Trail and Ultra Running in the Post-Krupicka Climate

Jim Walmsley Paul Nelson
Photo: Paul Nelson

 

There seems to be somewhat of a distinction forming— a line being etched across the dirt.  The community as whole seems unusually divided.  The comment sections of seemingly every article slowly gestating toward the inevitable.  Even places normally reserved for congratulations and respect, like Strava runs, are seen exploding into 40 comment arguments.  I haven’t been running for very long so I’m not exactly a historian when it comes to the cultural swings and relative zeitgeist of the mountain ultra community, but I’m starting to feel like we’re at a crossroads.  

I’m a bit ashamed to admit, when I first got into running it was really because of Born to Run.  I was in a post-college basketball funk where I hadn’t figured out what I was going to do athletically and was getting incredibly sedentary, bored and fat.  I was primed and ready for somebody like Chris McDougall to tell me that I was designed by evolution to run, so I should probably be running.  It made sense to me.  I don’t have any problem doing things that make sense. Plus, it felt really good and it got me outside in the mountains— at first I didn’t even think about running on the road, it wasn’t even an option, I wanted the romanticized spiritual experience that McDougall was selling along with a pair of minimalist shoes.  

Pretending I was a tarahumara certainly kept me running everyday and was getting me into great shape and calming me down and having tons of other positive side-effects, but I seriously doubt I would have tried to push my running as far as I have without Tony Krupicka. The runners that I knew about at the time were people from Born to Run, like Scott Jurek, but I had yet to even pick up a running magazine or look at an ultra running website.  I really didn’t know much about the culture of the sport at all.  

Then I ran my first ultra and the race director put a three-month-old issue of TrailRunner Magazine in the swag bag.  The big story inside was the 2013 Speedgoat 50k matchup between Anton Krupicka and Sage Canaday (where Anton gets beat by 90 seconds and they run the fastest two times ever on the course).

So then I get introduced to these guys and it’s already very apparent how different they are: Sage is wearing maximal shoes, a fanny pack, long(ish) and a sleeveless tech shirt.  Anton is wearing some New Balance Mt100s that he probably whittled the heel down on and the smallest pair of shorts he can find.  He’s got long hair and beard.  Sage is clean shaven with a stupid hair cut.

Speedgoat podium 2013
2013 Speedgoat 50k podium (From left: Krupicka, Canaday and Jason Schlarb) Photo: Billy Yang

A little more research produced more of the same: Sage talked about running on the track while  Tony talked about a spiritual connection with the mountains.  Sage was doing hill repeats on graded fire roads and Tony was tagging every 14er in sight.  Tony has other aspirations in the mountains: climbing, skiing— hiking when he was injured.  Sage Canaday seems like the type of dude to pick running on an Alter-g treadmill in physical therapist’s office over going on a hike and has no other aspirations in the mountains from what I can tell. (Side note: I’m not trying to single out Sage Canaday for some reason, this was just how my experience happened. I think Sage is an amazing runner, obviously.)

At this point, I pretty much wanted to be Tony Krupicka.  He’s the basically the coolest dude in the world.  He was out there talking about running like a buddhist philosopher and then toeing the line on race day and crushing everybody’s souls.  He was some mythical legend, sleeping in his car at trailheads all summer and running every big peak in short shorts and no water bottle,  taking routes that most people would be roped-up on.  He slept on the floor of a buddy’s hotel room then won the Miwok 100 the next day to punch a WS100 ticket.

He was the definition of minimalism. He needed less than everybody else and he was still going to perform the best.  Kilian was and never will be what Tony Krupicka was for a few years there: a true mountain runner.  Tony was running in the winter still, he wasn’t skiing yet.  He was literally running in the mountains everyday and, in the summer at least, showering in the river.  He just embodied this certain ideal.  He lived and breathed the mountains.  Like he would rather not run than step on a treadmill or a track and he would most certainly choose to forgo shoes altogether before lacing up a pair of Hokas.  

TK Scramble Rob Timko
Photo: Rob Timko

Then we lost Tony. I realize this is an entirely selfish point of view.  I don’t care.   We need him now more than ever and I want him to come back.  As his old self.   At the very least, I’d love to see him running again, with his newly-honed climbing and biking proficiency, he’d undoubtedly be doing some insane running/biking/climbing projects that nobody else would have the skill set for.   But as of right now, there’s nobody to fill his shoes.

I hesitate to even mention it so early on but he has, ever since his recent trip to Chamonix, been logging some solid runs in the mountains.  He has put multiple runs over three-plus hours on Strava in the past couple weeks and he seems to be holding up.  So there’s that.  Could be something. Fingers crossed.

I read an interesting article by Chase Parnell where he talks about the dichotomy in ultra running and just reading it, I get the sense that if Tony were still his former self, this debate would be a lot less heated.  The purist-mountain runner side has no one to carry our flag. Walmsley and Co. seem to be growing by the day (thanks to Rob Krar, according to Tony Krupicka].  We should make hats like surfers did when Laird Hamilton re-popularized paddle boarding, ours will say “Blame Rob”).  And all us mountain purist people have to either site Krupicka circa-2010 or hope that Killian beats Walmsley at UTMB.  

TK Speedgoat Matt Trappe
Photo: Matt Trappe

Chase spends a lot of time talking about the difference in technicality of the races and making predictions about certain match-ups in the mountains and I certainly agree with what he’s saying.  There’s no way Kilian gets beats by Walmsely because Kilian won’t line up for a race that Walmsely is going to win.  Kilian likes steep, super technical stuff.  I ran The Rut, that shit is not flat.  There’s a better chance we see Kim Kardashian line up for Western States than Kilian again.

But I think he’s missing the point about this whole debate.  Tony Krupicka was so special because he transcended running.  Tony was so much more.  Tony Krupicka was like a religion, a lifestyle.  Listen to any podcast that he’s on and the hosts alway ask the same questions: trying to decipher his lifestyle and unlock the code to his success.  He lived the dream and he did it for the right reasons.  He respected, humbled himself to, drew motivation from and exclusively ran in the mountains.  It was pure and it was beautiful.

At first, I was mad about the whole Tony Krupicka thing.  Then, I realized that I was being ridiculous and selfish. Sure, he had completely abandoned most things that seemed to give him so much success early on in his career and made ridiculous statements about how old he is and how his “body can’t take the pounding it used to” when there are numerous examples of people much older than him running much more, some exclusively in the mountains and some at a much faster pace (like Mike Wardian).  But at the end of the day, none of that shit is my business.

Thinking about this (and spending entirely too much time in comments sections reading about this) recently has highlighted the fact that even a small community like ultrarunning—where most of the famous runners are essentially no-names to the general population— is still an incredibly celebrity driven culture.  We’re obsessed.  It’s a problem.  Why does everyone care so much?

jim-walmsley
The man of the moment, Photo: Clif Bar

I loved being inspired by Tony Krupicka.  I still go back and read his old Runner’s World blog posts when I’m feeling especially unmotivated.  But if I don’t have my own very real reasons for wanting to go running everyday, for wanting to spend time in the mountains, nobody else is going to be able to get me there.  Everyone gets to pick which races they run (for the most part, lotteries can be a bitch) and everyone gets to pick where they devote their own time, effort and money.

Regardless of where the community as a whole swings, or regardless of who graces the magazine covers, there will always be people on the fringe, people who spurn the establishment for a more pure, simplistic style.  People who draw their motivation from a different well.  Breathe the air a little more deeply.  And they probably belonged out on the fringe all along, where they prefer to be.

 

52 thoughts on “Trail and Ultra Running in the Post-Krupicka Climate

  1. Pete

    You nailed exactly the race when the Krupicka era was over: Speedgoat 50K 2013. Krupicka almost caught Sage at the end, too. Exciting race! I do believe you are under-characterizing Sage’s passion for mountains though. He’s up in the 14’ers too in the summer, just not to the adventuring extent that Krupicka does. And actually if you’ve been following Sage, his 2017 mountain commitment starts now to get ready for UTMB. He’s not a treadmill person and runs outside on the coldest/snowiest days Boulder can throw at him. With the exception of an occasional ride on a road bike after a race, Sage is a pure runner – no skiing or climbing. Having said all that, what runner wouldn’t be inspired by Sage too, and his 100% focus on running? I think what I’m trying to say is that both have carved out their own way to be at the top for a while. One chose shirtless 200 mile weeks and living summers in the back of a truck, the other started sponsorless living in a relative’s basement.

    On the subject of UTMB, remember Killian is on record saying that “UTMB is not technical”. That will not be in his favor against Walmsley but the unforgiving steepness (up and quad-killing down) will, which has foiled so many of the USA men hopefuls over there.

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    1. Bobby Geronimo

      Thanks for the comment Pete! You’re definitely not wrong about Sage Canaday and I know that he has kind of become a bit of a figurehead for the “road/track to trail” movement, despite the fact that he has spent a lot more time in the mountains lately and probably doesn’t necessarily want to carry that torch.

      Though most of it isn’t warranted, he’s an easy target and the way he portrays himself on social media doesn’t do a lot to help his cause. I’m with you though, only a fool wouldn’t be inspired by that guy, what he’s doing is incredible and he seems to only get better.

      UTMB is gonna be pretty interesting.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, I appreciate it!

      Like

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  3. Mitch Cats

    “Killian was and never will be what Tony Krupicka was for a few years there: a true mountain runner.” Umm… what? You mean the kid that was raised in the mountains and spends even more time in the mountains than Tony?

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    1. Bobby Geronimo

      I was just talking about running specifically, in the sense that Kilian probably spends more time in the mountains on skis throughout the year. There was a few years there where Tony was ONLY running, even in the winter. Overall time spent in the mountains, nobody beats Kilian. Thanks for reading!

      Like

    1. Brooke Meadows

      I’m surprised that you have nothing more to say other than that this crap work from this “pretend tarahumara” (this is culturally appropriative and not okay) is an entertaining read. As a fan of your work, you always seemed to be a person that focused on the human connection and emphasized the sense of community found in the mountain running community. But now, you seem content to just allow someone to draw divisions in the community, and disparage people that you’ve covered not only as runners, but as people first and foremost.

      It’s ironic that some people in the mountain running community can also be incredibly superficial. What a disappointment.

      Like

  4. Markus

    Tony Krupicka was one of the most talented ultrarunners I have seen. Unfortunately he blew it, with too many miles, unnecessary repeats of his Green Mountain.
    Tony had a Hardrock 100 ticket but injured himself, so he couldn’t do it. His inability to eat properly in ultraraces cost him his Nolan 100 attempt.

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved his minimalistic approach and his reflected writing but he was just not good at training for a specific goal.

    I am running ultras for 30+ years and I am sometimes astonished for the small world view some of the trail ultrarunners seem to have. Ultrarunning is around since the last 18th century (pedestrianism) but I get the impression that some think that ultrarunning just started and their favorite trail ultrarunner is the fastest guy ever.

    The great think with these comment sections is that we can voice our opinion and hear others. I am looking forward to hear more.
    Keep on running!

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    1. Bobby Geronimo

      Exactly! This is obviously pretty personal as it’s my experience… I think I made it pretty clear that I’m not a historian, I just enjoy thought-provoking discussion. Thanks for the comment!

      Like

  5. ImMadeOfRice

    Tony is one of the reasons that I even got into ultras in the first place. I only used to climb, and thought that running was the lamest thing in the world, second only to people who hike 3 miles and think its a big day (I have since realized anyone enjoying time in the mountains in any way is cool and should be respected). I started working in Boulder and spending a ton of time scrambling in the flatirons after/before work. This quickly made me realize that if I wanted to become competitive in flatirons time trials I would need to become a much better runner, as the majority of the flatirons speed records are time spent running to/from the climb. Cut to meeting Tony and wondering who the hell is this skinny, bearded, long haired, bronze dude in 4 inch shorts. I then began to follow him and read about his history with the sport, watched unbreakable, his Nolan attempt, etc. and loved his mantra and love for the mountains. I started to get enamored with the idea that people can run for 24 hours straight. It seemed so far fetched that people could push the limits of human endurance to such an extreme, yet here they were doing it! I still take inspiration from Tony’s minimalist style and prefer to run with as little as possible when I can. I totally agree with you that a return would be amazing, but I am just happy that I was able to gain enough inspiration from his adventures that I found this sport at all.

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  6. Sniff

    Its the Krupicka rabbit hole. Next you go to Joe Grant, maybe a little Hal Korner in there. Take a sec and look at some Jen Shelton pics. Grow a beard, give up weed (only a little) and get a tan. A slippery slope my friend…

    Like

  7. This was good. And I take your point completely. But I’d like to posit a question. Why do we need a standard bearer among the elite? Why does it have to be a person who has been on or will appear on magazine covers. Why can’t it be the runner in the mirror? To me that is the essence of trail and ultra. I never read Born to Run. Yet I fell in love with running for the same reasons he wrote that book.

    Those of us who will never win. Those who line up and enjoy the dirt and the climb and above all, the fellowship of running. I think we give too much authority or weight to those magazine editors and fans who run iRunFar and TAUR or the like have chosen for us to admire. Don’t get me wrong. I look at Anton and Killian and Sage and many others and marvel at their ability. I wish I had a hundredth of what they can do. But the people who thrill me are those who struggle to finish. Who pick themselves up each week and head out to the mountain and trail to get some miles and smile with friends. THIS is the standard bearer for our sport: the average trail and ultra runner who smiles during the run, who tries their best and has a beer or a pizza after it is all done. That person is alive and well regardless of endorsements or drug testing or lotteries or crises in identity. That person will overcome all the perceived drama about the state of our sport. That’s who I choose to admire.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bobby Geronimo

      Well said, Gordon. And I think the only way that any of us, the Antons or the back-of-the-packers, are truly going to be happy in our running, we need be inspired the most by the runner in the mirror. This was where I was trying to go with this post, didn’t do that great of a job of wrapping it up. Thanks for reading and I appreciate your insight!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I THOUGHT that was where you were taking us. But I didn’t want to presume. I agree with you though, things are different and perhaps we should look internally for our heroes and motivation instead of externally to mag covers. Great blog. Keep up the great stuff

        Like

  8. Eric Schwindt

    Walmsely is pure. He crushes mountains and technical courses as well. Just faster than anyone ever thought possible. Personally, I think he’s great for the sport because he throws the gauntlet down and has challenged anyone and everyone to keep up. The only reason he pushed so hard to get in to UTMB was to go against the best on the toughest world stage event. I believe he said so in Trail Runner Mag. If he doesn’t get lost or injured, he wins UTMB. Think of him like Bo Jackson. Game changer. Just saying.

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    1. Bobby Geronimo

      It’s true man. No one can deny what that guy is doing. And so audaciously, leading off the front like he does, it’s all pretty amazing. UTMB is gonna be awesome. Thanks for the comment!

      Like

  9. Ultramouse

    Stupid hair cut? I googled Sage to see if I could find any post punk Mohawk or pudding basin from his youth. I found nothing. Perhaps you are bald yourself and have follicle envy. Loved the rest of the article though.

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  10. Mike Kreaden

    We all have our heroes and harken back to the time they were great… But, time does march on. Today’s heroes are being cast now. Walmsley is the one to watch currently, and for good reason. He is the hero of many – new to the sport, as well as old timers like me. Enjoying the sport is as much fun as participating, and watching the elites go after and beat records is thrilling and inspiring. Regardless of your hero, we should all respect the accomplishments of the “greats” and welcome the up and comes who will usher in the next generation of contenders to the crown. What is refreshing to me, is that the new generation has been forged from the ideals of the old. The dedication and devotion that it takes to be great has never been loftier. Yet our sport still is based upon peer review (FKTs) and accolades for winning (not money). This is why I still love ultra running. It remains a pure sport.

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    1. Bobby Geronimo

      Thanks for the comment Mike. You make me feel like the old guy shaking his head yelling “damn kids!!” … and you’re definitely right about Walmsley, it’s going to be very interesting to watch his going forward.

      Like

  11. In every sport we put people up on a pedestal, to celebrate their achievement, to promote how great/fast/hard/gnarly/tough that sport is and for ourselves as a goal to improve, to learn from the elites, whether that is a fellow left handed golfer or watching the transition videos and hill climbs for technique tips.

    And there is the obvious, opinions and views and interviews and promos with the new addition of social media bringing us even closer to them than ever before. For an elite like Timothy Olsen to have liked a tweet of mine, a person he has never met living on a different continent would be something unheard of in the not too distant past, or to even hear film makers like Billy Yang’s thoughts in a comments section of an article.

    As we are on the fringe of running, perhaps we can can the tougher path and actively take a stand against typical forum arguments seen in other sports and focus on the love of the sport and embrace the positives we get from social media

    Track, field, trail, mountain; it is all left, right, repeat for elites and back of the packers!

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    1. Bobby Geronimo

      Well-put John. It’s true, we’re in an interesting place within the sport. Hopefully we can discuss our thoughts and feelings about it in a positive manner (taking the tougher path, as you mentioned). There are always going to be differences, but I think these differences can be highlighted without necessarily being negative. Which is what I was attempting to do (but it seems that it was taken a lot more negatively than intended, mostly by people who didn’t read the entire article). Thanks for reading and the thoughtful comment.

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  12. Interesting read. I will be the first to admit that Tony was and is a huge inspiration in my ultra running foray.

    Not much other to comment except that I think we need to not forget that Sage has some pretty incredible mountain pursuits. I don’t know exactly which ones but he has some of the stoutest uphill FKT’s in Colorado, beating Tony.

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    1. Bobby Geronimo

      Thanks for reading Michael. Sage definitely has some incredible mountain runs on his resume. Like I said, I don’t want to unfairly single him out, he just came to represent this certain ideal within my mind (regardless of how accurate it may be) just the way Tony represented the other end of the spectrum for me (regardless of how accurate that may have been). Both of these people eclipsed their own personalities and became representative of something much more. They didn’t ask for it, it’s just how it happened it my experience. Thanks for the comment, I appreciate it.

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  13. Patrick

    Ha, i occasionally read some of Anton’s old runners world blogs too…Yes, as several commented, Sage is actually quite a mountain running guy (albeit not the climbing/ski mountaineering athlete that Tony is). On UTMB & Killian vs Jim: Properly trained for the course profile, Jim may win – as UTMB is not really technical, just ‘hilly.’ However, on a ‘real’ skyrunning type course, I suspect Jim would have little chance vs Killian at this point.

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    1. Bobby Geronimo

      Thanks for the comment Patrick. I’m really curious to know which courses Kilian actually thinks ARE technical? Apparently everything that isn’t a steep alpine scree field or at least class 4 isn’t technical at all for him. UTMB is going to be exciting for sure. Just to see those guys lined up next to each other… thanks for reading!

      Like

  14. Trevor

    Great article! I think one thing not mentioned but perhaps implicit is the ‘hippie/dirtbag’ ethos–where is it these days? A huge appeal of ultrarunning is its laid back charm and sense of community– do we risk losing that to more technocratic strategies of coaching and training? Perhaps its inevitable as the sport grows and more money gets involved– I know as a middle packer I’m happy to just grow my beard and not take things too seriously…

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    1. Bobby Geronimo

      Exactly! This post was much more about that “hippie/dirtbag ethos” that Krupicka represented than it was about Krupicka himself. I suppose the movement away from the laid back charm is inevitable as the sport progresses and honestly, I really like a lot of those guys, I just like the Krupicka-archetype more. The differences are good and they’re always gonna be there. I think not taking things too seriously is the best bet for all of us.

      Thanks for the comment, I appreciate it.

      Like

  15. Dear Anton, I wrote you but still ain’t callin’
    I left my cell, my pager, and my home phone at the bottom
    I sent two letters back in autumn, you must not-a got ’em
    There probably was a problem at the post office or somethin’
    Sometimes I scribble addresses too sloppy when I jot ’em
    But anyways, fuck it, what’s been up? Man how’s your daughter?
    My girlfriend’s pregnant too, I’m bout to be a father
    If I have a daughter, guess what I’m a call her?
    I’m a name her Anton

    Like

  16. Paola

    Hey Bobby, you have nothing to say about Walmsley’s hair? Maybe too curly? And what if Sage painted his nails black: would this make him a purist-mountain runner?

    Like

  17. soren egeberg

    You just hate Sage, pure and simple, i quote from you post on Jim “This was probably my favorite part… as someone who has watched a couple of Canaday’s YouTube videos, I strongly dislike him. Anyone who is that sure of anything is completely full of shit. His analysis leaves no room for anything but a singular agenda; the one of his own making. It’s honestly disgusting. I can’t listen to the guy talk. “

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  18. Walt

    Judging people based on their physical appearance is a lowlife kind of a thing. I can tell you lack familiarity with our community because it’s all about inclusion and positive energy. We come in different forms and shapes and have different and unique backgrounds which makes it such an exciting group to be a part of. I can see why you are in love with Anton – ask him out and see how it goes. Please don’t be a jerk, it’s nice to be nice. We will see you on the trails or road, whatever you like. And you owe a big apology to Sage, bro!!!!

    Like

    1. Bobby Geronimo

      The funny part is that Sage has a totally normally haircut. Nothing weird about it. So when I say “stupid hair cut” I’m being hyperbolic. I’m just telling a story of my experience. I’m not judging anybody based on how they look. I’m joking around. My last post is about snot rockets. I don’t take myself too seriously on this site 😂😂😂

      Like

  19. Paul

    Landed here because of Sage’s little rant, and left surprisingly rewarded and engaged. I think you’ve written on the whole a pretty fair piece, one or two under-the-belt, needless accusations aside, but I think focussing on them really misses the point.

    Like

  20. Glen

    Ridiculous article. Ridiculous writer. Have you asked Tony out on a date yet? If you analysed the ‘celebrity driven culture’ within the sport a little less and ran a little more then perhaps you’d have more of the attention you so obviously crave. Live your own life and enjoy the sport for your self rather than through the prism of one person and the motivations which are specific to them. You’re just a fan-boy wannabe.

    Like

  21. Tyler Warkentine

    Lmao Sage will always be above you in every way. As is every runner that you cross go back to basketball buddy.

    Like

  22. Joky

    The article was good but it did feel like a Sage Canaday bashing parade at times, with Krupicka as the immaculate protagonist. The article gave me quite an exclusionary and elitist vibe, something that’s present in sports like tennis and golf. You should be trying to welcome all kinds of athletes.

    Sage is a vegan! It doesn’t get much more in touch with nature than that. Please keep the articles coming though, you write well. 🙂

    Like

    1. Bobby Geronimo

      Thank you for reading with a bit of objectivity. And thanks for the comment and your constructive criticism, much appreciated!

      Like

  23. Thanks for the post! I feel you, Toni was and is still an inspiration for me. Like you, if i don’t feel like running or need some extra motivation -> Old Toni Krupicka stuff always helps :)!

    great blog btw. keep up the work!

    greetings from switzerland — mirko

    Like

    1. Bobby Geronimo

      Mirko, thanks for reading and thank you for the comment! I love those old Krupicka articles, they’re still relevant today, even five years later! If I can get to Switzerland, you’ll have to take me on a run!

      Like

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