© Copyright – 2014 – Athletics Illustrated
Rob Krar, originally from Hamilton, Ontario is one of the top ultra-marathon runners in the world, a position that he unexpectedly found himself holding after training for years in a broad range of sports that included triathlon, badminton, track, nordic-skiing and water polo. Krar, has only been running ultras for two years and just started to take the distance seriously sometime in 2013, which makes his ascension to the top of the sport all the more intriguing.
During the 2014 season the resident of Flagstaff, Arizona won two of the more prominent ultra-marathon races in the world: The Leadville Trail 100 and the Western States Endurance Run, which claims to be the world’s most prestigious 100 mile race; it is the oldest. Western States was originally intended as a horse trail ride that started in Squaw Valley and finished in Auburn, California with the purpose to prove that horses can cover 100 miles in less than 24 hours. The event started in earnest as a running race in 1974. It takes place on the final weekend of June each year, so at altitude the temperatures can vary greatly, making for character-building run conditions, not to mention the fact that in the first eight kilometres of the race, one gains over 2600m in elevation.
Then there was the Leadville win. Leadville, Colorado plays host to the race during the third week of August each year. The course is also run entirely at elevation, starting high at 2804m and climbs to 3931m. Similarly to Western States, there is an eight kilometre stretch where a large amount of elevation is gained. Over 1000m of climbing takes place; however, runners must first cover 64K in distance before the race turns upward.
The 37-year-old pharmacist, hasn’t just won ultra-races, he is winning with very impressive times. For example, at Leadville, in 2014, he ran the second fastest time in the event’s history, finishing in 16:09:32. At Western States he ran to a new 30-39 age-group course record in both the 2013 and 2014 editions, sneaking under the 15-hour benchmark, with his finish time of 14:53:22, bettering seven-time winner (consecutive) Scott Jurek’s best result.
Christopher Kelsall: How active were you as a child? What sports were you into?
Rob Krar: One of my first memories of being active was when I was skiing the beautiful trails of Dundas Valley with my family, just around the same time I learned to walk! I began running consistently in grade six, started competing in Kids of Steel triathlons shortly after and was a member of the water polo and badminton teams throughout high school.
CK: You have bests in the half-marathon of 66 minutes and 2:25 for the marathon, which you raced after a varsity career. Do you feel you fully explored your potential as a half-marathon and marathon runner before moving into ultras?
RK: My time of the roads was short and fraught with injury. There was much more potential to explore if I’d been more intelligent in my training and lifestyle. No regrets though, it was simply another piece of the puzzle that ultimately led me to where I am today.
CK: Are ultras now what marathons used to be, in that they epitomize what the intellectual perhaps philosophical runner is after? Marathon used to be run by so-called eccentrics!
KR: Ultras are exploding in popularity the same way marathons took off in the 1970’s. I don’t think ultra-runners fit any single stereotype as I’ve learned very clearly the past few years how varied each individual’s reasons are for running the ultra-distance. For some, it is about escaping the world to be alone in their own thoughts, or simply to think of nothing. For others, it is more about the company and camaraderie of sharing the experience with others. For me, it is time to be quiet and connect with myself and my thoughts. Whatever the reason, it is a journey for all and inspiring to listen to other’s stories of their path to ultra-running.
CK: How do you feel about the course change of the Badwater 135?
RK: In many ways, I’m still a greenhorn in ultra-running and don’t know enough about Badwater to offer my thoughts on the course changes!
Editor’s note: Badwater 135, already dubbed “The world toughest foot race”, just added over 1300m of ascent and 2400m of descent to its 2014 course.
CK: As a pharmacist, apparently you are on your feet all day, literally. What type of materials are you standing on? Is it concrete?
RK: My graveyard shifts are either ten or eleven hours long and certainly have their challenges. Thankfully we have a decent comfort mat that takes some off the stress off my feet and legs.
CK: Do you continue to follow more traditional running as a sport, or are you focused specifically on the Ultra world?
RK: I’ve found my passion and love on the trails but living in Flagstaff I’m surrounded by amazing distance runners. We are so lucky to have a vibrant running community both on the roads and the trails. I enjoy following friends and Team Run Flagstaff Pro teammates as they pursue their passions on the roads, track, and trails. I love the sport of running and I enjoy catching a major marathon stream or Diamond League track meet when I have the time as well.
CK: How much time in the winter do you spend ski mountaineering?
RK: Ski mountaineering has been integral to my health and success the past few years and is really what spurred my return to training and racing in 2012. Skimo is one of the corner pieces of the puzzle the past few years of my life. After my last race of the year in December (The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships in San Francisco) my training will shift almost exclusively to skimo and I likely won’t run a step for close to two months. February and March will be a mix of training and it’ll allow me to begin the racing season close to top fitness with very little wear and tear on my body.
CK: In comparison to time spent running per week, how much time do you engage in skimo?
RK: In general my skimo efforts are shorter and more intense. I generally do laps of our local ski resort that has an elevation gain of 650m and tops out at 3500m. I plan varied sessions taking advantage of different aspects of the mountain. I average 1-2 hours on the slopes six days a week in December and January. An average running session for me in the other months is 60-90 minutes. Now and then I’ll get in a longer 3+ hour session on the skis to simulate a longer run.
CK: Back to running, what were your goals going into Leadville this summer?
RK: My primary goal was to win the race with a secondary goal of breaking Matt Carpenter’s legendary 2005 course record.
CK: You didn’t do that, but you were quoted as saying that you struggled early on. Considering the early struggles, do you still feel you can take Carpenter’s record of 15:42:59?
RK: Long-standing and impressive records are a great part of our sport and Leadville has to be one of the most well-known—Matt Carpenter really threw down a big one back in 2005. What makes ultra-running so fascinating is all the things that come into play on race day. It’ll take a great day where everything comes together to challenge Carpenter’s record. I believe that there are a number of athletes currently capable of putting together that perfect day. I believe if I went into the race well-rested and focused I’d have a very realistic chance of dipping below Matt’s record. It’s not in the cards for 2015 but I’d love to take another shot at it sometime in the future.
CK: You mentioned that when you are not feeling it, sort of speak, you will not race. Do you have a key session that you do that indicates whether you are good to race or it just a general feeling that you go by?
RK: I have a few sessions that help indicate my fitness but I take a broader view of my preparation and health leading up to a race. I begin each training block with specific goals tailored to each race that focusses on my strengths but also, and equally important, target my weaknesses as well. One example of a session I use to help gauge fitness is 8 x 3-minute hill climb with 90 seconds rest on a dirt road with an average grade around 8%. I tend not to race too much and that affords me the opportunity to slowly work into my training and not rush my training blocks—it’s rare for me to not toe-the-line of a race I had my heart set on.
CK: What running career goals are you still seeking?
RK: That’s a difficult question. Other times in my life I’ve been very goal-driven and it quickly led to overtraining and injury. I’ve embraced a new philosophy on the trails and try to live more in the moment. I enjoy the process so much more than I have in the past and that in turn helps me overcome and learn from my setbacks. That being said there are many iconic races outside the mainland that I’d like to explore. I also want to continue to test my limits in the 100-mile distance to fully explore and discover what I’m capable of.