Want to know how to run 160 kilometres really fast? Step one: Don't listen to the voices in your head.
Rob Krar spent his childhood running and cross-country skiing on the local trails around Ancaster and Dundas.
But the races he’s been running – and winning – most recently are 160 kilometres. That’s longer than the distance from downtown Hamilton to Barrie.
Krar, 37, who now lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, won one “ultra-marathon” in June, the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run. He ran that race in 14 hours and 53 minutes, the second-fastest finish in the race’s history.
And then last week Krar picked up another win, the notoriously tough 100-mile Leadville 100 “Race Across the Sky” in Colorado. He crossed that finish line at the 16 hour, 9 minute and 32 second mark.
You can see how tough the race is, in terms of the thousands of feet of elevation gains and losses, in the data recorded by the GPS watch he was wearing. Krar outlasted even the watch, whose battery pooped out after 97 miles.
'You're not going to finish'
How it feels to put your body and mind through something like that is not exactly predictable. After the 100-miler in June, Krar said he felt like he’d had the “greatest race of my life.” Confidence and energy followed him all the way.
But, Krar said, the Leadville race was the toughest 100-mile he’d had. He wasn’t feeling well from the start, during line-up at 3 a.m.
One voice in his head would root for his continued success: “Rob, you’re doing great.”
Just as soon, another would tempt: “Just lay down, take a nap on the side of the trail. You’re not going to finish.”
But ultimately, he did finish, in the second-fastest time in race history.
Training in the Grand Canyon
Krar grew up on the Mountain and started running in grade 6, at Westview Elementary School. Throughout elementary and high school at Westmount Secondary he ran indoor and outdoor track and trained for triathlons.
He posted a photo recently of his final high school race, where he and his 4x400 metre relay team set personal bests in the Ontario championships:
He got a track scholarship to Butler University, where in between competitions he trained to be a pharmacist.
He has left and come back to running several times in his life.
"Deep down I don’t think I was running for the right reasons," he said. "Reflecting upon it now I think was too concerned with running certain times and impressing certain people."
He moved to Arizona after university, and as his trail runs for fun stretched longer and longer, he started entering trail races: 25 kilometres, 50 kilometres, 50 miles, 100 miles.
'Deep down I don’t think I was running for the right reasons. Reflecting upon it now I think was too concerned with running certain times and impressing certain people.' - Ultra-marathoner Rob Krar
After several major injuries requiring him to take breaks from the sport, Krar’s found a few training regimens he counts on.
One involves a feature in his backyard: The Grand Canyon. Krar has set records there for running its rim-to-rim trails – he holds the fastest known time for a double-crossing of the giant crater.
Now, he runs 30 miles there before a big 100-mile race. Even such a majestic landmark sparks some of those bifurcated feelings about long-distance running.
“The canyon is magical; the canyon for me is so amazing,” he said. “But I literally have had some of my most desperate, darkest [moments]” there, he said.
And more practically, a race like the one he just won in Colorado requires some training for descents that can beat up runners’ quad muscles. Running the Grand Canyon’s 5,000-foot descent helps him train.
'What I'm doing currently is unsustainable'
He didn’t really plan to be here, and this summer he’s trying to figure out what’s next. He works seven night shifts in a row as a pharmacist, taking the next seven days to train. He learned discipline and time management as a student athlete, which comes into play nearly daily now.
Krar is grateful for having such steady pharmacist work for the past decade. But it’s hard to balance that with his sport.
After the Western States run in June, the “biggest win of my life,” Krar rode a wave of euphoria. But he’s realized since that he “wasn’t terribly happy.”
“It was a slap in the face for me,” he said. “What I’m doing currently is unsustainable.”
The North Face offered him a professional running contract last year, and now his career is highlighted on the brand's website. It’s yet another part of his life he never could have predicted, when he was growing up in Hamilton.
“I feel like I have this amazing opportunity that I wasn’t expecting my running to be,” Krar said.
But even as he wrestles with fitting it all in, at a basic level, Krar loves to run.
"Some days I’m out there and my mind’s racing. Sometimes I'm not thinking about anything," he said. "It's the one time in the day where I can think my clearest. I love all the days."