Man on the Mountain: Running Wild with Anton Krupicka

mj-618_348_running-wild-with-ultramarathon-and-mountain-man-anton-krupicka
Matt Trappe

Alone in Wyoming, on an exposed slab of granite below the summit of 13,804-foot Gannett Peak, Anton Krupicka had an uneasy feeling. “It was like, ‘Dude, if you fuck up here, nobody will ever find you,’ ” he says. Krupicka was carrying a water bottle, 12 energy gels, a pair of gloves, and a three-ounce windbreaker. He’d been running and climbing since dawn, hoping to traverse a 36-mile route in a single day. “If something had gone wrong, no joke, smoke signals would have been my best bet for communicating my position,” he says. That is, if he survived the fall.

A celebrity in the niche world of ultrarunning — any distance longer than a marathon — Krupicka, 31, is primarily known as the guy with the long hair who runs shirtless and lives in his Chevy S-10 pickup much of the year. But he’s also one of the sport’s most intense competitors. In the past year, Krupicka has won the grueling Jemez 50 Mile, in New Mexico; the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty 50K, in Colorado; and Italy’s Lavaredo 119K. But his passion now is a new sport he jokingly refers to as scrunbling. A hybrid of scrambling, easy rock climbing, and distance running, it’s basically jogging on terrain that usually requires ropes and harnesses.

“Lots of guys can run really fast, and a pitch of 5.4 is trivially easy for serious climbers,” Krupicka says, “but combining the two creates something special. Add bushwhacking to the mix, and the landscape becomes so much bigger and more fun — more playful.”

Krupicka isn’t the only ultrarunner expanding the boundaries of the sport. His friend Kilian Jornet, a Spaniard often lauded as the best ultrarunner in the world, recently completed a record-breaking single-day ascent of Denali. But no one is obsessed with running quite like Krupicka: The day before he established an FKT (fastest known time) of eight hours and 46 minutes on Gannett Peak, he’d run Wyoming’s 13,775-foot Grand Teton, typically a three-day outing, in a little over three hours. The day after, he was in Boulder, Colorado, his home base, doing laps outside town. Krupicka rarely takes a day off from running unless he is injured, and has run up to 750 miles in one month.

“I can’t not spend the amount of time I do in the mountains,” he says. “It’d be killing me.”

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Krupicka began running when he was 11, on his family’s farm in Niobrara, Nebraska. In preparation for a gym class fitness test, he adopted a one-mile-per-day training regime. By 13, he was logging 100 miles a week. “I think my parents were just glad I wasn’t driving around drinking beers and shooting signs with shotguns,” says Krupicka. At Colorado College, where he studied for five years and earned B.A.’s in philosophy, physics, and geology, he often ran shirtless and shoeless and became known as “that shipwrecked-looking dude.”

One semester he slept under a friend’s bed to avoid paying rent; the next semester he upgraded to a closet. He often stopped by a local bakery at closing time to intercept trash bags of bagels en route to the dumpster. In addition to studying, he was running up to 30 miles per day and needed all the carbs he could get. Running began to define his existence. “He’d often say, ‘We’re gonna go on a road trip, but first I have to do a run in this awesome canyon,’ ” says Jocelyn Jenks, Krupicka’s girlfriend at the time. “I’d end up sitting in the car for three hours being like, ‘If he’s not back in 10 minutes, this is over.’ “

In 2006, after finishing college, Krupicka signed up for the Leadville Trail 100, one of the most prestigious ultramarathons in the country, even though he’d never run 100 miles before. Thirteen hours and 80 miles in, he lost bowel control from exhaustion. But he went on to win by an hour and 47 minutes. A year later, he won again.

Soon the sponsorship dollars started rolling in, then New Balance ads and a documentary film, In the High Country. All the attention still feels unnatural for Krupicka, and he’s begun to stray from the sport’s increasingly mainstream establishment. “Racing is how you validate yourself,” he says. “But I find some obscure traverse in the mountains way more inspiring.”

He still regularly competes in races, but because he logs so many miles on personal days, he’s often nursing injuries. As a consequence, his results suffer. “He has an all-consuming passion for being in the mountains,” says his friend and running partner Joe Grant. “When he’s healthy, it’s the driving force in his life, but it can be extremely challenging for him to find a balance when he’s injured.”

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Outside of running, Krupicka can be totally unmotivated. “The rest of the day I’m as distracted as the next guy — the iPod, the earbuds, the cellphone. That’s why it’s so important I create this focus for myself.”

That focus has increasingly taken the form of progressively harder projects, like a recent attempt to run fourteen 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado’s Sawatch Range — 95 miles and 45,000 feet of elevation gain in a single push. He felt so crappy after the sixth summit, around the 13th hour, that he bowed out.

“The hybridization of climbing and running may look fringe and extreme,” says ultrarunner Buzz Burrell, “but for people like Anton, who deeply love the mountain environment, it’s a fresh way for them to understand and become a part of the landscape.”
Krupicka refers to the high he achieves from his alpine runs as “getting lost in the activity of moving,” and in addition to finally completing the Sawatch 14ers, he has his mind set on the loose, jagged Elk Range in Colorado, with seven notoriously sketchy 14,000-foot peaks, as well as a particularly technical 30-mile section of the Continental Divide.

“The goal used to be running,” he says. “Now the goal is seeing a line in the mountains and tracing it in the most efficient way possible. You’re at the top of a peak, there’s a ridge connecting it to the next, and you just want to do it. It’s hard to say why.”

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