It's Good To Be King - Page 8
Max's Room: 87 pairs of shoes on the wall. Photo by Rickey Gates.
LOOKING AHEAD... AND BEHIND
This summer, King will return to Switzerland to make amends with the mountainous, 18-mile Sierre-Zinal, where he finished a disappointing 20th place two years ago. “It’s those races that I do terrible at that I really want to go back to.” He also has his eyes set on guys like Spanish ultrarunning standouts Kilian Jornet and Miguel Heras who have enjoyed greater success at the longer distances than King.
“I’m always looking in front of me,” King explained. “I sound like a jerk when I say that I don’t know somebody that finished a half second behind me. But that’s just the way my mind works.”
King has been steadily progressing through the distances beyond the track—marathon, 50K, 50 miles and 100K. There is talk, wonder and perhaps a little bit of fear of what will happen when he decides to tackle the heavyweight title of 100 miles. With his JFK win last fall he earned a coveted starting number for the 2013 Western States 100. Exemplary of his long-term patience he has declined the spot saying, “Maybe 2014.” In the meantime, he has other things in line.
His interests in running extend beyond the traditional parameters of the start and finish line. A persistence hunt—one where you run your prey down to exhaustion and death—has been in his scope for several years. The practical challenges he says will include finding the right group of people to hunt with, getting a permit (most likely a private-land hunting permit) and, most importantly, working on his tracking skills.
King has made it clear that he intends to be racing well into his 40s. “Then what?” I asked. “Go back to chemical engineering?”
“I hope not.”
After the sun set and the temperature plummeted, King doubled up on puffy coats and thermals beneath his jeans and looped several stopwatches around his neck to meet 12 determined runners beneath the streetlights (the group swells to 30 in the summer time). Once a week, he coaches the group for a speed workout that he seems to make up on the spot. In the evening air, they pushed their way through several laps of the park, while King stood by and called out their splits.
Watching his runners pass, King admitted that for the first time in his life, he was starting to look back rather than forward. “I’ve turned a page in the past couple of years. I’m starting to look behind me at the younger kids that are getting faster and faster.”
2:14 marathoner, training partner and fellow Bend resident, Ryan Bak, maintains that King is part of the reason that the younger generation of runners, especially trail runners, are running disproportionately faster. “It’s something about Max that just rubs off on others. He has this quiet intensity yet he’s so friendly and humble at the same time.” However, if there was a sense of mentorship with the younger generation, it didn’t show with King. He considers them competition and will continue to do so for at least another decade.
As King clicked his stopwatch and offered a few quick words of encouragement to one of his runners passing by, he looked at me and said, “There is always somebody faster.” That one sentence unlocked King’s definition of “mediocre.”
By labeling himself mediocre, King allows room for growth and in turn acknowledges that his claim to the throne is anything but permanent. He is the culmination of hard work and determination, the accumulation of hundreds of speed workouts and tens of thousands of miles. Quite simply, King is not an anomaly. He is the outcome of a very elaborate equation that he wrote himself and that so many others have the ability to complete, if they are just willing to stand before the chalkboard for that long.
Rickey Gates would like to be on Max’s hunting team