Maybe it was the fresh mullet haircut or the hype of last year’s win, or the home turf advantage. But most likely it was his sturdy, well-trained legs that carried Bend’s Max King to victory once again Sunday in the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship.
King cruised over the rocky and rooty 13.1-mile dirt course along the Deschutes River Trail from The Old Mill District in Bend to Meadow Camp and back. He logged average mile split times of 5 minutes and 7 seconds to finish under the blazing midmorning sun in 1 hour, 6 minutes and 46 seconds — some 75 seconds faster than his winning time on the same course in this same race in 2008.
“I can never go out to a race and say, yeah, I’m going to win, because I can guarantee that I’m going to lose that one,” said King after Sunday’s race, his arms crossed on his chest. “I try to do my best. I feel confident in myself and my ability that I can run with anybody in Oregon or the nation — especially if it’s on a trail.”
King, 29, is not exclusively a runner, as are some of the other competitors in Sunday’s half-marathon race. He works full time as a chemical engineer at Bend Research, is a coach with Rebound Physical Therapy and still finds time to enter local cyclocross bike races in the fall.
“I have to be doing other stuff to keep my mind off of running a little bit and keep me busy,” said King, who also is married and the father of a 5-week-old son. “I got a little too much on my plate right now, but it’s fun.”
Like in the 2008 XTERRA race, Eugene’s Ben Bruce was runner-up to King (1:12:58). Bruce, more a track runner than a cross-country runner, travels the world to race steeplechase professionally, representing the Oregon Track Club.
“This race is kind of fun just because Bend is such a nice area,” noted Bruce, 27.
“It’s kind of low-key compared to a lot of the races that I go to. ... The competition at some of the other races is just so much deeper. This trail series is just kind of getting going. I’m sure throughout the years it will get bigger and bigger.”
Saturday’s national championship was part of the annual XTERRA U.S. Trail Run Series, which started last September and includes 50 races in 15 states and eight regional series.
Jesse Thomas, 29 and a Bend native who currently resides in Eugene, remembers competing against King in high school track. A state cross-country and 3,000-meter champion as a senior at Mountain View High School, Thomas ran Pac-10 track at Stanford and is now training for Olympic-distance and half-Ironman triathlons.
“I’ve been away from running for a while,” said Thomas following Sunday’s race. “Lauren (Fleshman), my wife, was going to come do this race. I’d been training a little bit, so I thought, ‘Why not jump in and see what I can run 13 miles in?’ And it was awesome. I really surprised myself.”
Lauren Fleshman, 27 and, like her husband, of Eugene, snuck up on the competition as she snatched the title away from 2008 champion Susannah Beck, 41, who currently resides in Brunswick, Maine. Beck finished second in Sunday’s race.
“This is my first half-marathon and XTERRA race,” said Fleshman, noting that she more commonly competes at shorter distances. “It was tough to race at that sustained effort for that long. ... I started cramping up with four miles to go and I had to stop and walk for about 30 seconds. ... But then I pulled it together, and once I got on the flat ground for the last three miles, that’s my specialty, running flat for three miles, I was OK from then on out.”
Fleshman finished in a time of 1:19:10.
A professional runner for Nike and Oregon Track Club, Fleshman races in meets around the world. She was a five-time NCAA Champion and 15-time All-American at Stanford University, as well as three-time Olympic trials qualifier.
“It’s a different sport altogether really,” adds Fleshman, comparing track running with cross-country trail running. “Track is a different animal. It’s all flat and left turns, and it’s a rhythm event. And this is all about ... you can’t get a rhythm. ... It’s very technical. It’s a complete opposite style of running from what I do. But I enjoy it very much. This is the roots of running. This is true running.”
“Lauren is a stunning athlete,” noted Beck, “so I don’t mind at all (that she won). And I ran pretty well, too. I felt strong.”
Beck clocked in at 1:21:37.
In third place was Bend’s Kami Semick, 43, who finished in 1:22:07.
“I always say I’m not a half-marathoner,” said Semick, a world-class ultramarathon runner for whom Sunday’s race was a relative sprint. “But it’s always fun to get out there and give it a go.”
Other XTERRA events Sunday included 5- and 10-kilometer runs, the Kids Zone Challenge, the K9 Challenge (obstacle course for dogs and their owners), and a Kids Sprint.
In the 10K, Bend’s Samuel Burris and Zach Rowland, both 19, finished second and third, respectively, in times of 38:03 and 40:30. A Eugene runner whose name was not available posted the winning time of 37:22.
Portland’s Julie Leasure, 38, was the first female finisher in the 10K, clocking in at 42:48. The women’s 10K runner-up was Lindsay Peters, 29, of Bend (43:01). Shelby Merrick, 24, of Bend, took third with a time of 43:51.
Bend’s Piper McDonald, a 12-year-old, wowed the crowd with her first-place female finish in the 5K. She posted fourth place overall with a time of 19:33.
Mike Condon, 23, also of Bend, finished first in the men’s 5K division with a winning time of 16:49.