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Vertical Evolution

Anton Krupicka

On a summer morning in a Boulder, Colorado coffee shop, spandex-clad cyclists sip espresso while a woman with CrossFit biceps orders a nonfat chai latte. Even in this fit crowd, ultrarunner Anton Krupicka stands out. Shoulder-length hair and a lumberjack’s beard are the only extra weight he carries. He details his last month of training: 90 hours of training, running more than 350 miles and climbing more than 150,000 vertical feet.

Krupicka broke into ultrarunning with a 2006 win at the Leadville 100, a century run between 9,200 and 12,600 feet in Colorado’s Rockies that often attracts the elites of ultrarunning. A repeat victory the next year proved his legitimacy. In 2009 and 2010, he set course records en route to top finishes at the USATF 50 Mile Trail National Championships. Then a violent fall descending Green Mountain in the Boulder foothills caused a broken leg. Recovery meant less mileage and led to a focus on uphill training. Instead of running up mountains, Krupicka hiked quickly—as he points out, you still go anaerobic hiking fast up a steep grade at altitude.

Fully recovered, Krupicka melded sustained fast hiking and traditional trail running, and in the process redefined mountain running. Now, he laps the first Flatiron before breakfast, a 1,000-foot sheer rock face with 5.8 trad climbing routes. It’s not uncommon to see rock climbers free soloing this route, but Krupicka scrambles up at race pace in just extra-grippy New Balance sneakers. (Although he does sometimes carry a nut tool to retrieve abandoned trad gear.) Krupicka scales narrow ledges and high-angle faces on all fours. Some runs take him to the 14,259-foot summit of Longs Peak by the Keyhole route, a 15-mile round trip traditionally favored by alpinists. Last summer, Krupicka set his sights on Nolan’s 14. This grueling 100-mile route entails climbing 90,000 vertical feet to link 14 summits over 14,000 feet in southwest Colorado. An off day and fatigue halted Krupicka’s attempt, but not before he summited six 14ers in less than 13 hours.

That disappointment, plus an upper leg injury earlier this year, prompted another change in training habits. Instead of running the Flatiron daily, Krupicka’s training regime calls for a weekly session clicking off six-minute miles on the flat trails below the rock feature. The result? He’s faster than ever. And back on the competition scene. “I wanted to focus on racing this year,” Krupicka says. “Races require more true running, so I’m doing that.” Solid training in March and April led to victories in May. He won New Mexico’s Jemez 50 in 8:07 and Colorado’s Dirty Thirty 50K in 4:47.

Ten days after our meeting, Krupicka wins the Lavaredo 119K in 12 hours and 42 minutes, leading a field of 1,000 athletes from 56 countries across the finish line. The Italian race gains 19,000 feet in the rugged Dolomites. Next, he plans to line up for Utah’s Speedgoat 50K and the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc in France, a 168-kilometer race regarded as the de facto ultrarunning world championships. But racing is temporary, says the mountain runner. “I have accomplished little compared to what I want to accomplish,” Krupicka says. “In 10 years it will be long-slog adventures in the mountains instead of competitive racing. I won’t be competitive at Lavaredo, but I will still be able to do a Nolan’s 14.”  —Nathan Allen / Photo by Matt Trappe 

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