Anton Krupicka is Possessed
While the modalities through which it is expressed have transformed over the years, Anton Krupicka’s devotion to traversing mountains has never faltered. Ever since he’s been in the public eye, he has made it clear that the impetus for the hours a day he dedicates to physical activity through landscapes isn’t a matter of ego, but something much deeper and more primitive. Emanating from all of his outdoors pursuits is this authentic desire to connect with his surroundings, something that roped in most fans from his running days and continues to do so now, despite having pivoted years ago to other forms of movement in the face of injury and setback.
In the nascent stages of my own journey as a runner, Anton was a major influence on my transition from road running into the world of trails and ultras, giving the activity some of his own aura and mystique by way of proximity. In fact, in some small but significant way, one could say he is responsible for where I am today, writing this, doing what I do. So I think it should go without saying that I am incredibly stoked to present this interview with him.
Typically, we start these conversations asking you (the interviewee) to give us a short bio. However, I think most of our readers are quite familiar with at least some version of you. So instead, I ask: Why is the bio portion of your website blank? Also, of course feel free to give a short bio.
The bio portion of my website is blank out of simple neglect. There’s been some glitch in the Wordpress platform and/or my server service for the last couple of years. It’s high on my list to get it taken care of early in 2022. It is not some artistic statement. Here’s a quick biography:
I’ve been a runner since 1995 and a professional ultrarunner since 2006. Since 2015, my interests in the outdoors have diversified radically to where—in addition to running—I now also confidently identify as a climber, adventure cyclist, and ski mountaineer, depending on the time of year. I think the real purpose of a biography is to give readers some context as to why they should be interested in my perspective. I’ve been trying to answer that myself for the past 15 years. I recognize that I’ve carved out a very fortunate and privileged lifestyle for the past decade and a half—and that has afforded me a certain perspective—but I’m still not wholly convinced my perspective is any more interesting or important than anyone else’s.
Why running? How do you run?
The answer to that question has evolved over the last 25+ years. Simply, at first, it was because I exhibited some modicum of aptitude for long distance running—as compared to my peers—when I first entered middle school. The caveat there is that my peer group was extremely limited. I grew up in rural northern Nebraska with a class of 12. Positive reinforcement during that time of life is powerful. Like most, I was forming a nascent identity, a way to individualize myself and feel unique, and running offered that. At least in the beginning, it lends itself to the ethos of the self-made man. Running feels like, as an individual, you have a lot of power and agency over your destiny. This is because it requires almost nothing—a pair of shoes and some determination—and simple discipline and hard work often yield tangible results. Those things were—and are—attractive. Now, the simplicity of the activity is still a major motivator. It is still the least complicated vehicle I have for connecting to myself and my surroundings.
I suppose that at least quasi-answers the how, as well. I try to run simply. Keep it unfettered. And I try to run consistently. Any practice, I believe, only has real value if it is habitual. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem to carry much weight. It’s more of a trifle or dalliance if there’s no consistency to it. This is something I think is true for nearly any pursuit in my life, be it in the outdoors, or something more cerebral like reading and writing, or something more mundane, like keeping my apartment organized and neat.
I once told someone that I run and they asked me, “To or from?” So I ask you: To or from?
Both? I dunno. I take a question like this as a prompt to reveal something deep and reflective about my basic motivations. I don’t think I really run from anything anymore. I try to be a forward-looking person. I don’t always succeed. But running is definitely an activity that I think more about “what can I be doing with this in the future?” rather than “oh, gee, the halcyon days of 200 miles per week” or as a distraction from unpleasant things in my life. Running for me is a healthy activity that is a gift. Not really a crutch or coping mechanism, though I suppose there have been periods in my life where that was the case.
Furthermore, what prompted your return to running and racing? After achieving so much and after years away from the sport, you are still beloved. What brought you back?
Partly grasping at relevancy, I suppose. I’m mostly joking. But as with any joke, it’s only funny because there’s a kernel of truth to it. I’m not above recognizing that an aspect of my job as a marketing spokesperson and consultant of sorts for various companies is to be a visible public figure. Racing is the most direct and, perhaps, impactful way to achieve that.
The other—perhaps less cynical—motivation was that I greatly value competition and I greatly value taking on a challenge and seeing if I can rise to the occasion. Competition is always more fun when you’re at least kind of good at it. For whatever reason, I’m still pretty good at running a long ways in the mountains, even though I’m only running 30-50 miles per week anymore. I’m not very good at pedaling a bike or skiing down mountains (I’m pretty ok at skiing up them), even though I very much value the experiences that those competitive arenas (cycling and skimo) have afforded me and continue to afford me.
Another motivation was the same exact motivation that brought me to Leadville the first time 15 years ago—curiosity. Can I do this? It had been so long since I’d run 100 miles that it was back in the realm of legitimate uncertainty again for me. Finally, 100-mile foot races are a uniquely uncomfortable and challenging objective. They have expanded the scope of my life experience in such a way and to such a degree that if I am physically capable of attempting one, I always know that it will be worth my while. I do feel, however, that each one I attempt now carries more risk for how it might negatively impact my ability to be a consistent and satisfied runner going forward.
Based on some early interviews of yours, it seems a not unimportant part of your motivation as a long distance runner was fueled by a desire to be great, to be like the runners who inspired you—whether it was someone in your immediate circle, like your assistant cross country coach Paul Koch, or legendary runners like Ann Trason, Matt Carpenter and Scott Jurek. As you’ve transitioned into spending more time gravel biking and climbing, do you still feel like you get to channel that competitive side? Or rather, do still feel a desire to “compete” in the same way?
Definitely. Competition is competition. In the six and a half years between lining up for an ultramarathon I still competed something like 50-60 times. Bike races, skimo races, and local underground scrambling races. I’m pretty mediocre at cycling and skiing, but not really having a shot at winning many of these races, surprisingly, didn’t diminish my enjoyment of them or how meaningful they felt as life experiences. Realizing that was somewhat epiphanic. It took the motivation for competition from external—peer validation, ego-gratification—to internal. After that realization—that the final result was unimportant, what was important was how I conducted myself amidst discomfort and elective hardship—competition became important as a transformative experience, not as an arena for vanquishing opponents. Trying my hardest in a competition is an intense, elevated state of being. Where I ultimately place in that competition has little to no bearing on achieving that state. What does matter is how hard I try. And I don’t need to be winning a race in order to compete and try hard. The experience of competition is something I really value, and I hope that I will continue to prioritize that experience in some form for many years to come.
What is your relationship with pain?
Nothing special. Sorta like metaphorically eating your vegetables. Necessary for proper nourishment and interesting flavor profile. Gotta regularly cleanse the palate if you don’t want to get sick of sugar and sweet. Also an educational tool, I suppose. Maintaining a stiff upper lip in certain contexts is extremely useful and even productive, because not all pain is important, it’s often more just an inconvenient distraction.
What did injury teach you? What advice would you give to someone dealing with injury?
Don’t give up. Allow yourself some despair, but don’t wallow in it. Diversify. Figure out what else—other than running—can sustain you psycho-emotionally.
Was your time away from running primarily due to injury? Or was there something more to why you shifted away from running?
100% due to injury. 98% being physically unable to run, 2% realizing there was a whole lot more to life as a result of not being able to run. Then it ballooned from there. There are entire worlds outside of running. I always knew that, but I always either didn’t have the energy to explore them or was low-key concerned that exploring them would deleteriously affect my running. So, when running was involuntarily removed from the equation, I suddenly had a lot of energy and space. Since I’ve (tenuously) been able to add running back to the mix, I view it more as a gift and a privilege than an obligation or mandate. Generally speaking, of course.
Was this in part how you discovered cycling? And as it seems much deeper than merely an alternative to running at this point, how did your relationship with cycling—and all the gear it entails—develop?
Yes, getting fed up with persistent injury in 2015 is how I finally committed to making cycling a regular part of my life. I actually bought my first bike back in the spring of 2002 (freshman year of college) as I had developed a stress fracture early in the season. This was a low-end, aluminum road bike, complete with bony 23c tires, but I rode the shit out of it. In fact, my first real foray into ultra-endurance activities came that fall when I went on a three day tour with my college's cycling club, but then instead of taking the sag bus back to campus with everyone else, I just rode my bike the full 160 miles back in a solo 9hr push. However, that bike was stolen a couple years later, so for the next decade my only regular cycling was commuting around town, though there was a lot of that.
It was getting a drop bar bike that fit 29x2.2" tires in 2015 that really made the shift for me. The whole mixed-terrain or "gravel" scene was just starting to catch on in the industry then, and the culture of riding a bike that was capable on both pavement and dirt was starting to edge into the mainstream. (Rest assured, humans have been doing that since time immemorial, it's just that mainstream industry was starting to take notice then.) Suddenly, the concept of "adventure cycling" was becoming more and more prominent, and this was obviously something I could sink my teeth into. I was mostly in thrall of the fact that there was this entire parallel outdoor athletic universe that I had previously known almost nothing about. So it developed from there.
I rrreealllly went down the rabbit hole in 2019 when my buddy Benedict asked if I wanted to ride the Unbound 200 in Kansas that spring on a Crust Bombora. I had always been peripherally aware of the people and the alt-bike culture that I was exposed to on that trip, but that weekend was really the catalyst for the way I relate to bikes and bike culture now. I love bikes because, to me, they facilitate some of the most profound and immersive adventures—both on a grand scale but also on otherwise mundane around-town pedaling. However, there is also a rich and deep aesthetic tradition to bicycles that I find just doesn't exist in running or climbing. Sure, plenty of cyclists seem to view a bicycle as being as ruthlessly functional as, say, a pair of running shoes or a climbing rope, but most of the material accouterments in those sports are, if not disposable, at least not durable. A bike frame, on the other hand, can last decades. This lends an inherently timeless quality to it that, I think, commands respect and kindles inspiration. Bikes are fucking rad.
When you were running a lot, you were consistently logging 4-5 hour days of activity. Similarly, when you’re climbing or cycling, you are logging 4-5 hours of activity. What is it about duration and time spent in a certain mode of intensity that is alluring to you? Do you keep the same intensity physically as you did with running and divert it to these other activities?
I don’t know. I rarely think about how long I want to be out. Generally speaking, maybe, but rarely with much specific intent. More often, I just head out the door and see how my body is feeling and start along a familiar route. If I’m feeling good, I’ll extend or add on to the route, or I’ll explore a new connection or I’ll tack on another scrambling formation. If I have the energy and the available time, this can go on for quite a while. I would guess that the 4-5hr range comes up a lot because that’s about a half-day of activity, which is the most I can responsibly get away with on a regular basis and also the most exercise I can do at a low intensity or all-day intensity without necessarily needing to re-fuel. I don’t really have a training schedule of any type. If I feel good, I tack on distance or up the intensity, or both. If I don’t feel good, I’ll often turn around and go home.
When you aren’t running, you bike, climb, and scramble. What draws you to the mountains?
Getting up high on a ridgeline or a rock face or a summit is simply a compelling position to attain. Maybe there’s something primordial about wanting to get somewhere with a lofty perspective that affords an unfettered lay of the land. Being attracted to topographical relief seems like such a universally innate human characteristic. Knowing a complex landscape well and being able to traverse it efficiently is also supremely satisfying. Beyond that, I appreciate landscapes that make me feel small. Mountains do that. But so do wide open grassy plains with big skies. So does the desert.
What is it like having a partner who shares love for many of the same outdoor activities as you? Also, I believe I saw somewhere that your most recent Leadville experience was the first time Hailey had ever been exposed to your running firsthand. What was that like for you? For her?
I'd say it's definitely a plus, but not essential. Sure, it absolutely helps a relationship to have a partner that can relate specifically to the things that get you fired up, but I don't think it's necessary. What IS essential is that they have things that get them fired up. If Hailey quit climbing and riding and running tomorrow, I am confident that our relationship would not suffer. There would certainly be an adjustment period, but I know Hailey to be a fundamentally curious, engaged, thoughtful, reflective human---it doesn't matter to me where those qualities are directed. Having said all that, I will say that having activities like bike touring and climbing that we share regularly is deeply gratifying and a real joy. Leadville was a first for her, though, from a racing standpoint. For me, I enjoyed it as a moment of getting to share with someone I love a part of me that has been fundamental to my identity for most of my life, but that has been absent the past few years. For her, I'm not fully sure. I think she enjoyed getting to see me in a context where I'm comfortable and in command but also getting to contribute to that in a meaningful way as my crew for the race. Like me, though, she's definitely not as much of a fan of all the hoopla that surrounds being at a high profile event like Leadville.
To what extent did texts such as Lord Grizzly and The Monkey Wrench Gang shape your sentiments toward the outdoors?
I’m not sure that Frederick Manfred did. Maybe. For sure, Ed Abbey did, for better or for worse. His books were a charismatic entry point to the concept of radical environmentalism, as flawed as that may be. I’ve never been much moved by traditional nature writing a la Leopold, Thoreau, Dillard, Lopez, etc. As a teenager, I found his deliberately ribald and rollicking style to be exciting. The natural world is worth fighting for.
What would you say to someone who primarily runs on road and wants to transition to trails and mountains?
The usual stuff. Don’t be afraid of walking. I walk all the time. But, realize, just because your biomechanics have changed, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep the intensity high. Probably the most significant mind-shift I had as a mountain runner was when I realized that you can still go completely anaerobic on a steep uphill by hiking (not running) and, if practiced, it’s often a lot more efficient.
Can you describe your relationship with Colorado?
Adopted home. I’ve lived here for more than half my life now. When I was younger, I probably couldn’t understand why anyone would want to spend their time anywhere but the mountains. As I’ve matured, I’ve been getting back to Nebraska more and more often. I really appreciate it for its lack of humans; my visceral connections to the Great Plains as a place and landform—genealogical and experiential roots are real; and its high quality running and riding.
What mediums of art inspire you most? Which artist(s) specifically?
Music and literature. I’ll just go with the artists from each realm that have inspired me most recently: the UK band Idles and the US author Jonathan Franzen. They both came out with fresh work this fall (Franzen’s latest book, Crossroads, in October and Idles’ latest album, Crawler, in November). I’ve listened to all of Idles’ discography extensively (Crawler is their fourth full-length album), and I’ve read all of Franzen’s books, both novels (Crossroads was his sixth) and non-fiction essays.
Franzen’s previous novel, Purity, did not hit for me. I was disappointed. He seemed to be on a gradual downward slide ever since 2001’s The Corrections, and in interviews he mostly seemed to whine about the lack of serious readers in the U.S. and the deepening climate crisis. That’s all fine, but it doesn’t do much to inspire. Especially when it feels like your writing is suffering. Then Crossroads was released; in my mind it was a pretty big risk—a go big or go home type of thing. It’s 600+ pages and apparently the first in a planned trilogy. Talk about imposing some pressure on oneself! But within 30 pages I knew that Franzen had somehow managed to switch things up. I’ve read very few writers who have been able to inhabit and explicate the interior lives of their characters as richly and spine-tinglingly accurately as Franzen does in Crossroads. It’s inspiring to me that someone can still pull off their best work so deep into an already acclaimed career.
For Idles, Crawler was their fourth full-length album in as many years. Their first three albums—which had already garnered them a large and enthusiastic following—all followed a pretty similar formula: loud guitars, jack-hammering drums, and vocals that barked often shockingly simplistic messages about social equality. I loved it.
But with Crawler they somehow shifted, dramatically; it is a stark change from those first three albums. This album contains some of their noisiest, most violent work (Car Crash or Wizz, for instance), but also expands into other genres with tracks such as MT 420 RR, When The Lights Come On, and Progress. Usually, when an artist does that, it tends to reek of desperation, or running out of ideas, or—gasp!—selling out in some way. To me, Crawler is the exact opposite of all those things. It seems to me that they risked changing up their style not because they were out of ideas but because they have so many new ideas and their only desperation was to expand and grow as artists irrespective of what the audience might expect of them. I think it’s so tricky to abandon a style that garnered you success and an audience. Idles have done it beautifully. Taking that risk and pulling it off in the name of personal growth is hugely inspiring to me. Same for Franzen. I had kind of disregarded him as having already peaked—likely with The Corrections some 20 years ago—but to my mind Crossroads is his best book yet and Crawler is Idles’ best album yet. I don’t know, maybe brilliant new art is the pandemic lockdown’s gift.
Top 5 albums?
Impossible question, but here are a few, in no particular order.
- Melted – Ty Segall
- Return to Cookie Mountain – TV On The Radio (Hard to pick between this and Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes)
- You & Me – The Walkmen
- Apologies to the Queen Mary – Wolf Parade
- Magic Isn’t Real – Pile
- You Forgot It In People – Broken Social Scene
That’s enough, I suppose.
Top 5 books?
Perhaps even more impossible. Over the past couple of years I’ve found myself re-reading a lot of stuff after years of resisting that. So, I’ll just list five books that I’ve given the second spin recently.
- Mao II – Don DeLillo
- White Noise – Don DeLillo
- The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
- Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace
- A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
- East of Eden – John Steinbeck
Again, I would vehemently resist labeling these as my all-time top-5 books. I’m just too lazy to put any real thought into that. Instead, these are all so good that I thought it worth my while to re-read them recently.
How would you describe your playlist? What context is it best played?
Abrasive. Joyous. I think I read somewhere that Idles want to make music that is “terrifying and danceable”. That is exactly how I like my music. There’s something inherently exciting and thrilling about noisey, violent music full of menace. But if the artist has enough generosity to also make it a little bit catchy, I think there’s space for some kind of beautiful redemption.
I’ve really been aware of the concept of duality and paradoxes the past few months. I would say my musical choices have leaned harder and harder in that direction. Or at least that’s how I explain my preferences to myself more these days. Joy amidst horror and chaos. I’ve been on a real Idles kick since seeing them live back in October and then having their latest album drop only a couple weeks later. I think that can often be the case after seeing a live show, but I saw Kevin Morby and Hamilton Leithauser the week before I saw Idles, and—despite adoring their music as well—the show had much less of an impact on my psyche. I’ve been to a decent number of shows in my life, but nothing crazy. Maybe 40? Probably no more than 50. I think that Idles show was perhaps the best I’ve been to. What does that mean? The energy in the room was insane, charged. I’ve never seen such violent, aggressive music associated with such a positive, life-affirming attitude. Again, it’s that duality. I tried to keep the playlist not too long and to havemost of the songs at least somewhat hew to that theme.
Interview by Adam Voidoid
Photography by Moe Lauchert