How Max King Got So Fast—and How You Can, Too

The steeplechaser failed hard, then became a superathlete a week later—fueled by beer and burgers.

Apr 22, 2015
Outside Magazine

Max King, champion of 5Ks, 100Ks, and everything in-between.    Photo: Charles Gullung

Starting in 2007, King, a standout cross-country runner, spent a year and a half training exclusively for the steeplechase. The result? The worst national-championship race of his life. (He didn’t even advance out of his first-round heat.) A week later, to vent his frustration, King signed up for his first 50K—and won. Since then the Oregon native has become one of the most versatile and successful distance athletes in the country. This year, King took home a $30,000 purse from the 5K Warrior Dash National Championship in Esparta, California, then went on to win the 100K World Championship in Doha, Qatar. Next year he hopes to diversify his portfolio yet again by qualifying for the Olympic marathon in Brazil. 

DIVERSE EXERCISE: "When you do the same thing over and over, the returns become increasingly smaller. You always need a new stressor. That’s why I’ll do obstacle-course races and ski mountaineering; they seem different than running, but the movements are really similar, and they’re great for cross-training."

SATISFYING NUTRITION: "If you pick it right—whole-wheat bun, organic lettuce and tomato, grass-fed beef—a burger can be pretty healthy."

CALORIES ON THE GO: "You can train until your legs fall off, but if you don’t have your nutrition on point, you are going to have a tough race. I eat 300 to 400 calories per hour in gel form. The only way to find how much is right for you is through trial and error. It took me three years to dial it in.” 

ROCK SOLID TRAINING: “When I’m out on a run, I like to pick up a rock and let its weight dictate the exercise I do. Using whatever is around is a lot more fun. I don’t get in the gym and do the same set of weights every day. That won’t give you all-around fitness.”

WELL ROUNDED WORKOUTS: “A lot of people get their run in, then go straight to work and forget about taking the time to stretch or take care of their bodies. Runners are particularly guilty of going hard all the time and not thinking about rest—but that’s when you get better. After each workout, I’ll do 20 minutes of yoga, then put on Normatec recovery boots for an hour.”

TAKE IT EASY: “Don’t run too hard. Get a heart-rate monitor and stay between 60 and 70 percent of your maximum during your base period. It’s going to feel slow, but to get better you need to run easier.” 

FIND THE RIGHT KICKS: “You can do anything with the right pair of shoes. But it’s confusing: there are as many shoes out there as there are people. Go to a specialty running store, try a lot of things on, and get fit by someone who does this for a living. Don’t go in with the idea that the shoe that works for your friend will also work for you.”

POST WORKOUT TREAT: “My beer has gotta be dark—the thicker, the better. I want my fork to stand up in it.”

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