It's Good To Be King
HOW COULD OUR COUNTRY'S FASTEST, MOST-VERSATILE DISTANCE RUNNER CONSIDER HIMSELF MEDIOCRE?
Max King rules over all surfaces—road, track and trail—and takes his reign seriously. Photos by David Clifford.
I wondered what drives the man to be so fast. I wondered how long he reckons he can run for a living. And I wondered what else is in store for a man that has defeated nearly every distance and terrain the sport offers.
One evening in January, I drove from San Francisco to Southern Oregon to interview the fastest man in distance running. The job would prove difficult, not because my subject was guarded nor for the stoic air of seriousness that seemed to hover around him, but more so because Max King himself is not entirely convinced of his own greatness.
When a successful athlete, built upon a foundation of braggadocio and confidence boasts about past and future wins, he pens his own profile. Hoping for some Usain Bolt pomposity, I had once asked King how he had come to dominate so many disciplines. He replied simply, “I am mediocre.”
I wondered what was mediocre about his record-setting wins this past year at two of North America’s premier ultra races—the JFK 50-Miler and the Ultra Race of Champions 100K? Or his 8:30 3,000-Meter Steeplechase at the Olympic Trials? Or his 2:14 marathon, also for the Olympic Trials? Or was he referring to his win at the 2011 World Mountain Running Championships?
Of all the runners to emerge in trail-running’s renaissance, King stands alone as the guy who has not only conquered the track and the road but also the trail—and continues to dominate in all three disciplines simultaneously.
Does Max King really think of himself as mediocre? Or is there more to it than that?
A MAN FOR ALL SURFACES
Perhaps King is just more in tune with the future of the sport than the rest of us. In countless interviews, he is asked if he will ever commit entirely to road or trail, and every year he seems to grow more reluctant to choose.
In 2009, King wagered a lofty bet when he quit his job as a bio-chemical engineer to pursue running full-time. The wager has since paid off and in the past several years, he has put together an existence based entirely on his love of the sport. Says his wife, Dory, “With sponsorships, coaching and racing, he’s cobbled together a decent living.”
As I drove through the Central Valley and into the foothills of the Southern Cascades, I continued to ponder King’s definition of “mediocre.” I wondered what drives the man to be so fast. I wondered how long he reckons he can run for a living. And I wondered what else is in store for a man that has defeated nearly every distance and terrain the sport offers.