By Eric Senseman
Perspective—the point from which something is viewed—can make all the difference. The moon can be seen, although it is over 220,000 miles away from the earth, on a clear night—but not on an overcast night. Beautiful sunsets decorate the horizon many evenings—but they can’t be seen amid thunderstorms. One must have the appropriate point of view to see things properly. 2013 Male Ultra Runner of the Year, Rob Krar, and his recent successes at ultra distances have taken some by surprise. Those surprised think not that they failed to see something but that there was nothing to see; that little evidence existed to support the belief that Krar would succeed in his first 100 mile attempt last year at the 2013 Western States 100, where he ultimately finished 2nd and just five minutes back of the talented Timothy Olson. They claim that Krar “came from out of nowhere.”
And Krar has continued to surprise the ultrarunning community – with victories in two of the most storied 100 mile races in the sport, at Western States where he took care of business this year with the second–fastest time in the race’s history, and then a scant seven weeks later at Leadville 100, also in a time that was the second fastest ever in that epic event’s 31st running. Of course, Krar, only 20 months removed from his first ultra ever, became the first male to ever “double” in winning both Western and Leadville in the same year.
Just as overcast skies prohibit a view of the moon’s light and just as thunderstorms render the myriad colors of a sunset opaque, an improper viewpoint kept the surprised from seeing glimpses of Krar’s ultra running potential long before his 100 mile debut. But in reality Rob Krar could have been seen from 100 miles away by those with the proper perspective. Take it from the guys who have known him—and often run with him—for years.
“If you lived in Flagstaff, you always knew that Krar was one of the most talented guys here that no one knew about,” Mike Smith, one of Krar’s running companions and friends since 2006, assertively states. “When healthy, he is unstoppable.” Was his 2nd-place finish at last year’s Western States 100 a surprise? Friend, training partner, and talented ultra runner, Jason Wolfe, had this to say: “I was almost more surprised he didn’t win the 2013 Western States 100. Nothing against anyone else running that day, but being a witness to his previous accomplishments, I was prepared for him to win. I think the only thing that surprised me was how fast I had to run during my pacing duties.” Brian Tinder, another accomplished Flagstaff ultra runner, was not surprised either: “Impressed, yes. I think his success is due to his commitment and steadfast routine that makes him the stronger runner. I have never met a more dedicated and calculated person.” Mike Smith agrees with Tinder. According to Smith, Krar’s accomplishments are far from surprising given his “planning, mindset, intensity, focus, speed, endurance, strategy, stubbornness, and toughness.”
It might make for a good story to say that Rob Krar was a surprise when he first burst onto the ultra running scene in late 2012 at the Bootlegger 50k, where he placed 2nd behind Jason Wolfe in a strong time of 3:42:25, and when, less than a year later, he finished 2nd at the prestigious and talent-laden Western States 100. But that isn’t the truth. The truth is that there are no surprises in ultra running: success in the sport is earned through miles and miles of dedication and hard work. In Krar, an abundance of both exist. Once he found a way to retain his physical health consistently, he began to dominate trail races in 2012 before moving to ultra distances later that year. “The whole year of 2012, when I came back from injury, I really destroyed it on the shorter trail scene. I won the La Sportiva Mountain Cup, kind of out of nowhere,” Krar reports. His win was indeed only “kind of out of nowhere”: after all, Krar has a stout half marathon personal best of 1 hour and 5 minutes, an indication of his vast potential at sub-marathon distances—the sort of distances run in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup.
At 35 years old, Krar entered the ultra running scene on a whim in November 2012. He opted to run the 50k distance, rather than the 25k distance, just days before Bootlegger, so his preparation for his very first ultra was less than optimal. However, there were already plenty of signs that Krar was ready to succeed at ultra distances on the trails, including his 2:25 marathon personal best and his recent La Sportiva Mountain Cup victory. Following Bootlegger and leading up to the 2013 Western States 100, his accomplishments were jaw dropping. By the summer of 2013, there was plenty of evidence that Krar was ready to tackle 100 miles with the best in ultra running. “Yeah, Western [States] was 100 miles, but I ran some pretty great races before that,” muses Krar as we talk about his ultra running history prior to Western States in 2013. That history includes a barrage of impressive runs at ultra distances to begin 2013: a formidable course record of 3:44:06 in February at Moab’s Red Hot 55k; a blazing-fast course record of 5:53:51 in April at the Leona Divide 50 Mile; and, in May, a seemingly untouchable Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim double crossing of the Grand Canyon in a record-setting, and otherworldly, time of 6:21:47. Krar’s recent wins at the Western States 100 and the Leadville Trail 100 serve only to solidify what should have been seen all along: Rob Krar is outstandingly talented and his successes, though hard-fought, earned through months of tireless training, and achieved after thousands of hours of relentless pain, cannot rightfully be called surprising.
Of course, a debutant at the 100-mile distance is entering unknown territory: in Krar’s case, the unknown included 50 miles more than he had ever run before. Predicting the unknown is not easy, but Krar’s history of staggering ultra distance times, wins, and course records prior to Western States made the unknown much more predictable. The humble Krar was never surprised and no one should have been. “By the time the 2013 Western States 100 came around, I was feeling pretty confident… I had this deep sense that this was it, like I had found my place. Somehow, I had no fear. I would say I wasn’t surprised about my 2nd-place finish, I was thankful. I figured I could run really well if I ran smart and that’s what happened,” Krar says reflectively. He continues: “I have great training cycles, and I enter these races so confident in my fitness. I stand on that starting line with no nerves. I’m not surprised…the way it has all come together, it’s come quickly and unexpectedly, but it’s not so much surprising to me.”
The thing that might be surprising about Krar is not his recent incredible ultra performances, but that he ever toed the line of an ultra at all. When he was running competitively during college and after, he had difficulty remaining healthy and rarely, if ever, started a race in top form. He gave up running competitively and, in his words, “vainly” lifted weights and concerned himself with the wrong sort of things like his appearance to others. He sometimes suffered from bouts of depression that left him unmotivated and unhappy. Amazingly, and perhaps surprisingly, Krar overcame it all: he found a way to train smart and stay healthy and show up to races fit; he began living his life for the right reasons, bucking the vanity of his past. He met his now wife, Christina, began to reconnect with outdoor activities under her guidance, and has learned to cope with his difficult mental times through communication with her. “I’m not trying to hide my depression like I used to. I think being able to talk about it goes a long way. I think finding something you’re passionate about—and doing it for the right reasons—goes a long way,” Krar says sincerely, as he sips the last of his spiced stout while we talk. Krar’s capricious decision to enter the sport of ultra running changed his life in important ways. “Running far and long increasingly takes me to a place of peace, even if I’m digging deep. It’s just where I belong. Being alone, on the trails, in my own thoughts…having something that I am passionate about, something I put my time and energy into, I think it’s one of the reasons I’m doing so well,” he reports. It’s something, Krar believes, that can help anyone who is dealing with depression or unhappiness: “I really feel if people spent more time outside, doing whatever they have genuine passion for: fly fishing, running, climbing, hiking, going for walks with their dog—people would be happier and the world would be an even better place.”
Rob Krar may have taken the long road to ultra running, but once he found his way, his successes could have been seen from a long way off. If his accomplishments have been surprising, then that has been due to a lack of perspective, not a lack of evidence. This is not to say, as it has been suggested elsewhere, that Krar is a heavy favorite whenever he enters a race, or that he is almost certain to win. It is only to say that Krar’s talent coupled with his rigorous and devoted training leave little room—if any—for surprise when he performs exceedingly well in ultras. That is true now and, has been true since the beginning of Krar’s ultra career.