Anton Krupicka jumps into the ultra spotlight with a surprise win at Leadville and compelling philosophies
Krupicka in his trademark minimalist attire, en route to winning the 2006 Leadville 100-miler. Photo by Brian Bailey.
This article originally appeared in our January 2007 issue.
“Some naked guy won, but I don’t know his name,” was the buzz among the hordes hovering around the Leadville Trail 100-mile finish line. During the race’s 30th hour, the last ultrarunners reached the finish line on Leadville, Colorado’s normally quiet main street and fell into supporters’ out-stretched arms.
Almost 13 hours earlier, in the dark of night, and greeted by a much scarcer crowd, Anton Krupicka, 23, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, won Leadville—his first 100-mile race and only second ultra race (his first being Leadville’s High Mountain 50K race in July). His win came as a surprise to almost everyone except Krupicka and his crew of college running buddies. He came to Leadville with the sole purpose of executing a perfect race plan and snatching the prestigious ultra title.
Some race observers rationalized “Naked Guy’s” success by calling him a Matt Carpenter protégé. In 2005, mountain-running legend Carpenter, also from Colorado Springs, had lowered Leadville’s course record to a scorching 15:42:59 (9:25 per mile pace). “I’m hardly Matt’s protégé,” says Krupicka. “We only corresponded a few times by email before the race.” Krupicka scored Leadville’s second-fastest finishing time ever, in 17:01:56.
Krupicka earned the moniker “Naked Guy” from his penchant for running shirtless, wearing only feathery-light shorts—a testament to his collegiate cross-country racing career. Dismayed aid-station workers, familiar with the Colorado Rockies’ fluctuating weather patterns, tisked-tisked the young man’s obvious folly, while simultaneously admiring his Tarzan-like appearance. As the sun set, freezing hail and sleet chilled runners to the bone, as an unfazed, bare-chested Anton pressed on into the night.
Wearing pared-down La Sportiva racing shoes (he cut out most of the tongue and part of the heel’s midsole to save weight) and carrying only a 20-ounce water bottle and a few energy gels, Krupicka adhered to his minimalist philosophy. “I am a big proponent of simplifying my life and, thus, my running, and believe the human body was meant to run and that evolution couldn’t have been so wrong,” he says. “So why inhibit the foot and lower leg with a big clunky shoe?”
While unabashedly ambitious and confident in his running ability, Krupicka blends a genuinely likable personality with straightforward passion for our sport that any seasoned trail runner can relate to.
During a training weekend in Aspen in September, Krupicka shared his thoughts on Leadville, his ridiculously high-mileage training regime and his youthfully rebellious, no-frills lifestyle.
Where did you grow up?
On a small family farm near Niobrara, a town of about 400, nestled at the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri rivers in northern Nebraska. The surrounding grassy hills and wooded valleys instilled in me a deep appreciation for the outdoors. In addition to running cross-country and track through high school, I also played a couple of years of basketball and football.
What did you study in college?
I attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where I pursued a triple-major in physics, philosophy and geology, with a minor in math. I now have a full-time position as a professional writing tutor at Colorado College.
How much mileage do you run and what kind of runs do you like best?
I’ve always been a relatively high-mileage runner. I ran my first marathon when I was 12 years old and my first 100-mile week when I was 13. In spring 2005 I decided to see just how far I could run in a single week and ended up covering over 200 miles. Since then, I never stopped putting in that kind of mileage and spent about four months straight running between 180 to 220 miles per week before I became injured.
Were you hoping that kind of mileage was sustainable?
I have a pretty storied history of being a bonehead in determining a manageable training volume. However, summer 2005 showed me that a high volume of training could be at least somewhat sustainable. This past summer I put in very consistent 170- to 200-mile weeks, with 858 miles in July alone, and logged 32 hours on mountain trails in the first week of August. After that, I took two easier weeks before racing at Leadville, tapering to 165 to 175 miles a week.
How do you find time to run so much?
I run twice daily, four days a week, but even on those days, I fit the majority of my mileage into a two-and-a-half to three-hour morning run. Then I do a much shorter run in the evening, usually with other people. On the weekends, I run just once each day for three to six hours. I usually end up running alone because not many people want to run as early or as far.
Read on: Krupicka on minimalist footwear, his self-described “cheap bastard” lifestyle and his first 100-miler.
Anton Krupicka puts in some easy post-Leadville miles on the Crown, Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado. Photo by Brian Bailey.
Tell me about your self-proclaimed “cheap-bastard” lifestyle.
[Laughs] I guess my standards of living are different than most folks. I have no problem sleeping on the floor, eating month-old bagels salvaged from the local shop, not buying new clothes, not going out to eat or wearing shoes with my toes poking out.
So what do you spend money on?
I spend my money with a few important thoughts in mind: (a) the less money I spend on trivial, inconsequential crap, the more resources I will have to pay for activities that actually mean something to me like traveling and running in the mountains; (b) contributing to our society’s hegemonic, environment- and humanity-destroying, fasco-industrialist corporatacracy through mindless conspicuous consumerism is not at all fulfilling for me; and (c) the things you own, end up owning you—and I like being free. My lifestyle is relatively emblematic of my obvious youth: I’m enjoying the general blitheness and nonchalance that is pretty much only possible when in concert with profound ignorance.
What is the thinking behind modifying your already lightweight trail shoes?
I used to run in so-called stability shoes with hard-plastic orthotics, but over the past three years I’ve completely left those albatrosses behind, and train in road-racing flats or cross-country racing waffles because I believe that as long as the running surface is natural, the human foot is well-designed to handle any running stress, provided you give it enough adaptive time.
I prefer minimalist shoes because almost all shoes (even many racing flats) have an unnecessary amount of rise from the forefoot to the rearfoot. By training in a shoe with this sort of heel lift, the Achilles tendon is constantly shortened and under-worked. A raised heel also limits the ankle’s range of motion and promotes a heelstrike instead of a mid- or forefoot strike.
How did you come to this realization?
I do a fair amount of barefoot running, usually 10 to 15 minutes at the end of almost all of my runs, and have come to realize that your barefoot foot plant is much different than with shoes. If you were to run barefoot across a stretch of asphalt, I guarantee that you wouldn’t run with a heelstrike for very long! Thus, my motivating factor to wear minimalist shoes is to allow my feet to take advantage of the most natural cushioning mechanism—the resilience of the Achilles tendon, calf muscles and ankle joint.
Running with a fore-to-midfoot strike in minimalist shoes almost completely disallows over-striding, increases your agility on uneven terrain, strengthens often-overlooked supportive muscles, tendons and ligaments of the feet and lower legs and hopefully cultivates a stronger, less injury-prone stride.
Why did you choose Leadville as your first 100-miler?
Colorado College’s assistant cross-country coach, Paul Koch, the epitome of all that is hardcore, tough and grizzled, ran Leadville about 10 years ago. Thanks to him, I knew that Leadville would be the ultimate test of my mountain-running timbre.
Last year, when Matt Carpenter broke the Leadville record by an hour and 33 minutes, it rekindled my interest in 100-mile races. Whenever someone exhibits as much mastery and dominance of a sport as Matt has done, it’s difficult to not want to figure out what factors led him there. Matt is extremely meticulous and diligent in his training and often willing to train a lot harder than many of his competitors, not to mention he has some sort of genetic predisposition to running well at altitude [Carpenter has the highest-ever recorded VO2 max (lung capacity) for a runner at 90.2; an average male’s VO2 max measures between 44 and 51, and the average athlete is between 60 and 84.]
In the future I hope to have the opportunity to lead the way and break some paradigms like Matt has done.
How did you think you’d do at Leadville as your first 100-miler?
I expected to do well. I went into the race with goals of running faster than Paul DeWitt’s 2004 course record of 17:17:19 and breaking the 17-hour mark. I guess that I had a lot of confidence because of my consistent summer training.
What kind of advice did Matt Carpenter give you?
Matt seemed pretty excited by a 50-mile—my longest ever—training run I’d done on the Leadville course that was equaling or surpassing his ridiculously fast record-setting pace, despite not pushing that hard. Particularly encouraging was the 4.5-mile climb up Hope Pass, which I did at almost two minutes per mile faster than Matt. He advised I run a fairly aggressive race, not worry about the other competitors and try to break his record because even if I blew up, I’d probably still win the race.
His main advice concerned pacing strategies. He recommended reaching halfway at eight hours, and later gave me a “C+” for not sticking to the game plan when I hit Winfield in 7 hours 45 minutes. Other advice was about smaller details such as testing flashlights for running in the dark, mental strategies and tips about the course.
Your pacers and support crew were also new to 100-milers. How did they help make your Leadville bid successful?
For the most part my pacers, Alex Nichols and Nick Campbell, and crew, Julian Boggs and Angie Kremer, came through beautifully. We were uninhibited by much of the so-called conventional ultramarathon racing wisdom.
The only real mishap on their part was when I ran into Winfield 15 minutes earlier than expected and they were still mixing Powerade and hitting the port-a-potties. I left the aid station without ever seeing them, but Alex just chased me down the road, and caught me about five minutes later.
Some other runners’ crews were a little surprised at my frequent unwillingness to wear a shirt, even when it was raining, and my desire to continue running through all of the aid stations, not stopping to eat and carrying just one water bottle.
How did people react when you won the race?
Many people were surprised. I don’t know if someone like [second-place finisher] Steve Peterson would’ve let me get away that early in the race if I wasn’t as young or if he’d known my capabilities. Mostly I just received a lot of congratulations and disbelief. My crew said that when Steve Peterson came into Fish Hatchery Aid Station at mile 75, he threw down his two water bottles and exclaimed, “Find out who that shirtless guy is!”
Read on: Krupicka’s play-by-play account of his 2006 Leadville victory.
Anton’s 100-miler Debut: A Play-by-Play Account
I felt really great for the first 50 miles, but the second half of the race didn’t go as I’d planned, but that was a big reason for running Leadville—to see just exactly what happens on the far side of 50 miles.
I missed the start by about 10 seconds because I was in the bathroom, so I spent the first mile trying to relax while wondering why everyone was running so freaking fast—it’s 100 miles, after all! The first segment down the boulevard and around Turquoise Lake was fun as I tried to keep from tripping in the 4 a.m. darkness. I ran this whole leg with race leaders Dan Vega, Karl Meltzer and Steve Peterson.
At about five miles I continued running up a short, steep climb up to the lakeshore while everyone else started to hike. This was the first time I realized that I might have to take the lead very early in the race and spend the majority of the day by myself if I wanted to win in the time I wanted. Leaving the first aid station, May Queen, I was running with Dan and Karl along the Colorado Trail, but beginning the first little climb up to Hagerman Pass Road, they both started hiking and I kept running, so that was the last I saw of them.
I saw Steve entering Fish Hatchery (23.5 miles) just as I was leaving, so that spurred me on to run the next flat road section over to Half Moon (30.5 miles) a bit too fast. It felt easy at the time, but I was running on adrenaline. I felt very good coming down into Twin Lakes (39.5 miles) even though it was raining, and I was excited to start the 3400-foot climb up Hope Pass (12,600 feet), which went well.
On the road to Winfield, though, I felt fatigued. I figured the halfway point wasn’t a horrible place to start feeling the distance, especially since I had reached it only 10 minutes behind Matt’s course-record pace. Hiking back up the ridiculously steep south side of Hope Pass was fun because it was the first real extended break from running.
Running back down to Twin Lakes, I still had thoughts of finishing in a low 16-hour time. During the leg from Twin Lakes (60.5 miles) to Halfmoon, I was moving way slower than I’d planned. By time I got to Halfmoon Road, my pacer, Nick, and I got into a nice rhythm, but I’d been planning to run the road segment leading to the Fish Hatchery much faster than I did. My legs felt really pounded and the road’s smoothness did nothing to engage new muscles.
When I finally began climbing up Sugarloaf I was happy to hike because running was getting to be a drag. My crew said that Steve Peterson was only 25 minutes behind me (I’d had a 35-minute lead at the halfway point), so I tried to get to the top of Sugarloaf as quickly as possible (as it turns out, Steve was actually around 50 minutes behind at Fish Hatchery). My pacer, Julian, kept dropping me before realizing how slowly I was moving.
At this point, thoughts of hiking the last 20 miles crossed my mind, though quitting was never an option. Finally, about a half-mile out from May Queen Aid Station, with 13.5 miles to go, I started running again and by the time I reached Tabor Boat Ramp, wasn’t going to stop.
I’ve frequently been over-trained in my career, which means that I’ve had many really stupid training runs where I felt absolutely horrible and beat down, but kept running out of pure stubbornness. Thanks to those experiences, it actually wasn’t hard to stay motivated and continue moving knowing there was a race title at stake.