Rocky coach ready to run in first Boston Marathon

2013-04-13T23:00:00Z 2013-07-05T15:54:08Z Rocky coach ready to run in first Boston MarathonBy BILL BIGHAUS bbighaus@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The reasons why Alan King runs are numerous.

"Obviously, it's a love and a passion," the Billings marathoner said. "I think, ultimately, it's given me so much."

King's ability to race great distances helped him secure a college education, meet his wife, start a family and launch a career as the cross country and distance track coach at Rocky Mountain College.

"It's the basis for my life," he said. "It's given me everything I have. That's why I love it so much."

On Monday, King's love of running will have him competing in the historic 26.2-mile Boston Marathon for the first time.

The reigning Montana Marathon champion, who turned 33 on April 3, will be decked out in his favorite bright lime green racing singlet and wearing bib number 303.

He said the timing for the race couldn't be any better because he believes he is running better than he ever has before.

"As far as my physical shape and where I'm at in my training, I feel I'm really good right now," King said. “I'd like to think I could be the dark horse guy that comes up and pops off a really good race and be pretty high up there.

“As far as how high: Who knows?”

He has been preparing since early December to run smart and to run fast in the 117th annual marathon, which is considered the granddaddy of them all. King will have his wife, Becca, and their 4-year-old son, Hayden, in Boston cheering for him.

This will be his eighth marathon since running his first in 2003.

King, who has also raced in Chicago and Miami, has a personal record time of 2:29:21, which he ran in California in 2007. He qualified for Boston with his time of 2:37:48 in Chicago in 2011.

"I'd just like to run a new PR,” he said of Monday's race. “That always depends on what the weather does, too. If the temperature is at 85 degrees that kind of blows that out the door."

That’s what it was last year, prompting thousands of runners to drop out or skip the race entirely. The winning time for the men was 2:12:40, which is one of the slowest clockings in years.

Around 27,000 runners are expected for this year's Boston Marathon — with nearly 40 entrants coming from Montana — and the weather forecast looks promising at cool and dry.

"Now the only thing that could be a detriment is the wind," King said before leaving for Boston on Saturday. "Don't know which way it's going to blow. They have a hard time predicting that."

A 1999 graduate of Billings West and former Dakota Wesleyan, S.D., distance runner, King has been coaching at Rocky for six years.

A familiar figure on the local running scene, he said he would eventually like to qualify for the Olympic marathon trials. They are 3½ years away, though, and have a qualifying standard of 2:18.

“To tell you the truth, I'm actually really relaxed for this race, because I'm not putting pressure on myself that I have to qualify for the trials or I’m not saying I have to win it,” King said. “I'm just going in being as fit as I possibly can, and running as hard and fast and as long as I can."

He took some time off from running last summer while dealing with Piriformis syndrome on his right side. It’s a condition in which the piriformis muscle, located in the buttock region, spasms and irritates the sciatic nerve, causing pain, tingling and numbness.

Despite combating the piriformis and a nagging calf injury, King still set his sights on Boston and was able to win the Montana Marathon in mid-September in 2:39:31 on limited training.

"I needed a goal to get me fired up and start going again," he said. "Boston was that goal. I've been doing almost 20 miles every Sunday, and been able to micro-manage the pain.”

Now, he said, “I really feel if the weather cooperates and the conditions are right, I could run a 2:18. I've done some really good workouts.”

As part of his rigorous training regimen, King spent a recent Sunday morning running from Laurel to Billings.

The 22-mile trek, starting on Buffalo Trail Road north of Laurel, simulated the topography of the course the 6-foot, 146-pound King will encounter in Boston — flat stretches, downhill portions and hills — and he covered it in 2:26 without overdoing it.

"It went very well," he said. "I was pleasantly surprised. Twenty-two miles hasn't felt that easy before, so that was good. It was definitely a confidence boost.

"Everything seems to be on track to have a good race."

After traversing lonely stretches of pavement, open fields and West End neighborhoods, what's waiting for King in Boston on Patriots’ Day will be TV helicopters whirling overhead, the screaming women of Wellesley College cheering on the thousands of runners at the race's midway point and Heartbreak Hill.

"I am anticipating the crowd and the environment,” he said. “I think it is going to be really cool to get that experience. I'm going to really try to consciously absorb that. I'm pretty excited to be a part of that atmosphere.”

King, who will be conducting training sessions for the Montana Marathon beginning in May, is quite a technician when it comes to running — with an eye for the small details that could make a major difference during a race.

He has been running anywhere from 40 miles to 85 miles a week in preparation for Boston. Some of that has been on a treadmill in 75-degree room temperature in Rocky’s Fortin Center to simulate the possibility of hot weather.

“I ran a lot of track meets this year indoor,” he added. “I really wanted to work on getting my speed up while maintaining marathon training. I ran PRs for the 5K as well as for the 3K, so I know my fitness and my pain threshold as far as top-end speed is pretty good right now.”

And while he has been eating "pretty much whatever I like" during training, King said with a grin that he has cut out the ice cream before bedtime in favor of frozen blueberries.

Billings native Mike Layman placed seventh in 1983 at 2:11:24, which is the highest finish and fastest time ever turned in by a Montanan in Boston.

More recently, Jacob Bradosky of Great Falls, whom King has beaten three times in head-to-head races, placed 25th overall in the 2011 Boston Marathon at 2:21:11.

"I really hope we can get the conditions (Bradosky) had a couple of years ago,” King said. “That was the year that they ran the fastest marathon time in the world (2:03:02).

“It was about 50 degrees and there was like a 20 mph wind at your back the whole time. I'd love to roll with that and see what would happen."

In addition to his training, King has also discussed race strategy with Billings runners Tony Banovich and Dave Coppock, who already have the Hopkinton-to-Boston race on their marathon resumes.

Banovich, who now lives in Plains, ran a 2:39:56 and placed 54th overall in 2004. Coppock, who is the cross country and track coach at Montana State Billings, ran in Boston five times in the 1980s and 90s, with a best time of 2:30 in 1988.

"The two things they both mentioned was to be smart and don't go out super fast," King said. "They said to really consciously hold back those first few miles because you are starting downhill."

That will also help to save strength for the portion of the race known as the Newton hills, which begin around the 15-mile mark.

“Heartbreak Hill could be an issue,” King said. “I've talked to some people who said it was just a nightmare. I've talked to other people who said the hills there aren't that bad as long as you train for them and are prepared.

“From everything I've read and heard, if I can get up through Heartbreak Hill and have something left in my legs, the last 10k is downhill, a straight shot to the finish,” King said.“If I've still got some energy left, I can really roll that last six miles.

“I'd like to be in that situation, obviously."

King, who also has a number of half-marathons in his racing background, said running at Boston has never really fit into his training schedule until this year.

"I'm starting to get later in my running career," he said. "Not too many times am I going to be able to compete at a high level at big, well-known marathons. So it's kind of like now is the time to get the experience, get the chance to run and have a good time."

He is already looking ahead to running in New York City and London in the near future.

"I want to try to get to some of those big-name ones," King said. "Hopefully the next four to 10 years I'll get all the big marathons covered. I'd love to get to the (Olympic) trials. I mean, that's the ultimate goal for all of this."

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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