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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 . . .
- 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.
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.