28 Feb Anton Krupicka. Roots.“
Explicit or not, I have always derived my motivation in the outdoors from curiosity and connection. Even before I started running as a daily discipline in February 1995, I dutifully conducted extensive exploration of the ridges and ravines on my family’s 640-acre farm above the Missouri River in northeastern Nebraska. I was continually building huts, blazing woodland paths, and hunting for fossils”.
“My parents encouraged such behavior by modeling a lifestyle that emphasized a pragmatic appreciation for and connection to the natural world, which most auspiciously presented itself in the form of a now almost old-fashioned rural self-reliance. For me, this ethic was first projected beyond our Nebraska homestead during annual summer camping and hiking trips to the American West’s National Parks”.
“As a result of those summer excursions, I was irresistibly drawn to the West’s more dramatic landscapes and deliberately moved to Colorado for college. Today, everything I continue to do in the mountains is simply a more systematic and evolved extension of what I was doing as a youth in Nebraska, indulging my curiosity and creating a meaningful connection to place through deliberate, direct experience”.
“The challenge of endurance has always appealed to me. I ran my first marathon when I was only 12, but despite much passion and desire, my efforts on the traditional racing oval and cross-country course were almost always disappointing to me, and usually compromised by injury”.
“Running at the NCAA in Colorado Springs, however, did directly introduce me to the arena of mountain running and racing, as our cross-country team would do weekly long runs on the extensive trail systems surrounding Pikes Peak. During my first semester of college I ran to their summit for the first time and found friends to teach me the basics of rock climbing in the Garden of the Gods”.
“In the summer of 2006, I ran my first ultra, winning the Leadville 100 in the then 2nd fastest time ever. My commitment to the sport was cemented the following year when I returned to the Leadville 100 for another win and a 47 minutes improvement on my debut time”.
“In the following years, I have come to appreciate ultramarathon races for the community of like-minded individuals that surrounds them and the competitive outlet they provide. However, my core motivations continue to be expressed in my more non competitive pursuits, connecting with a place through diligent practice and exhaustive exploration”.
“My most valued award from racing in the mountains is that it enforces a lifestyle that emphasizes time outside, moving in sync with the natural rhythms of the land. As the 5th generation in a family of homesteaders, my roots are inextricably tied to the land, so that lifestyle is something that I will always prioritize and be devoted to, even when my most competitive days are over”.
Extracts from antonkrupicka.com
K: Anton, where are you right now?
A: I am in Boulder. I was in Europe for a couple of weeks at the end of the summer, but I’ve been in Boulder all fall.
K: How are you? I know you’ve been injured for a long time. When will we be able to see you taking part in an important trail race again?
A: I have no idea when I’ll be able to race again. Hopefully in 2017. Right now I’m working to address the root issues of the illiotibial band problems I’ve been having all year. That means a lot of core and strength work to correct weaknesses and imbalances in my pelvis. That is going well, but we’ll see if I’m able to run enough to prepare for racing.
K: I suppose it’s common for an elite runner to live with pain and injury. Elite runners are highly self-demanding. What is the process going of coming to terms with the fact that you’re injured and have to wait until your body is 100% recovered? In your case it’s going to take a while.
A: Of course it’s difficult, but I have shifted my focus in activities so that my self-worth isn’t completely wrapped up in my ability to run or not. Life provides us with so many interesting and rewarding experiences, it would be silly to focus only on running when it’s been such a fleeting activity for me.
K: What kind of negative thoughts have been in your mind during this process? I imagine a lot of doubts have arisen. Have you ever considered leaving ultra distance?
A: Stopping racing ultra distance events is not necessarily a choice. It is something that has currently been imposed on me by weaknesses in my body. I’m working to correct those, but I’ve also developed a passion for lots of other activities. Climbing, biking, and skiing are all equally as interesting to me as running.
K: What about the behaviour of the brands that support you? Speaking from a human point of view.
A: My sponsors have been very supportive and understanding. Fortunately, La Sportiva is at least as interested in what I am doing as an adventure athlete as what I might do in races.
K: Talking about sponsors… Could you please tell us how you came to sign with La Sportiva? May I ask you about the process? How did they approach you and what were the facts that finally convinced you?
A: Ultimately, I went with La Sportiva for three main reasons. Firstly, they make products for all of the mountain activities I enjoy: running, climbing, and skiing. Their philosophy on these activities is exactly aligned with mine. High quality products for moving efficiently in the mountains.
Secondly, they are a very tight-knit, family-owned company, and maintaining integrity in their production and treatment of employees is more important to them than their bottom line. They are still located in a tiny village high in the Dolomites when most international outdoor company’s offices have moved to a big city center. Most of their climbing footwear is still made by hand in the company factory in that same small village in the Dolomites. The pride in craftsmanship and attention to detail is unparalleled.
Thirdly, they were excited to support me across all mountain activities, not just running. I can’t say enough good things about La Sportiva as a company and how they’ve treated me as an athlete. I‘m extremely happy that I had the opportunity to partner with them.
“Running is not necessary for me. I absolutely love it, and I definitely miss it, but for all the frustration it causes me when I’m injured, it is very important to pursue other activities, like climbing, skiing or cycling”.
K: How is your relationship with Buff nowadays? You’ve been with them for a long time.
A: I’ve been with Buff since 2012, and they have been outstanding supporters of mine these past years. Even with all of the injuries they are interested in continuing to partner with me as I move into more personal adventures involving climbing, skiing, and cycling in the mountains. Being with them for so long has allowed me to develop personal relationships within the company that are important to me and that I am grateful for.
K: Any other partners?
A: I am also extremely grateful for my support from Petzl, Ultimate Direction, Stance socks, and Zeal Optics. For instance, I was at UTMB this past summer as an ambassador for Petzl, and I was grateful to be a part of that event despite not being able to race it.
K: In Europe, we have this image of the typical runner from La Sportiva as someone very explosive, technical and powerful with special skills for “Sky” or VK races, like Urban Zemmer, Kuhar Nejc or Marco Moletto. How do you fit into this kind of philosophy?
A: That isn’t my skillset at all. I am better at 80 km and longer races and I also have much more ambition for big adventures in the mountains, especially combining climbing and running. La Sportiva understands this.
K: You have run many races in Europe so you probably have a well-formed idea about the special features of the European style vs. American races. Which do you prefer?
A: The fact of the matter is that a race is a race. An inspiring course with inspiring scenery is nice, but I race to get maximum effort out of myself, to push myself as hard as I can, and this is only possible when there are other competitors there to bring out my best. I spend nearly every day in the mountains. I can use these days to experience the terrain I enjoy the most. When racing, I’m more interested in connecting with the history of an event and the local culture and scene.Sometimes that means flat trails, sometimes that means steep trails; usually, a race has both.
K: Have you ever thought about spending some years in the Alps, Pyrenees or Dolomites to continue developing yourself as a trail runner?
A: If I were to come live in Europe it would be to get closer to more technical and historic mountains for climbing (Alps, Dolomites), not for trail running.
“I’m currently making a living and I haven’t raced in a year and a half. When the money runs out, I’ll find another way to make money. But spending time in the mountains will always be there and will always be one of the most essential things in my life”.
K: I really think that European runners have a sort of ignorance about trail in the USA. Not many people know Jim Walmsley, Rob Krar, Andrew Miller, Max King… They have improved on the previous generation. I think that this kind of runners will dominate the main international races in the future. They are athletes well-adapted to the mountain. What kind of runner do you think will be at the top in ten years from now?
A: Runners. Real runners. Runners with a background in running fast on the road and track will be at the top in ten years from now. Walmsley, Krar, King, Tollefson, Laney, and Zach Miller are all examples of that. Even a race like UTMB will always hold more potential for the most fit runner. Experience and mountain sense can only take you so far. After that, a superior cardiovascular fitness will win the day.
K: What about Africans? If you try to imagine the future, do you see people from Kenya or Ethiopia dominating this fairly new sport?
A: There would have to be a lot more money involved. It seems that the talent pool in East Africa has only been mined because it’s an opportunity for them to raise their standard of living.
K: What do you think about specialization? Do you it’s strange that the same runner can win short, long or ultra races? It’s as if a conventional athlete was able to win 100 m., 5,000 m or a marathon.
A: As the sport progresses and evolves, specialization will become more and more necessary for success. For example, Urban Zemmer will never win UTMB. I think people see Kilian and don’t realize what a unique athlete he is for being able to be so good at so many different aspects of the sport.
“Cavalls del Vent was one of my better races. I think I had a good race because the conditions were so hard. I always seem to run better the worse the weather is. It was a great joy to share the pace with Kilian in the second half of the race as he is a very inspiring athlete, but the simple fact is that he was probably just waiting until the end to make his move”.
K: What community of athletes do you prefer? Boulder (CO) or Flagstaff (AZ)? It’s amazing how it’s possible to find elite runners in these areas, both in the mountain and in conventional running. Why do you feel so comfortable in Boulder, apart from the mountain of course?
A: I prefer Boulder because it has everything you could possibly want to do in the mountains. Boulder is a very historic climbing area in the USA and as a result there is a deep tradition and literally thousands of climbing routes within a one hour drive from town. In Boulder you can run flat or run steep, on roads or trails; the road biking is world-class, the alpine climbing is some of the best in the USA, mountains for skiing are only a short drive away. Flagstaff has its own unique landscapes (the desert, Grand Canyon…), but the mountain environment out your back door is quite limited. I lived in Flagstaff for a short time 12 years ago and absolutely loved it. But I for sure prefer Boulder. In general, the social scene is less important to me. Except for climbing, of course, where a partner is necessary, I mostly prefer to spend my time outdoors alone.
K: Have your finished your studies or are you still studying? In the future, do you think you’ll work in thoese areas or will you be connected professionally to the mountains?
A: I finished graduate school five years ago, in 2011. I think that eventually I might have a professional career in the outdoor industry. But maybe not. I’m not a big fan of marketing, though that is what my career is now.
K: In Europe, very few people can earn a living from mountain races. How is it in the USA?
A: I’m currently making a living and I haven’t raced in a year and a half. When the money runs out, I’ll find another way to make money. But spending time in the mountains will always be there and will always be one of the most essential things in my life, no matter if I’m making a living from it or not.
K: What about the “fans” question? How do you live with that? It might not be easy having people run after you or interrupt you while you’re having a beer or a coffee?
A: Obviously, that is frustrating, mostly because I am quite introverted. However, it’s only for a few days/weeks throughout an entire year. For sure, I am aware of what a privilege it is to be able to hopefully inspire others; at some point that won’t be the case, so I try to appreciate that while I have it.
K: What European race do you have your best memory from? I remember you running in Cavalls del Vent in 2012. The images are wonderful. What do you remember about your race with Jornet?
A: Cavalls del Vent was one of my better races. I think I had a good race because the conditions were so hard. I always seem to run better the worse the weather is. It was a great joy to share the pace with Kilian in the second half of the race as he is a very inspiring athlete, but the simple fact is that he was probably just waiting until the end to make his move.
K: Let’s speak about your charisma. There are a lot of runners with incredible seasons like Krab or D’Haene that don’t have your impact. However, despite your prudence and discretion, you are one of the most well-known trail runners. Why?
A: If only I knew the answer to this. It’s actually quite a problem for me internally, as I often feel undeserving of all the attention, because I’ve never had an incredible season and only a few good races.
K: Anton, you told us that mountains are something essential in your life and a place where you practice other sports. Could you tell us something more about your feelings towards the mountains?
A: Running is not necessary for me. I absolutely love it, and I definitely miss it, but for all the frustration it causes me when I’m injured, it’s very important to pursue other activities like climbing, skiing, cycling. I guess I prefer to be in the mountains alone. I like going my own pace and with my own agenda without distractions. Having said that, some of my fondest memories are long days out climbing with excellent partners. In general, the mountains are just an inspiring environment that allow me to be both humbled and empowered. That combination is important.
K: To finish, out of curiosity. I believe you’ve never done a stress test and you don’t know your VO2 max. Is that not a contradiction for someone with your scientific studies being an elite runner?
A: Will knowing my VO2 max increase my enjoyment of the mountains? I doubt it.