The former record was 4:51.85, set in 2012 by New Zealander Tony McManus. King sat down to answer some questions with the CU Sports Information Staff.
First of all, congrats on the accomplishment
Thanks, it’s really cool right now because I mean I did something kind of epic in a way. World records, even at my age, they’re just all fast there’s nothing easy out there. If I look through all the times for all the distance events for sixty-year-old men or even 65-year-old men I’m like, ‘God these guys are still just motoring.’
What does this accomplishment mean 40 years past collegiate running?
I grew up in a family that ran, my dad was a runner, all my siblings ran. I had three brothers and sisters that all ran, three of us ran collegiately, the one who didn’t run collegiately is the one with all the American records. I grew up in a running family and so running has always sort of been part of my own personal fabric of what’s important to me because it connects me to my own history and my own family. My dad was also a little bit of a health nut. I definitely have embraced health-nuttery. As an aging athlete part of the reason I stay athletic is that I know just being in great shape, having a great cardiovascular system, having a lean body weight lets me do all the things I still love to do in life. I love to ski, I love to play golf, I love to ride my bike. I like to be outdoors, I like to hike with my family I just like to be outside a lot. So I’ve always embraced athletics, more holistically than just, I want to be great at running. But because I have some talent for the sport, and I’ve stayed with it and I embrace a sort of just this level of fitness at a high level and sort of a holistic level, it’s just afforded me all of a sudden opportunities as a 50 plus-year-old master to go do some really fun competitive stuff. This year, this world record just sort of happened almost by accident.
I could still run a five-minute mile when I was 56 because I ran around 4:35 in the 1500 meters in the qualifying heat at the World Masters Track and Field Championships in France. So I was like, ‘wow I can still run it now, I’m not in great mile shape I’m just in good overall shape’. I kind of thought I might still be able to run a five-minute mile when I turned 60, so I just sort of made that a goal. I thought, how cool would it be to be fit enough to still run a five-minute mile after all those years when I turned 60.
Then when I turned 60, I just couldn’t string together any training at all, mainly because I hurt my back right before my birthday. I pinched a disk and that caused nerve pain that radiated down through my leg and it’s like months and months and months for that to finally resolve. Even though I could kind of put some runs in here and there I never felt good with my running through to that whole period.
So, it wasn’t really until this year that I thought I still might have a chance at five minutes mark at 60 but who knows, I’m 61 now. So I built a race calendar for the year I wanted to run. I wanted to run a fast mile at a road race in California in May, but then I was transitioning to a whole bunch of other races that I thought would be great this year. There’s a point-to-point race in California called the Dipsy that is sort of an iconic race that my dad has won before and I wanted to run that I just thought that would be super special. That’s like a seven and a half mile cross country run essentially. Then I had Bolder Boulder after that I always love to run the Bolder. Then I wanted to run World Masters again which was going to be in Canada, and I figured my best events would be the 5K and the 8K. So mile was important to me this year at the start of the year, but I wouldn’t have stayed with mile training had it not been for COVID. COVID happened in March and I was already sort of in the early part of my training and it was more mile focus, but then, everything shut down and all my races got canceled, and I was enjoying the mile training so much that I just stayed with it. By the end of the summer, I’m sitting here going, ‘man I have just gotten so fit, the events great for me it’s like an age grading better at this than age grade for any other races’. It was almost more just serendipitous that I put myself in a position to even try for a world record event that I used to not even think was something that was even in my wheelhouse.
How have you been able to work through all the setbacks and injuries over the years?
For me, the biggest one has always been problems with plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis stopped my collegiate running when I was a senior. It came as a result of having tried to build a huge base over the summer before my last year of running. That was an overuse injury that I tried to train through and race through and it just sort of blew up on me and ended of my college running, and then it wasn’t really a problem again until like in my 30s it would like come back but it would always go away if I just took a month off or six weeks off or whatever. Then when I turned 40, it came back and I was like, wow, this sucks but, you know, coincidentally I started a company, I’d had my first child. I’d also had to have knee surgery on my patellar tendon. So I took a year and a half off from running when I turned 40. When I started running again after a year and a half, the plantar was back within two weeks, and I was just like, ‘oh my god this is incredible’. It’s clearly not an issue of just getting it healthy because it was completely healthy after a year and a half off it, I didn’t feel it at all. But as soon as I started running it came back and I was like, ‘what do you do when running triggers and injury and it takes zero time for that injury to get triggered’. So then that’s sort of started this whole Odyssey for me of how do I solve this problem, is that a solvable problem does this mean I just can’t run anymore. Along that journey, I ended up just deciding to completely rebuild my running form and to stop running in orthotics. Part of that was because I read a book called Born to Run, and it had a good chapter on all things related to footwear. You know barefoot running and stuff like that and up to that point I had never really thought that maybe my form, the types of shoes, and the fact that I ran into plastic orthotics my entire life were part of the contributors to this problem. I made a very conscientious decision when I turned 50 to try to reinvent myself as a runner and I got rid of the plantar for about four or five years for the most part and had some really good success on the master scene but I still had to be really careful with how much I trained and then when I turned 55 that came back and then for the last basically four or five years it’s been sort of with me every step of the way. Then I had a surgery on it at the end of my 58th year so when I turned 59 basically I didn’t run much because I was recovering from a medical procedure to try to get rid of some of the scar tissue on that tendon, and that seems to have made a big difference along with just, I’m religious about a certain stretching and strengthening protocol now that’s kind of targets the back of my calf and my Achilles and my plantar kind of all three, supports all three. That’s helped me a ton. I do that all the time now I do it at least three or four times a week and I do it with weights. It’s called an eccentric stretch to lengthen that and also just to strengthen the connection where the muscle and the tendon are attached. This year is the first year that I can remember since, I was at least 50 that I’ve been able to run 10 months into the year now and do high intensity throughout that entire window of time, and not have a plantar setback. I’ve had some calf and some hamstring problems but I know what those are. I know how to deal with those. They’re unfortunate, they cost me some time but they’re not like plantar. Plantar’s scary because when that comes back it’s a persistent injury and it’s hard to get rid of.
What motivated you to go for this record and really put a plan in?
I did a 5:10 time trial in Colorado right after COVID started to become a thing. All the races that I wanted to do got canceled so I just wanted to see where my fitness was at, and when I say time trials, just by myself with a couple of people watching me and timing me. I ran 5:10 and I was like, “okay well, man, that felt pretty good.” Then three weeks later, my daughter’s boyfriend who’s a college runner happened to be visiting and he agreed to come and pace me for a second time trial. I wanted to see how my training was progressing. That one I ran 5:03, and so the jump from 5:10 to 5:03 in three weeks for me, told me that I haven’t peaked, I’m not at my ceiling you wouldn’t have taken that much time off if I was close. Secondly, it also told me that if I use the NCAA conversion tables that was probably close to a 4:56 at sea level equivalent, and I was like alright that’s not that far from these records, so that’s when it’s sort of cemented for me mentally that these were possibilities. Then I sort of shifted my goals I said alright well now I want to break five minutes at altitude, and I also want to see if I can find any opportunity to take a crack at the American record. The American and the world records were so close, they’re only a second and a quarter apart, so I thought taking a shot at those records too would be just like if I could find that chance I was definitely gonna kind of put it on my calendar and see if I could make that happen.
How did everything unfold in this year of uncertainty?
Well first I went to Nashville in between there was a really cool race concept that the guy who puts on the Brooklyn mile came up with and he basically came up with a virtual one-mile race that was going to be essentially an international competition that had both an age-graded component and altitude adjustment component. So put everybody on a level playing field right, you could race any athlete of any ability anywhere in the world and because it was altitude adjusted and because it was age-graded it put everybody on the same playing field. Then he created a prize money purse that had different tiers so basically if you achieved a certain time for your age, it would put you into one of three price categories, and the hardest one to get into was the level 10 category and of the almost 700 runners I was the only one who got into that level 10, because I ran a 4:57 road mile basically in Colorado, and this was on Father’s Day. That was like holy cow that was great and then I was like okay a world record is totally in my wheelhouse at this point because my altitude equivalent time was essentially the world record time, even though it was a road mile that I ran, the world record is for the track. Right around that same time I also found that Music City distance Carnival which is normally a spring race got rescheduled for the middle of August, and it was actually another local runner in town that told me that that race was gonna actually happen with all of its COVID restrictions and he’s like, there’s your chance if you want to chase this record and so I was like okay so I signed up for that race. That was August 15, and I ran 4:57 there, but it was super challenging conditions for me because it was really hot that day it was a little bit windy. I had no pacing help and I still ran 4:57, and so I was just like, wow, I just need one more crack at this and I need a better day. The other thing about that race was, I had hurt my hamstring and sort of my build-up for Nashville and so I only got one quality run in before that race in the preceding three and a half weeks. And so I really wasn’t in my best form for it.
The race organizers that put that race on invited me to come out and do a second race he was putting on that was also going to be a sanctioned event, and that’s the one that was in South Carolina. That was two weeks later and that’s where I set the record.
That was an open/master’s race. The protocol for sanctioned races, athletes have to get two COVID tests within the week before the race. I think there wasn’t enough time, and a lot of athletes that might have otherwise done that race, they just opted not to because of the complications with competing in that environment. There were a few people that signed up, but when race week came around one of them basically didn’t show up the other one actually asked the race director if he could compete in a longer event. So I was going to be kind of stuck by myself in that race with a pacer. For a record to be ratified at least three people have to run in a race. You just can’t have just one or two people and even if it’s electronically timed and all that. So the race director, basically, I had one pacer, there was me, and he asked another one of the pro milers if you would just come in and run with us. So essentially it was me and two pro milers. So this was really just a race to help me try to set a record it was really a competition with me and the clock with pacing support.
It was basically a glorified time trial. It was really interesting, I have a pretty acute sense of where I was with the clock and everything on my other runs, but this one, I didn’t even start my Garmin, and I didn’t really listen or look at the clock for splits because I knew I had professional milers. We talked and I asked to help me run 72 second 400s. I’ll run my best if it’s even, so just tell me to run, and go pace 72s. And so I never looked at the clock, I never thought about my time, I just was able to focus on my form, on my relaxation in terms of my running, and I knew if I was running with those guys I was on pace I didn’t have to look at a clock to know that. They’re pretty experienced runners, its pretty easy for them to run 72 seconds 400s. So that was interesting because I think part of the reason I went so fast, the reason I went for 4:49 seconds was I just had no distractions, other than just concentration on running form and running relaxed and staying nice and easy in the moment.
What’s next for you?
The race director, he’s potentially going to put on another meet in December in Nashville. He asked me if I would come out for it if he put a 3K on. The American record for the 3K is 10:07, and the world record for the3K is 9:29.57, I think. 9:29.57 age-grades almost exactly how fast I ran my mile. So it would be super, I would have to have as good of a race, or maybe even try to be better than I had in South Carolina, to have a crack at the world record. But the American record is almost 40 seconds slower and that feels totally attainable from where I sit right at this moment with my level of fitness. If my training goes well through the fall, I’ll sort of give myself a little bit of a break here. Although, there’s a local 1500 meter race here on September 19 that I still might just go do just for the heck of it. The idea of running a five minute equivalent on the track in a 1500 to me still checks the box for me of breaking five minutes at altitude. So basically if I can run a 4:37, I’ll run that and then I’ll just sort of shift my focus to that track meet in Nashville in December, and then next year is World Championships, or the world masters championships will be in July in Finland and I’d love to go to that.
What advice would you give a post-collegiate runner or your occasional yearly 5K-10K runner?
I’ve been very persistent in my approach. When I say persistent, I kind of redefined myself as more of an endurance athlete than a runner, because when I get hurt, I just shift sports for a while until I can run again. I ride road bike, mountain bike, and I will cross-train every day because it makes me feel good. This so-called lifetime commitment to fitness it just sets me up, and I think it would set anybody up to going out and running a really good 5K or 10K when their health is such that it supports it. So my advice is don’t be discouraged by the injury setbacks, just kind of keep an open mind and continue to think about yourself as an athlete. It drives good decisions, it drives good eating habits, it drives good nutrition. It affects a lot of really positive changes in your life that support not only just athletic repetitive goals but it just supports living with a high-quality lifestyle.
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