Ultrarunner Rob Krar on What It Means to Run Long

Ultrarunner Rob Krar wins the Leadville Trail 100 Run

Rob Krar, 40, of Flagstaff, Arizona, is one of the best trail ultrarunners of our time. The former pharmacist turned full-time athlete holds impressive records and finishes including twice winning the prestigious Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and the Leadville 100; holding the fastest known times for both the single and double Grand Canyon crossings; and more.

But more than his race results, it’s his honest approach to running and life that inspires other runners around the globe. Krar, who has battled with major bouts of depression throughout his life, uses running as a platform for healing, education and inspiration. Perhaps that’s what makes him one of the best ultrarunners in the world, too.

He’s able to “be OK” and even push harder during the low, dark and uncomfortable places one often finds themselves in during long, long runs like ultramarathons. So, it seemed fitting that—in the wake of his wicked fast 2018 Leadville 100-Mile finish this past August—we interview Krar about what it means to really run far.

Here’s what he had to say:

Ultrarunner Rob Krar runs in the mountains during the Leadville Trail 100 Run

OK, Leadville. How did you choose that race as your return?

I raced Leadville in 2014, and to this day it was the most challenging ultra of my life. It was the middle race of my own personal “triple crown” (after the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and before the Run Rabbit Run 100). I might have trained a little too hard without enough rest. So, I felt awful only 20 miles into Leadville, and it was a slugfest for the remaining 80.

After that, I always wanted to return to have a friendlier experience with the course. This year seemed like the perfect year; Leadville suits my strengths and is not very technical, which felt ideal for my first 100-mile race after major knee surgery in 2017.

You were on course-record pace for a lot of the day. How were you feeling? You said this was the first time you weren’t dealing with any injuries leading up to the event.

In many ways, I was less prepared this year than I've ever been for any other 100-mile race. It was a calculated risk, but I felt confident enough I could move my body the distance.

Right off the line I felt great, relaxed and mindful of how fortunate I was to be racing again. By the 50-mile turnaround I knew I was having one of those magical race days you can never predict, but there was still a long way to go! I stayed in the moment, focused on the task at hand, and only when I saw the finish line from atop 6th Street did I allow myself to believe it was really happening.

You missed the record but ran the second-fastest time ever. That’s an incredible feat, especially considering that didn't even feel like you were in top form. How does it feel?

It feels incredible and hard to describe. My race in Leadville is the most meaningful race of my career for many reasons. A year earlier I was on an operating table wondering if I’d ever race again, let alone even run.

How did you grapple with your injury and recovery when you weren’t sure if you’d ever run again?

A single bad step led to two holes of missing cartilage: one on the underside of my patella and the other on the head of my femur. I had cadaver cartilage replacement, a relatively new procedure without established recovery protocols, especially for an ultrarunner hoping to one day run 100 miles again.

Recovery was steady, but it was very long and very slow. So doubt crept in. The first few months were some of the most difficult months of my life. So much of my identity and well-being is wrapped around being outside, pushing my body and mind, and after surgery I felt as though a little of my soul had been ripped out of me. I did my best to remind myself that I’d never had an injury or setback in my life that I hadn’t returned from a little bit stronger, wiser and more humble. This injury certainly had me doubting that mantra at times, but, sure enough, it rang true in the end.

Ultrarunng Rob Krar drinks Gu during the Leadville Trail 100 Run

What did your fueling look like on race day and how do you practice fueling for LONG RUNS like this?

I fueled early and often, beginning in the first 20 minutes of the race. I aimed for 200 to 300 calories per hour, every hour. As tough as that is during a race, it’s vital to running to your potential over such a long distance. (I fuel the same way during my longest training runs and don’t change things come race day unless I really need to.)

My fueling strategy for 100-mile races is relatively simple and straightforward: GU Roctane Energy Drink is my primary source of fluids and calories (the Summit Tea flavor, in particular, allows me to bump the concentration up a bit without feeling overpowering). I’ll supplement that with GU Gels as well (I probably ate somewhere around 20 during Leadville). Coke is always a treat, and I chugged a good amount at my crewed aid stations, too.

Speaking of long runs, as an ultrarunner, what does LONG RUN mean to you?

I suppose my definition of a long run is continually changing, ebbing and flowing with where I am in my physical training and my mental state. Sometimes a 10-mile run seems like it will never end, and I wonder how in the world I hope to run ten times as far. Ideally, my longest training run before a 100-mile race is somewhere in the range of 30-35 miles.

How has ultrarunning been a mode of healing for you? You’ve talked openly about depression in the past.

Running alone on the trails, thinking or not thinking at all, is my escape and my refuge from an increasingly digital, noisy and complicated world. I don’t always love running, and more often than not it’s tough just to get out the door, but I know in my heart of hearts that when I go run I will never regret it. I know I’ll be a better person for it, too, each and every time.

What advice do you regularly give other runners who also face depression? And do you think that long runs help with this more than other types of runs?

It doesn’t have to be a long run, and it doesn’t even have to be a run. I believe simply being outside, away from the digital world, is a great first step. If I can’t muster the willpower to hit a long run, workout, etc., I remind myself that a short and easy four-mile run is a heck of a lot closer to that 20-mile long run or workout then zero miles.

Ultrarunner Rob Krar celebrates winning the Leadville Trail 100 Run

For someone new to ultrarunning—or even new to doing a long run for that matter (since ultras are very long, long runs)—what advice would you give on how to “master” the run? Maybe a few pointers?

Do it for the right reasons. The longer you go, the more important it is to feel a strong sense of purpose. Take your time, take baby steps, enjoy the process. Immerse yourself in the amazing community that is ultrarunning; it’s unlike any other crowd I’ve ever been around—so welcoming and inspiring. Crew, pace or just be a fan at a race on your way to your own long-term goals.

After a long race like Leadville, recovery is crucial. What does it really take to recover from such an effort, and do you have any advice for other runners about how to best recover?

It can be tough—even disappointing—after an ultra because you’ve worked so hard for so long with discipline and sacrifice to be the best runner you can be. Then, whether the race goes great (or not), all of a sudden you have loads of time of your hands that you don't exactly know what to do with!

I use the extra time as an opportunity to catch up on life, reconnect with friends and family and appreciate how damn lucky I am to be doing what I'm doing. There is no one right way, but I wouldn’t recommend jumping back into real training for at least a few weeks after a 100-mile race. I love low-impact activities like skiing or biking to bridge the gap between race day and the next cycle of training.

By Ashley Arnold. Ashley is a storyteller, ultrarunner and cat person. As Fleet Feet’s content marketing manager, she manages the Fleet Feet blog and its roster of writers.