\"Christie Conversations\" with Ralph King

Gatfxc.com: How did you start running?

King: In eighth grade the sport for PE class in the spring quarter was Track. To set a baseline for each of us the instructor had us do a time trial for 880 yards. I out ran everyone in the class. He suggested I come out for Track so I did.

Gatfxc.com: Did you prefer Cross Country or Track? Why?

King: Track, for several reasons. First, there is more variety in Track. Through the years I've run every distance on the track from 400 meters through 5000 meters, including legs on various different relay events. Each race distance is different. It's nice to run a fast-paced 1500 or 5000 with the goal of a PR, but the national championship races are usually slow with very fast last laps. On the other hand, the strategy for me when I ran on the 4x400m relay was pretty simple - all out from the start and never let up. Of course my legs felt like lead the last 100 meters.

Second, there is the camaraderie of sitting in the stands with your teammates watching your other teammates run their event. You don't get this in Cross Country because everyone competes at the same time.

And third, for me, is the simple fact that I was not as competitive in Cross Country as I was in Track. I don't think I had quite enough endurance for Cross Country - I never raced 10,000 meters on the track for the same reason. I think it is human nature to gravitate towards activities that we excel at.

But I must say that I never considered not running Cross Country - there is no better fall preparation for a distance runner. And being part of a team and going to the meets was fun.

Gatfxc.com: Can you describe your 8:52 3200 race?

King: It was pretty straightforward. It was actually a full 2 miles at the time and I wanted to break 9 minutes. That had been my goal all year. I had come close a few weeks earlier running 9:00.3 in Knoxville. I don't want to sound arrogant but the simple fact was that no one else in the state could run that kind of pace so I knew I had to do it by myself. I wanted to run an even pace for maximum efficiency. The splits needed to be 67 for each lap (440 yards). I took the lead from the gun and never looked back. I do not recall anyone trying to go with me. I was just racing the clock. The scoreboard was a simple football scoreboard back then and could only count down. They started it at 9:00. I remember listening for each split and pretty much hitting each one. I may have drifted off pace by a second or two during the second mile but made up a little on the last lap. There were 4 seconds left on the scoreboard when I crossed the finish line. I ran 8:55.9, which has now been converted to 8:52.5 for 3200 meters.

Gatfxc.com: What did you learn as a high school runner?

King: I learned the basics of training as a middle distance runner - distance runs, intervals, and speed training.

I learned that it was hard work, and that it took hard work. The great thing was that the hard work paid off. The harder you worked the faster you got. It was so measurable! You could compare the results of one week with the next. You could compare one year with the next. You could compare your result with someone's in California! This is a great aspect of Track & Field. My daughters competed in gymnastics, and my wife is now a gymnastic judge. Yes there are a complex set of rules for scoring gymnastics routines but two judges sitting side by side judging the same routine at the same time quite often come up with a slightly different score. There is some subjectivity involved and humans make mistakes. Rules change, levels of difficulty change, points per movement change. So scores from meet to meet and year to year are not directly comparable. Track & Field is far superior in this regard.

I learned mental discipline. The discipline to make yourself do every workout even if you didn't want to that day, even if the weather was bad, even if there was no coach around to tell you to do so. The latter became very important for me later in my career when I had no coach. There was no coach to specify my workouts, I had to do that myself, no one to tell me to run the last of 10 quarter mile intervals - I had to make myself do it. I suppose this can also be viewed as self-motivation, another valuable trait. Successful people are self-motivated.

And I learned to have confidence in yourself. Not an outward, boastful, public confidence but rather and inner, private confidence to know that you can succeed.

Gatfxc.com: How was College running different from High School running?

King: College was much more competitive. There was more travel to overnight away meets and the associated team camaraderie. There was an indoor track season. There were more big meets in big cities. Going to races like indoor NCAA in Detroit, Penn Relays, outdoor nationals in Los Angeles, and the outdoor NCAA nationals in various cities across the country was a good way to see parts of the country I had never seen before.

Gatfxc.com: What is your favorite race you’ve ever run and why?

King: I can't say I have a single favorite, but rather a few races that stand out because of a strong competitor I beat. The 1978 Tom Black Classic in Knoxville where I defeated Ray Flynn in the 1500m and set my personal best. Flynn was probably a better 1500m runner than I was. There was the 1979 5000m in Turku Finland where I beat Craig Virgin. Virgin held several American records at various times. And I defeated Lasse Viren in Tampere Finland in 1978. Of course he never seemed quite as competitive in non-Olympic years. As I said, college and post-college track was much more competitive than high school and therefore more fun and satisfying.

Gatfxc.com: What runners did you look up to?

King: Tony Waldrop. He graduated the year before I arrived at UNC. Some might remember his string of 11 consecutive sub-four minute indoor miles. We trained together occasionally the four years I was at Carolina. He was an amazing talent and though he no longer competed at the time and would never admit to any real training he was always incredibly fast. I still remember a workout we did at the Duke track - 4 x 800 meters. We blasted the first one in 1:52.

Gatfxc.com: What, in your opinion, is your greatest running accomplishment?

King: I always measured my success by my results at national championships. So it would have to be my 2nd place finish in the outdoor nationals 5000m in 1982. Matt Centrowitz had just set the American record in the Eugene where I ran 13:18 and he had won the nationals the previous 3 years. He was a miler who had moved up to the 5000. His kick was better than mine so I did what I had to do in the race - I took the lead with about 300 meters to go but couldn't hold him off the last 100. He won for the fourth straight year. I had done my best it just wasn't quite good enough.

Gatfxc.com: How did it come about that you were named Honorary Meet Director for this year’s Georgia Olympics? How did it feel coming back to Jefferson?

King: There's not that much to tell. I was talking via phone with the Athletic Director at St. Pius during last year's Georgia Olympics. Apparently someone with the GHSA asked him if I would do it and I said yes. As for coming back to Jefferson I must say that it gave me an emotional rush. It was only my second time back, the other was in 1981.

Gatfxc.com: How does it feel to still be in the record books in Georgia? Do you pay attention to the current athletes to see if your records are in jeopardy?

King: When I went off to UNC after high school I pretty much lost touch with high school track. I was quite surprised shortly after college when someone told me that both records still stood. Even then I thought it was just a matter of a little more time before they were broken. And then the decades went by! I heard last year that they were within reach of someone so I did some reading and learned of Ben Hubers and Jay Heller. So I've followed their progress for the past 2 seasons. I even watched this year's 3200 in person at Jefferson. The 5-AAAAA looked fast! I don't think I fully appreciated at the time how fast sub 9:00 was for 2 miles. The fact that the records have survived for so long gives me a sense of pride at having achieved something significant.