Max King was looking for a challenge.
When the Pear Blossom Run record holder and six-time winner lined up at the start of the 36th-annual 10-mile race in Medford Saturday, there was no one to push him.
RECAP: Former Crater High runner Max King, of Bend, wins his record seventh title in a time of 51 minutes, 23 seconds. The mark is well off the 10-mile record of 49:10 he set last year. King and Matt Sheeks, an accomplished triathlete from Woodinville, Wash., pull away from the lead pack at about four miles, but the latter doesn't threaten to unseat the local favorite.
A mile in, it was clear his legs weren't cooperating.
"My legs were feeling terrible, actually," he said.
Nevertheless, King ran at a comfortable pace for himself, one that no one else could match, and captured his record seventh victory in 51 minutes, 23 seconds.
Oh, and he eventually found a challenge.
As he turned off West Main Street onto Oakdale Avenue, bringing the finish line into sight, he switched gears and conjured a robust kick over the last block that ignited cheers from spectators. He had put forth a challenge to the bicyclist assigned to escort the leader home.
"I was racing the biker," said King, 32. "We had a little bet going. We were going to race from the corner to the finish. It wasn't much of a contest, though."
Perhaps, but King did cross the finish line and the escort peeled off.
King's victory total is four more than the next best on the all-time list. Matt Cato won three men's titles between 1988 and '93.
King, a graduate of Crater High who lives in Bend, did inch closer to the all-time winningest Pear Blossom runner.
Deanna Schiedler-O'Neil won nine women's championships, the last coming in 2003, when King claimed his first. Schiedler-O'Neil also owns the record of six straight wins; King had four from 2003 to '06.
King's nearest pursuer on Saturday was Matt Sheeks of Woodinville, Wash., who ran 51:38. Glen Tucker of Grants Pass was third in 53:02, followed by Talent's Tyler Davis in 53:16 and McMinnville's Chris McIsaac in 55:04.
There were 1,463 runners who completed the race, including 672 males.
Sheeks has an impressive resume as well, but as a triathlete and duathlete. Competing as a professional, he won the 2010 USA Triathlon's Elite Duathlon National Championship in Birmingham, Ala. A year earlier, he took home the amateur duathlon national title.
A former University of Portland runner, Sheeks wanted to get in a good prep run for an ironman triathlon in St. George, Utah, in three weeks.
He was well aware of King's credentials — not only as a champion here, but as a former Olympic trials participant in the marathon and steeplechase and a world-champion trail runner.
"I assumed Max would be way up there and I'd maybe be pacing off the second- or third-place guys and get carried to a fast time," said Sheeks, 28, who is coming back from a nasty cycling accident. "Max, I think, was just going for the win, so he kind of hung back with me."
The lead pack had four runners in it for about four miles, then King and Sheeks pulled away.
King knew "right off the bat" it wouldn't be a particularly fast race, and certainly nothing that would match his record time of 49:10 last year.
"We went out a little slower than you really need to for a record pace," he said. "My legs were feeling terrible at that point, so I thought, well, I'll just settle into it and get a good run in and go for the win."
He purposely didn't pull away from Sheeks. Rather, he served as a pacer so Sheeks could turn in a good time.
"In these races, it's always kind of nice to run with somebody," said King. "I figured I'd just try to keep him with me and we could work together a little bit, push each other."
At one point, Sheeks dared to challenge King. It didn't go well.
"I know he had a lot more in the tank," said Sheeks. "I threw him a little surge because he slowed down for a bit. That probably wasn't smart because it was right before a hill. I hit oxygen debt on that hill (Hanley Road), and on the way back I just never felt the same and was just kind of hanging on to him."
King will soon have another chance to get his legs in prime working order. He's in a 40-mile race today in Sisters.
It's not the first time he's done back-to-back races. Last fall, he competed in a 50K and a half-marathon within 24 hours of each other.
King had considered training for this summer's Olympic track and field trials in the 3,000-meter steeplechase if he wasn't successful in making the marathon team. He placed 19th at the trials. The top three made the squad.
King's training hasn't been geared to the track, so he's decided against trying to qualify for the steeplechase trials, as he did in 2008. He'll instead compete the world over in trail and mountain events, including a race in May in Spain.
Among other finishers was James Gros of Eagle Point. The 9-year-old was the youngest entrant. His time was 2:02:21.
The oldest registered 10-miler, John Norberg of Eureka, Calif., also made it across the finish line in the required 2:55. The 85-year-old's time was 2:47:36. The only other entrant in the male 80-and-over division was John Bromstead, 81, of Central Point. His time was 2:28:42.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org