Since bursting on the scene with a victory in the Leadville 100 in 2006 as an idealistic 22-year-old (and then repeating in 2007), Anton Krupicka has become one of the most iconic figures in trail running. He’s won numerous races since then, including the 2014 Lavaredo Ultra Trail—a 74-mile event with 19,200 feet of vertical gain in Cortina d’Ampezzo in northern Italy. Sponsored by Buff and New Balance, Krupicka, 31, is focused on the July 10-11 Hardrock 100 in Silverton, Colo., and possibly a third straight attempt at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) on Aug. 28 in Chamonix, France. Sponsored by Buff and New Balance, he lives in Boulder, Colo., and typically runs up 8,150-foot Green Mountain several times every week. In the summer, he can often be found living out of his truck in Leadville and running mountains in the Sawatch Range.
Why do you run?
The reason I do what I do is for the long runs in the mountains. It’s not for the races. You might race six times all year. If that’s your motivating factor, you’re not going to stick with it because there are another 360 days in the year. It’s the daily experience that I’m always striving for. That’s definitely what motivates me. Races are just such a limited experience. Ultimately, I’m inspired by landscapes and mountains are huge, wild super complicated places and races are limited to a specific course. I’m interested in doing a lot of other things that don’t involve trails.
How did you get started running?
I started running because of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test in fifth-grade PE class. My class was tiny—I think there were 12 people in the graduating class of my high school—but where I grew up in Iberia, Neb., was a town of 250 people. I was the fastest kid in my class. In that tiny pool, I had a little bit of genetic talent. It was really positive reinforcement to tell me, “Oh, I’m good at this.” The next year, for sixth grade, my thought was that I was going to run one mile a day to get ready for the test and then I never stopped running. I just continued being a daily runner. And that was 1995 and continued on with high school track and cross country. In high school, I was totally inspired by Matt Carpenter, Scott Jurek, Ann Trason. Those were my heroes. The internet kind of appeared when I was in junior high school, so I could follow these people and their results.
How did you develop a love for mountains growing up in Nebraska?
Growing up, we would take a camping trip out west every summer, hitting all the national parks. That’s how I got interested in all of it. I wanted to move to the mountains when I was 18. I went to Colorado College specifically because I wanted to be in the mountains.
How did you get involved in trail running?
After my freshman year of college cross country at Colorado College, it was November, I had an OK season, I decided I was going to run up Pikes Peak on the Barr Trail. That was a total “a-ha!” moment because on that run I had the epiphany that this is the kind of running I was meant to do. It felt better. It was so much more validating than 28 minutes for an 8K on a golf course. Running 28 minutes for 8K is pathetically slow. I just wasn’t good at that stuff. I wanted to be fast. Now I know I just didn’t have the genetic gifts for that. I don’t have the leg speed. I enjoyed running in the mountains more. I valued the whole team experience of college cross country, especially Division III. It was pretty rad. But once I got out of school, I knew I wanted to try out the whole ultrarunning scene.
VIDEO: Anton Krupicka—Why I Run
How did winning Leadville change your life?
It kind of coincided with the sport really taking off. It made me immediately relevant in a sport where opportunities for sponsorship were becoming more and more prevalent all the time. It was an immediate legitimacy. The first ultra you ever do, you win an iconic race.
I did an interview with Elinor Fish at Trail Runner and then Adam Chase wrote an article for Running Times and all of a sudden I’m in the public eye. It’s just weird how things work out. You have to establish legitimacy through race results. It’s just the way it is. And it goes for any kind of outdoor lifestyle sport: surfing, climbing, skiing.
Do running fans and followers really know you?
People like to categorize and project so they think they understand something. It often comes down to me being tied to minimalism or not wearing a shirt, the long hair and the beard or stuff that I don’t identify with at all. Those are all superficial things. Everybody is way more nuanced and layered than some label you can stick on them. I wear real shoes when I run. You get all of this attention and adulation and flattery, but it’s not that fulfilling because these people don’t really know you. It’s an artificial connection between a fan and a follower.
Is that frustrating?
It can be frustrating that these labels kind of stick with you. They might have been legit five or six years ago, but it ends up being alienating because you wind up being objectified or labeled into a certain category. That’s not who I am, maybe ever, or at least not any more. People like to really romanticize things like living in your truck in the summer. I’m super grateful that I have that lifestyle to be able to head to the mountains whenever I want, wherever I want and run whatever mountain I want. But it’s not a full-time thing. It might be four or five months out of the year. At the end of the day, if I’m able to impact other people, it’s being able to be an aspirational figure and to inspire other people is a huge privilege. I’m not going to complain about that.
Why are you so inspired to run Hardrock this year?
Hardrock is the ultimate race. It’s all I care about this year. This was my fifth year trying to get in. I feel like I’m on a really good schedule and feel like I’m where I need to be to be ready for it. It’s really hard to get into, so you want to perform well when you get in. It’s the ultimate race in North America. It’s a wild course, a loop with a ton of vertical and beautiful mountains. You can’t ask for anything else.
What about UTMB? You’ve had some challenges when you’ve raced there.
I’d love to win UTMB, just because it’s the pinnacle of the sport and it’s a super inspiring event and location. It’s amazing how many people come out to watch that race. It’s just nuts and that gets you excited. You want to perform at your best when there are that many eyes on you. I hope to go back to UTMB this year, but it’s all going to depend on how I recover from Hardrock. Historically, people haven’t done well at Hardrock and UTMB in the same year. But it’s one of those events that has a lot of gravity around it. If I’m healthy, I’m going to go back and run it again this year. It would be a total dream to win UTMB, probably even more than Hardrock just because it’s so crazy. Last year, I finished UTMB and I was blown away by the number of people who were there and cheering for me finishing in 50th place. Winning that race would be a pretty special experience.
VIDEO: Why Run 100 Miles?
What’s your favorite mountain to run?
Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. I feel very fortunate that Longs Peak is here on the Front Range so close to Boulder. I think it’s the best 14er in Colorado. It’s a true mountaineers mountain. Most of the 14ers in Colorado are walk-ups, just class 1 or class 2 trails with no real technical routes on them. But the standard route on Longs is a third-class route and it’s always a serious proposition to get up there. In the winter, you need crampons, you need an ice axe and you need to know snow conditions. It’s dangerous. It’s a real mountain. In good conditions, it’s still a very technical mountain. The “diamond” on the east face is world-class mountain climbing. There aren’t many places in Colorado like that.
Longs is a special peak. It’s never a gimme. In the summer, when conditions are more stable, it’s the perfect combination of summiting a 14er and having a lot of different options to do it in a semi-technical manner …. Scrambling up it as opposed to just running it or just hiking it. So it really appeals to what I do, kind of straddling between trail running and mountaineering. I think I have 51 lifetime summits, all since 2012. I’ve probably been up there with Joe (Grant) a dozen or 15 times, but the majority of those have been solo.
What’s the mountain you run most frequently?
Green Mountain in Boulder. As of January of this year, I have 1,000 summits since 2009. I ran it 296 times in 2010. There are so many different ways up, so much rad stuff on the east side of Green Mountain. Anywhere else, and it might be your random, non-descript backyard bump. But you’ve got the Flatirons and there is so much scrambling up there.
Why do you run alone so often?
I can be pretty stubborn and hard to get along with and I want to go my pace and do my thing and I don’t want to wait for people. I like to move quick on that kind of terrain. I’m sort of obsessed with timing things in the mountains and I don’t like stopping to a fault. I shouldn’t be that obsessed with it, but it’s part of the physics side of my brain.
I like stouts a lot. Mountain Sun in Boulder makes a Dark Harvest Pumpkin Stout, it’s a pumpkin stout and it’s the best beer that I’ve ever had.
Favorite post-run food?
Pizza. Everybody likes pizza, but I’m talking about a good, proper Italian-style thin crust pizza. I also like a good burger too. Basically I just eat real food. I’m not a guy who needs to make sure he drinks his protein drink or whatever. I don’t have any kind of limits that way.
Aside from running?
Outside of running, I’m usually climbing, scrambling or skiing. I also do a lot of reading and writing. Those are my interests. I’m a pretty boring bookish guy, I guess.
Where will you be in 30 years?
I grew up in Nebraska living a much different lifestyle than I do now. We were really close to the land, really self-sufficient, growing most of our own food, a wood stove in the house. In 30 years, when I’m in in my 60s, hopefully I’ll be living very self-reliantly, producing my own energy, growing my own food, hopefully with a wife. That’s the dream. I don’t know if that would be here in Colorado or back in Nebraska or what. My family has 640 acres back in Nebraska. It’s pretty special to have that much land. My parents are both retired, but we lease it out. It’s not being farmed, but grazing cows. I also have dreams of taking my 5-year-old kid scrambling up the Flatirons with me. I don’t know, I’ll see where I end up.