Rob Krar Breaks Records, Busts Stigmas, and Battles Depression Every Damn Day – Runner’s World

Rob Krar Breaks Records, Busts Stigmas, and Battles Depression Every Damn Day  Runner’s World

In the fall of 2017 Rob Krar didn’t think he’d ever run again. He felt ruined, tired, and restless at the same time. After knee surgery, he was unable to walk for eight …

In the fall of 2017 Rob Krar didn’t think he’d ever run again. He felt ruined, tired, and restless at the same time. After knee surgery, he was unable to walk for eight weeks and barely left his couch.

But it wasn’t only that. A sad song came on—or maybe it was a sad movie? He can’t remember. But he does remember typing words into the computer that night.

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The injury and the rehabilitation from the surgery were grueling and offered no assurances that Krar, a two-time winner of the Western States Endurance Run, would ever get back to what he loves, racing 100 miles. It triggered the worst depressive episode of his life.

“I learned that a shotgun is better than a single bullet,” he says, a year later. “It was a little shocking the next morning, waking up and thinking, Holy shit, I really went there last night.”

Rob Krar

It took years before he knew what to call the dark times that seemed to come on with more frequency the older he got. When he was competing as a Division 1 athlete at Butler University and balancing a full pharmaceutical studies class load, he chalked it up to stress.

After graduation, he moved to Phoenix to work overnight shifts at a local pharmacy. The dry, hot temperatures and ever-air-​conditioned urban sprawl made him loathe his new city. He was in a failing relationship. He didn’t feel right. When his three-year contract at the pharmacy was up, he moved north to Flagstaff, where he was surrounded by some of the country’s most competitive runners. The thin mountain air helped, but didn’t cure him. Chasing top results at prestigious road races only exacerbated the condition at times.

“I was running for the wrong reasons,” Krar, 42, says, “and I blew myself up.”

He was running to be the fastest, to win the races. He ran more miles and engaged in harder efforts. For what purpose, though? Even on the trails, he had something to prove. He came away with a victory at the 2009 TransRockies Run with teammate Mike Smith, but spent his celebration in urgent care, his back seizing and his heels in dire pain. It was caused by Haglund’s deformity, an abnormality of the foot’s bones and soft tissues. Krar needed surgery on both heels, for the bony growths pushing on his Achilles.

It was at TransRockies, though, that he met his wife, Christina Bauer. She began helping him understand what he was experiencing emotionally as Bauer was pursuing her master’s in social work and coped with depression herself.

Together they explored the outdoors. It was movement in nature, running singletrack through forests, where Krar discovered a sense of relief. “I started to see the relationship between my mental health and this kind of running,” Krar says. On a whim in 2012, he entered a 33K, in Moab, Utah. It was a February event and he had done nothing to prepare except ski mountaineering most days.

He won.

Rob Krar

He entered more races, longer races, and saw similar success. In June 2013, he lined up in Squaw Valley, California, for his first attempt at 100 miles. About 15 hours later, he crossed the Western States finish line in second place and fell so in love with the distance that he immediately vowed to come back and win. And he did. Twice.

There was something about the pain Krar experienced during the longest runs, almost always in solitude, that became cathartic. It’s a type of hurt he can control and conquer by sheer determination, unlike the futility of sparring with intangible demons during the worst bouts of depression.

“It’s that time for me to escape this really fucked up world we’re living in,” he says. “Other times, I problem-solve, I think about what’s weighing heavy on my shoulders.”

Along the way, Krar started openly talking about his mental health during interviews. The more he talked, the more he heard from others in the running world. He wasn’t alone. And they weren’t, either.

Rob Krar

Unknowingly, Krar had tapped into a demographic that may need the mental health conversation most: middle-aged men. Statistics show that their suicide rate is more than double the average. They are less apt to discuss their symptoms. “Of the people who reach out to me, about 80 percent are male,” he says. “Almost all of what I hear is, ‘I don’t have anybody to talk to.’ ”

Krar is careful not to offer advice, but says to have faith that it will get better. “I’m not a therapist, so I keep it much broader,” Krar says. “My theme is hope.”

It’s a theme that Krar finds hard to remind himself of at times. During the fall of 2017, when he recovered from his knee surgery, he was in his deepest despair. He couldn’t fathom that by summer he’d run again. But his immobility slowly improved to outings with a cane and eventually advanced to brisk walks at an incline on a treadmill. Members of his medical support team robgradually stoked his fantasies of running again. By February of 2018, he knew he had to rally because the retreat he hosts annually was just days away.

Back in 2014 Krar and Bauer started offering adult running retreats in Flagstaff a few times a year. They welcomed runners of all abilities to experience their favorite trails, eat home-cooked meals, and create connections with each other. Brought together by running, many attendees have also discovered a needed boost of community and friendship.

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The camaraderie that the camps foster is equally helpful for Krar. He had an unspoken goal when the group arrived that winter—he wanted to try to take his first outdoor running steps with them. And he did.

Rob Krar

“Those camps help sustain me,” he says. “It’s powerful when somebody tells you that this four-day event changed their life.”

The run he completed in February eventually led Krar to another quiet goal, which was to make it to the starting line at Leadville. He never expected he’d win, but he took the podium at 15:51:57.

Krar looked back at the photos spectators and photographers had posted to social media after Leadville. One shot caught his eye, stoking a recollection of a critical moment in his comeback. “I’m not beaming, but I know how I look, and that’s not Rob in misery,” he says. “The hole is always there, but when things are going well, I’ll allow myself a glimmer of brightness.”

It was a picture of Krar cresting the highest point on the course, 12,600 feet above sea level—the first runner that day to make it to the top of Hope Pass.