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Mr. Versatility

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From 10K to 50 miles, Max King ruled the trail running world, and more
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Photo courtesy of XTERRA

2012 featured many jaw-dropping performances—Sage Canaday’s White River 50-mile and Mount Washington (7.6 uphill miles) course records, Timothy Olson’s Western States 100-miler course record and Kilian Jornet’s numerous race wins and adventure runs, and on and on. However, our choice for the open male Trail Runner of the Year was unanimous—Max King.

A Montrail-Mountain Hardwear athlete, King, 32, had a banner 2011, including wins at the World Mountain Running Championships, XTERRA Trail Run National Championship and Lithia Loop Trail Marathon—but his 2012 was off the hook.

Especially impressive was King’s September blitz, where he won USATF Trail National Championships with the Flagline 50K in Bend, Oregon, the 21K XTERRA Trail Run National Championships (fifth time) near Ogden, Utah, and the Ultra Race of Champions 100K in Charlottesville, Virginia, running away with the $5000 prize purse.

King’s coup de grace, though, came on November 17, with his course-record victory at the 50th running of Maryland’s venerable JFK 50-mile, blazing a course-record 5:24:58, a 6:42-per-mile pace.

Underlining his versatility and world-class talent are King’s performances at the late-June U.S. Olympic Team Track and Field Trials, where he PRed in both the marathon (2:14:36, 19th place) and 3000-meter steeplechase (8:30:54), taking a very-strong sixth place.

To cap off his phenomenal season, King become the proud father of a new daughter, his second child. He lives in Bend, Oregon, with his wife, Dory, and their children, Hazel Grace and three-and-a-half year old son, Micah.

What are some of your personal 2012 highlights?
There are a lot of them this year but the ones that stand out are sixth at the Olympic Trials in Steeplechase, first at UROC, my first 100K, and first at the JFK 50-miler.

What is your typical training mileage through the year?
It varies quite a bit, from as little as 80 miles per week to 130. I try to get a good amount of hills in each week, though, along with a workout or two to work on speed and/or threshold.

How do you recover?
My body’s always been pretty good at recovering on its own but I make sure I eat a good balanced diet, do quite a bit of stretching and strength after running, and, when I have a niggling injury creep up, I jump right on it and get it sorted out.

How do you split your training between roads, trails and track?
This varies, too, depending on my upcoming races. Generally it’s going to be about 70-30 trails-road. During track season I’ll try to hit the track once or twice a week. Most of my miles are on trail, though. If I’m doing a road race I’ll jump on the road a bit more.

Why have you focused on trail running?
Because it’s more fun. Plus it helps that I’m good at it. Generally you’re going to focus on what you’re good at because to some extent that’s what makes it fun.

How did you train simultaneously for Olympic Trials and trail races?
With a good fitness base, it’s all running so I don’t think it makes much difference what event you’re doing. With a little specificity you can jump into anything. Obviously it’s more complicated than that. It takes years of training for these specific events and getting close to your potential. It seems like the muscle memory and fitness come back fairly quickly as long as the fundamentals are there. Then it takes a few workouts to get that really specific fitness back.

Do you have a favorite race or distance?
I really do like it all but if I had to pick one I think cross country is still my favorite race discipline. It’s the thrill of the fast pace and intensity of the field all around you that you don’t get in a trail race that makes it exciting.

Day job?
Had one, retired, although I do work as a footwear buyer for the Footzone in Bend right now. I focus on my running. I also coach a little on the side, and the rest of my time is filled with being a dad to two now.

Goals and races for 2013?
Lots. A couple good 50-milers. Continue to work on versatility by trying out for four different U.S. national teams—cross country, track, mountain running and 100K. Coming up next is XC in February and a three-day stage race in Chile, El Cruce Columbia. I’ll focus on shorter distances in the spring and move to longer distances again in the fall most likely.

How do you balance family, work, training and racing?
With another kid now it is getting progressively more difficult. I do the best I can with getting it all in and, I’m not proud of it, but there are times when I’m lacking a full commitment to each of them.

To what do you attribute your ability to excel at a such a wide range of distances?
I’ve got a strong will and faith that the gifts I was given will allow me to reach my goals. It’s a process and I’m willing to take the time to excel if I really believe I can do it. I reach a lot of my goals by simply outlasting and allowing my body to absorb the stress that I put on it. I’m certainly very blessed in what I’ve been able to accomplish and don’t take it for granted.

What is the most common technique mistake you see in trail runners?
The biggest thing that I see is overstriding. A lot of runners can get away with this on the road with very repetitive strides. On a trail, though, overstriding doesn’t allow you to react to the terrain, so it really becomes inefficient on more technical trails, not to mention increases the risk of twisting ankles and knees with a heel strike that is way out in front of your body. Shorten your stride on trails and try to get that foot to land under your center of mass.

What advice would you give to runners trying to improve their trail-race times?
Work on your weaknesses but don’t neglect your strengths. Running hills has had the biggest impact on my long-distance fitness and staying strong toward the end of longer races. This can have a significant impact on times if you can hold your pace through to the finish.