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Speaking out on high mileage, injury lessons and the future of the sport
A short video featuring unseen bonus footage with Krupicka from Joel Wolpert’s film, In the High Country.
Most readers are familiar with the bearded, wild-haired, typically shirtless, high-mileage runner from Boulder, Colorado, Tony Krupicka. After quickly gaining fame for back-to-back victories at Colorado’s Leadville Trail 100 (2006 and 2007), Krupicka also became known for his big weekly mileage, which would top out over 200 miles, minimalist shoe and gear preferences and disappointing injuries. Now 31, he’s back and healthy this season, with recent wins at the Lavaredo Trail 118K in Italy and Jemez Mountain 50-miler in New Mexico.
Anton Krupicka. Photo courtesy of New Balance.
Here, he took a few moments to answer some questions with us.
1. What have you learned from your high-mileage training regimen?
It’s not sustainable. I run far less than I did five or 10 years ago. I don’t really keep track of miles anymore, but I haven’t approached a 200-mile week in three or four years now. Now, during a peak training cycle I’m probably more in the 100- to 140-miles-per-week range, but with three or four times as much vertical as I was doing back when I was doing higher miles.
Having said that, I think chasing really high miles when I was younger was informative in that it taught me about my limits, hard work and what it means to be truly committed/obsessed. I think it was a good experience to have had; however, I’m not sure I would necessarily recommend it.
2. How has your training philosophy evolved?
I try to listen to my body more and not push through little niggles as much. Also, I generally focus more on vertical gain now instead of pure mileage. Of course, this all depends on what my goal race is, but in general I’m more interested in running races that emphasize vertical gain as well, so it all works out.
Ultimately, it might be counter-intuitive, but I think this is a more sustainable form of training as really steep uphills/scrambling are generally very low impact and switch up the muscle groups/movements from what are used in more conventional running on trails.
3. What have you learned from your bouts with injury?
It really depends. Obviously, that listening to and respecting your body is paramount. But, more than once, I have thought I was being smart/conservative and I’ve still been smacked down with a tenacious, frustrating injury. And that I have to cultivate other forms of spiritual/emotional nourishment in my life outside of the mountains and running.
4. What have you learned about eating and drinking before and during races and big runs?
This is something that I’ve fortunately never really had issues with and I really haven’t changed much over the last eight years of running ultra distances. Beforehand, I just try to be casual and not really worry about my night-before-the-race meal. Everyone has certain foods they probably avoid, but honestly, I’m not too finicky about this. I try to think about races as just another long run in the mountains.
During a race, it’s just water and GU for me. If my stomach starts feeling a little off, I minimize the gels for a while and drink Coke instead for my calories. Simple stuff, but it’s been pretty effective. This year, I’ve even moved away from using so much supplementary salt during competition. As long as it’s not too hot, it seems, my body is happiest with just the extra electrolytes that come in GUs.
5. Do you have a favorite race distance?
Not really. I like that 50-milers are long enough to test your will if raced hard, but not so destructive as to require a ton of recovery, like 100-milers. However, like most [competitive ultrarunners], I enjoy the 100-mile distance simply for the sheer challenge and uncertainty involved. Racing that distance takes you to places internally that you just can’t access until you have 70 miles or so on the legs.
6. Do you see yourself racing more or less in the future?
About the same. I’d like to do five or six ultras each year, body willing.
7. Who do you look up to in the trail/ultra running world and why?
Honestly, anyone who is exhibiting passion, appreciates the natural surroundings and seems to be doing it with sincerity.
As far as individuals go, I’m currently inspired by Jared Campbell’s enthusiasm and creativity in the mountains; Kilian Jornet’s next-level performances, proficiency across all mountain disciplines and clear passion and respect for the mountains; and Andy Anderson’s low-key bad-assery.
Who’s Andy Anderson? A climbing ranger with the round-trip FKTs on both Colorado’s Longs Peak and Wyoming’s Grand Teton. Both were truly exceptional performances from a guy who never races and barely anyone has ever heard of.
From the past, I tend to get inspired by guys who were doing a mix of running and climbing and doing interesting things in both. Chris Reveley and Boulder’s Briggs brothers, Roger and Bill, come to mind.
8. With your recent interest in more technical runs and climbing, where do you see yourself taking that interest in the future?
I don’t really have any concrete ambitions in that regard beyond continuing to improve and gain experience while staying safe. I’d like to become a better all-around climber, simply so that in the summer I’m more skilled for moderate, technical alpine scrambles and can move more safely and quickly on that kind of terrain in a minimalist fashion. Beyond that, I think I’d like to get up some classic big mountains in the future, so want to continue to gain experience on snow and ice.
Krupicka descending Mount Elbert during his Nolan’s 14 attempt. Photo by Caroline Treadway.
9. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In the outdoor realm, still competing for sure. I think several guys have recently proven that it’s possible to still be competitive in the sport into our early 40s, but probably transitioning into more slog-y types of activities that require more old-man strength, experience and mental toughness, and less speed and power. Like longish trail FKT attempts, big link-ups of multiple summits, maybe focusing more on slightly more technical mountain adventures.
10. Why does trail running appeal to you over other outdoor endeavors?
Three reasons: 1) Its simplicity. It’s the ultimate stripped-down mountain activity; 2) I’ve finally reconciled the fact that I seem to have a bit of talent at it. It’s fun to do things you’re good at; 3) Flow. When you’re good at something, and you’ve practiced it a lot, there’s that magical nexus of ability and challenge that occasionally occurs that is incredibly seductive. People find it in all kinds of places. For me, for most of my life, it’s been moving through the mountains under my own power.
11. What have been the biggest changes in the sport in the past several years, and how do you see it evolving?
Man, I hate this question, probably because I feel that I don’t have any great insights beyond the things that everyone pretty much already knows. Race participation has gone up. The number of races has gone up. Competitive depth has gone up. A few very lucky people can make a bit of a living from the sport now because of corporate support or as race directors or coaches.
I honestly have no idea how it might evolve. I wonder about this all the time. Part of me thinks it might be a bubble, kind of like adventure racing from a decade ago. I just don’t know. What I do know is that no matter if someone is paying me or not, or if I’m traveling the world or not, in the next several years, I will continue to head into the mountains as often as I can. Hopefully daily still, even if it’s just my backyard hills.
12. What are the three most important things for aspiring trail runners to embrace?
Hiking. Eating on the run (so much of trail running is ultrarunning, it seems). Giving up control—the mountains are wild, so embrace that and become comfortable in it.
13. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about running?
Running is an injury-prevention game.
14. Do you have a running mantra?
15. What other interests keep you motivated?
I’m really inspired by artists. Writers and musicians mostly. When I encounter something that evokes emotion in me—a novel, a song—it makes me want to continue to strive to be the best version I can be of myself at what I seem to do best, i.e. run in the mountains. To continue to strive for that authentic experience.
16. Favorite recent book, band?
I read Don DeLillo’s Mao II in early June and thought it was incredible. Prescient, ringing with truth, poignant.
Also in June, Hamilton Leithauser released his first solo album, Black Hours. He’s the former frontman/lead singer from the now disbanded The Walkmen, which is my favorite band all-time. His new album is great; it’s definitely been the soundtrack to my summer so far.
17. If you could have anyone in the world pace you at a 100-miler, who would it be?
My dad, hands down. He’s always been my biggest supporter but is definitely a little skeptical of the 100-mile experience, having witnessed me have some pretty serious physical issues at Leadville a couple of times. I’d just like him to have a chance to see what it’s really all about.
18. What’s your favorite brunch spot in Boulder?
19. What races or adventures are still on your bucket list?
Too many. Nolan’s 14 and Hardrock are nearest the top.
20. What will you do differently, if anything, this year at Speedgoat than last year?
Start my push for the finish earlier. Last year, I started running harder at Larry’s Hole (mile 21, I think). This year I’ll do that once the course kicks up again at the water pipe before Sinner’s Pass, so probably mile 19ish or so. There’s some steep hiking terrain there and then a fun, fast downhill that I’ll try to take advantage of, because, unless Sage has a terrible day, I’m sure I’ll be playing catch-up again in the second half of the race, and I probably won’t be chasing just Sage at that point either, considering this year’s field.
21. What do you consider your top three achievements in trail running?
Good lord. Tough question. Not because I’m particularly well-achieved or anything but because it feels really unnatural to assess oneself in that way. As for races, I think my best-executed three races were the 2007 Leadville 100, the 2010 Western States 100 and the 2010 White River 50. I was particularly happy with my run at Cavalls del Vent in 2012 and Speedgoat last year, too, but they’re still really too recent for me to judge with any perspective.
If I look beyond races, we move into really esoteric, subjective adventure-type things that I particularly enjoyed or where I felt really dialed-in all day long: Gannet Peak FKT in Wyoming, random scrambling link-ups of Boulder’s five flatirons, linking the first five peaks of Nolan’s 14 in 10 hours in Colorado, stupid stuff like that that no one else should really care about or even know about.
But, mostly, the fact that I’ve somehow been able to finagle running into a full-time gig the last few years still surprises me on a daily basis. In very real terms, that certainly feels like my most significant achievement, and I am unendingly grateful for it.