Imagine mountain biking 103 miles over mountainous trails that climb and descend over 12,600 feet. Imagine cranking the pedals at your red line for seven hours in the thin Rocky Mountain air. And then imagine doing it all again seven days later on foot… and winning. Rob Krar did just that with an epic Leadville double performance. In the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Krar rode to an impressive 14th place, finishing in 7:08:27. Incredibly, he followed up this strong performance with an overall win in the Leadville Trail 100 Run, breaking the finish-line tape in 15:51:57
Backcountry caught up with Rob Krar to chat about his win, how he recovered after the long bike ride, and how his minimalist philosophy influenced his signature VaporKrar line with Nathan Sports.
First off, Rob, congratulations on the win at Leadville! It has been a long journey for you to get back to Leadville and break the finishing tape. How did it feel to be at the front of a 100-mile ultramarathon again?
It’s hard to put into words. Running, feeling free, feeling like I belong once again—the struggle and challenges of the past year after major knee surgery made this race the most significant and meaningful of my career.
Incredibly, the week before the ultra you rode in the 100-mile Leadville Trail Mountain Bike. How did you get the wild idea of competing in both races? How did the two race experiences compare?
Months ago I daydreamed about racing the Leadville run. I recognized it would have required the perfect buildup. When I strained my Achilles 7 weeks out, it seemed it would remain a dream. However, a few weeks off the feet running and instead dancing on the pedals of my bike, along with focused rehab with Paragon Athletics, and my confidence began to grow again. I packed the car with gear to race both the bike and the run. I was committed to the MTB but would wait and see how it went and how I recovered before committing. I officially registered to run the Tuesday between races.
The majority of the race courses differ, the climb and descent of Powerline being the most significant commonality. The greatest difference is that, for me, the MTB is a near redline effort from the moment Ken Chlouber fires his shotgun to begin the race, all the way to the finish line. The run in comparison requires patience and smarts—“composure, confidence, compete” as I like to say. It’s a slow burn and such a contrast to the ride.
What were some of your hydration, fueling, and refueling strategies that helped you recover in the short period between events?
My go-to when it comes to fueling and hydration for racing is GU Roctane drink mix and gels. There was little difference in my strategy for the MTB versus the run. 200-300 calories per hour, every hour. Recovery was key in my back-to-back weekends of racing. Strategies included GU Recovery Mix, consuming lots of calories in general, time in my NormaTec recovery boots, and slow and easy recovery runs.
Can you make any comparisons about hydration and fueling on and off the bike? Are their particular challenges of staying hydrated and fueled on the bike versus on the run?
My strategy is very similar on the bike vs. the run. The challenge on the bike is simply the speed and dexterity of fueling while pedaling and moving at significant speeds. Racing a bike is not something I’m well versed in and it’s still a learning process for me! For the run, the challenge is the constant need to feed the engine over such a long period of time—it’s absolutely vital for running to one’s potential.
The Leadville race series bills itself as “the race across the sky” because the trails are between 9,000 and 12,000 feet. Do you find that racing and training (both on the run and on the bike) at high altitude affects your hydration and fueling?
In fact, the vast majority of the races are above 10,000’. Living in Flagstaff, AZ, at an altitude of 7,000’, lends a huge advantage when racing at altitude. I’m thankful to have a strong stomach and a fueling strategy that historically has worked very well for me. The altitude of the Leadville races plays into my strengths.
Let’s chat a bit about your signature VaporKrar line of hydration and storage gear from Nathan Sports. During the Leadville Run, you wore the VaporKrar WaistPak. Were there certain features and functions that you were adamant designers take into account with the Pak?
The vision for the VaporKrar WaistPak was born after my Western States 100 run in 2015 where I struggled to find an efficient and comfortable system to carry my fluids and nutrition while maintaining a “bare bones” and minimal approach. Tucking my bottle in my shorts led to the worst chafing I’d ever experienced.
I’d tried several waist packs in the past but their comfort and functionality simply weren’t there. They would ride up my waist and not stay put and it was an absolute must for the VaporKrar WaistPak not to suffer from the same issue. Carrying capacity was maximized with pockets for a 16oz. soft flask, a secure zippered pocket that can hold a large smartphone, and two side pockets each capable of holds several gels or other small items.
With frequent aid stations during the Leadville 100 and combined with a 16oz. SpeedFlask, the VaporKrar WaistPak was the perfect choice, meeting my needs, while allowing me to travel the 100 miles feeling fast and light. In fact, most people didn’t even know I had the WaistPak on!
Fit and function were priorities in the design of the VaporKrar and VaporHowe series of vests. Ultramarathoner Stephanie Howe and I share very similar demands and expectations of our gear and designing the vests together was the perfect scenario. The best way to describe the vests is “everything I need and nothing I don’t.” The VaporKrar is form-fitting, functional, lightweight and minimal, making it the perfect hydration vest for me.
It seems like a lot of thought went into pocket design in these vests. Was this based on race experience? Why does pocket placement make a difference for runners?
Previous training and racing experience led to a strong focus on the pocket and storage design of the vests. They are designed to offer easy access and organization while remaining comfortable at any capacity. The pockets in the back have a tiered system so their contents don’t all bunch in the bottom in the same spot, and also aid tremendously in organization and ease of packing.
There might be some runners coming from the road racing scene that assume aid stations are sufficient for staying hydrated and fueled in a trail race. Why is on-the-go access to fuel, hydration, and storage critical for training and racing on the trails?
Vests are a valuable tool in trail and ultra training and racing. It’s important to be self sufficient on the trails where we often find ourselves venturing far from the safety and security of civilization and into unpredictable backcountry settings. Vests offer an easy means of carrying calories, fluids, extra layers of clothes and other items to ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure; and leave no excuses to compromise on any of these important items.
Do you have any advice for runners who are looking to invest in a vest or waist pack?
Fit should always be the first priority. A single run with chafing and a vest might never be on your back again. Think about how much you plan to carry and what capacity vest will fit that bill. Where do you prefer your fluids? In a bladder on your back or in flasks on the front? Or both? Carrying capacity is also a consideration, how many hours and in what kind of conditions will you be traveling?
Finally, (given that you’ve got expertise in both sports) will your next race be a trail run or a mountain bike?
I’ve learned never to say never, but I feel pretty confident it’ll be a while before I dance on the pedals again for a race. However, I’ve seen very clearly how beneficial riding can be and it’ll most definitely play a more significant role in my training in the future!