Just about everyone who follows obstacle course racing is excited about the increased Spartan race coverage on TV and various social media platforms, but perhaps no one is more stoked than precocious little Chris Killian. The soon-to-be five-year-old son of Robert Killian Jr.—one of the world’s top Spartan race athletes—can often be found glued to a TV or computer screen on Saturday mornings watching his dad compete for another spot on the podium. He’ll look for his dad’s smoothly shaved head and listen for commentators to call his name, knowing exactly how he’ll have to approach each of the obstacles on the course. Christopher’s younger sister, Olivia, is also a big fan, even though she’s not yet three.
“We’re all excited things are going to the next level on NBC and Facebook Live,” says Killian, a 36-year-old Colorado resident and member of the Ascent pro team. “I know if I’m in first, my kids will get to see daddy run, and I think about that out on the course. If I don’t do well, they might not see me, so that’s added motivation. When I missed my first podium and finished eighth in NBC-televised race in Seattle recently, my daughter said, ‘I didn’t see you on TV. What happened?’”
Robert Killian is as tough as they get. He’s one of the hardest-working, most successful and most consistent OCR athletes in the world. He trains like a fiend for four to five hours every day and competes in some sort of obstacle course race just about every weekend. Plus, he has been tested in training and on the battlefield as a US Army Green Beret, Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veteran, and member of the Colorado National Guard.
But ask him what the hardest aspect about being a professional obstacle course racer is and this intense, multidimensional athlete known as “the Captain” goes a bit soft. “The biggest challenge when I first started racing regularly was not being able to see my wife and kids as much as I would have liked,” Killian said recently over lunch between training sessions in Boulder, Colorado. “It’s better now, but the first couple of years we were figuring out how to balance everything. The kids were in daycare, I was traveling most weekends to races, and my wife was busy working on her real estate license. So that all took some juggling, some getting used to in the first couple of years.”
Truth be told, Killian thought his days of being an elite-level athlete would be over by the time he was 30. He had been a high school track star, collegiate runner, and top-tier Ironman triathlete who plied his athleticism, skills, and tenacity to become a US Army Best Ranger Competition winner, US biathlon champion, and a top competitor in the World Military Orienteering Championships.
His OCR career took off in 2015 when he won the Spartan Race World Championship despite having just four races under his belt. That win was huge, but it didn’t necessarily mean it was going to be a life-changing event. It came after his last day as an active duty member of the Colorado National Guard and he needed to find a new full-time job or additional contract work with the military to make ends meet.
“It was a being in the right place at the right time kind of scenario for me,” Killian says. “With a wife and two kids, I couldn’t just continue racing like this because I had to make a living. I was making good money on active duty in the military, but when that ended, I didn’t think I could do this. It just so happened that the Ascent pro team was getting started, and my commander was the next-door neighbor of the guy who was the lead project manager for the team. I had just won the world championship, and that’s how it got started.”
Now less than three years later, Team Killian is operating like a well-oiled machine. Robert is a full-fledged professional obstacle course racer with numerous wins, dozens of podium finishes, loads of media coverage, a stint last year as chairman of USAOCR, and numerous sponsors—including Ascent Protein, Yokohama Tire, Lock Laces, Tailwind Nutrition, and Darn Tough Socks—to his credit. Along with Cody Moat, Hunter McIntyre, Hobie Call and Ryan Kent, Killian is one of the sports brightest stars as the sport gains more exposure and looks toward possible inclusion in the Olympics.
Given his ability to compete in short and fast stadium events all the way up to 24-hour events that might cover 100 miles, Killian thinks he can remain competitive for years to come as OCR continues to morph and grow. But he openly admits his family is his foundation and primary source of motivation, especially now that his wife, Maxine, has become a successful realtor and his kids have become huge Spartan race fans.
Even though he’s only four, young Chris hasn’t fallen far from the tree. He’s done several Spartan Kids races, including the one at the June 16 AT&T Stadium Sprint event in Dallas. “He really likes those races and is really into it,” Killian says with a proud smile. “At home, he runs back and forth saying, ‘I’m training for a Spartan race!’ Getting him amped up for it is important for me and our whole family. It helps take the stress away and keep it fun, and that’s why I try to incorporate the kids into my training however I can.”
That might mean running a recover jog or a tempo run with one or both kids in a BOB running stroller—“I’ve run the rubber off the wheels!” Killian says—or going on a family hike in the foothills. It’s also why his garage doubles as the ultimate Spartan race training center, with sandbags, pull-up bars, fitness rigs, and even a spear throw station. “I have almost everything I need to train right there,” he says. “You can spend about $300 and get everything you need to train. And besides, I’d rather spend time at home and train if I can than go to a gym.”
Workout Chalkboard: Mountain Running
One of the staples of Robert Killian Jr.’s weekly training regimen is mountain running. Because he lives on the outskirts of Boulder, Colorado, he has easy access to an amazing array of world-class running trails that include steep climbing and descending with everything from smooth dirt surfaces to extremely rocky, technical terrain.
For one of his favorite and most common mountain running sessions, Killian starts at the base of Flagstaff Mountain next to Boulder Creek at an elevation of 5,300 feet and runs a series of dirt roads and rocky single-track trails up to the 8,144-foot summit of Green Mountain, one of the highest peaks in the range that makes up Boulder’s iconic western horizon line.
Once at the top, he descends along the rolling, mile-long route of West Ridge Trail to Flagstaff Road. From there, he ups his tempo and his cadence considerably and rips down the paved road for 1.7 miles, running much of it faster than five-minute-mile pace. From there, he gets back on trails and bombs down three miles on flowy single-track dirt paths back to his car.
Sometimes he’ll take it easy going up and then hammer the entire downhill, and sometimes he’ll hammer his way up and take it easier descending. Depending on his heart rate variability data, sometimes he’ll put himself in the hurt locker for the whole thing and just crush it up and down.
“That’s about a 12-mile run with 3,000 feet of vertical gain—at high altitude—and it takes about two hours, depending on how I run it,” Killian says. “I always try to cover the same amount of distance on a run as I would in a Spartan Beast race. For me it’s about training for the distance instead training for time, because you race the distance, you don’t race time.”
That’s a hard run for sure, one that a lot of Boulder’s elite trail runners do once a week. But Killian isn’t finished when he gets back to his car. From there, he takes it a step further by carrying two 60-pound sandbags over his shoulders and power hiking up Red Rocks Trail, a short, steep route that gains about 400 vertical feet over a quarter mile. Once on top of a ridgeline, he drops the sandbags and busts out two sets of 25 box jumps on a park bench and a bunch of ab crunches before loading up with the bags and heading back down to his car.
“I get a ton of weird looks going up with my sandbags,” he admits. “It takes about 15 minutes going up and about 12 minutes down. I’ve tried to do that twice, but it’s just too much. But if I do it right with the functional fitness work on top, it’s a nice bit of strength work after the two-hour mountain run.”