Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Mountains Are Calling; Thoughts on Anton Krupicka

It has been an up and down spring. Through mid-March, my training was going super well. I had put in a few 20-milers and had started to get to the Foothills trails (which at the time were crazy dry) for some long runs. Speedwork and tempo runs were coming along, too. But then on a 20-mile run up through Waterton Canyon and into Roxborough State Park on Sunday, March 19, it all came knee, that is. Oddly enough, my knee only hurt a little on the back half of the run but then the next day I was barely able to walk.

Having experienced this injury before (back in 2008), I know exactly what is it: patella femoral pain syndrome, also known as "runner's knee." Although painful and aggravating, it's not a serious injury as it involves no structural damage. It mostly just requires time and patience. And that is what I'm giving it...time, patience and lots of KT Tape, foam rolling and ibuprofen! My knee gives me good days (like yesterday and today) and not so good days (like on my run on Friday in Topeka, Kansas).

The most aggravating aspect of the injury is that it interrupted what was shaping up into a really strong spring buildup...with a Boston bid at the Colfax Marathon in sight. Not sure that's going to happen as I have done no speedwork, no tempos and no 20 milers in the last 6 weeks...meaning my fitness has taken a hit. So, as of now, Colfax is a question-mark.

My main focus is getting my knee back to 100% so I can line up with a reasonable amount of confidence at the Leadville 100 in August. As of now, it is not ready for big descents in the mountains. Far from it. But the good news is that it's getting better and over the past two weeks I have gotten in 126 miles, which isn't great but it's progress toward what I'm hoping will be weeks of 80-90 miles going into my taper. So we'll see how things shape up. I am really hoping my plans for the Leadville Trail Marathon and Chase the Moon 12-Hour, as well as some Fridays I'll be going up high, hold up because they're there to get me ready for the 100 in mid-August. To say the mountains are calling would be an understatement. I am so ready to get up high and do some epic stuff this summer.


Life has been so busy. Last week, I spent four days on the road (two in Albuquerque, NM and two in Topeka, KS), leaving me feeling pretty tired (read: exhausted) going into the weekend. The good news is that there is no travel in the immediate future but right now I'm feeling like my life is so dominated by everything not called running. Running is like this little thing in the back of my mind and I have to remind myself that I have this big race in August called the Leadville Trail 100-Mile. I was starting to get into it when my knee blew up but, over the past 6 weeks, I've felt distracted, a bit stressed about the injury and overall insecure. Take away my physical prowess as a runner (leaving me with a bum knee) and I'm left a bit exposed and vulnerable. It's that way with every runner I know--we're an injury away from being a basket case. I have not been a basket case, but I'm not at my best when I have a bad wheel.

Which means I'd better have a good backup plan when I "retire" from this sport due to old age, if ever. It might be then that I take up being a race director, a career aid station volunteer...or something like that. I can't imagine a life not involving ultras. A few weeks ago, I watched the new documentary about Karl Meltzer's record-setting run on the Appalachian Trail and I have to say I was struck by Dave Horton's efforts to keep the Speedgoat going. As I watched the movie, I thought to myself, "Someday I can see myself doing that...being the older, grizzled veteran out there helping the younger guys get it done." Except I'm no Dave Horton. There is only one Dave Horton.


There's an article on Trail Flow about ultrarunning in the "post-Krupicka climate" that's got a lot of people talking. The reason is that it's a rather strange article in its nauseating fawning over Anton Krupicka. The author basically says Anton represented the end of an era for mountain trail running and that the sport is now impure, soulless and dominated by fast guys, like Sage Canaday, who aren't "true" mountain runners like Anton was. The author doesn't even know Sage and yet kind of attacks him, saying he has a "stupid haircut" and would rather run intervals than up mountains. Hmmmmmm. As I read the article, it occurred to me that the author is new to the sport (he admits his inspiration came from "Born to Run") and doesn't really know much about its history, let alone the fact that Sage is one of the nicest guys in all of ultra (saw it firsthand at Run Rabbit Run last year).

What I think about Anton doesn't really matter but I have always felt some people don't fully understand the kind of runner he actually was/is. When you look at Anton's best races, most of them were on runnable Leadville, Miwok, White River, Western States (where he finished a very strong second), Rocky Raccoon, etc. He is indeed great in the mountains--one of the best--and I really hope he finally gets a crack at Hardrock, but Anton is first and foremost an awesome runner. I would not put him in the category of Kilian Jornet, the most dominant mountain runner on planet Earth. Anton in his prime was a great runner who performed brilliantly on very challenging but mostly runnable courses, some of which involved mountainous peaks. But every day he tagged Green Mountain or did some epic run in the Rocky Mountains--all of which he recorded on his well-trafficked, amazing blog (which has since been replaced with a fancier website)--and over time this became how people viewed a mountain running god and living legend. It brought him mythical status and a cult-like following, as exemplified in that aforementioned trashy Trail Flow blog that made many people queasy.

Anton inspired many people, myself included. His prime coincided with a magical era for the sport, and this era was beautifully captured in his blog (Anton's old blog was in a league of its own). I remember in 2010 going up Hope Pass during the Leadville 100 and seeing him come barreling down the mountain in the lead and near course-record pace (alas, he would later crash and burn going up Powerline). It was quite a sight.

I think for working guys, the thought of living in your truck all summer, bathing in mountain rivers and basically bagging peaks all day and everyday--as Anton does/did--has some major appeal, because all of that seems so much better than being a working stiff with a lawn to mow. What this appeal comes down to can be summed up in one word: Freedom. We humans yearn to be free and Anton embodies freedom. He lives by his own rules and basically is a professional runner and peak bagger. This really resonates with guys.

And so a lot of people live(d) vicariously through Anton. Yeah, while Anton is still around, mostly doing non-running stuff like biking, climbing and backcountry skiing--and hopefully plotting a comeback to ultras--the sport is definitely missing him. But life goes on. Just because he isn't racing right now (I think he is young enough to come back very strong and win again, if he can stay healthy) doesn't mean the sport is impure, as the author of that crappy blog suggests.

With that, a final point: In almost all facets of life, there will always be tension between old school and new school. The only constant in life is change. The young and fast guys in ultra--guys like Jim Walmsley--represent a new breed of runner. Doesn't mean they're better (or worse) than the guys before them. It just means they're a different breed of runner in a sport that's always evolving. I am excited to see what these young and fast guys do (so long as they do it the right way), just as the older guys probably said about dudes like Scott Jurek back in the 90s. I for one will be pulling for Sage at Western States this year as I think Sage has struggled in 100s and is due for a big one (he's not quite as young as Walmsley but he's still a kid in my eyes).

I don't ever want to be that guy who trashes and immediately discounts the new it because it's not what it was like "back in the day." Like Dave Horton, I want to be around the sport for years to come, surrounding myself with people of all ages and celebrating what makes ultramarathoning so unique and special: a community of like-minded folks out there putting one foot in front of the other in nature.