Former Maine Maritime Academy cross country coach Ryan King. Credit: Contributed

As an assistant cross country coach at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Bryan Wolf came to share former Mariners head coach Ryan King’s view of their profession.

Sure, their jobs involved motivating runners to maximize their effort on the trails, but they also sought to frame that motivation within the context of a well-rounded college experience while not taking the sport too seriously.

It’s in that spirit that Wolf has organized a unique tribute celebrating the life of King, a fixture on Maine’s running scene as a coach, runner and meet official for decades until he died at home on July 24 not long after suffering a heart attack.

He was 51.

The Ryan King Memorial 5K XC & 5K Croc Race will be held Saturday at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.

“Ryan’s been a big part of the running community here in Maine for two decades or better, so in thinking about what I could do in terms of bringing people together around Ryan it seemed pretty clear that a race would be the best way to do that,” Wolf said.

The event kicks off at 10 a.m. with a remembrance ceremony honoring King, who grew up in Orono and ran at both Orono High School and Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. He later gained running prominence at even longer distances, finishing in the top 10 at the 2007 Mount Desert Island Marathon and running the Boston Marathon three times.

The Stockton Springs resident also timed road races throughout eastern and central Maine and coached the men’s and women’s cross country teams at MMA for 10 years.

He was named North Atlantic Conference men’s cross country coach of the year in 2018 and 2019, and at least one of King’s MMA squads earned U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Division III All-Academic honors for eight consecutive years during his tenure.

“More important than any of these accomplishments is that Ryan made a lasting impression on those he met through his enthusiasm, attention and general desire to encourage and support others’ success,” Wolf said. “He held a sincere interest in making the world a better place whether it be by picking up trash, leaving encouraging notes for fellow hikers or cheering at middle-school cross country races.”

The tribute will be followed at 10:30 a.m. by a traditional 5-kilometer cross country race on the Troy Howard Middle School course that last Saturday hosted the 20th annual Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions for high school runners.

“Most adults, especially once they’re out of college, don’t find that many opportunities to run an actual cross country course,” Wolf said.

“This was what Ryan considered his home course, so when we decided to do this I pretty much immediately thought of this course, that it was this course or no course.”

King’s long-distance exploits grew to transcend traditional cross country and include the use of Crocs, popular foam clogs designed more for comfort than competition.

To King, cross country humorously became “Croc country” once he donned the footwear, and he claimed to hold the record for the fastest 5K run in Crocs in several Maine counties.

“I’m not sure how many years ago Ryan started running in Crocs, but he liked to joke about himself being a big deal so anywhere we’d go or whatever county we were in he’d try and run a 5K in Crocs so he could say he had the best 5K-in-Crocs time for that county,” Wolf said.

The King Memorial 5K Croc Race is scheduled for 11:45 a.m., and proceeds from both races will be donated to the Appalachian Mountain Club, as King maintained a section of the trail near Monson and had been section hiking the AT southbound under the trail name “Shortcut.”

““I’m not promoting this as super competitive,” Wolf said. “Some people may think that, but it’s more about being part of a fun day and adding the Croc race definitely keeps that in mind.”

Wolf anticipates sizable turnouts from the Maine Maritime Academy and running communities, and anyone interested in participating in Saturday’s activities may register for one or both races or get more information from accessing the event’s website at ryanking5k.com.

“Facebook posts pretty close to when Ryan passed away suggested there was a pretty big interest from people saying, ‘Let us know when or where we can come to be a part of whatever happens. Based on that registration it seems that we’re effectively doing that,” Wolf said.

“For me it’s pretty exciting to just give people the opportunity to get together like this. I’m doing my part to make it as special a day as I can, but it’s going to be the community that comes that is going to really do that.”

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...