Off and Running
Kyle King signs professional running contract, eyes Beijing Olympics

Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

August 7, 2004 - Put together all the miles Kyle King has ran since he started in track and cross country, and you could circle the globe - which is exactly what he wants to do in four years, stopping off in China for the 2008 Olympics.

King, who recently completed an All-American track career at Baylor University, will continue training for the 2008 Olympics after signing a contract with Zap Fitness, a post-collegiate development center in North Carolina. King will have living expenses paid and a stipend as he looks toward qualifying for the next summer Olympiad in Beijing, China.

Zap Fitness is a non-profit training site developed with the goal of providing post-collegiate runners who still have the desire and discipline to run to fully develop their potential. And run they will. King will likely be putting in about 120 miles per week, which equates to an average of 17 miles per day.

King was an All-American in both the indoor and outdoor 5,000-meter run in college.

"For the next four years, I'm going to stay with the 5K and 10K through the 2008 Olympics and try to qualify for the Olympics in Beijing," he explained. "Zap is a very good opportunity because there's no school work, no distractions. A lot of it is just training, getting up to 115 to 120 miles a week and doing it for months on end. It's a very simplistic lifestyle. It's out in the mountains, so it's not close to anything that will distract you. It's a good opportunity to train for four years to see how good you can get."

King has definite goals in mind to how good he wants to become - world class. His personal best in the 5K is 13 minutes, 56 seconds, a time he wants to drop by 40 seconds in the next four years. That would put him under the Olympic qualifying standard of 13:21.

He believes that not having to gear up for three different collegiate seasons - cross country, indoor track and outdoor track - plus not having to work or attend classes full-time will allow him the opportunity to become a better runner.

"For six months or so every year, we'll do a lot of distance runs with varying tempo in those runs, fartlek runs, which is changing speeds, and tempo runs. After those six months are over, we'll bring our mileage back down and do more speed work," he explained of his future training regimen. "It's a better situation than in college where you have three seasons, and you have to try to build three bases, one for each season, and bringing your mileage down within each season.

"Sometimes you can't get as strong because you're having to cut your aerobic base short. So, in this situation, you have one long aerobic base that lasts you for the whole year."

He will race just a handful of times during the fall as he builds his distance base, then will run outdoor track during the spring, when he hopes to clock a 13:35 in the 5K and a 10:28 in the 10,000 meters.

King has known for a long time he wanted to be a professional runner. He turned to running exclusively as a freshman in high school. But, he had to break it to his father, head football coach Chuck King, that instead of playing football, he would be running cross country.

"I can still remember telling him," Kyle said. "He supported me. He didn't care what I did, but said to do what I liked and to do it as hard as I can. That probably was when I said running is what I'm going to be doing."

But it wasn't until his junior year in college that he began considering that he was good enough to do it professionally. When his longtime girlfriend, Debbie Thornhill, herself a two-time Big 12 champion in the 10K, was accepted to Zap last spring, King applied himself.

"I got accepted a few weeks ago. I'm excited about it," King said. "This is the opportunity that I've been afforded to see how good I can get so that four years from now I can make another decision on whether I want to keep running or go on with my life."

Distance runners don't usually peak in their performances until they reach their later 20s. King is now 23. At the time of the 2008 Olympics, he will be 27, which is a prime age for distance events.

"I don't want to be 30 and turn around and wonder how good I could have been or how well I could have done," he said. "I've always wanted to be a professional runner, it was always just a matter of if the opportunity was there.

"One of the good things about ZAP is that it's a development camp. They're looking for people who aren't quite at the level of getting a contract with Nike or adidas or Asics. They're looking for people who could be there in two to three years, given the right opportunity. It's a good place to train and see what you can do without having the responsibility of getting a job and working 40 hours a week because that can take a lot out of your training."

It's also a huge commitment from both the athlete and the training center. Zap houses just eight to nine athletes at its center in the mountains of western North Carolina at a cost of $25,000 to $30,000 per runner. The complex is able to fund them by hosting high school and collegiate cross country and track teams and holding summer running camps.

In return, the runners help with the camps and pledge to run, run, run. That's just what King wants.

"I can't really explained. It's almost like I'm hard-wired now that every single morning I have to get up and go do a run," he said. "I just recently started training again after taking three weeks off and letting my body heal from the whole season. I enjoyed the time off, but it was almost like every day, especially toward the end, I started getting antsy and ready to run again.

"I guess I can't really explain it as me having to get out of bed in the morning. Some mornings, sure, that happens. Especially when I'm running 120 miles a week and I'm sore and cramping and just want to lay there for another eight hours. But, I just love what I do. It's not like I love the preparation as much as I love the competition, and love getting out there in races and running against guys I never dreamed I'd be running against."

He points to the state cross country meet his senior season in high school, when he placed third, and the 5,000-meter race his senior season when he placed fifth at the NCAA national meet, as key moments when he knew he belonged with the elite.

"That's one of the big motivators to get out there every day - to get in those big races and start doing things I never thought I'd do," King explained.

"The big motivation is to try to achieve my dreams."

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