An Anomaly

We love the satisfaction of exploring topics that might pique the interests of readers.  In the end, we’re having these discussions ourselves either way (some on a few dirty miles with subsequent and abundant cold beverages) because there seems to be enough at stake, enough significance, greatness (triumph and heart-break) and healthy obsession to go around; in the event that others enjoy these discussions, as well (even a little), hooray.  Seriously.

Last week, Tim and I shared some thoughts about the Speedgoat 50k and “the face” of ultra trail.  On the face of ultra, I took the baton and ran myself up the proverbial steep and treacherous trail questioning the origin of Anton Krupicka’s celebrity.  What in the hell was I thinking?  It’s Anton, Tony, The Messiah, TK, whatever you call him.  His is a very big name in this sport of MUT and the fact that I called into question his grandiosity is a cardinal sin!  Asked questions, I did.  And there were a few answers from the kind folk who swung-by for a gander.  Thank you.

However, there wasn’t enough feedback from readers, from those desiring to “set me straight” in my infidelity of sorts, to help explain this phenomenon.  In my wandering inquisition of the young man, I came to a fairly clear, basic inquiry: What is his gargantuan appeal?

Here is how I see it breaking-down.

  1. Anton is fast.  Many of his results are remarkable and certainly help define his trail reputation.  Did he first make trail radar because of his speed?  I am not sure.  Evidence of his training has probably accompanied his racing all along, but the race numbers don’t lie.  The man has quick feet and has drawn attention to himself by the sheer speed he’s evidenced at a number of big races.  Zane Grey, Miwok, Western States, Rocky Raccoon, Leadville 100, American River, White River, etc.  Certainly, most fans are aware of Anton’s trail speed.  So naturally his speed has added to his appeal.  The man has won a lot, and recently contended with and even beaten guys like Kilian Jornet.  The 2nd at 2010 Western States further certified his reputation, but I would argue that his reputation was already in place by 2010.  The point is:  if we’re making an argument for Krupicka’s greatness (as many do), he has some documented speed in well-known races to support the claim.
  1. Anton logs many trail hours.  One can quite easily access the evidence for this statement.  Check his blog; his blogging and training remain one of the more astonishingly consistent features of American ultra.  As for the training hours and miles and feet of vertical, the story here is legendary.  I would argue that his training is far and away the main reason he has reached such heights in visibility and popularity.  He trains to a fault.  This is also quite legendary.  Unless he busts-up Matt Carpenter’s Leadville 100 CR this weekend (if not then, in the next couple of years), his training for that feat alone in years past created considerable celebrity, including a movie: if I’m not mistaken, a blurb from the DVD case reads something to the extent that he ran 2000 miles in a few months leading up to his 2006 or 2007 running of LT100.  Ouch.  Keep in mind, a big part of the appeal here is his consistency.  The blogosphere gives people access to all kinds of athlete training, from the beginner to the elite runner.  People have been able to follow this elite trail runner up, over and through a cache of Colorado peaks and ranges week after week, year after year.  The training numbers are staggering.  200-mile weeks ad nauseam, months in the thousands, hundreds of thousands of feet of vertical, etc.  Again, this, I would argue, speaks most to his enormous credibility.  He is trail training machine.
  1. Anton is generous and passionate about the trail adventure.  Back to the blog.  This instrument/device/tool/what-have-you has perpetuated a kind of Diary of a Skinny Kid narrative used to share his insanely consistent and rigorous training life-style as well as convey a passion for the sport that may seem unparalleled.  The guy loves the trail!  This relatively candid exhibition of his love for the trail puts so many readers and runners in a kind of personal relationship with Anton.  The blogs (he has his own as well as a few other writing gigs) enable comments, so occasionally this elite is actually conversing with the peasants.  No need to explicate this aspect too much.  He inspires people day-in-and-day-out with his tremendous trail experience and knowledge.  His writing details each run and adventure with luxurious detail.  His posts detail well-known routes, trails, peaks, and natural parks.  Often he is sharing these excursions with other well-known trail elites.  In the end, it’s alpine porn.  If you don’t see this, you better recognize.  He’s a tour guide par excellence.  The consistency, detail and palpable joy he derives from the sport is a must read for runners and adventurers of all levels, cross culturally.  No doubt, this generosity and passion have helped cement Anton Krupicka into the proverbial Mt. Rushmore of ultra running.  He’s more than a runner: he’s a voice and personality that gives so much to a sport we could easily assume to be based-on the value system of a bunch of runners just living out of their trucks, hairy, no shirts, non-descript shorts and some sort of sandal-like shoes . . .
  1. Anton looks like Jesus.  The aforementioned generosity and passion are indeed sophisticated.  Anton is educated (we know from reading his Diary); he’s tremendously articulate, as he reads and explains nuance and history of the trail, or this or that issue affecting life off-road, etc.  But beneath all of this intelligence and sophistication, there’s a genuine simplicity to this guy that says “pure.”  He looks like Jesus, for crying out loud.  Wasn’t it Scott Jurek, among others perhaps, who referred to him as The Messiah?  You and I know exactly what Anton looks like: Hair, blue short shorts, and minimalist shoes.  Minimalist.  It’s practically cliché.  The guy is basically naked (see: alpine porn).  Of course people love this guy.  The trail is good.  It is without excess, without the trappings of American materialism.  Trail stereotype  is  Anton.  He runs without.  He seems without want or need other than the daily summit.  His shoes are the only thing cutting-edge, which is okay because, after all, this is running (and given the rest of his outfit, he’s forgiven, even thanked for this one indulgence).  His get-up is so much more genuine than those white tights the Euros are running around in.  Really?  Tights?  Meanwhile, back at the real ultra ranch, Anton is sliding out of his 20 year-old truck bed, wearing blue shorts and New Balance minis (that he helped design), has half a gel tucked in his waist-line (first half for breakfast), a 12oz water bottle (unless there’s a creek on route) and he’s off.  To save the world.  Intellectually, visually, and even “spiritually,” TK is a beacon on the trail of life.  I think this is what people see, more or less.  And I don’t blame them.  There’s clarity, consistency and even contradiction built into this image and “life” that has become so popular, such an iconic fixture in the trail and mountain imagination.

Conclusion

I hope this has been somewhat worthwhile.  This is just one’s brief exploration of why a runner has such hold on a competitive market.  Keep in mind, too, this is juxtaposed with the questions Tim and I asked earlier of why aren’t other runners and personalities given as much “marquee” space as Anton.  Who cares?  You don’t give a shit?  That’s fine.

But the discussion for me is quite compelling.  And it gets more so.  I might argue that Anton’s celebrity is an odd mix of elements outlined briefly above.  I might also say that it is no mistake that he is the face of this odd sport of MUT.  As this article has asked who or what is Anton Krupicka, I might also ask what is ultra running?  Here at Inside Trail, we have embraced the competitive side of the sport.  We provided fairly consistent race coverage (we were the first to offer solid coverage and commentary on European Skyrunning).  We talked about “the front of the race” a lot, hoping to bring more focus and analysis to that semi and full pro style racing that has picked-up speed (literally and figuratively) recently.

This has been balanced against the perspective so pervasive out there that trail racing isn’t that serious and to take it seriously, like we are, is foolhardy.  It’s the trail, it’s people out for a frolicky spin amongst the daisies and dandelions.

So, the question:  what is ultra running?

“Well, it’s both, Matt.  Get over it.”

I don’t buy that.  Anton’s popularity clarifies for me what is perhaps at stake.  The competitive aspect of the sport is under-appreciated.  We’ll call this the Anton anomaly.  Here’s a guy who has done more non-competitive running and is the better for it.  Let me explain that.  He has been appreciated more despite the fact he hasn’t competed (raced) nearly as much as his contemporaries.  I might even say that his race resume is a mixed bag of oddity.  What do you associate with Anton?  Mountains.  Yet much of his racing has been on the flatter, more runnable courses.

My perspective in microcosm: his 2012 late scratch from HR100 (a course seemingly perfect for his style of training) and late add to LT100.  I think the most glaring asterisk is his unwillingness to race PPM.  He had ample opportunity to go head-to-head with MC, racing up a mountain famous for its peak and the climb to get there; like HR, PPA or PPM seem tailor made for Krupicka.  His absenteeism is a big head-scratcher.  And yes, I know, he owes no one anything.  Got it.

There are several reasons Tony is so beloved and “followed.”  I hope we find some edible fruit in this kind of discussion.

Good luck to all the Leadville 100 milers and Pikes runners this weekend.  Cheers.

18 comments

  1. A great article. What you don’t mention is his personality. Maybe he’s not just Jesus like in his looks. It looks like Frosty thinks so, and I’m sure she could have her pick of plenty of hot men. They could be the golden couple. I’m sure the way he runs around half-naked all the time doesn’t hinder his appeal, especially when he’s running up and down some scary mountainsides as he was doing in his latest video appearance with Kilian. Mind you Kilian was even more off the wall as he was holding out a camera with one hand. Aaaagh!!! And do you remember that video of AK scaling an humongous rock face at some dizzying pace. He’s becoming trail running’s answer to Alex Honnold. I can’t wait to see how it pans out at Leadville, esp. after his last race.

  2. A lot to discuss here (and I mentioned some of this yesterday on my blog) but I am gonna go narrow: Leadville is the same weekend as Pikes. There was the one occasion where it was not but they were certainly close enough that it is fair to say one ought to chose one over the other. That has pretty much accounted for what he does that weekend for the last handful of years. So not doing Pikes is not a head scratcher.

  3. Before I comment I must say I really like this blog, the reason being is because of the honesty. There is way to much incestous back-slapping bullshit in the ultra world and it’s nauseating at times. You guys are nbot afraid to lay it on the line. Rant over.
    Anton just has IT. I have been reading his blog for years and it’s his ability to take you on that run with him that does it for me. He is enigmatic in a way and he pulls no punches, he says what he means and means what he says. He may be a sponsored athlete but he’s not a whore. He was wearing a pair of La Sportiva shoes in his Teton vid with Kilian and a guy left a comment on the video asking how New Balance felt about that. TK’s respones was…. .(side note, i just went to the video to find the comment but the vid has been made private on YouTube and taken off his blog????!!!!)
    Anyway his response was ‘alpine porn’ (love that phrase) worthy about how he needs something rubbery to kill those mountains etc. He doesn’t have to try because he’s the real deal, he doesn’t have to show up at certain races because he just loves his sport. He may not win everything going but he just has an appeal that runners everywhere love. Happy Trails Y’all.

  4. There are some people who pick races because the competition is thin and they like to cherry pick wins. There are some people who DNF because its not their day and they don’t want to show up way down in the results. But for most ultrarunners (if I can speak for some others), we run because we love to be outside, cover large distances, enjoy the wilderness, and the comeraderie of others. Its the daily training that matters most. Sure Tony races too, but I think people marvel and envy about the experiences and life he is able to partake of on a daily basis. “I was a little tired today on my 35 mile run that gained 10,000 feet of vertical. It probably has something to do with the 25 mile run with 8,000 feet of vertical that I did yesterday. Maybe I should have taken more than 2 gels and a bottle cap full of water, not sure.”

  5. Thanks for reading and writing Dave, Don and Brett. Happy trails to you too, Malcolm; very much appreciate the comment.

    GZ, I understand the logistics there, but why race Leadville 5 times and not mix-in at least one PPA/M? Given Tony’s training, his appreciation of mountain running/mountain running history, of 14ers, and MC, why not toe-the-line at least once, especially in what has been the great twilight of the king?

    1. My presumption is that TK likely views himself primarily as a 100 mile runner, and thus would choose 100 miles over 26.2 nearly every day of the week. This would also make a run at MC’s CR at LT100 a more appealing undertaking (especially given that I believe he thinks he can get it). I’m sure you’ll see him at Pike’s eventually, but likely in the same capacity that MC attacked LT100: after he did what he thought he could do in his primary race.

  6. Matt – maybe because it is where his heart is at? I have been asked dozens of times when I am gonna do Leadville instead of Pikes. The thing is that Pikes has a special place in my heart, and I love that race. Leadville is the place where Tony got his first 100 win, and his irunfar and competitor vid, you can see it is something he is passionate about. And in fact, he mentions he was chasing Matt’s record at Leadville … he probably has (or had) a legitimate reason to imagine that record is within his grasp, so why not?

    In any case, I think it is less about him ducking Pikes as much as it is about him doing the thing he wants to do and is more attractive to him.

    Additionally, for what it is worth, take a look at the recent vid interview with KJ… many of the “mountaineer” mindset find Pikes less appealing …

  7. Not buying the Tony is a 100 specialist thing, or that’s where his heart is at. Based on what? Hal Koerner is a 100 guy. Meltzer a 100 guy. Tony has raced 5 I think, this weekend his 6th?

    Don’t get all mushy over Kilian calling Pikes flat so therefore Pikes doesn’t have the same appeal to “real” mountain runners. What does that make Leadville?

    Who knows what Kilian is thinking.

    1. Okay so in one sentence you say “who knows what Killian is thinking?” but then you seem to know what AK is thinking about Leadville versus Pikes. If there is anything this sport has taught me is that people motivations for doing these things is very different, and more often than not – there is an element of fun or heart in it over competition.

      The mountaineer comment … I think I am seeing a growing faction of runners in the sport that are not so interested in Leadville (a road race) or Pikes (nearly a road race with its groomed trail).

      There is no head scratching on why Tony has chosen Leadville over Pikes – it is what he has wanted to do. On the competitive side I’d say actually, he was going for Matt’s record. This year as he stated is about getting back at it after 2 dnfs.

  8. First off, I think it’s sweet you are addressing the subject, definitely not a cardinal sin. It’s true there is something compelling and inspiring about him, and I think it is he just runs, and runs, with gusto.

  9. When Kilian says something is flat, I believe he is referring to the technicality of the trail, not the grade. From what I can tell, he likes it rocky and crazy and if there’s a path or trail, it’s too easy for him. Something lost in translation, perhaps.

  10. As to why Tony and not someone else… He’s a great mountain runner, no doubt one of the best. But “why him?” Is the same reason, on a much bigger scale, that we see Ranoldo and Beckham plastered all over billboards and magazines and only see Messi when he’s scoring goals.

  11. He is appealing to masses exactly because you mentioned. Kind of sadly. I almost want to not have it happen, although, of course, like with DK thing and folks’ hatre-love, while his claims are false in details, he got people off their butts. Same with TK? Like, he describes his mountain fits daily, and people drule over and get out? Obviously no normal person with a real job and family can do such thing. But, oh, the photos are so nice, we can all live through the blog! Anyhow. I prefer results (and recent ones, or a bunch in the past) to speak. He had speed and great races. So did GR. Lets see if either can come back to the same level. Mac-daddy? Hal? Karl? Walk the talk. Longevity inspires. Flowing hair – not so much.

  12. Late to the conversation here, but I was recently sent the link by a friend with whom I have discussed this same topic.

    I hope all other aspiring professional runners and other athletes in niche sports are taking notes here. The key component to becoming a professional athlete is not your performances — they matter to the degree that you need some street credibility. But otherwise it’s all about “the story.” Many top ultra runners, many of whom have much more impressive race resumes than Tony and have much more natural talent, are hardly known because they have no story, and make no attempt to create a story. I’m not sure Tony ever tried to create a story — in fact, sometimes I feel like he tries to do the opposite — but I don’t think anyone can dispute that he has one.

    I’d like to add another related comment. For most aspiring professional athletes in niche sports, you’d be well served to have a back up plan because the number of opportunities to be a “sponsored” professional are very limited — and the paycheck is rarely enough to support much more than a dirtbag lifestyle anyway. Personally, I do multiples better as a guide, speaker, and writer than I will ever do as a brand ambassador, and in fact a large portion of my value as an ambassador is related to my non-ambassador activities.

  13. Wow. Thanks for the insightful comment, Andrew. I think the “narrative” is a great point that helps “solve” this puzzle, adds clarity to the discussion. There is no doubt about that in Anton’s case. I am going to elaborate on that in an upcoming article/podcast.

    We have actually moved all of this content to http://www.elevationtrail.wordpress.com. We’re going to still write (especially when it invites people like you to jump-in) because I’m actually more of a writer, but we’re focusing as well on podcasts. Same kind of stuff: thoughtful, analytical, a little subversive.

    Hope you follow us over there. Thanks again.

What say you?