Trail Running Tips From Central Oregon Ultrarunning Champ

max king trail running 3
Photo by Paul Nelson

The last job you’d expect a Cornell University grad with a Chemical Engineering degree to be doing is selling footwear. For Max King, working at the FootZone, a specialty running shop in downtown Bend is a perfect fit. The runner, best known for crushing ultramarathons as well as dominating short distance trail races, is in his happy place when he’s working, coaching, raising his two kids and running in Bend.

King runs ultramarathons in less time than it takes you to binge-watch half a season of your favorite show on Netflix. In November 2014 he set a new American record at the IAU [International Association of Ultrarunners] World Championships in Qatar. He crossed the finish line for the 100K in 6 hours and 27 minutes… I’m exhausted just typing that.

King trains in Central Oregon throughout the year. Because he runs short distances and long distances on pavement and dirt, I knew he’d have some great insight to share with others looking to get out and run on the High Desert.


What terrain does Central Oregon offer runners?

It’s a huge variety but what I would say we’re best known for is the mountain bike network of smooth, sweet singletrack. Smith Rock is a huge draw as well to a number of ultrarunners looking for something quintessentially Central Oregon.

What’s your go-to trail for a short run?

I have the (Deschutes) River Trail right out my front door for those. No traffic, a great surface, and great scenery too.

What about those long training runs?

For something longer you have all the trails right around Bend like the River Trail and Phil’s Trail. Usually I’ll want something hillier so I’ll drive to Smith Rock/Grey Butte, Green Lakes/Soda Creek, or Black Butte to get some real vertical in.

Favorite part about running on the High Desert?

I think the best thing about it is the weather for the long runs we get to do. It’s not a lot of fun to go for a long run and be soaking wet in the first 10 minutes, over here that rarely happens. The wide-open expanses and scenic views of the snowcapped peaks don’t hurt though either.

Max King trail running
Photo by Jill Rosell

Pavement or Dirt?

Dirt is definitely more enjoyable for me, but sometimes is nice to hit the pavement for something up-tempo and a little quicker.

How does the Central Oregon scenery enhance your running experience?

It definitely helps with the long distances. I always like running around Awbrey Butte on the River Trail. Coming around the north side you get the expansive views of all the mountains. It’s always so inspiring.

Any hidden gems for running in Central Oregon?

Taking off through the woods with no trail underfoot. I think something that a lot of people overlook is just the cross country running that’s available in Central Oregon. The wide-open forests allow you to just take off cross country. You do have to be more prepared with a map, compass, and/or a good sense of direction to pull this off, so it can obviously be more risky.

Advice on what to wear?

The best advice I can give is, be prepared with an extra lightweight wind jacket. They’re easy to carry in a pocket or pack when you’re out on the trail and such a life saver in weather that turns on you. I can’t tell you how many times a jacket like that has saved me.

Favorite place to get a beer in Central Oregon after a long run?

Crow’s Feet Commons. I love the atmosphere of Bikes, Skis, Beer and Coffee. They have a great mix of beer and cider on tap and they always have a thick, dark stout on nitro.

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Visit Central Oregon is the "Official" Tourism Information Resource for Central Oregon, including the communities of Bend, Sunriver, Redmond, Sisters, La Pine, Madras, Prineville, Crooked River Ranch, Terrebonne, Culver, Warm Springs, and Black Butte Ranch.
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