Until a few months ago, Army Capt. Robert Killian hadn't given much thought to obstacle course racing. Of course, the increasingly popular sport hadn't given him much thought, either.
But that was before West Point professor Col. Liam Collins called Killian to ask if he'd be interested in giving the sport a try as part of the fledgling All-Army Obstacle Course Racing Team.
Go to a mud run event now and chances are good you'll see people sporting T-shirts that read: "Who the #@$% is Robert Killian?"
That's because in October, Killian came out of nowhere and conquered "The Beast" — a 13-mile obstacle course of cold, muddy hell high in the mountains above Lake Tahoe — to win the 2015 Reebok Spartan Race World Championship and claim its $15,000 grand prize.
The Special Forces captain in the Colorado Army National Guard competed against thousands of elite athletes who had been training for months, if not years, for the biggest event of the year in the rapidly growing sport.
Since about 2010, obstacle course racing has been gaining traction as a legitimate sport. With more than 120 events across 20 countries in 2015 alone, Spartan leads the pack on that front. But other race series, including Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and BattleFrog, continue to gain ground as well.
While Killian was new to obstacle course racing, he's not new to obstacle courses. He's competed in the obstacle-heavy Best Ranger Competition four times, coming in second the last two years.
The Spartan championship was just his second Spartan event. He placed third in a Spartan Race in Colorado in June, which qualified him for the championship event.
Army Special Forces Capt. Rob Killian came out of nowhere to win this year's Spartan Race World Championship.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Spartan Race
In the months since, he's gone OCR crazy, hitting as many races as he can find, including respectable showings in several other series championships.
"It was pretty crazy," Killian said of his Spartan victory. "I was hoping to at least place, but winning is good, too."
And good for the team.
The All-Army competitors — which included Collins and Killian, with two other men and three women — nabbed the top team trophy. Meanwhile, Collins took third place for the master's division for athletes over 40.
"Train like you're getting ready for a 5K, supplementing two or three days a week with weight workouts," Collins said. "That could just be basic bodyweight-type stuff or in the gym, but not lifting for massive strength gains."
To prepare for the obstacles themselves, Killian said, "you're limited only by your imagination. Go to the playground with your kids and see what you can do."
Spending time on the monkey bars will be especially beneficial in building grip strength.
"More often than not, that's what is going to fail you — those smaller muscles in your hand."