One of ultrarunning’s most accomplished stars shares his philosophy on long runs, strength training, improving your technical skill set and more.
Thirty-seven-year-old Rob Krar of Flagstaff, Ariz., has posted a string of uber-impressive results and bagged big wins at some of ultrarunning’s most prestigious events since turning his attention to longer trail races in 2012. In the last seven weeks, Krar has broken the tape at both the June 28 Western States Endurance Run in California and, most recently, at the Aug. 16 Leadville 100 in Colorado—two of the most iconic 100-mile races in North America. In April, Krar finished a close second to Zach Miller at the loaded Lake Sonoma 50 Mile race in California.
The North Face-sponsored Krar, who works the graveyard shift as a full-time pharmacist, also tore up the trails in 2013, hitting the ultrarunning world with full force over a variety of distances. The former Butler University 1,500m runner, who ran his marathon PR of 2:25:44 at Boston in 2007, had a record-setting run at the Leona Divide 50 Mile in April of 2013, a fastest known time (FKT) for a Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim crossing of the Grand Canyon two weeks later, a runner-up finish in his 100-mile debut at the Western States 100 and then two more wins before the end of the year at the Ultra Race of Champions in late September and the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile in December.
We sat down with Krar recently to rap about the appeal of trail and ultra running, training for longer races and more.
On the appeal of trail and ultrarunning:
To really understand it you kind of need to go back a little bit. In 2009 I ran the Transrockies Run in Colorado. It was my first real trail running experience, but that’s kind of where that [heel] injury stemmed from. I trained and raced through Transrockies with a heel problem and destroyed myself. So I quit running, had surgery, and in winter of 2011-2012 Christina [Krar’s wife] and I both got some backcountry ski gear. That’s something she always wanted to do so we bought the gear. It was a great snow year in Flagstaff and I just got on the mountain a ton and I got super fit. A big group of folks from Flagstaff were going up to the Moab Red Hot [33K race] and I went out there and I hopped in the race literally expecting nothing. I hadn’t run at all that entire winter. I had run 4 miles a couple days before [the race] just to see if my body was healthy or not, or healthy enough. I ran that race and I won it. It totally blew me away. I would have bet money I wouldn’t have come in top 10. That’s how crazy it was, but that kind of throws in how important ski mountaineering is to me. It’s a super great way to get really fit and start the season healthy.
So anyway, that kind of kickstarted it. That was the first race in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup series and we just kind of looked at the series, and it was like, “yeah, why don’t we hit some of these other races.” So that spurred me to get back on the trails and that was when I was thinking, “maybe I can make a run at this and be competitive in running again.” That’s also when I was like, “OK, I’ve gotta do something different” because I’ve just fucked up in the past, blowing myself out, gotten injured and so that’s when I started doing my circuit routine that I designed. I started listening to my body more, listening to my mind more. The idea of taking an unscheduled day off in the past was like blasphemy. I was like, “I cannot, under no circumstance.” These days, you know, I don’t [take days off] often but if I get worn down I’ll just take an extra day, which is awesome because I’m busy and all of a sudden I’ve got all this extra time so I can catch up on life a little bit.
It was a transition in 2012 from the shorter races and on a bit of a whim I hit my first ultra in November of 2012, the Bootlegger 50K just outside of Las Vegas and that went really well and kind of opened my eyes to the longer distance. And then I had a great winter of ski mountaineering and I started the season off with the Moab Red Hot again, but this time the 55K and that was my longest race at the time and then things just went boom, boom, boom. After that I did the Leona Divide 50 Mile. Two weeks later I did the Rim to Rim to Rim FKT and then I committed to Western States, ran my first 100-miler and then I got really serious about my training and figured I had to up my ante for UROC [The Ultra Race of Champions] so I started hitting the workouts. Training for UROC was when I really felt, “OK, I belong here. I know what I’m doing. I’m going to work even harder to try and race my best at UROC and then North Face 50.” And that brings us to this year.
On the changes he’s made to his training:
Fundamentally the biggest change I made [since turning my focus to the trails and ultrarunning] was taking my easy days easy and having focused hard days. There are really no exceptions to that. I think running by myself a lot allows me to do that a lot more. I don’t get caught up in a faster pace or the testosterone that builds when you get a bunch of dudes out there on the trails. So yeah, easy days easy and respect the recovery as well. If I do a hard effort, I don’t really have a set routine the next day, I just see how I feel. Maybe it will be an easy 10 miles, maybe I’ll go for 15, but it’s easy no matter what the distance. I think that’s really important. And I have a couple of key workouts I do, but I don’t do a lot of them. You’re looking at max, one every 7 days. Maybe I’ll fit two in 10 days, but I think back when I was doing roads, I was doing two workouts and a long run every week. That’s kind of a staple of road running. That’s a big difference. That’s a lot more workouts when you add it up over a month-long period.
On running by feel:
Other than the focused efforts, I just get out there and it’s never fast. OK, fast is a relative term. It’s never at a hard effort. It’s a relatively easy effort, but I’m getting out and getting some good elevation and getting some good technical work in, so I’m improving my skill set even though they’re easy runs. I’ll get out on some steep stuff and practice my hiking.
On improving his technical skill set for trail running:
It’s funny, when I first got to Flagstaff I remember hitting this one trail called Rocky Ridge and I swore I’d never run it again in my life. It was so technical. And now it’s one of my favorite trails out there and it is technical, but now it’s very runnable for me. So when I started focusing on the trails in 2012 I definitely realized descending was my weakness. But it’s just like anything: You go out there and you work at it. So I’ve put more focus into spending more time on technical trails and technical descents. It’s not a huge focus of mine because the races I choose, I choose to fit my strengths right now, which are relatively non-technical, runnable trails. But yeah, it certainly is my weakness and something I’m always trying to work on and I’ve seen improvement every season and every six months or so I see a distinct improvement in my descending. But there are always people out there who are just incredible at descending. They just seem to float down and I can’t ever imagine getting to that skill level.
On the importance of strength training:
I’ve just kind of winged it, and it’s always evolving to a certain extent, but it’s mainly bodyweight stuff. I throw in some medicine ball and kettlebell work, a lot of balance work, working the small muscles you don’t get on an average run. That really comes into play especially in the last third or quarter of a race when your body is getting tired and you’ve been running on off-camber trails and your feet are getting tired. I think it’s very valuable race-wise but also just for staying healthy when you’re putting in big 80- to 100-mile weeks consistently. I think just having a strong core and a strong body goes a long way in staying healthy and preventing injury and that’s probably one of the greatest reasons that I do it: to keep me solid, hold me to the end of a race and prevent injury.
On long runs for long (100K-100 mile) races:
I think it’s important to realize that everyone is different and everyone has his or her own training philosophy and maximum weekly mileage or long runs. I think a big mistake that is made is when people make a jump from 50 miles to 100 miles they feel the need to do a lot more training. I personally believe that training for 50 miles and training for 100 miles is not that different. Certainly you want to bump the miles up a little bit, slightly increase the longer runs. But for me, my longest [training] run heading into Western was 30 miles [Krar raced the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April] and my longest training week was 100 miles. So I’m probably on the lower end of that scale. I think you’ve got to find the balance. I’m of the mindset that you can easily do too much but not too little. And there’s a boundary on that, but I think a lot of people are doing way too much training and really doing themselves a disservice for their health and their racing as well.