Eddie King finished second to last in the 1600-meter run of the 2014 Central Coast Section Track and Field Championships. But out of all the runners in that race 4 ½ years ago, few—if any—have distinguished themselves in college as King has done. The Chico State senior is enjoying a terrific cross country season, a byproduct of staying healthy, great coaching and a determination and talent that was just waiting to be tapped.
King, a 2014 Live Oak High graduate, is coming off the two best races of his college career when he finished fourth overall in the Capital Cross Challenge in Sacramento on Sept. 29 and second in the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational on Oct. 13. In the Capital Cross Challenge, King covered the 8K race (4.9 miles) in 24 minutes, 16.6 seconds to lead Chico State to the team championship in a field that included a dozen Division I programs (Chico State is a Division II program).
King’s standout performance—he beat his previous personal-record (PR) at the 8K distance by 19 seconds—placed him second among all collegiate runners and 10 seconds faster than the nearest Division II competitor. King started the race fast—he covered the first mile in around 4:50—and stayed strong for the duration of the race.
“I went out faster than expected and was surprised I was able to keep going (strong) after that,” he said. “At about the 3 mile mark I was looking at the people ahead of me and wanted to catch them. Attempting to do that was a good step for me. I think during the race I heard someone say, “You’re stronger than you think you are.’ And I took that to heart and pushed myself even if I didn’t think I could.”
At the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational, King earned his second PR in as many races, covering the 8K distance in a swift 23:57.3. King is running his best at the perfect time, with the conference championships a little over two weeks away. In the Capital Cross Challenge, King didn’t wear his runner’s watch because just prior to the race one of the bands on the watch broke.
For runners who constantly look at their watches while in competition or training, that could be prove rather unnerving. However, King attributed his performance partly to not having a watch, as he didn’t have to worry about looking at numbers and whether he was properly pacing himself. All he had to do was stay focused on the course and what was happening around him. No watch? No problem. Talk about a blessing in disguise.
“It was a good thing because all I had to do was compete and the time would follow, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “I would probably rather go off feel and making adjustments from there.”
Seasoned runners are comfortable going off feel and are able to gauge how fast they’re going without the use of a watch. King, who is running 75 to 85 miles a week, has a goal to earn All America status this season. To do that, King would need to place in the top 40 in the NCAA Championships on Dec. 1 in Pittsburgh.
King already earned All America status last spring on the track, when he went 14:17 in the 5000-meter race in the NCAA Championships to take eighth place overall, the cutoff for All America recognition.
“It wasn’t my best time, but I would say it was still my best race (in track) considering the tough conditions,” he said. “When I ran my PR of 14:13, the weather was perfect and the race was perfectly paced. But this one was humid and hot, and the result was only a couple of seconds off. So if I had perfect conditions, my time would’ve been lower. It was also a bigger stage and a lot more pressure, so getting that honor was a big deal.”
King was counting what place he was the entire race—“I had to know,” he said—before taking eighth place.
“I still have a hard time believing it (earning All America status), to be honest,” he said. “It’s was always my goal so getting that was a big deal.”
King is the prototypical late-bloomer, as his talent simply needed to be tapped for it to bloom. The intersection of a great training program along with improved health and mental toughness has lifted King into prominence. King, who also ran a sub 5 minute 1500 last spring, credited Chico State cross country head coach Gary Towne—who is also the distance coach for the track team—for putting him on a progressive training program that has him faster than ever.
“Gary doesn’t try to rush people in their first couple of years,” King said. “His plan is to really build you up so in the fourth or fifth year is where you really start to do big things. Getting into a rhythm of steady, heavy training over the years has gotten me to where I am. I didn’t train a lot in my early years of high school, which may have ended up helping me.”
King started training at altitude with his teammates in the summer of 2017 in Truckee, and he noticed a huge difference after two months. Professional runners, of course, spend a big chunk of their training block at altitude when prepping for a key race, as it increases the oxygen-rich red blood cell count that allows their body to carry more oxygen to the working muscles.
Even though King holds a couple of Live Oak school records, finding success at the college level was hardly a guarantee. After all, it’s one thing to set a school record in high school; it’s another to excel at a higher level. For the longest time, it didn’t look like King was going to run in college. He had a breakout senior year at Live Oak, then had conversations with Chico State about walking onto the track team.
“I had to convince coach for me to come out,” he said. “The first time I talked to him, he told me, ‘Well, we have a lot of people and your times aren’t fast enough. But by the end of my senior year, I improved my times a lot and he told me he could put me on the team, but I would have to try out. I joke about it with him now, but once I came out and he saw me run, he kind of knew if I kept at it, I could be at the level I’m at now. He always pushed me in a positive direction.”
King’s senior season at Chico State has been all the more rewarding considering he missed his entire freshman season of cross country and a good chunk of last year due to injury. He chalked up his current health to getting more sleep and taking care of himself better. King has also learned one of the golden rules of running: go easy on the easy training days. More than ever, King has become a runner whose ceiling continually gets higher.