SGPT: Tell us about yourself? Thanks for your military service by the way.
Robert Killian: I am married with two children and currently living in Longmont, CO. I really enjoy being in the mountains and exploring all the outdoor activities that Colorado has to offer; snowboarding, trail running, biking, hiking, and mountain climbing. I also dabble in auto mechanics as a hobby, rebuilding a 1987 Porsche 944 Turbo I bought in college. I am a 2004 graduate of The Citadel and was also born in Charleston, SC. I enlisted as a 19D Calvary Scout in 1999 at the age of 17 prior to attending college. Upon graduation I earned a commissioned as an officer and was assigned to a newly activated 4th Brigade 10th Mountain Division.
SGPT: Did you have an athletic background growing up?
RK: I didn’t have much of an athletic background before middle school and even then I distinctly remember always being one of the last kids picked for team sports. However, my Uncle and legal guardian at the time, LTC (R) Taube Roy slowly got me into running and tennis. I remember a teacher once noticed I was frustrated for not being picked up during a gym class game and he told me, “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. Those words have probably pushed me to achieve goals that even I thought weren’t possible given my uncommon upbringing. I ended up as the number 1 runner and Men’s Tennis player at Wade Hampton High School which earned me a partial athletic scholarship to attend The Citadel. There I ran all the distance events during indoor and outdoor track as well as cross-country. I was the MVP in both for three of my four years there.
SGPT: You won the Spartan Race Championship. Wow. Can you tell us a little about the event?
RK: I would say that winning the 2015 Spartan Race World Championship was as much of a surprise to me as it was to the millions of OCR (obstacle course racing) athletes who had no idea who I was. Being named a world champion is something that only very few have earned. I was introduced to the sport by COL Liam Collins who gave me a call about joining the All Army Sports OCR team after I finished 2nd overall at the 2015 US Army Best Ranger Competition. I had participated on the US Army Triathlon, Army 10 Miler, Cross-Country, and Orienteering teams in the past but had never even heard of OCR. COL Collins said that with my background winning the 2010 Military Category of the Kona Ironman World Championships, multiple top finishes in Best Ranger and Orienteering that this was the sport I needed to be focusing on. So I did just that, signed up for my first race in Breckenridge, a beast and probably one of the hardest races I had ever done. I was able to finish 3rd overall in the elite, but after all the mountain climbing and strength obstacle I could barely walk for a week after from absolutely taking my body to complete muscle failure. I based all my training off that race and just a few months later won the 2015 World Championship as the “dark horse” and “silent assassin”; nicknames given to me by people in the OCR community. The event more specifically is a test of speed, strength, and most important endurance plus mental toughness or grit. Throughout the race you are trail running if you’re lucky but most of the time the course route is through dense forest, ditches, creeks, and mud with huge mountain climbs and elevation gains followed by brutally dangerous descents that often decide the outcome of the race. And if you’ve made it past blow out knees or a sprained ankle, well let’s not forget all the obstacles! Spartan Race has a way of breaking you down like no other race in the world. Everything is tested by overcoming grip strength obstacles like the Spartan Rig and Ape Hanger to 10 and 12 foot walls, barbed wire and balance obstacles. Strength obstacles like the dreaded double sandbag carry, log carry, sled drag, farmer carry, or 1000m bucket brigade will break you down and torture your spine. As if that wasn’t enough, now top all that with some unforgiving terrain and unpredictable weather making every single race unique and extremely challenging.
SGPT: How did you get interested in the triathlons and mud runs/obstacle course racing?
RK: I started getting into triathlons when I was stationed down in Fort Polk, LA, and I’ll be honest there just isn’t a lot going on in that neck of the woods so I had more free time to focus on something other than running. My Battalion XO got me into cycling a bit and I borrowed his road bike to do my first triathlon on post with other military members. I knew the swim would crush me, not that I can’t swim, (I would actually consider myself to be a strong swimmer as surfing was one of my big hobbies in college) but because I have never learned the proper technique for competitive swimming nor had to opportunity to swim in high school or college I wrote that off as my weakest event. Lucky for me this was a reverse triathlon and the swim was last so I figured if I could get out far enough on the run and just survive the bike and swim I could win. That plan was working out great until about 800m out from transition my bike tire got a flat, so I pulled a Chris Froome and ran with my bike the last ½ mile. I had one person pass me, but lucky for me he was completely exhausted and even though probably a better swimmer I was able to pass him in the water and take the win. From there I kept building upon the sprint distance, to Olympic where I competed on the All-Army Triathlon team four years and won the military category of the Kona Ironman World Championship for the Army and was named 2010 US Army Athlete of the Year. As far as OCR I feel like I’ve done so many sports in the past looking for what was the right fit for me, but never seemed to find that. Well Joe De Sena created in my mind the perfect combination of speed, strength, endurance, and mental toughness that is Spartan Race. I’m hooked. It’s a sport where you truly have to be a master of all those factors, you can’t just be a fast runner or the strength obstacles will crush you. You can’t just be strong or you can’t keep up with the fast running pace, and most importantly you have to be mentally tough and able to push yourself past your limits. I feel this is my strongest attribute.
SGPT: What does a typical day of training look like for you?
RK: Well that all depends because being a husband and father can be very demanding, and rightfully so because that my priority. OCR is a means to do what I love but providing for my family comes first and foremost. There is a lot of time sacrificed away to train and travel to races so to me it becomes very important to manage my time wisely. I try to wake up early and get in a run before the kids even wake up then it’s getting them fed and ready for school / daycare. I then focus on some strength training or cross training via a bike ride or swim early afternoon as a second workout for the day. Other days I’ll sleep in a bit and workout a couple hours after breakfast and do another workout late night around 830pm after the kids are asleep. On average I’m running between 7-12 miles a day and working on obstacle technique via strength training for about an hour or two with some cross training for another hour or so.
SGPT: What was hardest part of the Spartan Race event for you?
RK: The hardest part of a Spartan Race for me is the dreaded Spear Throw. And it’s not that it’s physically hard there are just so many different variables involved with it. I practice all the time and have a great technique, but in a race it’s a completely different animal. This single obstacle has cost me more wins than any other race, but on that flip side is one of the reasons I was able to separate myself from Cody Moat in 2015. He missed his and I made it when it counted the most. However, this past year I felt that pain more that ever missing in Montana, Breckenridge, and Tahoe which all led me to second and third place finishes in not only those very critical races, but I finished 2nd in the US Championship Series by 1 point; 1 point that had I not missed the spear in any of those races would have change the outcome of the entire season. No other obstacle can impact the race like the Spear Throw. For those who don’t know. You arrive at the obstacle and must pull your spear that is tied to a barrier with a cord back to the throwing position careful not to tangle or step on the cord that could tremendously impact your throw. You only have one try and must throw the spear into a bale of hay about 16+ feet away, it must stick and not touch the ground. Sounds easy, but when the race is on the line with two or three people within 10 seconds of each other and a 30 burpee penalty for missing, you either make it or end up off the podium in a Sprint race. There is some wiggle room in a Super or Beast, but with the field of elite athletes out there even then the fatigue from doing burpees and mental defeat can ruin your race.
SGPT: You also won the Best Ranger competition. Much respect to you on that one. Can you tell us about that event?
RK: Best Ranger is the hardest endurance event on the planet. You are faced with unknown events over a 72 hour period often covering 60+ miles all while carrying a 50-60lbs ruck. The competition only allows for 100 2 man teams and you must have every item on the given packing list, not receiving any outside support or nutrition other than what the graders give you. For food, that’s only 5 MRE’s which isn’t nearly enough calories to sustain anyone for the amount of activities required to complete the competition. It takes years of experience and military training to compete against the best of the best, you can’t just sign up and say you want to do it. Only 1% of our US Army is Ranger qualified and of those only 1% earns a spot to compete in the Best Ranger, making it truly an elite completion. All the difficulties I described for Spartan Race are just a fraction of what it takes to compete BRC. As a matter of fact, for the first time ever, this past year a Spartan Race was just one of the 20+ events within Best Ranger. Other events include many advanced marksmanship stress shoots, airborne operation, weapons assembly, radio communications, call for fire, land navigation, the Darby Queen obstacle course, knot tying, rock wall climbing, combat swim, equipment runs, day and night foot march, urban obstacle course, medical ranger first responder, along with a few mystery events just to name a few. The two man team up accumulates the most points over the 72 hours is named the winner. This past year Erich and I made history as the first National Guard team to ever win the competition.
SGPT: Any tips for up and coming athletes that want to do their first Spartan Race or mud run?
RK: The best advice is to do your first one with a lot of caution. Its takes some getting used the technique required to do the obstacles and the terrain can certainly cause an injury which isn’t something you want to be faced with your first time out the door. Definitely work on running, pull-ups, and being able to carry a heavy bucket or sandbag up a hill. Make sure your gear can withstand the terrain, lots of grip and water drainage for shoes, and compression type clothing that can’t get snagged in barbed wire or soak up a lot of water / mud. These races can really test your ability to face fears and overcome them on some challenging obstacle, but they are fun so enjoy it. Spartan Race harps on “You’ll know at the finish line” and that does absolutely hold true! Until you’ve actually done a Spartan Race you won’t fully understand what everyone is talking about.
SGPT: How do you fuel your body during these long events? Do you use any supplements to help repair your body?
RK: For the most part I’m relying on whole food and loading up prior to the event. At most a beast race for me is about 2:30min so you don’t need to take in as much as an Ironman or Ultra Beast. I do drink a lot of water mixed with electrolytes which are key for hot days and preventing cramping. During training it’s critical to repair you body with 15-30min post workout, especially if you’re doing multiple workouts a day.
Protein is the key component to rebuilding those muscles and for me getting that as naturally as possible is very important.
I use Ascent Whey Protein after every workout because it’s as close to the real thing as you can get with nothing artificial.
It’s fast absorbing and mixes great with water so you can meet recovery requirements on the go.
Again, I stay as natural as possible and get most of my nutrition from whole foods, but it’s take a lot to get the same thing you can get from just one scoop of Ascent.
Sleep is also the most important ingredient in repairing your body and Ascent Micellar Casein is formulated to help with slow absorbing essential amino acids that help muscle recovery while sleeping.
SGPT: What is your next big event that you are training for?
RK: After coming off a 24 hour 100 mile 400+ obstacle course race a couple weeks back where Team America took 2nd overall, I don’t plan on doing too many events over the next couple months. You can catch this race on CBS as well as Spartan Race World Championships Christmas day on NBC. During this off season I like to compete in a few Winter Biathlon races. I’m a member of the Colorado National Guard Biathlon team and Western Regional Champion. My first race of the season is a mass start 18 December up in Snow Mountain Ranch, CO. After that I’ll have quite a full schedule of races lined up for the 2017 season. Best Ranger will be my first big event 8 April.
SGPT: What book are you reading now?
RK: Anatomy for Runners
SGPT: Many thanks for the interview Robert, best of luck and skills in your upcoming races. We appreciate your military service for this great country.