While descending Boulder’s Green Mountain in June 2011, Anton Krupicka caught his left toe on something and hit the deck. What sounds like an innocuous tumble ended with a broken leg and ten weeks of rehabilitation. During the latter period of those rehab weeks, as a way of getting up into the mountains, Anton hiked the steepest routes he could find on Green Mountain. This act ultimately awoke in him a deep appreciation for the aesthetic line to a mountain summit which, in turn, led to him embracing a more alpinist approach and philosophy to his above treeline experiences. I caught up with Anton recently to chat about this and many other things..
Anton, La Plata Peak Summit- 14,336 feet/4370 meters above the deep blue sea. 2013 © TK
So Anton, here we are May 2013- first off I want to ask how you feel the sport is at the moment. You know, we have these young-guns, speedsters like Cam'(Clayton) and Sage (Canaday) coming into the sport..it’s evolving pretty quickly right?
Yeah, it’s a cross-over. It’s funny, it happens in North America because North American ‘trail-racing/ultra-racing/mountain racing’ is very much running. The trails are all very tame- the vertical- you can run a lot of it. Any of those races on the west coast, they’re running races. In Europe it comes from the opposite end of the spectrum, people don’t come into the sport from a track or a road background- they come into it from a mountaineering background..
For sure, like an alpinist background..
Yeah, an alpinist background- ski mountaineering & mountaineering background. In the races the designs of the courses reflect that as well. So, I guess that because I race globally and think about the sport globally, I see it as just one small part, North America, where it’s a trend. But they are doing really well on North American courses and that’s something that’s worthy..it’s just not something that interests me, I guess. I’ve always been a mediocre flat-runner and I’m more inspired by the mountains than just running, running, running.
But your own outlook has changed over the last couple of years as well Anton hasn’t it?
Yeah but that was just because I broke my leg..
Kinda like a blessing in disguise then?
Well, it depends on your perspective. It definitely shifted my perspective, I wouldn’t be willing to place a value judgment on it- but I do appreciate the shift in perspective it’s giving me, the fact that I am more inspired by the terrain and landscape- I don’t think that’s any better than being inspired by running six minute pace on the roads everyday. You know, whatever makes you happy and makes you want to get outside. But, I feel like running for me has always been more about the landscape and connecting with the outdoors than competing..you know, I compete enough- I’ve been competing my entire life. For me, at least, if you’re going to be training as much as I do then there has to be a deeper motivation than just going to a race and beating people because it becomes pretty superficial after a while and then what? like, who cares?, so you wanna race- it’s just feeding your ego really whereas if you have some sort of deeper motivation or something that’s more sustainable for you than, I think, it’s going to be a more rewarding endeavour for you.
You’ve raced races like Leadville and Western States in the past- races that you would consider quite flat courses now..
So are they off the radar for you completely now?
Leadville is for a while. I mean, last year I ran it ’cause I wanted to do a 100 miler. You know, I like Leadville, it was my first ultra but I wasn’t at all specifically prepared for it (last year) and, running the race, I realised that you do need to specifically prepare for it and I don’t know if I am willing to do that right now with my running. It’s just the summer is so short and the mountains are only free of snow for so long that I don’t want to spend, like, a month running the whole time. I want to spend the summers in the high mountains, which means hiking and scrambling..mixed with running, but it’s not just running which is all Leadville is.
Western (States) I will go back to at some point soon- I can even see myself doing it next year (2014). It’s just the ego thing again..I was second one year and I want to go back and win it because it’s the classic. I really respect the tradition and history of the sport and, if you look at the races I’ve done- Leadville, Western..these are the oldest and have the most lore surrounding them in the North American scene. So I’ll go back to Western before I go back to Leadville I think.
So there is no pressure from New Balance? (Anton’s main sponsor and also sponsor of the Leadville 100)- there not like ‘Tony we want you to run Leadville.’
You know they (NB) have never dictated my schedule, they give me such free reign that I feel silly sometimes..but this year I am going to be present at Leadville for New Balance and I will be probably pacing a friend. So I’ll be at the race and I think they wanted me to do some sort of pre-race stuff- I’ll be there promoting the brand and the race for them, I just won’t be running it. Obviously it would be ideal for them if I ran Leadville every year but I’ve run it five times- it’s a classic race but the course isn’t the reason to run it, it’s more the history surrounding it.
..so moving on from that then, one race that you have always talked about in the States is Hardrock, so that’s still on the wish-list I take it?
Oh totally on the wish-list! I’ll put into the Hardrock lottery, I think, every summer, you know, I’m a competitive runner. It’s the best course in the country- it’s an aesthetic loop, 34,000 feet (10,000 meters approx) of climbing, 100 miles and the San Juan mountains are just stunning- it’s as good as it gets. Last year I was picked to race and it was that shin-injury and I knew that I could not race hard rock without re-injuring myself so I pulled out and I didn’t get in this year, so I’ll keep trying. It’s the race that inspires me the most- 100%.
..just talking about the injury there Anton, you’ve had a pretty unlucky run with injuries..
It’s not unlucky- I guess when I broke my leg, that was a freak-thing, then my shin injury was sort of a result of that- an atrophied leg and rehabbing from that, so it was a string of stuff. But I have been fairly healthy for the past year. I didn’t do a couple of early season races just ’cause I had this little niggle in my hip and I am just not the kind of guy who is going to run a race if I am not 100% healthy- some people like to run through stuff but I just don’t do that. I don’t line up unless I am sure that I am not going to hurt myself.
So when you had the shin injury- it kinda went on for a while..
[laughs] That was the longest running injury I had…
[laughs] how does that effect you mentally!? Did it wear you down?
Yeah, it definitely wore me down but, I guess, when you have a deep passion for something then you don’t just turn your back on it. You just have faith that it’s going to come around and patience. I guess a lot of that time I was able to do a lot of hiking and that definitely helped..without that there would have been some deep depression. [laughs all round] That’s if there wasn’t anyhow! So I was still able to get up to a summit everyday and get out in the mountains and that’s really the ultimate thing for me- that helped me cope a lot.
So you are back now Anton- your next race will be your first since Cavalls (Anton finished 2nd in 2012), actually speaking of Cavalla, you seemed to be really taken by that race? You seemed to have an amazing experience there?
Yeah. I like Spain- I like the people and one of my sponsors is based in Barcelona- Buff. The Pyrenees are very like Colarado mountains. So they seem very familiar..I just had a good experience there and it’s just the best race I’ve run in terms of the course- there was 20,000 feet (6000 meters approx) of vertical, it’s 5o miles (83Km), it’s a logical loop where you are hitting these series of huts..and I thought I had a good race there..
You had a great race!
Yeah, it was my first race since I came back from breaking my leg where I kinda affirmed to myself that I was capable of running with the best in the world still, you know? So that was a big confidence boost..
Was there a sense of relief that you could still compete at that level?
Oh, of course, it was just like ‘oh, I still have it!’ [laughs] I was out for a long time and the sport is moving so quickly now that it’s easy to be left behind- and like you say, guys like Sage (Canaday) and Cam (Clayton) coming in can really change the sport. But I think that, especially at the 100 mile distance and the more mountainous races, there is a steep learning curve.
So what’s next for you, race wise?
I’m not going to race again until Speedgoat actually, so I’m doing..gosh, mostly just SkyRaces this year and then UTMB..
..and Telluride (Dakota’s race)?
Yeah, I’ll do Telluride as well. So I’ll do Speedgoat and then two weeks later Dakota’s race, which is much shorter than he originally planned. So that and then I’ll come out here (Europe) for UTMB – I’m actually coming to Chamonix in just a month from now to preview the UTMB course for ten days..
So no Mont Blanc Marathon?
No, it’s funny..a friend of mine is getting married the same day or the day after the Mont Blanc marathon so I think my flight out of Geneva is the day before the marathon. It’s unfortunate but my buddy is getting married and I got to go to the wedding..[laughs]
My plan in June was to do this big mountain traverse in Colorado..
Sure, the Nolans project?
Yeah the Nolan’s 14, exactly. I am still, fingers crossed, hoping that’ll happen and that is why I am racing back to Colorado and not doing Zegama, so I can get acclimated..
So that’s still on the cards then?
Yeah, I hope so. It all depends on the snow levels- we had a ton of snow in April in Colorado. It’s kind of the worst case scenario. Last year Joe (Grant) and I went up Mount Elber (Colorado’s highest Peak) on May 6th in running shorts and this year you would have been up there in a parka. [laughs] So we will see what happens with the snow conditions but I would really like to do Nolans in June.
..and just talking about the 14ers (14,000 ft peaks) there Anton- Longs Peak is a place that you seemed to have developed a bit of a love affair with!?
Yeah, well it’s the best mountain in Colorado because it’s the only mountain in Colorado that is really a climbers mountain. Most mountains in Colorado are big talus heaps, you know? They’re just big piles of rocks, whereas you go to the Alps or something and you have these granite faces and Longs is the only mountain in Colorado that is like that. So it stands out that way plus it’s the closest 14er to Boulder which is convenient and really nice..
So you can do a day trip there and back..
Oh yeah, you can do a morning trip- it’s 45 minutes to the trailhead, most days I do Longs I am back by noon. It’s a really aesthetic mountain and there are lots of different routes on it, it’s 14,000 feet (4260 meters) and really nice.
Between Longs and the Flatirons then, those two places highlight the evolution and development of your running- you have spending a hell of a lot of time on both those places..
Yeah, it’s what inspires me the most..
I remember before that you said somewhere that you had to run every step up a mountain..obvioulsy that has gone out the window now?
[laughs] Yeah, it was very much the mindset of someone who was a runner- I come from a running background of track and cross-country, so there was some pride associated with that, you know? Like ‘oh these silly ultra-runners with their hiking and that sort of thing,’ but now I just think about it much more as ‘ok, here’s the mountain, here’s the landscape and I want to do this line,’ so whatever motion it takes to do that route than I am happy with it- the land itself is more inspiring to me than, like, the intrinsic motion. So, if it’s technical climbing or if it’s scrambling or if it’s hiking then it’s all good to me once there is a summit involved.
So is this leading into more serious alpinism for you Anton, you know? What’s next?
I don’t know. I would say that that stuff is more interesting to me than just running an arbitrary 100 mile race. That’s what’s nice about Hardrock is that you link up a bunch of towns and it makes sense. Western States you go from a town to this other town and it’s an historical trail. A lot of races in the States they’re like ‘We want this arbitrary distance of 50 miles or 100 miles,’ but that’s not what gets me going I guess, it’s just a different mentality. So, for me, it’s much more about the mountains and wanting to interact with that more organically- looking at the landscape and doing something that makes sense. I used to be the kind of guy that would go out for a run and if I went out with the intention of doing a two hour run then I would do laps around the park at the end to get to two hours, you know!? [laughs] I just don’t have that mindset anymore- not that I don’t have the discipline but it just seems silly to me, it’s not why I’m out there- to do laps around a park! I’m out there to get up a mountain.
So how did it change Anton? Did it change over time?
Yeah, it changed over time but the breaking the leg was the main thing. That was the biggest shift because what happened was that I broke my leg and I realised that ‘oh, I can hike up a hill hard and there is almost no impact,’
Plus, you weren’t going so much slower either right?
Yeah and that’s what I found- that given a steep enough grade and, especially on technical terrain, then hiking up hill is as fast as trying to run up that stuff and a lot of the time the stuff I go up is impossible to run up. So then, when that light bulb went off it all just started falling into place from there.
..you had (rock)climbed before that though right?
Yeah, I started climbing in college back in 2001 and climbed all through college and then I guess I kinda abandoned it when I got into ultras around 2005/2006. Then when I broke my leg…well, I have some mentors in Boulder, guys that do this stuff- Buzz Burrell who’s in his sixties..but I was like ‘I live in Boulder for christ’s sake! I should have at least climbed the 3rd Flatiron or the 1st Flatiron.’ So it just evolved, I just really got into it..
So now your daily routine is free-soloing the Flatirons!?
Yeah, it depends. A couple days a week I do some proper running too..but when I am soloing the Flatirons I am going hard. If I link up all five, it’s 6000 feet of vertical which is..a lot..in two and a half hours- it’s a good mountain workout for sure but it’s not running. But I scramble a Flatiron about 10 times a week, often twice a day.
..They look amazing too, so majestic..
Yeah they are pretty striking, they are proud slabs of rock..
..some primo views from them too I would imagine!?
Yeah, you can’t help but want to climb it, you know? People who don’t understand that, I say to them ‘Ok, given the choice- to a runner, would you like to run along a ridge or run in a valley?’ Most people say they wanna run on a ridge- so this climb, this free-soloing a face is just an extension of that. You’re out there. It’s inspiring and it’s a very compelling experience. It’s the same thing- when you really get in the flow of it- it’s the same feeling when you really get in the groove running a trail. It’s like you feel like you can’t make a mistake and it’s fun when you just get into that flow-state..
..plus you have been on the rock so much and so often, Long’s Peak too, so you get to know the mountain, get to know the rock and you get to know the character and features..that’s a nice feeling too right?
For me it is yeah. Some people don’t like to repeat stuff- like I have some friends who, if they’ve climbed something, they don’t have any desire to climb it again whereas I am the exact opposite. I like to do it over and over again, it’s just so I can get to where it’s very second nature, I guess, because that’s the rewarding feeling for me. So that’s a deliberate thing on my part.
So all this free-soloing and time on the Flatirons- how does that fit in footwear-wise? New Balance are obviously a running company so how has your development being going with them?
Were working on stuff. It’s difficult because it’s something that’s obviously outside of what they do traditionally..
It’s completely new to them really, right?
Yeah, but we are working on rubber compounds, building shoes for more off-trail, more fell-style shoes and that kind of thing. I’ve been working closely with the New Balance designers for six or seven years now..
And they’re open to new designs?
They’re open to it which is awesome..
Are we talking custom stuff for you or stuff to go to the consumers? Is there a real market for that type of shoe?
Yeah, I don’t know- everyone asks that! Amongst my friends I can count on one hand the number of people who are interested in truly doing alpine-like scrambling so I don’t think there is a market for it. I think sticky rubber is a useful asset in a shoe, even for trail running but there is not going to be some surge in hybrid/running/approach shoes..there is just not.
So you plan on doing UTMB- what’s your view on the race Anton, suits you, you think?
I think so. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for five years now. It will definitely suit me, there is a lot of climbing and a fair bit of hiking involved and it’s just an inspiring race- to run around the mountain with all the energy and excitement surrounding it. It’s one of the classic races in the world that has to be done..
So no ‘Diagonale de Foux’?
No, I’ve thought about it for sure but the main problem with that is that it’s so late in the year..at least for me. By the end of October last year I was toast, physically and mentally- it would have been really difficult to get up for such a difficult 100 mile race. It’s probably the toughest one- in terms of how long you’re out there..it takes Kilian 26 hours..that’s a long time. I was just talking with my buddy Joe (Grant) about this and he’s like ‘Yeah, you have to focus on just that. Start your season later,’ and that’s something I would definitely think about for the future, maybe next year, who knows? I don’t think I could do both an early season 100 miler, like a June 100 and then ‘Diagonale de Foux’ because I would need to be in a 100 mile shape for a long time.
So what about Skyrunning then Anton, you are obviously taken by the whole concept, you think it’s going to boom in the States?
It’s difficult in the States, the permits are really contentious and that makes races a non-starter a lot of the time because I think the Skyrunning brand and the Skyrunning style shouldn’t be watered down to include courses with a lot of flat running or road and that sort of thing..
But Lauri and Marino (ISF founders) are very focussed on that too. They’re not going to let that happen..
Yeah, so that’s what I am saying. If you stay to those principals it’s going to be difficult to develop those races in the States- which is funny because back in the 90’s they were able to in a few spots. Like there used to be a race on Mount Elber and a SkyMarathon around Aspen which were all ISF sanctioned, so maybe it can happen again. It’s definitely, just in the last 2/3 years, become much more towards the forefront of people’s minds in North America.
I gotta ask you Anton- with regards to racing, you are due a win, right?!
Yeah, I haven’t won a race in like two years or something! Last year I raced Kilian twice, I think I will be racing him at least twice this year- it’s hard to beat that guy. [laughs] I go out with the intentions of trying to win every race I line up to but every race I do has a pretty deep field..
..and they’re not getting any shallower![laughs]
No, exactly [laughs] I’ve done training runs over the last month at a level that would have won some low-level 50 mile races around the country but I would rather do it training because if I go to a race I am going to go too hard. I don’t do training races because if I line up for a race it’s because I care about it and I am going to go really hard and give it my best shot and, also, probably because there is a deep field assembled.
Cool, finally- so your studies are over now too Anton, are you focussing on being a ‘pro’ runner for a while?
Yeah as long as possible [laughs]
..it seems like a really nice time to be to be involved with the sport too?
Oh it’s a complete dream! It’s something that I never imagined would be an opportunity for me. I have spent my whole life being obsessively passionate about running and that would be to the detriment of whatever job I was doing [laughs] like if I had to work full-time, I would still be that way with running so it’s obviously really convenient for me that I can make it into a full-time endeavour.
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