ParkLife: An Interview With Anton Krupicka

Run TrampAs Anton Krupicka’s alpine antics continue to evolve, I caught up with one of the sport’s premier dudes to talk about his journey from Nebraskan farm boy to mountain-running luminary.

iRunFar: So Anton, let’s go way back. There’s a long history of homesteaders in your ancestry. Tell me a little about the Krupickas—where they came from and how your family ended up settling in Nebraska?

Anton Krupicka: Where I grew up in the Niobrara, Nebraska area, I’m a fifth-generation Krupicka. In the 1860s, my great-great grandfather Josef Krupicka immigrated to America and settled near Niobrara, originally living in a dug-out sod hut on the banks of the Verdigre Creek only a few miles from the farm I grew up on. Josef–and the generations that came after him–were Bohemian freethinkers. After persecution by the Catholic Church back in Bohemia, they rejected organized religion in America and instead were members of a secular communal organization known as the Z.C.B.J. (a Czech acronym that loosely translates as “Western Bohemian Fraternal Association”) that took on the church’s roles of hosting weddings and funerals and also provided a gathering place for parties, theater and musical performances, and gymnastics. Along with a farmer’s traditional obvious regard for the land and natural world, I would definitely say that these values of freethinking and cultural well-roundedness are things that were emphasized in my own upbringing.

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Anton with sisters, Antonia (center) and Katrina (right), and mother, Liz (background), having a Fourth of July campfire in their front yard in 1992. All photos courtesy of Anton Krupicka.

iRunFar: Cool. It’s pretty well known that you ran your first marathon at 12 years old and running—even at that age—was a big obsession of yours. What about the pre-running you? What were your passions before running came along and what type of kid were you?

Krupicka: I was into what I would consider pretty typical boyhood interests for someone who is fortunate enough to grow up on a 640-acre playground of pastures, hills, and wooded ravines. Before I got into running, I think I had a major surfeit of energy. I remember my parents once lecturing me on how I shouldn’t be so “kamikaze” and have more respect for my body and its well-being. I also remember my fifth-grade teacher taping an X on my classroom chair as a reminder to stay seated, as in ‘X marks the spot’. When I was five, I rode my bicycle directly into a barbed-wire fence, requiring 13 stitches in my chest.

I spent a lot of time working on building a cabin in the woods below our house; I think it was for Christmas of 1992 or 1993, Santa brought me an axe as a present. I very much wanted to be a ‘mountain man’ a la legendary fur trappers like Jim Bridger and Hugh Glass of Frederick Manfred’s classic 1954 novel Lord Grizzly.

Also during this time I was heavily into fossil collecting around our farm. The geology of the area I grew up is that of glacial deposits from the last North American ice age. Local small-scale gravel quarries would sift out the fist-sized-and-larger rocks and dump them in big piles; I spent a lot of time picking through these giant piles of cobbles and was rewarded with many fossilized bone fragments and even whole hooves and teeth from ancient bison, horses, and mastodons. Paleontology was a big interest, and eventually led me into the broader study of earth sciences.

Finally, modeled by my parents, I, of course, read a lot. When I was 10 and 11, I already idolized George Washington Hayduke—the semi-alcoholic and profane hero of Ed Abbey’s 1975 cult classic eco-terrorism novel The Monkey Wrench Gang.

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Anton in 1998 or 1999.

iRunFar: I guess it’s pretty safe to say running became a big part of your life as soon as you started. What was it about running that it became such an obsession; was it something mental, physical, or both?

Krupicka: Definitely both. As a kid, I think I was someone who just really tended to throw himself into things. Go all out. I seemed to have the slightest bit of talent for it—even before I began running on a daily basis, I was the fastest kid in my 12-person class for a one-mile run. And that little bit of success definitely inspired me to pursue it. Any kind of athletic ability gives one a little bit of status amongst one’s peers at that age, so it was immediately something from which I gained a lot of confidence and sense of identity.

It didn’t take long—a few weeks of daily practice—for it to become something that I needed every day to feel good, just as is the case for me now and the same for thousands of other runners all over the world. Of course, now, 20 years later, I’m able to be a little more articulate and philosophical about the practice and obsession than I was then, but that same somewhat intangible but overwhelmingly powerful allure was there for me right from the beginning. It differentiated me from my peers; the thought of being able to run for three or four hours at a time seemed like a superpower, and when I figured out that I could do that, well, of course it was empowering.

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Anton finishing the Okoboji Marathon in 1996 a couple weeks before his 13th birthday. 3:50:11 finishing time.

iRunFar: Tell me a little of your school days. You’re a well-educated guy; did you have your nose in the books a lot back at school? What subjects did it for you?

Krupicka: I definitely had my nose in the books a lot as a kid. High school was pretty easy for me, so I was always doing things to try and make it more challenging—taking a French correspondence course, reading classic novels, driving to a neighbouring school for additional classwork in calculus and physics. My parents highly value education and life-long learning—my mom was a teacher at my high school for 25 years—so their influence was obvious. I remember always struggling a bit with mathematics in the lower grades, but when I started doing algebra something clicked and math definitely became my favorite subject, maybe because it made me work a little harder than I had to in other subjects. Having said that—despite ultimately completing a degree in physics—I objectively have much more aptitude for reading and writing than wave functions and differential equations, so the classwork for a philosophy degree was definitely a welcome break from all the physics when I was an undergrad.

iRunFar: What are your very first memories of ‘big’ mountains? Did that environment make an immediate impression on you, do you remember?

Krupicka: Where I grew up in Nebraska, the closest mountains are about six hours away in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This is where Mount Rushmore is located. I definitely remember visiting them when I was only three years old. Every summer when I was growing up, my family would take a one- to two-week car-camping trip in the American West, hiking and camping in the national parks. The Tetons in Wyoming, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and the more rugged and glaciated Canadian Rockies around Banff, Alberta all left a definite impression on me by the time I was 10 years old.

Sometime during those years I remember reading in a book about how to body rappel and had practiced it in a small ravine—not much more than a ditch really—behind my house; when I then encountered rock climbers with helmets and ropes and harnesses on our trips out West they represented people with a similar kind of superpower that I later accorded to people who could finish a marathon. Running 26 miles or being able to scale a forbidding rock face seemed like things that only very impressive people could achieve. When I realized that these were things I was perfectly capable of doing, it was easy to become obsessed with the process of achieving those things myself.

A 1996 family camping trip with sister, Katrina, at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park.

A 1996 family camping trip with sister, Katrina, at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park.

iRunFar: You’ve said that you had an epiphany the first time you ran up Pikes Peak. Can you tell me all about that fateful run?

Krupicka: Absolutely. It was November, 2001. I’d just finished my freshman year cross-country season at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. Running up and down Pikes Peak was pretty high on the list of reasons of why I applied to CC in the first place, so the first available weekend morning, I went for it. Being November, I remember encountering some ice and snow above treeline and having all the views being obscured by the fact that I was in a cloud—nothing serious, I was in road shoes, shorts, and a long-sleeve t-shirt after all—and after I reached the summit in 3:16 (from the Barr Trail Trailhead, about one mile up from the actual Pikes Peak Marathon starting line in downtown Manitou Springs) I remember pausing to eat a Clif Bar in the summit gift shop before whipping off the descent in 1:32. It was the longest run I’d ever put in time-wise and I remember just feeling stronger and stronger as the day went on and experiencing some extended, effortless periods of flow while coming back down Barr Trail.

I was coming off a pretty frustrating, disappointing cross-country season—which would be the norm for me—and I just remember thinking that running up and down the mountain was so much more satisfying than grinding through another set of intervals or underperforming in another golf-course race. I also remember thinking that without the ice and snow I could’ve definitely gone sub–five hours for the full marathon and that that would’ve won my age group and placed me something like top 20 that year—a result that seemed nearly impossible given my lack of success at the shorter distances. Everything about the experience was positive and affirmative rather than all the discouragement I was finding while trying to excel at racing five to 10k.

iRunFar: Sweet. On to the Leadville Trail 100 Mile, which, without a hint of exaggeration, changed your life. Tell me when you first heard about the race and what your initial impressions were about it?

Krupicka: I first heard about the race very early on. In the March, 1995 issue of Runner’s World—the very first running magazine I owned, I’d just begun running daily a month earlier—Don Kardong had a now-classic article about the 1994 race where Ann Trason set the women’s course record, battled the Tarahumaras, and nearly won the whole thing outright. Yes, this is a tale that was told way before Born To Run hit the presses 15 years later.

I read absolutely everything I could about running, and this was one of the first things I read. Ann Trason, Matt Carpenter, and, a few years later, Scott Jurek became almost inhuman superheroes in my mind. I was enthralled with every aspect of running, but I could at least conceive of what it meant to run five or 10 miles. Marathons and 100 milers up and down mountains actually sounded impossible, like space travel. To me, those things held the same magical otherworldliness that I envisioned when leafing through back issues of National Geographic that held the story of the 1953 Hillary and Norgay Everest expedition.

It was all amazing to read about and imagine, but at not even 12 years of age, these things were impossible to actually ever conceive of doing myself. Six years later, in 2001, I matriculated at Colorado College, and my assistant cross-country coach there—Paul Koch—had actually finished the Leadville 100 in 1996. Along with his Unabomber beard and wild eyes, this achievement accorded him unimpeachable legend status amongst my fellow teammates. Koch was the hardest of the hardcore. He had been in the same races as Matt Carpenter. Almost immediately, I knew I wanted to be like him.

Despite this, I actually had no intention of racing the Leadville 100 in 2006. My plan—as it had been for almost 10 years at that point—was to race the Pikes Peak Marathon that weekend in August. I didn’t have a cell phone yet in the summer of 2006, and my email account was in the process of transitioning from a student account to a staff account at CC (I was employed as a paraprofessional writing tutor for a year after graduation), so when I applied to the race committee for a comped entry (based on the fact that I’d won the Leadville Marathon in July), their response got lost in the shuffle somewhere and I just assumed I’d been rejected.

So, at the behest of friend and long-time Colorado Running Company manager, John O’Neill (“Dude, you’re already running 200 miles a week, you’re never going to be in better shape for this.”), three weeks before the race I sent in my $200 and race application for the Leadville 100. The day before, I’d run the 50 miles from Leadville to Winfield (the race’s turn-around point) 10 minutes faster than Matt had in his course-record run the previous year. It was the farthest/longest I’d ever run—by a lot—so it seemed impossible to me that in three week’s time I could turn around and run all the way back to Leadville, but hey, I figured at least I could make it halfway. A week later, I did another 50 miler, running from my apartment in downtown Colorado Springs to the summit of Pikes Peak and back—a training run taken straight from the Koch legendry—and two weeks later was up in Leadville for the race.

iRunFar: So, after winning the Leadville 100 that year and then again—along with the Rocky Racoon 100 Mile and other shorter races—in 2007 in the second-fastest time, 30-odd minutes outside Matt’s course record—you’d really announced yourself on the scene. At that point, at 24 years old, did you feel you could go on and maybe beat Matt’s time and dominate the ultra scene or what were your thoughts after those initial successes?

Krupicka: When you’re that young, anything seems possible. Absolutely one of the advantages I was leveraging at that time was pure ignorance and hubris. For instance, in the summer of 2006, when I ran my first Leadville 100, I went in fully expecting to win the race! Even then—my first ultra!—I was already thinking in terms of time goals because I thought winning was a certain-enough prospect. In July, I had ran within a minute or two of Paul DeWitt’s then-course record at the Leadville Marathon. Based purely on that and one training run on the course, I assumed I should be able to run about what he did in the 100 miler. (He won it in 2004 in 17:16.) Running sub–17 hours for the second-fastest time ever seemed a whole lot more sexy than just winning, so that was my goal going into Leadville in 2006. At 17:01, I almost did it. Inevitably, one loses the abject ignorance and naiveté that allows one to have these kinds of thoughts, but that attitude of not blindly accepting conventional wisdom is something I’ve tried to retain over the years.

After running 16:14 in 2007, I definitely remember thinking that trying to break Matt’s time was the next logical step. And I gave it a good attempt in 2009, but giardia and an atypically hot day (87 degrees Fahrenheit at 10,000 feet in Leadville almost never happens) thwarted my race that year. Not to say I was definitely in the shape to break the record that day—who knows—but I tried.

The lay of the ultra land in North America during my initial years in the sport (say, from 2006 to 2009) was quite a bit different than it is now. Mostly, it was a lot less competitive. Before 2010, Scott Jurek still had the Western States 100 course record at 15:36; since 2010, however, there have been nine runs faster than that 15:36 and a whole passel of other guys who have broken 16 hours. The depth continues to go up in the sport and will continue to, I think.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that, sure, maybe there were a couple of years where someone like me—who never exhibited any true running talent at sub-marathon distances—could still go out and dominate the North American scene. I mean, I didn’t lose for a number of years. But, it was only going to be a matter of time before guys like you see now—guys who can run 2:12 to 2:20 or so in the marathon—stepped up in distance, with a few being really successful at it. On a runnable 50 miler or 100k, of course someone with those genetics is going to beat me. My marathon PR is 2:42!

I would say in the beginning, though, I was just surprised that someone like myself—who’d never had any real success or exhibited any real ability in traditional running and racing—could go out and win races and run historically fast times. Of course, I was training like an absolute madman. And when I say mad I mean wrong in the head. Sheer insanity. But that was a big part of why ultrarunning was appealing to me in the beginning—someone without talent could go and log a big heap of miles and essentially just wrest oneself into relevancy and success. Real Horatio Alger type of stuff. Big miles and passion for the activity and the mountains was never something I lacked. So it all worked out for a while, as long as I could stay healthy, which, of course, has always been a struggle.

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Anton minutes before the 2006 Leadville 100 with pacers/crew Julian Boggs (left) and Alex Nichols.

iRunFar: You were very much a ‘run-everything’ trail runner before you broke your leg a few years back. That forced layoff shifted your perception and, after that, you’ve embraced a more alpine approach, letting the mountain dictate your motion. Tell me about how that’s evolved, Anton, where it’s taken you, the skills and knowledge you’ve learned, and how your outlook has changed?

Krupicka: That shift was affected by both moving to Boulder and breaking my leg. I lived in Colorado Springs for almost eight years, where there are endless miles of runnable trails. And they’re really great trails; I still love it down there. But it’s a quite-tame landscape in that the switchbacks are generally pretty shallow—the W’s on Barr Trail are on the steeper side of things and are still <15%—and the footing is rarely very technical. Generally speaking, it’s a runner’s paradise. When I moved to Boulder in 2009, I was initially pretty frustrated with the much steeper, much more technical trails here than what you find in COS. I wanted to be able to run every step of a climb!

But I gradually adapted, and then I broke my leg and in the recovery from that, I started with steep hiking because it’s so low impact. I think, once I realized that on the right terrain, hiking was the fastest mode of travel and fully capable of forcing you deep into hypoxia, the switch was flipped. Suddenly, a whole different mentality and approach to mountain travel opened up for me, and is one that I feel makes a lot more sense. It’s a mentality motivated and shaped by the landscape itself rather than these arbitrary numbers—specifically, miles or kilometers—that were my primary motivator when I was more of a pure runner.

During this same time—in the recovery from my broken leg—I also started doing a lot more climbing again. I had begun climbing 10 years previous during my first month of college, but as I got into the mega-mileage stuff, any other kind of physical activity necessarily fell by the wayside. (Not to mention, my main climbing partner graduated and moved away.)

I decided that since I lived in Boulder—one of the great North American climbing scenes—it was a travesty that I hadn’t climbed any of the Flatirons despite living there for over a year. Buzz Burrell and Peter Bakwin introduced me to the concept of scrambling these big slabs. I started doing a lot more proper roped climbing as well, and over the past three years I’ve just gradually developed a more well-rounded mountain skillset to where I get even more satisfaction out of a big day of scrambling—or an outing that involves a mix of running and climbing—than I do from just straight running. Basically, the world is a huge, wild, beautiful place. Limiting myself to just running seems so silly and sad and myopic in retrospect, especially since the land and the natural world has always been one of my biggest inspirations.

iRunFar: Great. How did it feel to win the Laveredo Ultra Trail this year after not having a ‘big’ win under your belt for a couple of years?

Krupicka: It was satisfying. But like almost any success, it didn’t feel very important to me in the moment, mostly because I didn’t have to really fight for it. Winning is nice, but it’s so fleeting. The satisfaction doesn’t stick around very long, at least not for me. For example, the 2010 Western States 100—where I finished a close second to Geoff Roes—remains one of my most satisfying races, simply because I knew I gave it everything I had. Whenever you win a race, it’s not really possible to know if that is true.

iRunFar: Speaking of Europe, you’ve been enjoying extended stays in Chamonix the last couple of years. What do you think of the mountains and lifestyle there compared to the States?

Krupicka: It’s very different. I like both quite a lot. We’re spoiled with so much wide-open space and true wilderness here in the States. In the Alps, everything is so scrunched together; it makes access immediate. The Alps are striking in that the relief is so huge and they are glaciated and it’s the birthplace of alpinism and mountaineering, so the history and culture is rich and deep. As someone who values that stuff, I can’t help but get swept up in the romanticism of it all. But I love Colorado and all the mountains that the American West has to offer, too. And I love spending lots of time here. After the last couple of summers in the Chamonix valley, though, I’ve started to develop enough familiarity with the area that I’m comfortable there and I’m really excited to continue going back.

iRunFar: Since finishing up your studies, you’ve been a full-time runner/New Balance ambassador. How does it feel to be doing what you love as a job?

Krupicka: It’s been the most magical, fortuitous experience of my life. Every single day I’m amazed at the experiences and opportunities that come my way and at the lifestyle I’m lucky enough to lead. Really, it’s all been beyond my wildest dreams. I continually struggle to understand it—how and why it’s possible—but I guess all I can say is that I’m infinitely grateful. It could all go away tomorrow and I would still feel so enriched and amazed and grateful that these last five years occurred for me. Living in Boulder, with the friends I have, it can be easy to start to feel like my life is sort of standard or normal. (It seems not many people in Boulder work the typical nine-to-five.)

But it’s just not. I grew up in Nebraska, even my two sisters—who all along have availed themselves of the same educational opportunities as myself—have never been outside of the U.S. (Canada doesn’t really count.) But there are always trade-offs, of course. Both of my sisters each have a husband, a son, and own houses. My current apartment is the first time I’ve paid rent for more than nine months straight (11 and counting…). I can imagine the type of deep satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from those things, but for the time being, for better or worse, those things will remain in my imagination.

Sometimes I catch myself bumming or emotionally submitting to the easy grinchiness and drudgery of international air travel and I have to slap myself and remember: No, this is absolutely ridiculous. You are so lucky. I could be in a different country every month of the year if I wanted to! So, I guess I’m just trying to soak it all up and take advantage of opportunities and learn and grow while still trying to balance that craziness with some periods of stability and quiet back home in Boulder. Because I’m not a born itinerant. I like being in one place, nesting a little, feeling like it’s home, and that’s something that’s always been true for me.

iRunFar: Staying on that subject, there have been other runners who have had some great success and then went the full-time ultrarunning route and have found it hard to reach the same performance levels. Do you feel that it can be difficult to balance the expectation and energy levels when you’re been invited to run so many races and are a full-time runner?

Krupicka: Of course. It’s definitely a balance. And it’s hard to say no. Unfortunately, my body has almost always done the balancing for me. I get injured often enough that I’m forced into turning down a lot of opportunities and I rarely get in a long enough period of high-intensity training and racing that I’m really stressing the ol’ adrenal glands too badly. In some weird way, all of my injuries will probably eventually positively contribute to my longevity in this sport.

iRunFar: Your mountain antics now are far removed from New Balance’s running background. You’ve said before that they’re very relaxed about what you do. Is that still the case; they’re not like, “Anton, can you not just go and run Western again, please?”

Krupicka: I’ve been extremely fortunate in that New Balance has never dictated to me in really any way at all. I know that kind of freedom is rare, so I really appreciate it. I’m generally happy to do whatever they ask, but NB’s asks are really just quite minimal and usually have to do with some kind of promotional activation, not what races I should be doing or what I should or shouldn’t be doing in the mountains. But, incidentally, I’ll run Western again at some point. I’m inspired enough by that race to not need a sponsor to tell me to do it.

iRunFar: Speaking of sponsors, you’re almost like an adopted Catalan now with your Buff teammates. They’ve become huge in mountain running. How is your relationship with them? It seems like they have a great setup?

Krupicka: Buff is great. They’re a proud Catalan company and I couldn’t be more grateful for all the support they show me. They’ve clearly decided to invest in the sport of mountain racing—they are a sponsor of the Ultra-Trail World Tour and were at the highest non-title sponsor level for UTMB last year—and I really enjoy the Catalan people and culture, too. I think I’ve been to Barcelona every spring and fall of the past three years. Buff is a perfect example of how this sport has allowed me to meet and work with some just really lovely human beings. Not just athletes, but the people within the industry itself, too.

iRunFar: That’s great. Okay, I have to ask you about ‘the Roost’, your trusty companion. Can I have a little history on where and when you picked it up, when it was christened, and how many nights you’ve actually slept in it? Do you keep a record of that, too?

Krupicka: The Roost is a 1999 Chevrolet S–10 long-bed pickup. Two-wheel drive. I bought it off Craigslist when I was still living in Colorado Springs in early 2008; 77,000 miles, $4,000. It felt like a screaming deal at the time, and almost 80,000 miles later I’ve never had to do anything beyond normal maintenance for it. Kyle Skaggs and I were sharing a studio apartment in COS the winter of 2008 (I was working in the running store two blocks away) and I knew that I wouldn’t be starting graduate school until fall 2009 at the earliest, so I wanted some kind of liveable vehicle in the interim. I built a platform in the back from lumber salvaged from a dumpster, added a futon mattress, and stopped paying rent.

After bouncing around some that spring (New Mexico, Arizona, back to Colorado), I was driving back from Nevada in June after the 2008 Western States 100 was cancelled due to forest fires. (I was slated to run.) I stopped in Leadville, noticed a help-wanted sign on the front door of the main street coffee shop (at the time it was called Provin’ Grounds; now it’s City on a Hill Coffee), picked up an application, and started working later that week. I stayed until it started snowing in October and worked there again the summer of 2009, living in the Roost again. The Roost didn’t get much action in 2010 or 2011 when I was in graduate school (and had a broken leg the summer of 2011), but every other summer since 2008 it’s been my primary abode.

The alpine terrain in Colorado is only open to running a few short months out of the year; the Roost allows me to maximize those months and not squander them in the hot, low-altitude environs of Boulder. I have no idea how many nights I’ve slept in it, but in the summers of 2008, 2009, 2012, and 2013 it was my primary residence. This past summer I actually paid rent all summer in Boulder but was barely there from May until October, spending much of that time in the Roost. In 2012, I probably had my most impressive stretch of Roost living. At the end of March, I got back from a month-long trip to New Zealand and Australia, packed everything into the Roost, and didn’t unpack until November 1. Stream bathing in April and October in Colorado is cold!

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The summit of La Plata Peak in Colorado’s Sawatch Range, 2013.

iRunFar: As someone with a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of ultra/mountain running and having yourself been at the centre of the changes that have happened in the last eight years or so, how do you feel the sport is progressing, the good and the bad?

Krupicka: I’m not exactly sure why, but I always find this to be an uninteresting, borderline annoying, ultimately frustrating topic. Maybe because good and bad are so subjective? Maybe because it’s a soundly beaten dead horse? Of course, I have personally benefited hugely from the changes seen in the sport over the last five to 10 years. These changes have allowed me to pursue my passion full-time, and I’ll always be grateful for that.

Basically—maybe because the ‘sport’ aspect of mountains, i.e. racing, while important to me, isn’t my primary source of fulfillment—I’m not hugely concerned with the welfare of the sport. I see some people who wring their hands about commercialization, prize money, land-use permitting, etc., etc., and I totally get that, but, for me, at the end of the day, I’ll be out enjoying the mountains, whether there are races or not, whether I’m able to finagle a living from it or not. So I’m just not terribly concerned about it all. I don’t feel this need for some kind of validation from the greater public, or the mainstream sport-watching masses. And, generally speaking, that kind of validation seems to be what is at the core of many of the current developments we’re seeing in the sport.

Several years ago, I was a bit fixated on the idea of the ‘perfect’ race—one with a perfect course and deep competition. Then I realized that that’s not what gets me excited to lace up the shoes every morning. The mountains themselves inspire me, and I can always head out into the hills and challenge myself on whatever inspiring line I choose. I don’t need a race for that. I certainly enjoy racing, and am as guilty as anyone for using it as a means of feeding my ego, but, ultimately, it doesn’t sustain me in the same way that the day-to-day act of getting out in the mountains does.

Additionally, I try not to be an overtly political person. Anyone who knows me knows that in private I certainly have my opinions, but I guess I try to avoid the thought process that would convince me that I have the absolute right answer for anything and that I should spend a bunch of energy convincing everyone else I have the right answer. For instance, about where the sport should be going. About what exactly is the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ in the sport. I’m not a nihilist—I have my values and I try to live true to those—but I also try to remember that those are my values and expecting anyone else—or an entire ‘sport’—to hew to them is both unreasonable and arrogant. It seems one of my values is to be constantly questioning, which tends to insert some sneaking doubt into many of my positions, which ultimately makes it difficult to form any kind of coherent judgement about the so-called current direction of the sport. I subscribe more to the live and let live school of thought.

Almost every culture or community seems to have a tendency to long for some exalted, past ‘Golden Age’. I am certainly not immune to often intense bouts of nostalgia myself. However, idealizing the past and condemning the present and fearing for the future all seems a little too facile. Things are the way they are. Most of my days are good days. It feels silly to ask for much more. My apologies for the non-answer.

iRunFar: No worries, it was the best ‘non-answer’ ever! So, finally, Anton, you didn’t re-attempt Nolan’s 14 this year. Why was that and what other non-race plans and dreams have you for the next few years?

Krupicka: I didn’t re-attempt Nolan’s this year because I wanted to race. Despite my answer to the previous question, I do enjoy travel, competing, and trying my hardest with others. So I did Lavaredo and UTMB. For me, doing two big goal races in a summer precludes attempting Nolan’s. Nolan’s is one of those things for which I will be just as well-equipped in 10 years—maybe even more well-equipped—whereas right now I’m in my peak years for racing at a top level internationally. I don’t have the recovery abilities of Kilian—no one else does either, really—so I can’t try to cram it all into one summer, year after year.

Having said that, Nolan’s is the one mountain objective—racing or non-racing—that I currently find the most consistently inspiring on a day-to-day basis. Any time I’m in the Sawatch Range—which is a lot, in the summer—I’m always amazed and humbled and instantly want to prioritize everything around another attempt at the full line. Even without races, fitting it in is tricky; you have to balance snowpack and stable weather, so it leaves two good windows each year—the second half of June and late August/early September. If I don’t get into Hardrock for 2015, there’s a really good chance I’ll give Nolan’s another shot in June. Other non-race plans and dreams: get up and down some bigger mountains; using my fitness to be able to do so in a style that I can feel good about.

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Anton on his fifth birthday with a brand-new baseball glove. August, 1988.

Robbie Lawless

is a runner, graphic designer and the editor of RunTramp.com. His fascination with the simple act of moving fast and light on ones own two feet – and with the characters that are attracted to it – keeps him both in work and in wonder. He hails from Ireland but now calls Sweden home.

There are 22 comments

  1. @FoTracy

    Great interview. Nice to hear from someone who does it purely for the love of the sport. The vast majority of us ultra runners who aren't making any money off the sport can really relate to this perspective. We're all very fortunate to be able to participate in this. Thanks, Robbie and Anton.

  2. EricWhitbrook

    Great interview! i almost missed it and luckily saw a link from another blog. i keep forgetting that sometimes you guys leave a story at the top and there may be new stories below.

  3. Mic_Med

    So we can now, officially, lump Anton in with someone like current Scott Jurek, right? He's an inspiration, nice guy, does it for the right reasons, sells a ton of products (like new volvos) but line him up at the most competitive races and he's not really in contention, right? He'll continue to make movies, preach the love of the sport and new exciting ways to integrate with the mountains he loves, but come on, he's not really taking on Rob Krar or Kilian ever again.

    1. hughygbifter

      True but is that not part of his appeal? I like the fact he struggles with injuries and doesn't always win races. You know Kilian is going to win easily so whilst it's impressive it loses a lot of the drama and excitement.

    2. David_FL

      Not sure I agree. He has raced Sage down to the wire a couple of times in the last few years and finished a close second to Kilian once. Likewise, he has yet to have a sickness/injury free run at a race that really fits his skill set (100 mile mountain race). So I think it is too soon to write him off. Hopefully this coming year he will be able to put one together at either UTMB or Hardrock (if he gets in).

      I do agree that he is a great inspiration and nice guy he does it for the right reasons. However, I think he can still run with the best and be in contention for the win.

    3. Ben_Nephew

      While you do use the term "current," that description of Scott Jurek seems to indicate a lack of historical respect. Jurek is 41, Anton is 31. The relevant comparison would be between the two at the age of 31. Jurek had won Western 6 times at that point, among many other impressive performances. In more recent years, he has focused on longer races, with 3 Spartathlon wins and a silver medal and US 24hr record at the IAU championship. I think the only person to run faster at the Sparathlon was some Greek guy who was pretty fast….

      1. Mic_Med

        That's why I specifically said "current". I'm not comparing their race resumes overall, Jurek is a legend. I'm saying "current" Jurek (aged 41), the guy who still contributes to the sport (he's even a host at Rickey Gate's 2015 Hut to Hut Running Camp), sells a boatload of product based on his fame and genuine likability, but isn't racing to win anymore. Sure, he could put a run together and cherry pick some races and grab some victories, but he's not chasing down Krar in a hundo or Kilian (at any race he decides he really wants to race).

        1. Mic_Med

          Oh, and anyone saying that Anton needs a specific race, to go through a healthy training season, and then to run that specific race without any discomfort in order to win, well then let's assume some of the top guys (especially in Europe if UTMB is the example race) also are having that "perfect" race also. I'm still not betting on Anton.

    4. lstomsl

      Did you even read the interview? He's definitely racing and has definitely been in contention for the win, as well as actually winning, some of the most competitive events in the world the past few years.

      What does the guy have to do do to please you people?

      Fortunately the lion does not concern himself with the opinions of sheep…..

      1. Mic_Med

        Uh, did YOU even read the comments? 1st, "you people" is offensive and makes you appear to be a bigot. 2nd, I never said he's not racing, I'm saying if he showed up next year at UTMB, a race that supposedly fits his style of running and length, he's simply not competitive if the other top runners show up. Had he lined up at Western States in 2014, Krar would've put an hour on him. Hardrock, Kilian could've had 3 hours on him.
        I'd also like to know which of the "most competitive events in the world" he has won in the past few years? LUT? UD Dirty 30?

        1. lstomsl

          He was within 89seconds of Sage at speedboat last year. Would have been a CR sage hadn't been there and he's not a short course specialist. He set a course record at James this year. Maybe it's not States but there have been many world class athletes there and nobody has ever run it faster. Won Lavaredo this year beating almost 600 euros on their home course.

          To suggest that he's no longer competitive is just plain ignorant. By your definition Krar, Kilian, and Sage are the only top runners in the world. Give me a break…

          You have no idea what would have happened if he had shown up at States or Hardrock. It's just speculative bullshit. That's why the have an actual race, with real live running, otherwise armchair hero's could just sit on their ass's and vote on would win.

  4. rkayk

    Preach bro! I love his perspective on deriving fulfillment just from the pure joy of spending time in the mountains. JM would be so proud.

  5. northacrosseurope

    A wonderful read – and plenty of wisdom in Anton's answers. After reading this, I'm skipping work today and heading for the trails… thank you!

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