Max King Interviewed: It’s Ultras and Montrail in 2010

An interview with Max King about running ultramarathons and running for Montrail.

By on January 11, 2010 | Comments

In case you missed it, Montrail just announced its team for 2010. The additions include Dakota Jones, Jill Perry, Mandy Hosford, and four members of the now defunct Canadian Team Montrail: Gary Robbins, Ryne Melcher, Ellie Greenwood and Syl Corbett. We should probably mention Max King is now an ultrarunner on Team Montrail! Well, when we heard suspected Max was going to focus on trail running and ultras in particular in 2010, we rushed to line up an interview. Here it is!

I guess we should first explain why we’re excited that Max is committing to run ultras. Well, Max was a decent runner at Cornell, but since graduating in 2002, he’s put up increasingly solid performances on the track, trails, and road. He’s placed 5th in the steeplechase at USATF Track and Field National Championships, represented the US at the Cross Country World Championships, and placed 19th at the 2009 New York Marathon in what was essentially his marathon debut. When Max has ventured into pure trail running, he’s claimed the 2009 USATF trail marathon national championship, twice won the XTERRA trail world championship, and kicked major butt at the 2008 TransRockies Run. Oh, and he ran a 6:04 at the 2009 American River 50 miler.

Max King 2009 XTERRA World ChampionshipsMax King en route to winning the 2009 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship
Photo: Nils Nilsen/XTERRA

iRunFar [iRF]: You’ve run a real variety of events from steeplechase, 5ks, cross country, half marathons and on up to 50 miles. Even in the past year, you’ve greatly varied your racing. Do you enjoy challenging yourself at a variety of distances or are you still trying to find that race at which you excel the most?

Max King [MK]: It’s not really so much trying to figure out what race I’m best at. For me, it’s more about having fun. Fun, for me, is getting in a variety of different races, different surfaces, and different competition. That’s the way I stay motivated, so that I can do it all year round. Otherwise, I get too much into a rut and start focusing too much on, say, road racing and it’s the same competition every month. I go to a road race and see the exact same guys. It’s hard to train for that and keep your motivation going when you’re doing the same thing every month. I do like the challenge of different distances, as well.

iRF: Do you include other sports in your training for variety?

MK: My other sports aren’t as competitive as running. I bike pretty much all year long and during the winter I ski, both downhill and cross country. During the fall, I usually throw in a couple cyclocross races. Those are a lot of fun for me. I don’t need to be in super biking shape to get through an hour cyclocross race. It’s more like running an interval workout.

iRF: We understand that you’re looking to focus on ultramarathons this year once Cross Country Nationals and, hopefully, the World Cross Country Championships are over. What made you want to move up to ultras this year?

MK: I’ve been looking forward to it for a couple of years. I’ve had the dream of running Western States ever since high school. I kinda grew up in Sacramento and I worked down in Elk Grove [south of Sacramento] during the summers. So I’d heard of Western States and it’s always been the premier 100 mile event. I’ve always wanted to do it, so that’s really my motivation to get into the ultra distances. Last year, I jumped into the American River 50 Mile, but there was no way I was going to be ready to run 100 and then I got injured. [Max’s win at the AR50 earned him a spot in the 2009 Western States 100 through the Montrail Ultra Cup.] So this year, I wanted to put everything else on the sidelines.

The marathon I ran in New York was the last real goal I had on the roads. Once I got that out of the way, I can really focus on ultras and see how it goes. I know it’s my first year, so it’ll be a rookie year. I’m going to make a couple of mistakes, I’m sure. I’ll have a couple years where I can get better, too.

Max King TransRockies RunMax, right, employing Pacific Northwest fashion to stay warm
prior to stage 5 of the 2008 TransRockies Run

iRF: So you plan on running Western States in 2010?

MK: I’m hoping to, if I can qualify for it. I’m racing American River [where Max can qualify for the Western States 100 via the Montrail Ultra Cup]. I ran AR last year and it was one of the toughest races I’ve ever had. I was totally not ready for that distance. I was in cross country shape as I’d come back from [the World Cross Country Championships in] Jordan the week before. I just jumped in it and ran 6:04. It wasn’t that fast for the winning time – it’s been quite a bit faster the last couple years. So I’d like to get my time down a little bit and I want to make it so it doesn’t hurt so bad.

iRF: How do you plan to change your training for ultras?

MK: I think I’ll do the thing everyone does – increase their long runs. I want to make sure my long run is up there to where I can get through a pretty hard 50k and be able to go out and do it again the next day.

Coming from a faster background helps me in terms of know what I need to do in that department, because I’ve trained for so long for high intensity events. So I’ll keep up my tempo runs. Tempo runs are very important to keep your aerobic capacity and lactate threshold up. I’m going to do a lot of tempo runs and maybe even increase the distance of some to 15-20 miles. It’s the kind of stuff you’d do for marathon training. I’m probably going to put some interval workouts in as well, as I’ll still be doing some other races so I want
to keep my speed up.

iRF: Will you be training with anyone for your ultras?

MK: I get to do my easy runs and long runs with people around Bend, but run most of my workouts alone.

iRF: Which ultras have you run and what did you enjoy most in them?

MK: I ran the Siskiyou Out-and-Back 50k versus Erik Skaggs in 2008 and American River in 2009. I also ran the TransRockies Run in 2008, if you consider that an ultra. It’s not technically an ultra.

I enjoyed American River because it was a new challenge. It was longer than I’d ever run before. I could now say I’d run 50 miles in a day and that’s amazing.

At Siskiyou, like some of the other trail runs I want to do, it’s about going and running 30 miles on a beautiful trail with great scenery. You can do that on a weekend run, but with a race you add in the competitive aspect. I like competition and that adds one more element in there that makes it enjoyable to me.

iRF: What races, other than Western States, are you most looking forward to in 2010?

MK: I’m doing some races leading up to Western States – American River and Way Too Cool. In the summer and fall, I’ll take it as it comes. The other goal will be The North Face [Endurance Challenge 50 mile championships] in December. If I’m going to go big, I might as well go big.

iRF: What are the biggest challenges you anticipate as you move up to longer distances?

MK: Right now, it’s getting through the race distances. The trouble I have with doing that is I lack patience. Those distances are so unknown to me that I go out entirely too fast and I know that, it’s just that I have a really hard time being patient in races. I haven’t had to deal with that. Even up to a half marathon you’re pushing the entire time. I learned at the [New York City Marathon] in November that I wasn’t patient enough and died there, as well. Anything shorter than that, which I’d been focusing on, you don’t have to be patient, so it’s a lot different and that’s the really hard part for me is just being patient.

iRF: Since you’ve also had success at shorter trail races, such as the XTERRA series, and stage races like TransRockies, do you have any on your schedule for this year?

MK: Yeah, definitely. I’m still thinking about TransRockies. I’d love to do it again. As for shorter trail races, I love running them as I feel they’re a little more of my strong point. I’m a little bit stronger in the shorter races because I do have that speed background, but the races are not competitive. The ultras are harder for me. I like the competition and I like being able to go up the best guys in the country. The ultra guys are really making a name for themselves. There are some really good guys out there right now and the 50 mile and 100 mile distance is kind of where they’re at.

Max King TransRockiesMax (second from left) with new Montrail teammates, Matt Hart (far left)
and Sean Meissner (far right) before the start of the 2008 TransRockies Run

iRF: Who do you think are the best 50 and 100 mile guys in the US right now?

MK: Uli [Steidl] is obviously really good up to 50 miles and I know he could run a 100 really well. Tony [Krupicka], any time he can make it to the starting line he blows out course records. Same with Geoff Roes. He had an incredible year with 5 course records. There’s nobody else who’s done that last year. Those are three really strong guys.

You also have Hal [Koerner] who has Western States dialed in to a T. There’s other guys like Dave Mackey who just need a break out race. Then the Skaggs boys. Erik and Kyle are both good. Kyle hasn’t been running too much right now, but if he ever decides to really make a run for it… He says he wants to run Western.

iRF: What do you enjoy most about trail running in general? What get’s you out on the trails?

Max King 2009 XTERRA National ChampionshipsMK: I think a lot of it is I’ve been running trails my whole life and I really enjoy it. You know, just going out for a nice, easy long run. I like doing a nice long run on a scenic, beautiful trail.

Adding competition just adds a new aspect to it; though, in some ways a race can take away from it because you lose a lot of the perception you have of what you’re running through. If you’re so focused on the race, which a lot of times I am, I miss most of the course.

It’s fun to go up against new competition, too. I can get into some different stuff and see if I can make a mark.

[At right, Max winning the 2009 XTERRA Trail Run Nationals Championship in Bend. Photo courtesy of XTERRA Photos.]

iRF: You’ve probably raced in spikes or feather weight road shoes up to this point. Which Montrail shoes do you think you’ll sport for your upcoming ultras?

MK: That’s a good question. I don’t know if I can say anything about that.

iRF: Max, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with iRunFar’s readers! We wish you the best of luck in your first full season as an ultrarunner.

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.