iRunFar: Anton, congratulations on what must be a very satisfying win this weekend, your first time racing in Italy. When did you arrive and how have you liked the Italian welcome?
Anton Krupicka: Thanks, Ian. I arrived in Italy the Sunday before the race, which let me go on a couple exploratory, non-taper runs here in the Dolomites before taking it easy the last three or four days before the race. Of course, the Italians have been extremely warm and welcoming hosts; Cortina is a lovely town.
iRunFar: What was your strategy for this race? There was a fairly deep field, and the pace from the outset seemed pretty fast? You appeared to be comfortably hanging in the top 10 before making your move.
Krupicka: My strategy was the same as really any ultra I do: run my own race from the start and hope that I catch up to the leaders at some point as it seems most runners–especially here in Europe–like to go out a lot more quickly than me. As it turned out in this race, that happened about three hours in, on the climb just out of the 33k aid station. My conservative start was further necessitated by a weak ankle that I’d sprained just a week before the race; I knew that if I re-tweaked it during the race it could easily mean the end of my day, so I was having to be especially careful running the trails during the nighttime. By time the sun came up, my ankle was also good and warmed up and seemed far more tolerant to twists and turns. I honestly had no idea what position I was in until I was leaving the 33k aid and Cristina [Murgia] (one of the race directors) told me I was in third place. At that point, I could see two lamps just a short distance ahead, so I knew I was at the front of the race then and since it was still so early I made sure to just keep running my own easy tempo into the lead instead of making some sort of concerted move at that point.
iRunFar: I had you at third and within a minute of first place at Federavecchia (33k) and then by the Rifugio Auronzo at 48k you were in first position with Italian Fulvio Dapit less than a minute behind and the rest of the pack six minutes back. That was a huge climb, probably about 1,200 metres. Tell us what happened, was that a planned attack and turning point of the race for you?
Krupicka: Definitely not a planned attack, I think it was just the first properly sustained climb of the race and that kind of terrain is definitely one of my stronger suits as opposed to the less techy, more runnable stuff earlier on. I didn’t push particularly hard up that hill–we weren’t even halfway yet–but it sounds like Fulvio and I got a bit of a gap there.
iRunFar: Every time I saw you at an aid station, you either ran straight through or just took on some water. It looked like a very effective strategy as there was no waiting around. Certainly no time for me to take any pictures! What were you doing for nutrition? What were you carrying?
Krupicka: Aside from the mandatory gear (which, I might add, was reasonable and appropriate for this race), because I was wearing my Ultimate Direction Race Vest, it was easy to have a bunch of GUs with me (a couple dozen), which is typically my only source of calories while racing anyways. At aid stations I would refill water, but it was also a particularly wet course and it was quite easy to dip from streams and springs as well all along the way between aid stops. After 90k or so (Col Gallina) my stomach got a little bit queasy for a bit–nothing major–but subsequently I mostly just drank Coke to the finish with only a few GUs sprinkled in.
iRunFar: Something obviously happened between 48k and Cimabanche (67k) as Fulvio now had about a three-minute lead. There is a steep descent coming off Lavaredo, the highest point of the course. What happened to you and how did you feel with Fulvio putting that pressure on?
Krupicka: The descent coming off Lavaredo was truly magnificent, by far one of my favorite sections of the course and with the coming dawn I was getting more and more confident with my ankle, too. It was just getting light out for us at the front of the race, so we got to see what seemed to be the backside of the Tres Cime and the stunning valley back there. However, the descent and probably the rising sun meant that it was finally time for me to unload the pre-race meal, which, frustratingly, took several time-consuming trips to the bushes before all was good to go. I was trying to be efficient, but there were many stops and altogether I was stalled out for eight or 10 minutes total (yes, I was timing, ha ha), not making any forward progress. Fulvio actually passed me by during one of these shorts-’round-the-ankles moments, and there were several more after that, so ultimately I was happy I was able to keep the gap down to only three minutes!
iRunFar: At Malga Ra Stua, 75k, which is a really beautiful part of the course, you now had a three-minute lead over Fulvio. When did you become aware that he dropped there?
Krupicka: I didn’t know that Fulvio had dropped until I finished the race. I actually expected him to be coming in second behind me at the finish. After Cimabanche there was a climb up and over to Malga Ra Stua where Fulvio and I ran near each other for an extended time. At the top of that climb, however, I snuck a couple glances over my shoulder and couldn’t see him anymore, and when I had to visit the bushes one final time on the subsequent descent and he didn’t catch up to me I was confident that I’d actually put a decent little gap on him.
iRunFar: How would you rate the technicality of the trails here?
Krupicka: The footing on the course was all over the place. Large sections of the race were very wide, smooth trail or doubletrack. For instance, the whole descent down from the Tres Cime was surprisingly smooth. Other parts were quite technical, especially given the wet conditions from the rain all week. I would say the techiest bits were in the last 20k, running over some choppy sections of rock. Also, the first part of the descent from the final aid station had a good bit of tech in it–slick, rocky, and rooty when your legs have 110k on them and all you want to do is cruise something easy.
iRunFar: You built a lead of 15 minutes as you went through Col Gallina and held that right to the end. When you arrived in Cortina the crowd was going crazy and you had a rapturous welcome. You were high fiving all the way in. Anton, after a long time out with injury, finally you had won a major international event. How did that feel? Did you have the course record in your mind at all? It must have been very emotional and gives you the platform for UTMB in two months’ time?
Krupicka: Of course it was very satisfying to win. Over the past couple of years I’ve always had plenty of self-belief going into major races–knowing that I’m capable of the win–but that’s not worth much in meeting external expectations, so of course it feels nice to prove to myself and others that I’m as capable as ever of being competitive in a long mountain race. The course record was never on my mind. For one, I wasn’t really sure what the course record was because it seems there have been so many different distances at this event over the years. Secondly, especially with my ankle, I only cared about winning and long ago learned that chasing time goals in long mountain races is a fool’s errand. You have to run your own race and own best effort on a given day. Usually, if the competition is good enough, a fast time will result in just running for the win. Finally, one of my main reasons for wanting to run Lavaredo was to do a race longer than 80k in my lead-up to UTMB, so the timing and distance of Lavaredo worked perfectly for that.
iRunFar: Lastly, Anton, what is in store between now and UTMB and do you have any other objectives for the rest of the season?
Krupicka: UTMB is certainly my main racing objective for the year. Before that, though, I will be racing the Speedgoat 50k skyrace back in the States in July and the Buff Epic Trail 100k in the Pyrenees a month before UTMB as a final long effort leading into that.
iRunFar: Thank you, Anton, and huge congratulations for a magnificent win at The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail.
Krupicka: Thank you, Ian!
iRunFar: When you arrived at the finish, the race commentators were questioning why you hadn’t taken your vest off and they made you take your shoes off! Why hadn’t you taken your vest off?
Krupicka: Hmmm… I didn’t even realize they were asking me that. Honestly, I guess because it wasn’t uncomfortable? I’d just been running in it comfortably for over 12 hours and it didn’t even occur to me that I was still wearing it. Ultimate Direction Race Vest—so comfy you won’t even know it’s there! ;-)