Any runner worth claiming a trophy should know about RIO KING. Quiet and austere, tall and thin (6’, 145lbs) at 66 years old, he cuts a fatherly figure on the start line of area runs. Although his claim to fame is having done 34 consecutive Dallas White Rock Marathons (PR of 2:48:40), a lesser known fact is he is responsible for giving name to the hills along that same course at Mile 19, along White Rock Trail, known as, “The Dolly Partons.” “It was during the three year reign of STEVE SHOPOFF as the Race Director of the White Rock Marathon, probably 1984. A group of us trained regularly over there, hammering the hills, and each other. …I think Steve is probably the one who popularized the reference.”
On December 13, 2008, Rio was honored at The Dallas White Rock Marathon pre-race pasta dinner with The Spirit Award. The award was created to “recognize local running heroes who inspired us by their accomplishments, and encouraged us to set higher goals and make positive changes in our lives, health, and fitness through the sport of running.”
Long time runner MARY KENNARD wrote, “Rio’s string of 34 consecutive Dallas White rock Marathons is unequaled. When I look at the quality of Rio ‘s marathons (12 of them under three hours and 32 of the 33 marathons are under 4 hours) it adds a whole new dimension to his accomplishment. To top it off, he also had four consecutive Boston Marathons under three hours from age 35 through age 38. This is an outstanding accomplishment! There are those who have run faster, but I would propose that there are none who run smarter than Rio King. Consistency in performances of this caliber doesn’t happen without analysis and well designed planning and disciplined execution of the plan.” Additionally, Rio was on the Board of Directors for the DWRM from 1983-1993.
Rio’s planning and execution also resulted in the running team he represented and coached, Texas Instruments, winning first overall in the Runner’s World Corporate Cup Competition (now known as the United States Corporate Athletic Association, USCAA, Corporate Cup Nationals). A team member since 1974, Rio has been a member ever since, serving as VP in 1976, Team Captain from 1979-1998, and Coach of the TI Track Team since 1980 to the present. “I look forward to continuing to coach all levels of athletes with the TI Track Team. It is one of the finest organization of individuals one could associate with.” Rio has annually worked as a volunteer on non-race days, usually in registration. PAUL WESTBROOK was one of the runners under Rio. He said, “Some people coach for a living. Rio lives to coach.”
Running since 1968, he attributes his longevity to “good genes”, but is quick to include exercise and moderation. Though he says he doesn’t have much of a nutritional plan, he eats well balanced meals, rarely has an alcoholic drink, and eats very few fried foods. He’s never smoked, but, “I’m a believer in the power of Coke to revive, and daily watered down Gatorades in the summer.” For breakfast he has a bowl of Corn Flakes with a banana and a pint of 1% milk, “nearly every morning.” He also has a multi-vitamin when training. He says he doesn’t put many risk factors in his path to eat. Plus, “I gradually grew out of my participation in injury-evoking sports.”
When asked what injuries he has, he responded with “Whoo, boy!” The list includes: broken/sprained toes, purple/lost toenails, plantar fasciitis, sprained ankles, Achilles tendonitis, strained/pulled calf muscles, shin splints, strained popliteal (behind the knee), torn meniscus (right knee, twice; hyperextended knee long jumping and arthroscopic repairs), torn anterior cruciate ligament (twice), broken left kneecap, patelar tendonitis, illiotibial band syndrome, pulled hamstrings, pulled groin muscles, tendonitis of the hamstring at hip attachment, hip pointers (bruised/inflammed joint), broken/separated ribs (falls), and sprained wrist. “Really, except for the two long jump hyperextensions and the broken rib from a fall, the list is probably not unusual for an endurance runner with a few years experience.”
Rio is a character made for a novel, enjoying the New York Times crossword puzzle, swing dancing with his wife, MALINDA CANNON, and singing. (He sounds like a cross between Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Buddy Holly.) In August, Rio is releasing a Texas music CD he recorded in Austin. He sang, played, and wrote all the music. “I’m in the process of producing the artwork and graphics, setting up business entities for artist protection and production, and planning for live promotion. It’s a lot of fun! I enjoy sitting in with bands in the Dallas/Fort Worth area playing blues, old rock and roll, and Texas music.” Music Trivia: In 1965, his college band, The Techniques, had the number one selling record in Lubbock, outselling the Beatles, (who had just released the albums “Help!” and “Rubber Soul” containing the singles “Yesterday,” and “Norwegian Wood”) for three weeks in a row. “We were known for counties around!”
Born August 30, 1942, Rio explains his name as being part of a family tradition where all the males have the initials RHK. Instead of getting Roy (his grandfather), Ralph (his uncle), Roger (his dad), or Rico (his brother), he got Rio. “My dad went on kind of a Hemmingway adventure, jaguar hunting in what was then known as British Honduras. He liked the Spanish language,” he says speaking of his own name. “Pretty unique when all the boys were named Billy, Johnny, George, Frank, etc. Sometimes it worked for me and sometimes not. But like a new pair of boots, once it got to fit, I wouldn’t trade it.” That’s Rio! (By the way, all Rio’s kids have the RHK initials, as does his grandson and several cousins, nephews, nieces and grandnephews.)
He was a good recreational athlete, trophy-ing in tournament basketball, softball, volleyball, touch football, soccer, and bowling, but says his thin build and frame was a liability. “I started thinking about competing in a sport were it was an asset instead.”
Long time friend BOB ABBOTT gave insight to those early years. “When Rio was in school he knew he could be a great football player for someone as a wide receiver. To appreciate this you have to realize Rio has been rail thin all his life. So Rio goes to the coach and pleads his case. ‘I got the height, great hands, and great speed.’ The coach looks at this kid from head to toe that’s 6’ and doesn’t break 140 lbs and in his southern drawl says ‘I don’t think so son.’ That was the end of Rio’s football career.”
He grew up with the Saturday matinee cowboy heroes. “They did what was right and arrested those that broke the law. Seemed like a pretty good idea to me.” Later on he realized his mom was a hero for “her benevolence and sacrifice, and being a single parent getting two boys though graduate school in the 1950’s. Today, he looks for people with “integrity, strength of character, and wisdom,” admiring his wife “for working to make the family, the community, and the world a better place.” He also admires his children “for what they’ve overcome in their lives. It’s probably saccharine and trite, but I admire my family foremost.”
Today he is influenced or inspired by Roger Bannister, Jim Ryan, Frank Shorter, and Bill Rogers. He’s attended coaching clinics by two of his influences: Bill Bowerman, who died Dec 24, 1999, and Arthur Lydiard, Dec 11, 2004. “Most of my training philosophies have been shaped by Lydiard and proven by experience.”
His wife Malinda appreciates her husband staying fit. Since he has retired, she likes that his running doesn’t affect the family, “to whatever extent it did in earlier years,” he says. Malinda also enjoys the level and degree of excellence her husband has achieved.
He began running at age 25 (1967), training for the mile in college intramurals, thinking the 5:01 record looked “soft.” “I could remember watching newsreel of Roger Bannister breaking 4:00 in the mile, fourteen years earlier. So, I thought, anyone ought to be able to run a full minute slower than that!” He trained for five weeks, running quarters on the empty street behind his house. At the meet, he took the lead and held it for the first two laps, “then gave it up to every runner in the field, including the fat frat boy, finishing dead last in 6:00 minutes.” He wouldn’t break 5:00 minutes until 1971, four years later.
However, during this time (mid to late 60’s), a runner was very much on his own to get fit, and modify his shoes, his most important piece of equipment. Running stores were non-existent, and product was scarce. After that, one made their own cuts and additions to the shoes to fit and perform. Back then, the store bought shoe was only the foundation, not the final piece one was expected to train in, or especially, go into the battle of a race wearing.
“I got all the soft tissue injuries you could get from improper shoes. Plantar fasciitis from no arch supports; Achilles tendonitis from too worn, too wide, or too square heels; Achilles tendonitis from too large a heel cup; shin splints from too rigid a sole – not enough flex; and patellar tendonitis from shoes with too high of a heel lift.”
Rio owned a pair of Puma track shoes. They were made of kangaroo leather, and white. And another pair. “I tried training on the roads in what were then called cross-country shoes. They were black canvas uppers with a rounded forefoot and heel, just meant to run on dirt and grass. They killed me on the streets.”
He bought another pair, but, “I found I still had to modify them considerably for fit, comfort, and injury prevention.
“I found that the soft soles wore down quickly in the heels, causing some of the aforementioned injuries. So I built them back up by forming a mold of the proper heel by putting masking tape around the profile of the heel. I then filled the worn area back up with hot glue. It made for an odd clacking noise as I ran on the roads and didn’t turn out to be very shock absorbent.”
For his marathon racing flats, Rio cut off the outer edges, “down to the skinniest profile of my foot, to eliminate excess weight.” He then sliced a groove across the ball or forefoot area of shoes that were too stiff. “It eliminated stress in the fore part of my knee and shin area.”
Though Dr. Scholl’s made inserts, Rio also customized these, or made his own, as all runners of the time did. He made his from 1/8th inch foam insoles. “I would buy two pair of these foam insole pads and build up under the arch of one pair in tiers from pieces cut from the other pair. When Dr. Spence from Waco came out with his Spenco insoles with a foam padded arch I began using them and never needed to make another pair.”
His first race, was a 4 x 100 yard intramural relay as a sophomore in college. He ran the second leg, working on handoffs “a couple of times before the meet and that was it. When the leadoff runner got to me, we had a decent handoff, and I started running for all I was worth. When I got to the next exchange zone, I was leaning for the handoff and my legs were locked up somewhere behind me. I went down hard on the cinder track and the baton went skittering away. Although it took a decade for the last of the cinders to work their way out of my right butt cheek, the memory is still vivid. I never again, unimpeded, fell on any track.”
His favorite distance was the mile, though he felt he only had “modest success.” He ran 4:43 as a PR, breaking 4:50 into his late thirties. But never broke 5:00 after 45.
“My favorite event, by far, is the Dallas White Rock Marathon. “I like the annual cycle of building the marathon base in the fall. I like the activities and the cheering of the spectators throughout the race. I like the excellent organization, geared for the runner. And I LOVE the bands!” Rio served on the Dallas White Rock Marathon Board of Directors for 10 years, throughout the eighties and early nineties.
In 1974, Rio ran his first marathon (Dallas White Rock Marathon), finishing in 3:54:04. The next year he did not finish the marathon due to hypothermia. But, the following year in 1976, he started his a string of 34 consecutive finishes. Next December 2009 will be his 35th.
During the late 70’s and early 80’s, Rio says his weekly mileage got to 100 a couple of times, but that most of the time, he hovered around 70-80 miles a week
- 800m – 2:08
- Mile – 4:43
- 5K – 17:01
- 10K – 34:56
- 10 Miles – 59:57
- Marathon – 2:48:40
“I’ve run a gamut of events,” he says through a matter-of-fact Texas twang and sincere humbleness. “Good enough to be in the trophies, but never dominant.” He enjoys the Plano Pacers (“always fun”) and Dallas Running Club races. But also likes running the Las Vegas (“staying over for a little blackjack”) and Boston marathons. “Running my first two Bostons in ’78 and ’79 were thrilling. Always an honor to run. But the hills are not kind to my body.” He lists his favorite moments while racing as “Dueling with BILL SHAW at the finish of a 5K in Addison.” Bill, 66, is widely accepted as the top senior runner in Texas. The Frisco resident usually challenges and wins age groups 25 years younger than him, winning the Master’s category outright. “He’s usually out of sight,” Rio says.
Rio has also marked the decline of those times that age has brought on, particularly at 30, 40, and 50.
At 800 meters, his best was 2:08 in his 30’s. In his 40’s, he was at 2:10. For the mile, he raced to a 4:43 in his 30’s, and 4:49 in his 40’s. The 5K is no different, with a 17:01 PR, a 17:46 at age 49, 18:11 at 50, and 20:40 at 60. In the 10K his best of 34:56 is eclipsed by his 37:40 in his 50’s. And finally in the marathon where Rio hit 2:48:40 between 30-39, he ran 2:49:53 at 40 (just over a minute off!), and 3:04:48 at 50, or 16 minutes difference from his best.
He says his training changes week to week, based on an annual cycle of peaking for the DWR Marathon. Below is his month-by-month training and racing schedule.
“Each January, I only run when I feel like it, as I recharge mentally and physically from the previous December’s White Rock Marathon.”
January: off, run when I feel like it
February: 20-25 miles per week, some hill work
March: 30-35 miles per week, one track workout per week, total 1200 meters
March – early May: 5,000 meters of track work
Mid-May: 15-25 miles per week, enters multiple events at Luke’s All Comers Meets, adds second track workout per week reducing total interval distance to 3-4,000 meters
Late June/early July: add third track workout per week (“One is a time trial, a second is a moderate workout with speed elements, and a third is a light, recovery workout of easy intervals for form.”)
Late July: National Corporate meet
August: off, run when I feel like it
September: 40 miles per week by months end, 6-7 days of running per week, mileage goals, one long run per week, from three to eight 20+ milers by late November.
October: 50 miles per week by months end, with goal of 8 weeks of 50-60 miles per week before the DWRM.
December: taper in 9th week to DWRM
“I race the White Rock in December and take the next 6 weeks off from scheduled training. It makes for a very nice cycle of competition, health, fitness, and life for me.”
In 1977, he was asked to be the Vice-President of the Texins Striders. This was the beginning of Rio becoming involved on the other side of racing, a latent talent that would grow.
Being so organized, regimented, and as a result, successful with his running, he caught the eye of others who also wanted his teachings. In 1978, he was hired by the University of Texas at Dallas to create, organize, and coach the school’s first Cross Country Team. He coached the team through the 1979 season, when the school disbanded the program. His greatest victory was in recruiting the national-class, but then unknown, Mary Kennard from the tennis team. In 1979, he and a co-worker, DON BYNUM, formed the highly successful Texas Instruments Track Team. In 1982, he also became the coach, as well as captain and competitor. In the next 29 years, the team won 13 National Corporate Cup Championships. “Every year I enjoy coaching the TI Track Team, the competition at the USCAA National Championships and the party afterward.” In 1990, Rio was inducted into the inaugural class of the United States Corporate Athletics Association Hall of Fame. He still coaches 25-30 runners each year in preparation for the USCAA National Championships, and continues to score points for the TI team at the national meet on the road and on the track. In 1993, he was honored to be an inaugural inductee into the United States Corporate Athletic Association Hall of Fame.
“Running provides an important balance to my life,” he says. “It frees my spirit from the mundane and the sometimes heaviness of responsibility. Even in weariness, it rejuvenates strength. It’s my outdoor study, where I can plan, create, or just be entertained. The left side of my brain probably enjoys the measurement and logging, while the right side soaks up the beauty and joy of the day, evening or night.”
He continues to say he runs because it is a comfortable cycle of fitness in his life, an ongoing measure of himself, it provides competition (“When I am fit!”), and… “It give me peace and allows me joy.”
Rio’s sense of humor comes through when asked what drives him. “My seventeen year old daughter with a Learners Permit.” But, seriously? “I’m not so much driven as I am occasionally inspired. It’s curiosity, and pride in job well done.” He doesn’t mind the occasional recognition, either.
On his solo runs, he listens to sports radio. But, while making his way down the road or around White Rock Lake with friends, they say he’s a chatter box with all sorts of stories, some true, some not. During the marathon, “I’m continually monitoring my body, the weather and the course. I evaluate pace and plan for what it will take to reach my goal over the remaining miles to the finish.”
To get himself out the door, he has no special inspiring music, ritual, thought, or food. “Usually, if I can get my shoes on, the rest will, sometimes begrudgingly, follow.”
His runs with others are special. His running buddies have also been around a while. They’ve been together for almost 20 years. They were also part of the running boom Rio experienced. They’ve all seen it come and go, twice. BOB ABBOTT, STEVE SHOPOFF, DAVE WILSON, MIKE and CANDI FOUNTOULAKIS.
Steve tells the story of him and Rio doing a DWRM training run where Rio wanted to “feel the hills” by adding some on, with the promise to catch up to everyone later in the run. When Rio didn’t appear at the finish, the group went looking for him. Eventually, they found him, sitting on a street corner at the top of the Lakewood hills. “When we asked Rio how he was doing, he replied, ‘I felt the hills, and I can still feel them.’”
“I pulled out some old White Rock Marathon results books,” Steve said. “In 1981, Rio ran 2:49:36, one of his many sub-3:00 finishes. He has always been amazing, focusing on track work with his Texas Instruments teammates through the summer; how many marathoners besides Rio ever try high jumping? Along rolls October, and every year Rio would decide it was time to start his training for The Rock.”
But since Rio’s moved to Ft. Worth a few years ago, he’s been training alone. His favorite times running are the long training runs with these friends. “Someone would have some hot topic that would carry us out on a long run. By the turnaround, however, discussions were over. I’d catch up with Shopoff and Abbott at the finish while they were still each accusing the other of pushing the pace. A lot of therapy was freely dispensed on those runs.”
“A wonderful friend that reaches out to help people,” Bob said. “If you need some help doing something he will be the first one there to help out.”
Steve agrees. “This group trained together occasionally during the week, and did many of our long runs together on weekends. You learn a great deal about people in this type of setting. That continued for many years.” Steve moved from Houston in 1976 when he began running with a group that included Rio.
“There are many things that stand out about Rio. The most important is what a friend he has been to so many people through the years. He would entertain us during those runs with stories, and would actively contribute to discussions whether they were about the stock market, or his great love – music.”
Bob Abbott found out about Rio’s musicianship by accident. “We only lived about a mile apart when I started running back in 1980. I ran with Rio every couple of days and we would talk. Never once did he ever say that he played the guitar and sang. Four or five years later the Plano Pacers was having a picnic. Rio was the featured entertainment. My family and I went, and I just couldn’t believe my ears. This guy that I have been running with for years was playing and singing. Rio is so good.” He says Rio’s songs are “as good as anything that you will hear anywhere. I kid you not. Rio is a real music talent. I hope you do get to hear him play. He does mostly 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s rock and roll and really enjoys playing for a crowd. I guarantee you will be amazed that a talent like Rio’s could fall through the crack. Rio is very humble about all of his accomplishments.”
Rio’s own taste in music include Marcia Ball and Delbert McClinton. He also says he’s always liked the early Sun recording artists of 1955-57: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison.
Steve adds on to the legend that is Rio. “Rio is a guy with a lot of skill and even more class. He has always been available to help both newer and experienced runners with training tips and injury diagnosis. He is a great friend and competitor.”
Then adds another story. “He went to Las Vegas to run the marathon. A week later our group was out for a run and Rio was asked how his marathon went. ‘It went pretty good until the last couple of miles. Then I really feel apart. I took 17 minutes for the last two miles.’ I said that didn’t sound all that bad. Rio replied, ‘No, I meant 17 minutes for EACH of the last two miles.’”
Bob closes. “Thanks for doing an article on Rio, it’s long over due. Quietly, he has done so much for running and never seeks any recognition.”
In 1993, Rio was designated to lead a project to time the DWRM using TI’s “RFID” (Radio Frequency Identification) tags. Rio and two TI colleagues developed and used the first tag system in a U.S. marathon. (Through development, today we know this as the “ChampionChip.”) It marked a huge advance for all races.
This wasn’t the first time Rio has worked on a project in the work world that can still be seen today. Prior to coming to work for TI, he worked for a small manufacturing plant in Lubbock as a design engineer. He designed and helped build two self-loading earth movers that Caterpillar put into their product line. “I still see some of them working on roadways today, 35 years later.”
For 2009, Rio is already planning on his 35th consecutive Dallas White Rock Marathon, December 13th. He also plans to run the 5K and 10K, or the 200 meter run at the USCAA National Championships in California in July, depending on what the TI team needs, he says. “I’ll also run a few local 5K’s and maybe a 10K.”
“I liked training in the spring and summer,” he said, looking out over White Rock Lake. “I train for the track in the summer. The Luke’s All Comers meets are terrific.” But he also thinks the marathon training groups are a good way to “introduce newcomers into the challenge of the endurance events. Although the competition is not as strong nor as deep as in the 80’s boom, it’s gratifying to see participation numbers still increasing and many competitors still active 20-30 years later.” He says he continues to follow race results each week.
For area running support, he points to the local morning newspaper’s Friday running column and the many events to choose from within the Metroplex, as well as a diverse group of race directors. “The running stores are well stocked and have knowledgeable staffs. Although the west coast and the northeast possibly have more quality competitors, Dallas still can claim many national and world class age-group athletes.”
In 1998, Rio retired after 25 years in software development and systems analysis from TI. He called the experience “enriching and satisfying.”
Like most dedicated runners, Rio wants to keep running for as long as he can, competing in his age group. That includes doing the DWRM and finishing under 4 hours for as along as possible. “I know those days are numbered.” He also looks forward to continued coaching. He also has his music to keep him focused, moving forward.
He attends the First Jefferson Universalist Unitarian Church in Fort Worth. Though not always aware of what he’s wearing, he used to shop Cullwell & Son when working at TI. But for running, he shops The Runner in Arlington and Luke’s in Dallas. He runs in the Nike Zoom Skylon. He still treasures several Dallas White Rock Marathon posters personalized by that late, great Johnny Kelly. For reading material, he keeps up with several periodicals and the morning newspaper. His favorites dishes: “I like the chicken salad sandwiches at the Tin Cup in Arlington. And any bar-b-que joint.”
Pure as clean water, Rio!!