Fifteen Years of Competitive Longevity

AJW discusses competitive longevity at ultrarunning and great successes over a decade apart.

By on August 27, 2021 | Comments

Last weekend at the Leadville 100 Mile, Anton Krupicka made his much anticipated return to ultramarathon racing after almost seven AJW's Taproomyears since his last ultra race. While much of the attention was paid to Anton’s return to racing, I was particularly impressed with his finish time and place – still highly competitive a full 15 years after his first run at Leadville in 2006.

Back in 2006, as a virtual unknown, Anton ran and won Leadville in 17:01. Three years ago, I wrote a retrospective on that ran in AJW’s Taproom. Looking at last weekend’s race, I was astounded that he ran this year’s race, on a course two miles longer than the one he ran in 2006, in 17:07 – a mere six minutes slower. This year, only two runners, Adrian Macdonald and Matt Flaherty, ran faster than him. In 2006, Steve Peterson and Jeffrey Beuche, the second- and third-place runners behind Anton, never came close to their times or places again after that day.

Anton Krupicka 2021 Leadville Third Place

Anton Krupicka crosses the finish at the 2021 Leadville Trail 100. Photo: Lifetime / Leadville Race Series

All this got me thinking, is Anton’s accomplishment, running closely comparable performances in a major mountain 100 miler, 15 years apart, an outlier? Looking at results from Leadville, as well as two major North American 100 milers – the Hardrock 100 and Western States 100 – suggests that it most certainly is. Scanning the results from Leadville in 2006, there are only three runners in the top-40 finishers that day, male or female, who are still running competitive ultras, Bryon Powell (sixth, 20:42), Karl Meltzer (seventh, 20:52), and Jared Campbell (40th, 24:41). While other finishers that day are still running, no one other than the three above, are competing at a level close to what they were 15 years ago.

Data from Western States further verifies my hypothesis. In 2006, the top-three overall finishers were Graham Cooper, Erik Skaden, and Nikki Kimball. While all three had several solid years of running after 2006, including Kimball’s second place at Hardrock in 2018, none of them have even toed the line in an ultra since 2018.

Anton Krupicka - 2006 Leadville 100 - Sugarloaf outbound

Anton Krupicka running the 2006 Leadville Trail 100. Photo: Anton Krupicka

Finally, from Hardrock, where longevity may actually prove to be a competitive advantage, Karl Meltzer, Joseph Schultz, and Betsy Kalmeyer climbed the podium in 2006, and while Meltzer continues to run well, and win, 100-mile races, he has not had a podium finish at Hardrock since 2009 when he won in 24:24. In fact, the closest runners to equaling Anton’s accomplishment are the two Betsys, Betsy Kalmeyer and Betsy Nye. Kalmeyer, who finished third overall in 2006 and 10th female in 2021, and Nye, who finished ninth overall in 2006 and sixth female in 2021.

So, this is all to say, not only is Anton’s return to racing notable as a comeback story, but it also represents one of the greatest sustained accomplishments in recent ultrarunning history. Racing a 100 miler at a highly competitive level is difficult at any time for anybody. Doing so over a span of 15 years, with many ebbs and flows of running and life in between, is truly extraordinary.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

AJW Little Sip IPA

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Waitsfield, Vermont. Long an AJW’s Taproom favorite, Lawson’s produces some of America’s finest craft beers including a newish one touted as the “little cousin to Sip of Sunshine,” Little Sip IPA. A thirst-quenching burst of fruity goodness, Little Sip doesn’t quite have the kick of the bigger cousin, but it is rounded out with a delicious hoppy taste and an almost sweet finish. And, now that Lawson’s is showing up in more and more states outside Vermont, this beer is easier to get than ever.

Call for Comments

  • Have you taken a long break from racing, only to have an amazing comeback where you equaled or improved upon your time?
  • What do you think the key is to longevity in racing in the ultra world?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.