A million dollars on the line, the best of the best entered, and only the most elite Spartans have a chance at it. When it comes to championship Spartan racing, there is only one road to the top. Who, if anyone, will win the Spartan Race to a Million?
Robert Killian knows about the climb. Spartan checked in with him as he was ascending The Incline, at Manitou Springs in Colorado, to chat about Tahoe, the Trifecta, and the brutality that will be the 2019 Ultra World Championship in Sweden. All three stops are necessary for the Spartan $1 Million Challenge.
This year, Spartan has a new qualification system in place. The $1 Million Challenge is taking the best finishing place from both the Tahoe World Championship and the Trifecta World Championship in Sparta, and subtracting that sum from the amount of miles finished in the Ultra World Championship in Sweden. To earn the full million, men will have to finish first in Tahoe and the Trifecta World Championship, and then make it over 100 miles in Sweden. Only Spartans entered in the Elite class can qualify.
The first stop on the list was North Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley for the 2019 World Championship. Held on September 28th, the best Spartans in the world gathered on the starting line for 15 treacherous miles, sub-freezing temps, brutal obstacles, and 4,000 total feet of elevation gain.
No stranger to the challenge was Robert Killian: third-place finisher in 2018, Spartan World Champion in 2015, Best Ranger Champion, Green Beret, and all-around badass. For the 2019 event, Killian started the climb in Tahoe stalking Ryan Woods for the first 20 minutes, before Woods made an errant spear throw and handed Killian the lead. Despite leaving all his gear on for the arctic swim obstacle, Killian never relinquished his opportunity. He won his second Spartan world title in commanding fashion.
A Q&A with Robert Killian
Spartan Race: Any quick takes on your performance in Tahoe, Robert? Becoming world champion again? Your performance was definitely worthy of the title.
Robert Killian: This one was a long time coming. I’ve definitely been trying hard since 2015, dealing with the setbacks that come with difficult obstacles and tough competition. In 2016 it was a single spear throw. In 2017 Cody Moat just blew by me. In 2018 it was the tire flip. This year there had to be zero mistakes. That was the key. Run a mistake-free championship and hope those other guys had a few mistakes along the way. I may not be the fastest or the strongest in the field, but when the weather gets bad and things get hard I just have more grit.
The second stop for the $1 Million Challenge will be the Spartan Trifecta World Championship in Sparta, Greece. Elite racers will have to race three distances over two days on November 2nd and 3rd. The Super and Sprint distances happen Saturday, and the Beast distance happens Sunday. Fastest overall time for the three events becomes the Trifecta champion.
SR: What are your thoughts on preparing for the trifecta in Greece?
RK: In August, I attended the Trifecta weekend event in Austria to prepare myself. It was a lot more grassroots, throwback Spartan style. There were different types of obstacles: a lot more balance oriented … and a memory test. It was a necessary experience. There was no course map. They didn’t have the distances marked. Everything was entering blind. It taught me to prepare for anything.
In Sweden this year, the Ultra World Championship will take place on November 9th. Racers will have to contend with 24 hours of competition, with the finisher who accomplishes the most miles declared the winner. The course will be run on a 5-mile loop that climbs 2,000 feet in elevation. With obstacles.
SR: How do you go from Greece to jumping into the Ultra Championship in Sweden to get that $1 million?
RK: Well, 100 miles is going to be near impossible with 2,000 feet of climbing each lap. To run 100 miles in 24 hours I’d have to climb 40,000 feet overall, plus the obstacles. So my focus is to get the first third done … My approach is to follow [Jonathan] Albon’s lead, play it safe, listen to my body, and try not to break myself for $1 million upfront. The reason is easy: Look at the calendar, with our next season starting in February and our final championships taking place in December, there’s no offseason. I’d rather go after that final Spartan Winter Medal. It’s the only one I don’t have, and I’ve earned all the others. I want that one for my mantel.
SR: What about nutrition? How will you fuel yourself throughout?
RK: Nutrition is half the race. To run for 24 hours, which is so limited with the baggage weight, and without a lot available/familiar food to be found in the small ski town of Åre, in Sweden, I’m going to be bringing a lot in. A lot of familiar, calorie-dense foods to keep the glycogen up and keep up on calories. It’s all about going out as hard as possible for 50 miles, then hitting survival mode and trying to finish.
It will take a heroic effort, but the first task is done. Robert Killian is poised for a run at $1 million.