Max is King of the Mountain
A course record that withstands the test of time may appear unbreakable.
When Ric Sayre set the course record at the 13.3-mile Ashland Hill Climb trail race in 1986, Max King was looking forward to entering the first grade.
King, now 30, showed Saturday morning how far he's come since then.
The former Crater High School running standout reached the summit of Mt. Ashland in a mere 1 hour, 41 minutes, 50 seconds after the starter's gun sounded in Lithia Park — slicing 10 seconds off Sayre's record with his victory.
The Ashland Hill Climb, in its 33rd year, challenges runners with 5,600 feet — more than a mile — of vertical climbing. Only the Pike's Peak Ascent race can boast a greater elevation gain.
"To run it as fast as Sayre did my first time, I feel pretty good about that," King said. "It means my training's been right on. I've been doing a lot more hills, trying to get ready for the World Mountain Running Championships."
For most of his running career, the Bend resident has been known as a road and track racer. King is the course record holder and five-time winner of Medford's Pear Blossom Run and competed in the steeplechase at the 2008 U. S. Olympic Trials.
Shortly after the Trials, King turned to mountain and ultramarathoning racing. His fifth-place finish at the Mount Washington race in New Hampshire last month earned him a spot on the U.S. Mountain Running Team.
"My training now is different from what I've done in the past where a lot of my training was on the flat, where I'd put in a hill workout every once in a while," King explained. "Now I'm consciously putting in hills every day, and that seems to be helping."
King will compete in the World Mountain Running Championship in Kamnik, Slovenia, on Sept. 5. Between now and then, he will team up with fellow Bend runner Andy Martin in the Trans-Rockies 113-mile, six-day stage race in Colorado. King won Trans-Rockies with Ashlander Erik Skaggs in 2008.
On Saturday, Skaggs had to settle for runner-up.
"We started off together, but Max put a move on early in the first flattish section in the first two miles," Skaggs said.
Over the ensuing miles, Skaggs held his own on the hillier sections but lost ground to King on the flats. In the end, Skaggs finished 7:09 back in a time of 1:48:59, his best in three attempts.
The men's race this year had the most competitive field ever assembled. Twenty-five runners finished in under 2:15. Only 12 broke that barrier last year, and there were five in 2005.
The finish of the women's race was dramatic in a different way.
Bend's Stephanie Howe successfully defended her 2009 win, but collapsed at the finish.
The 26-year-old elite cross-country skier had been suffering from muscle cramps for several miles. The cramps worsened the second she stopped running. After a few minutes of rest and rehydration, she was feeling better.
The secret to Howe's success is cross-training.
"I've been doing a lot of things, including bike racing, not just running," Howe said.
Hills are a staple of Howe's training, whether with running shoes, roller skies or wheels.
"I like to start slow. I'm not a fast runner, I'm more of a climber, Howe said. "The first mile or so is the hardest for me because the race starts off so fast. "… Jenn (Shelton) was with me for the first mile, then she got a little behind. I like it that way, I like being in my own zone."
Howe finished in 2:12:07, ahead of Ashland runner Melissa Schweisguth, by 7:24.
Another course record may have fallen beyond King's effort on Saturday thanks to a performance by master's winner Tim Van Orden of Bennington, Vermont. The 42-year-old's time of 1:55:33 appears to be a master's record but verification will take another day, according to race director Torsten Heycke.
Van Orden has won 42 races since 2006, the year he began training and eating a raw foods diet. He credits his successes to his diet, and is the founder of the Running Raw Project.
Shortly after passing the 12-mile mark, runners in the Hill Climb arrive at the Ashland Ski Area lodge. They must then find any route they can to the summit of Mt. Ashland, climbing and clawing through scree and boulder fields.
For first-timers like Van Orden, the experience is unprecedented.
"The first 12 miles were a piece of cake," he said. "This thing (last part) was a race all unto itself. You think you're doing great and suddenly you think, 'Where did my legs go?'"
Of the 239 runners who started, only 185 finished.
MEN'S TOP 10
1, Max King, 30, Bend, 1:41:50; 2, Erik Skaggs, 28, Ashland, 1:48:59; 3, Tim Van Orden, 42, Bennington, Vermont, 1:55:33; 4, Ruben Galbraith, 26, Portland, 1:57:28; 5, Dave Dunham, 46, Bradford, Mass., 1:58:05; 6, Peter Fain, 38, Truckee, Calif., 1:58:18; 7, Zach Violett, 28, Bend, 1:59:10; 8, Lewis Taylor, 37, Eugene, 1:59:35; 9, Jeff Olsen, 25, Ashland, 2:00:16; 10, Timothy Olson, 26, Ashland, 2:00:26.
WOMEN'S TOP 10
1, Stephanie Howe, 26, Bend, 2:12:07; 2, Melissa Schweisguth, 36, Ashland, 2:19:31; 3, Jenn Shelton, 26, Ashland, 2:32:58; 4, Nikki Dinger, 34, Phoenix, 2:37:59; 5, Ali Lively, 37, Talent, 2:46:49; 6, Amy Kranenburg, 35, Central Point, 2:46:57; 7, Kristin Zosel, 35, Eugene, 2:47:13; 8, Laura Imperia, 49, Jacksonville, 2:48:25; 9, Jennifer Boe, 48, Portland, 2:49:16; 10, Jamie Arvizo, 32, Ashland, 2:51:10.
Visit www.mtashlandrun.com for complete results.
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at email@example.com