Ultra Mountain Runner Circles the Globe Twice

Ok, that’s not quite true. However, Anton Krupicka is a runner who started logging his miles in 1995. Recently, the odometer went over the 50-thousand mile mark. That, my friends, is twice the circumference of the earth.

The Ultimate Trail Runner?

Krupicka is a graduate student in mountain hydrology,  living in Boulder, Colorado. When it comes to 50-mile and 100-mile races at altitude, he’s pretty tough to beat.

Read on for the Good4Sports Question and Answer, and post a comment about the running marvel.

The odometer:

G4S: You started recorded running 14 and a half years ago. What do you remember of the first run where you recorded your mileage?

TK:  Hmm…I can’t say that I remember that exact run but at the time that I started recording my daily mileage I was regularly doing a two mile run every day on a true cross-country course that I’d mapped out on the 640 acre farm that I grew up on.  It was relentlessly hilly and 100% on natural surfaces of dirt or grass…so, from the beginning I gravitated towards gnarlier, off-road running.

G4S: Contrast that first run with the one that took you over the 50-thousand mark.

TK:  Well, the run that took me over 50,000 miles was quite a bit different.  It was 18 miles and included a nearly 3000’ climb to the top of 8100’ Green Mt here in Boulder.  But, it was very representative of the kind of running I generally do now: a mix of asphalt (to get to the trails) and steep, technical trails with a healthy dose of climbing and a duration in the 2-3hr range.

G4S: What equipment are you using to track the mileage?

TK:  Nothing really.  I’ll sometimes use MapMyRun.com to get a general idea of distances and then from there it’s mostly just estimations based on how long the run took me and the terrain that I went over.  I’m generally pretty accurate in my estimations, though.  This past weekend I did a 4h18 minute run that I estimated to be 32 miles and after I mapped it on MapMyRun it came out to 31.9 miles…so I’m fairly confident in my daily mileages.  I don’t think I’m more than 5% off on any given day, but really, the exact mileage doesn’t matter to me any more as it’s such an arbitrary quantitative unit anyhow.

G4S: Why did you start recording mileage?

TK:  To quantify my running I guess.  To have an idea of how much I was running each week so that I had a point of reference for all the information I was reading about running and other runners.

G4S: With hindsight, and 50-thousand miles tracked, what is the value of tracking miles?

TK:  The only real value I think is as a training tool.  It helps one see maybe why one training block led to a successful performance while another one led to injury or a poor performance.  It’s just a logical, obvious way to quantify an activity.

G4S:  What are the limits to tracking mileage?

TK:  I’m not sure I understand the question.  But, a negative of “tracking mileage” is that one can become too concerned about the number and not as interested in the sheer experience of the run.

G4S: In one of your blog entries, you say that keeping track of the miles along the steep and rocky trails in the Boulder, Colorado area can be “fairly silly and even counterproductive.”  Why?

TK:  A lot of the trails here are SLOW.   Very slow.  I have one 10 mile loop that I do regularly that has 4000’ of vertical gain in it (and an equal amount of descent) and it usually takes me just under two hours or so.  When the trails are as rocky and steep as they are here it takes an awful long time to run down as well as up.  So, that 10 mile loop probably has a similar physiological effect on me as a rolling 15 miler over smooth trails might have, but…it’s only 10 miles.  If I were stubborn about getting my usual 15 miles in I’d probably be out there for three hours instead of two hours and eventually I’d be overtraining.  The body doesn’t know how “far” it’s run, it only knows how long it’s been working at a given intensity.

G4S: You also write that your running roots are in the hills of Nebraska, where “most of the dirt roads are surveyed on a perfect mile by mile grid, denoting the section lines.” In what way did your beginnings in that environment shape you as a runner?

TK:   That description is probably a bit misleading in that it portrays the terrain I grew up on in Nebraska as being flat, boring, and unvarying, which are all untrue.  A lot of the township and county roads in rural Nebraska were built following the surveyed section lines, but in the area surrounding my family’s farm there are a lot of significant drainages that have dissected the terrain and a lot of the roads were forced to follow suit.  As a result, my running as a youth was actually a whole lot more like trail running and I think part of why I prefer that now.  When I ran on roads, they were always dirt, but I also did a great deal of running on single track and double track routes out in the pastures that were usually carved out by cattle pick-up truck.  Nevertheless, doing a lot of my running on vehicle-accessible routes meant that I often had a very accurate number for the mileage of various routes.

G4S:  As you point out, 50-thousand miles is a long, long way -twice around the globe at its equator. Your body undoubtedly knows it? How about the mind? In what way does giving the distance an image like circling the globe twice help your mind grasp what you have done?

TK:  The figure “fifty-thousand” starts to border on a quantity, for me, at least, that is really too large to think about in a tangible way.  Most people know that the planet is awfully big—it’s essentially the spatial extent of our existence, afterall—so thinking about getting around it twice tends to convey the accumulative distance a little better than just a large number.

G4S:  More generally, what value is there for the average person in tracking their running, or other forms of exercise?

TK:  I guess just for purpose of easily quantifying progress.  It can serve as a nice motivational tool.

Krupicka on the left

The challenge:

G4S: Physically, what’s been the biggest challenge in accumulating this volume of training?

TK:  Injuries.

G4S:  What’s your approach to limiting injuries and down time?

TK:  For much of my running career I had almost no approach.  I’m a fairly passionate, irrational, sometimes stubborn person, so I would often put myself through training that would almost guarantee injury.  Recently (the past two years or so) I’ve become—I think—much more reasonable in the expectations I place on my body.  Curiously, I’ve still had some significant downtime.  However, as an example, in 2008 I missed 118 days of running but a total volume of almost 5162 miles.  In 2009 I “only” missed 52 days of running but only logged 4340 miles.  For me, any day off from running is always because of injury, not circumstance.  I haven’t decided yet which approach has been the most fulfilling for me, but the goal is to be running every day.  With that in mind, I’ve been trying to take a mental approach that considers the factor of pacing my running over a lifetime instead of just a year or a season.  In other words, while I’ve done extensive periods of 30 hours or 200 miles per week in the past, I know that that isn’t sustainable over a lifetime, so it’s not a very important goal for me anymore.

G4S: How about mental challenges. All athletes have days when they don’t want to get out of bed. How do you motivate yourself?

TK:  Usually by reminding myself that—even though the bed is awfully comfy and warm—I’ll feel a lot better for the rest of the day if I get up to enjoy the sunrise and immerse myself in the mountains for a couple of hours.  The alternative—low-level, day-long angst—is far more unappealing than another hour of a nice warm bed is appealing.

G4S: What’s your approach to training partners?

TK:  This is something that has evolved a lot throughout my years of running, but since college I’ve found that more often than not I usually prefer to run by myself than with other people.  I’m afraid some of this is just my fairly anti-social personality, but another large part of it is that I hate training runs that turn into races.  I’ve found that a lot of people who would like to go running with me instead seem to actually—consciously or not—be more interested in testing themselves against me, even under the auspices of an “easy run”.  When I say that I’m going to run easy, I’m typically quite serious about that assertion.  Especially when I’m running a lot of miles, most of those miles are at an exceedingly easy pace that a lot of runners would probably find laughable and even uncomfortably slow.  As a result, I am typically a solo runner, by choice. Having said that, through the years I have had several excellent training partners who have greatly enhanced the overall experience of the run (it’s always fun to share a great run with someone), but they’re almost always people who are very good friends of mine and who with I have similar training philosophies.  I’ve never sought out training partners as a means of motivating myself to go for a run, but I certainly don’t avoid the opportunity to run with someone, either.

G4S:  What circumstances dictate solo training?

TK:  My own personality and the fact that I much, much prefer to do my primary run of the day early in the morning rather than later in the afternoon, which time of day I usually reserve for a much shorter, flatter, slower run, often with my girlfriend, Jocelyn.

The Transformation:

G4S: Time changes a person. In your case, running has been a measure of time. In what way has running shaped the person you’ve become?

TK:  Boy, what a question.  Running is an enormous part of the person I am.  Of course, it’s not a comprehensive definition of me as a person, but, generally speaking, over the years it has absolutely inspired, reinforced, and embodied many of my core values.

G4S: In what way has your interior being shaped the runner you’ve become?

TK:  I think the two are really inseparable—one’s interior being and the external expression of that—especially when that external expression is often an activity as rigorously engaging—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually—as mountain ultra running.

G4S: Because you have spent so much time on your feet and running trails, some people might suggest that you are more closely connected to the environment than the rest of us.  What have you learned about the environment since you started running?

TK:  I don’t know that I have, per se, “learned” anything more about the natural environment as a result of all the running I’ve done.  Instead, I think that running has convinced—and continues to convince—me of the importance of protecting as much of the natural environment as possible not only for the biological diversity it preserves but also for the spiritual renewal that it offers humans.  It seems to me that the natural environment embodies some of the most authentic beauty in the world; how can that not be worth valuing?  This persuasion is probably a result of just being a little more in tune with the ebb and flow of the natural seasons.  A lot of people today—not all—shuttle themselves from one climate-controlled box to another—house to car to workplace to restaurant, etc.—with no real sense of what the weather is doing or how the natural environment is responding, etc.  As a runner who spends typically three hours every day outside just cruising along, observing, soaking it all in, I think I’m just afforded a more intimate relationship with the land, but not necessarily any more knowledge about it.  That comes more from the reading and research I do as a mountain hydrology graduate student.

G4S: Time spent running is time spent not doing something else. What have you given up to accomplish this mileage?

TK:  I’m not sure.  When I’m injured and not running very much I tend to waste a lot of time doing completely pointless things, mostly wallowing in self-pity.  I think if I weren’t a runner I would ultimately spend more time reading, baking, and mastering a musical instrument.  I absolutely love music, but the ability that so many people have to create even the simplest song structures baffles me.  Most musicians make playing a piano or guitar look so easy, but—due mostly to lack of time invested in practicing—it’s really not easy for me!

G4S:  What doubts have accompanied your decision to take on this volume of running?

TK:  Mostly the likelihood that my life is getting too out of balance (i.e. I’m running too much), so that when/if I get injured it will be too emotionally devastating.  It’s better to not be so invested.  Having said that, I’m really running quite a bit less now than I have in the past.  There’s a big difference between running three hours a day (the level I’m at currently) and running four or five hours per day on a regular basis.

G4S:  When you were growing up, who were your heroes?

TK:  George Hayduke, mostly.  Cliché as that may be.

G4S: Looking back, who had the most profound influence on the adult you’ve become?

TK:  My mom and dad, without a doubt.  Among many other things, they instilled in me a land ethic that continues to inform most of my core values and principles.

G4S: If there’s one person who’s no longer living that you could share your stories of running with, who would it be and why?

TK:  Probably my Dad’s cousin, Danny Liska.  Among other things, Danny was the first person to ride a motorcycle from the Arctic Circle to Tierra Del Fuego in Argentina, so he embodied the sense of adventure that often fuels a lot of my running.  Additionally, he was very interested in the metaphysical, mystical, and spiritual aspects of life, so I’d enjoy an afternoon with him, sitting in the shade overlooking either the Bazille Creek or Verdigre Creek valleys in northeast Nebraska, chatting.

The Racing:

G4S: The Leadville Trail 100 Ultramarathon 100 mile foot race is legendary in running circles.  What went through your mind as you crossed the finish line the first time you won that race?

TK:  “Wow, I’m so thankful for the opportunity to sit down.”  Also, I’d be lying if there wasn’t some vindication for being able to pull it off after running the first half at what, apparently, several people out on the course weren’t so subdued about expressing as being a foolhardy pace.

G4S:   What moment in that race are you most fascinated by?

TK:  No doubt, the ability to go from feeling absolutely depleted and incapable of finishing in the 80-85 mile range to feeling comparatively great the final 10 miles.

G4S:   How did winning that race impact how you feel about yourself?

TK:  Mostly, it made me realize that running 100 miles is somehow both way more and way less exciting than I had maybe thought it was going to be.  I found out that it’s still just running.  But that seemingly uninteresting fact still can’t easily obscure the emotional landscapes that one traverses when confronting severe discomfort and fatigue.

G4S: You went back and won the race a second time. How was it different from the first?

TK:  The second time was too easy.  I finished and realized that physically I didn’t feel any worse than at the 70 mile mark and that the toughest part of the day had been only a couple of miles around the half-way point.  It was remarkable only in that the effort that day felt so routine.  I think this was largely because I had such a big lead all day and I just let my body do its thing with no real external pressures.  It mostly felt like Kyle (my pacer) and I were just out for a training run.  However, a big part of being able to do that was the fact that I’d trained so unbelievably hard in the final month before the race that my body was ready for anything.  I’d been injured the first half of the summer, so I spent the second half of the summer playing catch-up (in my mind) and ended up being able to go into the race more fit than I’d planned.  Plus, my fairly harrowing experience from the previous year had me expecting the worst during the second half.  When things feel easier than you expected them to, the mind reacts super-positively, which is nice.

G4S: At the 2009 edition of the Leadville 100, you had to abandon the journey at mile 78. You were suffering from Giardia, and your legs simply gave out on you. In fact, you write that at one of the aid stations, you leaned against a car for a while and that it was the first time you’d ever done such a thing in this kind of a race. You also say that you were mentally alert but that your legs just couldn’t function anymore. What’s it like to hit that kind of wall for the first time?

TK:  Humbling.  Embarrassing.  Frustrating.  Educational.

G4S: You also write that you didn’t have any interest in walking in the last 22 miles, that you “did not sign up simply to finish”.  You clearly set a specific goal of finishing the race in a specific time. Why is that more important to you than simply finishing?

TK:  Finishing a race in a specific time is not always more important to me than simply finishing.  It just was at Leadville, for me, this year.  When I won in 2007 in a conservatively-run 16:14, I wrote afterwards that I felt mentally prepared to really take some risks on that course the next time I ran it.  So, in 2009, I did just that in pursuit of the course record, and as a result of poor execution on my part it all ended up falling apart.  But, I certainly learned some things that I will draw on in the future.

G4S: You also wrote that you’ll be back again at that race, but will do another 100-miler before going back. It’s been a couple of months since the DNF, how would you assess the psychological impact at this point?

TK:  I’m mostly over it.  Every now and then I get frustrated with myself and some of the choices I made that day, but what I see as important now is ensuring I don’t make the same mistakes in the future.  So, I’ll try not to do that.

G4S:  At Crystal Mountain, Washington, you broke a course record in the 17th annual 50 Mile Run  by running in 6:32 minutes. It’s a hilly, trail race, and you ran it 19 minutes faster than the previous record holder. What impact did that result have on you?

TK:  First, I only broke the course record by 36 seconds.  Uli Steidl held the previous course record at 6:32:43 and I ran 6:32:07.  The next fastest time on that course after Uli or myself is Nate McDowell’s 6:50:xx.  The largest impact that result had on me was psychological. In college, I came to realize that—whether we can control it or not—our ability to perform up to our physiological potential in a race is determined by whether or not we truly psychologically believe that what we are attempting is realistic.  Basically, don’t let your brain limit you, instead let your brain open doors to a new level of performance.  In races in college I consistently under-performed because I sub-consciously allowed myself to fall into a pecking order on the team and began to subconsciously expect poor performances, I think.  During training I was clearly as fit as almost anyone else on the team.  However, my brain didn’t truly believe in my ability, so I constantly ran easy days too hard, ran hard days too hard, looking for that extra edge, and then when race time came around, I was fried physically and mentally.  If you can instead approach your running with true confidence you’ll have a much better chance of performing up to your physiological ability.  With my running now I rarely hammer during training because I have the inherent confidence to know that the training I do will sufficiently prepare me, and then, come race time, I always truly believe that I can run with anyone in the field.  That confidence makes all the difference in the world.  I saw it happen with many of my close friends during college.  If an athlete can manage to have one maybe unexpectedly good race, and if they can then draw confidence from that, they will automatically begin to consistently perform on a higher level.  When you have that confidence, you don’t doubt your ability.  When you don’t doubt your ability you don’t feel the need to needlessly prove yourself every day during training, you feel that you belong at the front of the pack, and things will fall into place from there.

In college cross-country, most everyone on varsity is training hard.  What separates the difference in performances then?  1) Genetics 2) Confidence.  However, very rarely does anyone maximize number one, so if you can maximize number two (and you are training effectively) you’ll end up being able to beat a bunch of people that maybe on paper should be beating you.

So, getting back to White River, when I was comfortably hitting Uli’s splits in the first half, I didn’t panic and assume I was going too fast (I could tell that my effort was reasonable).  Instead, I relished the challenge and gave it my best shot.  And, afterwards, I now have the confidence to run with most any other ultra-runner in the country.

Why do you think Geoff Roes had such a terrific second half to his season?  He wasn’t training any better than he had in the past, i.e. more volume, more intensity, more vertical, etc.  No, it’s just that he mentally allowed himself to have a terrific race at Wasatch (likely because of a new mental attitude towards running), and then in every subsequent race his confidence and his race results were a self-fulfilling snowball that I’m sure he’ll carry into his running this year.

The Joy of Running:

G4S: You describe glorious running days in the mountains. What are the differences for you between mountain running (trail) and road running?

TK:  There’s no soul in blacktop and harrowing encounters with large pieces of loud, dangerous, toxic machinery (cars).  In mountain running, there’s nothing between me and the natural order of things and that often becomes a deeply satisfying, almost addictive experience.

G4S: Where does your mind go on the long runs?

TK:  Nowhere, really.  Typically, the goal is to not think.  When I’m out on a run and I try hard to concentrate on something other than the run, I never can.  My mind continually wanders and if someone asked me what I was just thinking about I wouldn’t be able to tell them.  I was running.  I wasn’t thinking.  However—and this is the tricky part—the moment I realize that I’m not thinking about anything, then I am thinking about the fact that I’m not thinking about anything and the moment is lost.  Of course, it’s not possible to clear the mind so perfectly on every run, but that sort of in-the-momentness is certainly one of the most compelling things to me about running.

G4S: Does the mental journey differ between training and race days?

TK:  Absolutely.  During a race, I’m almost always monitoring everything and making sure I’m staying on top of the variables I can control.  I see those variables as being effort, calories, fluids, and salt, i.e. pace, GU, water, and S-caps.  So, I spend pretty much the entire race listening to my body as closely as possible—listening to what it needs to be able to continue producing the most efficient forward flow in response to the terrain and other conditions—and responding to what it’s telling me with the aforementioned controllable variables.  This sort of thought process is pretty arduous in its own right and I often finish races as mentally exhausted as I am physically.

G4S: You write that you “have yet to achieve redundancy. And I don’t expect to anytime soon.” What is different about the miles you log today from the ones you have already done?

TK:  Each run is fresh in some way.  It’s always a new day.  In the past three months I’ve run up Green Mountain here in Boulder nearly 70 times, including this very morning, and it was just as fulfilling—maybe even more so—than any other ascent I’ve ever done of it.

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9 responses to “Ultra Mountain Runner Circles the Globe Twice

  1. Pingback: Anton Krupicka Goes over the 50-thousand Mile Mark | trailrunningSoul.com

  2. Pingback: Go Trail Running Blog

  3. Excellent interview. I’m with Ken: Hayduke Lives! And this was my favorite question and answer of the interview:

    “How about mental challenges. All athletes have days when they don’t want to get out of bed. How do you motivate yourself?

    TK: Usually by reminding myself that—even though the bed is awfully comfy and warm—I’ll feel a lot better for the rest of the day if I get up to enjoy the sunrise and immerse myself in the mountains for a couple of hours. The alternative—low-level, day-long angst—is far more unappealing than another hour of a nice warm bed is appealing.”

  4. Pingback: Some Interesting Reading « Ski Runner NZ

  5. great interview. great in-sight. thanks guys. these things mean a lot to the little guy trying to live the dream.

  6. Great read. Thanks for taking the time to talk about this stuff…

  7. Long Live the Monkey Wrench Gang!!!! George Washington Haduke lives. 🙂

  8. Worried that your life might be getting out of balance. I think there are very few who could say that and be talking about too much running! For most of us, we wish we could find the time to run more.

    But I know what you mean. I have told myself that running has to be a means to an end. I have to keep my family and my overall health ahead of running. I can’t let it become an obsession.

    Thanks so much for sharing, Tony. As an ultrarunner wannabe, this helps. While I can’t relate to those many miles, I felt I could relate to a lot you shared. And that gives me hope.

    Best of luck!

    Clynton

  9. A fascinating and insightful interview. So much to learn from there.

    I love the bit about how the moment you realize you’re not thinking about anything on a long run, then you’re thinking about the fact that you’re not thinking about anything and the moment is lost. You don’t need to be a world class runner to be able to identify with that.

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