’ll hurt worse later.
King: Yeah, I know.
iRF: Speaking of which… later… are you going to sign up for 100 miler?
King: Ah geez… someday. I don’t want to right now, that’s for sure. I don’t want to run another 40 miles. I don’t know. Someday. Actually, I’m going to change focus. This fall was kind of focused on longer distances: this race, 50k last weekend, 50k next weekend (Stumpjump 50k), and then JFK. Then I was thinking about doing The North Face 50, but I’m not going to; my wife is actually due that week.
King: Yeah, she totally ruined those plans. So I’m not going to do that, but then next spring, I’m going to change focus a little bit and do cross-country. I want to try to make the World Cross Country team again and do some 50k’s like I usually do in the spring that are fun like Chuckanut. Then maybe I’ll jump back on the track. Steeplechase went really well last year, so I was like, “Well, I kind of want to give that another shot and see what happens.” And it’s working to where I can do this kind of stuff; I’m working on the hills and that gives me strength and keeps my speed up for the steeplechase. It’s really weird, but it really works. So I’m going to try to jump on the track and do that without much training… again.
iRF: It worked.
King: It worked last year, so…
iRF: It worked and you got into the finals at the Olympic Trials, right? Best time as well?
King: Yeah. Best time, PR, sixth place, which is the best place I’ve ever had in a US Championship except for in 2005 when I was fifth. So it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten back to there.
iRF: And that wasn’t an Olympic year?
King: That wasn’t an Olympic year; that was a year after an Olympic year so it was actually… it wasn’t a weak field, but it was lower than any of the other four years. That year is usually lowest and then it kind of gradually builds to the Olympics the next three years. I was pretty excited to be sixth at the Olympic Trials. That was pretty exciting for me.
iRF: And today you’re first at your first 100k. Congratulations on your UROC win, Max.
King: Thanks, man, I appreciate it.
* * * * *
iRF: Bonus question time.
King: You’ve got more?
iRF: Just one. You might be joining a good crew for some beers later this evening.
King: Yeah, I might.
iRF: If you were to, what style of beer would be your first choice?
King: That’s easy. That’s an easy question—anything where if I put my fork in there, my fork will stand up. That is a good beer, my friend. Guiness, a stout, something like that—those are my favorites.
iRF: They’ve got some down there.
King: Something dark; something heavy. And if they happen to have a good Scotch…
iRF: Maybe that as well.
King: Yeah, maybe.
iRF: You’ve earned it.
* * * * *
King: Gahhhhh… I’m hurtin’ man. I’m not sore yet, but everything just hurts. I’m moving okay, though… ‘til tomorrow. Where we goin’ with this?
iRF: Just up to the top of the hill.
King: Oh, yeah, yeah. How about right here?
iRF: You mean right where you are essentially?
King: Yeah. I’m going to stand here.