Nine years since his last successful run at the Leadville Trail 100, Anton Krupicka is heading back to America’s highest city to give it another go.
Now 38, the two-time Leadville 100 champion (2006-2007) has been hampered by occasional injuries and the inability to train consistently as a runner for much of the past six years but also increasingly engaged in cycling, rock climbing and mountaineering. He says he’s been mostly healthy and able to run for the past 18 months and is optimistic about returning to his favorite race on August 21.
But his goal is to run more conservatively — especially over the first half — than he ever has on out-and-back course. Aside from winning the race twice, he also went out at near-record pace in 2009 and 2010 and dropped out before returning in 2012 to finish fourth.
“I definitely feel the most trained up for running than I have in probably five years. I can go run and not have anything hurt and my body is tolerant of it, so that’s really nice,” Krupicka said. “Leadville is like the backyard race. Obviously, it was sort of my entre to the sport, but it all feels new and fresh and exciting to me again. I definitely won’t be going in trying to run fast necessarily, just trying to run to finish to my potential.”
Krupicka is fit and strong and experienced, but even he’s not sure how to predict how his race might play out. Will he challenge for victory in a moderately strong men’s field that includes Cody Reed, Don Reichelt, David Kilgore, Patrick Cade and Ian Sharman, among others? Will he be among the top 10 finishers late Saturday night? Or will he just finish under 24 hours just before the sun rises on Sunday morning?
“I’m feeling good and confident in my running fitness and feeling fit, so we’ll see how it goes,” said Krupicka, who was 23 when he won the race the first time in 2006. “The last three times that I ran it, I was really trying to race, but that’s such a fickle game. I shudder to think how difficult those things are. I want to run as conservatively as possible over the first half. I’d like to run the slowest first 25 miles that I’ve ever run there. In the past, I’ve definitely gone out a little too quick, I think. So, this year I’ll try to reel it in a bit.”
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Sagebrush and Summits
Krupicka has already had a very busy and adventurous year. In early June, he rode the 356-mile Unbound Gravel XL gravel bike race across Kansas, finishing 14th overall in 28 hours and change. After a month of gravel riding, rock climbing and trail running — and his 90th career run and scramble up Colorado’s 14,259-foot Longs Peak — he embarked on a massive solo gravel bike ride through five states for the purpose of running and scrambling up six high peaks.
Dubbed his Sagebrush & Summits Tour, it was a 21-day, 2,300-mile ride across parts of Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and back to Colorado. Riding more than 100 miles on numerous days and mostly camping in the wild, he managed to summit six remote, technical peaks — Kings, Grand Teton, Granite, Cloud, Gannett and Longs — in what turned out to be an impressive pre-Leadville training block.
“Fun is one word for it. There were fun moments, but you know how those things go — it was a three-week trip with highs and lows the entire time,” Krupicka said. “Overall, it was a success. I was able to run up the mountains that I wanted to, and all of those mountains are pretty committing to do solo in a day. What made it cool was that I able to do it doorstep to doorstep, and it all worked out.”
Fun is one word for it.
As he began that unique adventure, he figured that if his body held up, he would definitely run the Leadville 100. The mountain running he did was much more technical, remote and demanding than the Leadville course, but his body survived well, and just a week after getting back, he embarked on a 42-mile training run on Pikes Peak on August 3 that included 9,700 feet of climbing.
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Time on Feet
While he continued to mix rock climbing, cycling and trail running into his weekly training, he said he hasn’t paid much attention to specific running mileage. He ran another 42-mile run in Boulder on August 10 with 6,300 feet of climbing for his last long effort on foot before the race.
It’s definitely been his most unique training approach to Leadville and a far cry from the days in his early to mid-20s when he was known to log 150- to 200-mile weeks wearing minimalist shoes. This summer he’s run between 35 and 70 miles per week since May 1, with 33 efforts longer than 9 miles and 11 outings longer than 20 miles.
Can he even imagine training the way he used to?
“Absolutely not. And I wouldn’t even want to,” said Krupicka, who said he’ll wear La Sportiva Akasha shoes during the race. “It would be a little bit weird to me if I was only just running now. Running is what has given me my entire athletic identity and it’s opened up so many wild opportunities in my life, and the thing I really like about it is how unfettered and elemental it is, so simple. But I think a big part of human life is growth and progression and change.
I feel like my life is so much more full and rich now
“I am more diverse, more well-rounded now than I was then. I feel like my life is so much more full and rich now … having a serious relationship and other responsibilities that I didn’t have 15 years ago. But having that period in my life when I was able to do that was hugely valuable and is a part of what makes me make me who I am today. There is no regretting of that, but you just go through stages in life, and you evolve.”
From 2006 to 2014, Krupicka was among the best and most consistent ultrarunners in the world and the first big personality at the dawn of the era of social media. After his back-to-back Leadville victories, he also won the Zane Grey 100K (2008), White River 50-miler (2009, 2010), Miwok 100K (2010), Jemez Mountain 50-miler (2014) and Italy’s Lavaredo Ultra Trail 118K (2014).
He also had two challenging experiences at the 104-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc through France, Italy and Switzerland. He ran strong through the first half of the race in 2013, but eventually dropped near the 88-mile mark because of a hamstring issue. He returned a year later and again ran strong during the first half but then struggled with a bad stomach and took a long break at the Trient aid station, finally rallying to finish the race in 47th place about six hours behind the winner.
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Looking For A Challenge
It was after those experiences that Krupicka got more involved in biking, rock climbing and mountaineering — partially as a way to avoid additional injuries but also because he was finding new ways to challenge himself in the mountains. He continued to run and enters races, but it’s been six years since his last elite result — he placed sixth at the 125K Transgrancanaria in the Canary Islands in 2015 — and three years since his last race — a 67th-place effort in the 29K Skyrace Limone Extreme in Italy.
It’s been years since Krupicka was a the peak of his ultrarunning career, but the La Sportiva athlete remains one of the most popular in the trail running world with more than 200,000 followers on his always-compelling Instagram feed.
Krupicka still loves running but he admits the pressure that has come with the massive attention he’s received, several debilitating injuries and a handful of disappointing finishes have certainly taken their toll. He is earnestly looking forward to running Leadville, and if that goes well, perhaps other races in the future. But he’s not concerned with what anyone expects of him at this point.
“The act of running is something that will always be special to me, I will always revere it and love it,” he said. “But everything that surrounds it for me, and all of the baggage that I have with it, is not as appealing for me, I guess. You can get pigeonholed, and everyone expects you to be a certain way. I have always been a contrarian and so I always bristle when someone tries to pigeonhole me. So, I kind of have a contentious relationship with the scene surrounding running.”
I have always been a contrarian and so I always bristle when someone tries to pigeonhole me.
Krupicka began running as a young teen while growing up in rural Nebraska and eventually ran cross country and track for Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He began dabbling in trail running on the numerous routes on and around Pikes Peak and was inspired by the local attention given to the Leadville 100. Local resident Matt Carpenter, already a Pikes Peak Marathon legend, set the still-standing Leadville 100 course record of 15:42 in 2005 while Krupicka was in Colorado Springs.
The following year, Krupicka won the Leadville Trail Marathon in a course record 3:41 and then won Leadville 100 later that summer in 17:01. He returned in 2007 to win again in 16:14, the second-fastest time on the course at the time and still among the top five overall. He was gunning for Carpenter’s record in 2009 and 2010 but didn’t finish either time. When he finished fourth behind Frenchman Thomas Lorblanchet, American Zeke Tiernan and ex-pat Brit Nick Clark in 2012, he covered the course in 17:12.
This time around he’s not concerned about what he’s done in the past or the course record. He’s just thinking about immersing himself in the experience as soon as the 4 a.m. starting gun goes off at the corner of 6th and Harrison in Leadville. He relishes the thought of the journey over 12,600-foot Hope Pass and back, but he’ll do it this time without a pacer as per the new race rules to avoid vehicle congestion at the remote turnaround point at Winfield. Krupicka will be crewed by his longtime girlfriend, Hailey Moore, and will have climbing/running buddy Kyle Richardson on deck to pace inbound from Twin Lakes (mile 60) as needed.
“A big reason you stand on a start line is to get back there to the finish line,” Krupicka said. “Even when you’re trying to be conservative, finishing is always in doubt when you’re standing on the starting line. There’s always so much that can happen. That’s the reason you do hard things like Leadville … sure there is the process, the actual doing it, the being in the moment and trying to appreciate that as it’s happening, but, man, when you’re done, that’s the real payoff. Running 100 miles to me is a super valuable life experience, no matter what happens.”