Ultrarunning Gets Younger – and Faster

Tony Krupicka takes his sport to new extremes.

Krupicka is also gracious, nerdy, thoughtful and shy. But he can be blunt, and some of his remarks have stirred up a surprising degree of resentment. When he told one interviewer that many ultrarunners "are woefully underprepared for an undertaking as daunting as a 100-mile run," the running blogs lit up with snarking about his nature-boy persona, his frugal lifestyle, his surreal training schedule — the general drift being, this is one brash young gun who clearly doesn't have to work for a living (he works part-time in a Colorado Springs running-shoe store), can't possibly sustain the kind of punishing mileage he cranks out every week, and won't be around much longer.

Such comments reflect a larger upheaval in the sport, Chase says. The ultrarunning scene has long been dominated by veterans, their bodies tempered by years of running marathons, but that's changing as younger competitors, oozing post-adolescent angst and in search of suffering and glory, are making their presence felt.

"Tony is kind of a lightning rod," Chase says. "The age group has shifted downward. I started in earnest in my late twenties, and that was considered really young back then. Now there are 21-year-olds showing up and doing even the hundred-milers — and kicking ass. A lot of these people haven't even run marathons. They were enticed by the extreme nature of this."

The running man: Tony Krupicka often runs trails 180 miles a week; Jocelyn Jenks crewed for him when he finished the 2007 Leadville 100 race three hours ahead of the nearest contender.
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The running man: Tony Krupicka often runs trails 180 miles a week; Jocelyn Jenks crewed for him when he finished the 2007 Leadville 100 race three hours ahead of the nearest contender.
Outstanding feet: A scene from the documentary Indulgence shows Tony Krupicka taking care of his equipment — including his toes.
Outstanding feet: A scene from the documentary Indulgence shows Tony Krupicka taking care of his equipment — including his toes.


Click here to see a slide show of scenes from one of Tony Krupicka's recent training runs, and here to see sample videos from a documentary about the young phenom as well as a link to his blog.

Krupicka doesn't see what the fuss is about. "A lot of ultrarunners are middle-aged professionals who have a lot of money," he says. "To them, it's a hobby. They have jobs, so of course they're not going to do 200 miles a week. That's fine. But I've chosen this way to live my life."

His choice has come at a price, including a dozen stress fractures and other injuries that have left him idle — and frustrated — for long, depressing weeks or months. Devoting so much time to running, Krupicka admits, has also put some strains on personal relationships and career plans. Last fall, after a stab at graduate school in Montana and another crippling fracture, he returned to Colorado Springs determined to get healthy.

But since that dark period, Krupicka seems to be hitting his stride. Two fellow Colorado College graduates shot a scenic documentary capturing his training over five weeks last summer, Indulgence: 1000 Miles Under the Colorado Sky, which is now being marketed on DVD to the ski-and-bike-film audience. He recently signed a promising sponsorship deal with New Balance. He has his eye on a series of daunting races this summer, including the Western States Endurance Run in California in June — one of the oldest and most respected hundred-milers, which usually attracts a deep field. It could be his chance to finally go head-to-head with some of his all-time heroes, veterans like Scott Jurek (who won WSER seven years in a row) and Matt Carpenter (who set the course record at Leadville in 2005, at the ripe old age of 41). And aside from a case of shin splints, he's been injury-free for months, possibly because he is seeking greater moderation in his training.

"I've matured physically and in my approach to running," he says. "I'm just not as obsessed about it. I train a lot, but I'll take an easy day here and there. I figured out that ten months at 150 miles a week is better than ten weeks at 200 miles a week, then getting hurt. If you can temper your obsession about it, in the end it's going to be better. It's important not to get too tied up in it, or it all falls apart."

Anton Krupicka sits in a booth at Wooglin's, a granola-tinged deli just off the Colorado College campus. He's not exactly eating the poppyseed muffin in front of him; he's deconstructing it, a few grains at a time. You might think that a man who's just run twenty miles this morning would be hungry, even ravenous, but not this man. Finally, another diner demands to know if there's something wrong with the muffin.

"It's a great muffin," Krupicka insists. "I'm just saving it for later. My metabolism is a little...different from most people's."

Even by the standards of college students, Krupicka is more than a little different. He majored in philosophy at CC. And physics. And returned a fifth year to pick up another degree in geology. He had a prestigious science scholarship on the first go-round but was looking to save money that fifth year, so he ended up crashing in odd places. He slept for months under the half-lofted dorm bed of Julian Boggs, a cross-country teammate; second semester he moved into the closet of another friend. Campus gossip about such exploits is probably how the Krupicka legend got started, the lurid tales of this stripped-down, super-freaky neo-hippie who lives on air, owns no furniture and runs barefoot across the West, seeking to inspire the masses to rise up against the evils of the Industrial Revolution.

There are, Krupicka acknowledges, some misperceptions about him floating around. His minimalist approach to running, for example. He doesn't go in for a lot of gear or even socks, but that's a matter of common sense, not affectation: Who needs the extra weight? Most of the time, he doesn't even carry water on runs of three hours or less, because he doesn't want his body screaming for hydration every few minutes. Yes, he runs barefoot sometimes, but not as much as people think. Okay, five miles barefoot last night on a flat path, but that was after 23 miles shod, and not because of some crazy Tarzan image he's trying to promote.

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