8 questions with Max King
By Henry Howard
Max King is known for running all sorts of races. Winning a 5-miler in his hometown of Bend, Ore. Setting the course record at the Euchre Bar Massacre, a 50-miler in California with 20,000 feet of gain and bushwhacking required. Taking second overall at the Canyons in California.
And those were just some of the highlights since late April of this year.
Among King’s other achievements this year was being on one of only five teams to finish Expedition Oregon, a multi-day, multidisciplinary race across the state. It’s similar to the Eco-Challenge, which returned to prominence with the series on Amazon Prime earlier this year.
King was part of Team Bend, which was only one of five teams to finish out of about 30-40 that started the quest.
It was in Medford, Ore., where King began running in middle school. Why running?
I just wasn't really any good at ball sports,” he says, noting he played baseball and basketball in seventh grade. “I would be on the bench and it wasn't really very much fun.”
Soon he learned he was fast, beating all of his classmates in the mile. “Basically I've been running ever since.”
During a recent interview, we discussed his adventure race in Oregon, training camps for kids and more. Here are eight questions and answers, excerpted from the interview:
Question: You are known for tackling and performing well in a wide variety of races, distances and even surfaces. What guides your interest in choosing these various challenges? Is it the variety that inspires you, or is it part of a master plan that you're always building to something bigger?
Answer: I wish I could say it was part of a master plan (laughs), but it's definitely not. For me, it's always been about having fun in the sport. The way I have fun is to have all this variety in my running. And it helps me to stay motivated too. If I stuck with one particular event or discipline, I lose motivation to train hard. It's important for me to kind of change it up, find a new challenge and then go after it hard for a little while. And that kind of has always helped me in all aspects, cause it's all running. Right?
Question: One of those recent challenges was Expedition Oregon. For people who don't know what it is, tell me about it and what inspired you to try that amazing adventure.
Answer: Adventure racing is this kind of crazy sport that started in the 90s, but it was really big in the early 2000s with Eco Challenge. The big races are these expedition races, which are multi-day races. Back in the early 2000s we used to have a lot of single-day races. You get to do everything, but it's not so long that it takes several days and tons of money. It’s a really fun sport because it involves mountain biking, trekking or hiking or running, and some orienteering aspect.
And then usually some ropes course, either it's repelling or traversing. And something in a boat; it might be kayaking, flat water paddling or something like that. With Expedition Oregon, it was an opportunity that came up because Team Bend Racing puts that race on and I was connected with them. I love adventure racing. I love the aspect of changing sports every so many hours, the orienteering aspect of it too.
When the opportunity to do an expedition race came up and it wasn't going to cost me an arm and a leg, I jumped at it. A couple of other friends in town were also planning on doing it so we formed a team. We just went for it, even without having much experience. Just jump in the fire and see how it went. It ended up going really well. It was awesome.
Question: Tell me about what you learned about yourself and the team.
Answer: I had never done anything like this where you're racing for four days continuously. The team dynamic is really important — everyone needs to work together and nobody can get upset with each other. And that's the interesting part of adventure racing. When you see it on TV, they're always capturing these moments of teammates bickering and fighting. It looks miserable. We had none of that. It was great. We all got along the entire time and it was really fun and we pushed each other and encouraged each other. I think we all formed this really good team and this really good dynamic to make it through, which was really cool.
Question: What is ahead for you, racing or adventure wise in 2022?
Answer: I have a couple of things on the calendar, but I haven't really figured out everything. I want to do a track race, getting back into steeple chase again. I'd love to hit a master's world record in the steeple chase. I think that would be pretty awesome.
So kind of have that tentative goal for the year and then back to Mount Marathon, which is July 4. And just kind of spend the year doing really fun stuff. Last year was a year where I did a 100K and a 100-miler. That long stuff for me is a really big challenge and not always that much fun. Later in the second half of this year, I spent doing shorter distance races, like Moab Trail Marathon, Mountain Range Championships, things like that. I'm just having a lot of fun at it and running. I’m going to keep doing a little bit shorter stuff, 50K and below, for the most part and just have fun with it.
Question: Let's talk about your camps for kids. Give me the overview, describe them to me. What was your motivation for starting them in the first place?
Answer: I started running camps about six years ago. I started them because I've been working at this running camp out in eastern Oregon called Steam Mountain Running Camp. And that camp is one that's really big. It's 180 kids for two weeks of the summer. I've been working there for 13 years now. And I always found that really motivating for myself and for the kids. Something that I really wanted to explore with trail running because that is a specific to a cross country camp, even though we're on trail and off trail. I wanted to do one that was more dedicated to trail running and teaching trail running and all the different aspects of it.
So when I started doing my camps, one for youth and one for adults, it's been really fun. I try to teach the kids all about trail running and we don't really just talk about, training and nutrition and the things that you think about with like a training camp. But we go into other things. We do a day of stewardship where we talk about trail stewardship or outdoor stewardship. We do trail maintenance. We do a long day that is like an ultra day. It gets them out of their comfort zone and puts them outside for about eight hours or so, just trying to get the kids to be more comfortable, being self-sufficient and being out there for that long. We also do a map and compass navigation day. We talk about wilderness safety.
Question: There's been a lot of talk generally in the sport of trail and ultra running about becoming more inclusive, reaching out to women, girls and minorities and getting them involved in the sport. How do you make a conscious effort with your camps to be inclusive?
Answer: I've always tried to have a couple of scholarships available for kids that may not be able to afford to come. Three years ago, Solomon actually gave me an opportunity with a grant. And my project that year was to do a running camp for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, whether it was a minority or living situation, socioeconomic situation. It would be totally free for kids, allowing them to have this experience in trail running. We had some kids from inner city San Jose, and some kids from the Native American reservation in Warm Springs. We had some kids from outside of Boulder, Colo., who were into trail running, but just didn’t have money. That went really well.
That took a hiatus for a couple of years. Then last year, Mario Mendoza, Renee Metivier and I did a treadmill event where we raised a bunch of money for a running camp for disadvantaged youth. This summer, we were able to have that camp and it was awesome. We had kids from a Native American reservation in Wyoming, from here, we had Hispanic kids from here in Madras and California. It was really cool to see these different minorities that you don't normally see in trail running.
Question: I know when I volunteer it helps the recipient of the goodwill, but it also inspires me even more. As you give back, what does it mean to you to be able to help out kids?
Answer: I just got done with our youth cross country season with our local running club that I've been doing now for, 10 or 11 years. I'm the coach and we take 50 kids and put them through a post-season cross country thing. Every year, I think, “Do I really do I want to do this again?" And then I get out there and it's so rewarding. It's really cool to see all of these kids who are really into the sport, just going for it, working hard, trying to be their best.
That's been really cool and it's the same with the camps. It’s really cool to see people get into running and have it change their lives, and be a positive influence on their lifestyle.
Question: Tell me about your relationship with Sebastian Salsbury (read our interview from October 2019). Tell me about how you have seen him grow as a runner, how that relationship started, and the movie you guys did together.
Answer: The movie was a fun little project we got to do. Seb has been to my running camps, since the beginning, I think. To see him grow from this 11-year-old kid, all the way up to being 15 now it's awesome to see that he loves this sport as much as he used to when I first met him. And that doesn't really happen very often with kids, especially in a sport that's so hard and so little reward, for all of that hard work that you're putting into it.
It's really awesome to see him continue to put everything into the sport that he's got. But he still has his non-running friends, too. it's cool that he's got those two separate lives where he can be a kid still, but also have that really intense trail running side. It's been a lot of fun to see him grow. I just can't wait to see what he does over the next couple of years. It's going to be awesome.
Name: Max King
Hometown: Bend, Ore.
Number of years running: 27ish
How many miles a week do you typically run: 80-100
Point of pride: Finishing Expedition Oregon with my teammates. (4 day Adventure Race through Oregon last spring) There are some others as well like World 100k Champs back in 2014, finishing Euchre Bar Massacre in October, Moab Trail Marathon two weeks ago, etc.
Favorite race distance: 50K and below
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Meh, don't really have a favorite because I do a Picky Bar prior to every race. More out of functionality than anything.
Favorite piece of gear: So many! The right pair of shoes, warm tights, waterproof jacket, pole quiver. Really depends on the day and what I'm doing.
Who inspires you: The people that inspire me are the ones that I know well. My old college coach Jerry Smith, my old boss Teague Hatfield. It's guys that work hard, get the best out of me, and I strive to uphold their values. Celebs rarely inspire me.
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: The wind in the pine trees and the crunch of my foot falls.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Just keep running. Just keep running. Or pain is just weakness leaving the body.
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Instagram: MaxKingOR
• Camp website: MaxKingTRC.com