Titans of the Trail: Chatting with the Mountain Running Legends of Boulder

Darcy Piceu is a mountain running badass who has lived in Boulder for 16 years.
Darcy Piceu is a mountain running badass who has lived in Boulder for 16 years. Fred Marmsater
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It’s no wonder Boulder is a trail running mecca, with a vast trail network, amazing weather, and world-class athletes who mingle with weekend warriors at the deli counter. And like a colony of bees, mountain running legends cluster here, buzzing around the city’s open spaces, cultivating a sweet community that nourishes them, and pollinating the mountain running culture throughout the world.

To learn more about this fascinating world of trail running and mountain exploration, we interviewed four local trail running superstars to hear about what motivates them, what they love about living here, and what's next on the horizon. In our conversations, at least one thing became clear: There’s no queen (or king) bee. These mountain running legends of Boulder all have their own unique stories, with goals and motivations that are as varied as the trails and peaks they explore.

Buzz Burrell

Buzz Burrell gets off on uncharted territory. He recently completed a five-peak traverse in Zion National Park.
Buzz Burrell gets off on uncharted territory. He recently completed a five-peak traverse in Zion National Park. Courtesy Buzz Burrell

Buzz Burrell isn’t just a mountain running legend: He’s a true trailblazer, with a penchant for pioneering long, difficult, technical routes. He’s notched up a slew of fastest known times (FKTs), including several Flatirons, the 486-mile Colorado Trail, the 223-mile John Muir Trail, and new routes he dreams up in his spare time. And he’s still going strong at 64.

_ Why do you like living in Boulder? _
It’s a very cosmopolitan town that’s small. The ratio between the built and natural environment is very good. Boulder is also great because your friends and fellow athletes elevate you to another level, whether physically or inspirationally. There’s something in the water. It creates this great community.

_ Where you love to run here? _
I like to mix things up. My favorite run is probably the First Flatiron. And my newest one is coming out of Skunk Canyon and linking up the Regency, the Fourth Flatiron, and a rock formation called Challenger. In the winter I don’t run trails. My favorite Saturday loop in winter is the Gold Hill Loop. It’s huge vert and a little over 20 miles, with great scenery.

_ Do you prefer running on trails or off trail? _
I’m definitely a no-trail person because I’m technically very good, and I want to see what’s around the bend. That’s what tends to motivate me rather than repeating something that I’m familiar with and trying to get a better time on it.

_ You've set a lot of Fastest Known Times. What’s your secret? _
Part of it is I was first. You can go after obvious biggies, or you can go do something that people haven’t done before. I do things, and then other people who are more focused and better runners come in and improve the time. I like that. Jared Campbell and I just did a new route in Zion National Park, linking five technical summits in a row. We call it the Temple Throne Traverse. We’ve been working on it for a couple of years. You really have to know this hike to do it. That’s what I love about FKTs. It’s a broader knowledge base. You need to get to know the place, the weather, the best time to go, the routes, and then engage more knowledge, intelligence, and skills. That is satisfying.

_ What do you do when you’re not running? _
I love swing and ballroom dancing. I think it’s a great combination of physical, mental, and emotional, which to me is athleticism.

_ What is your greatest accomplishment? _
I haven’t died yet. I feel pretty good about that. It could have happened for all sorts of reasons, from age to altitude to verticality to stupidity to all sorts of things. I also feel really good about the fact that it’s hard to remember a day I did not enjoy.

Scott Jurek

Scott Jurek logs serious miles on the trails in Boulder's backyard.
Scott Jurek logs serious miles on the trails in Boulder's backyard. Scott Jurek

In his 20-year career, Scott Jurek has amassed a mind-blowing number of ultra-running victories, including seven straight wins in the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, the oldest and most prestigious race of its kind. His name appears in record books throughout the world. Running magazines have routinely named him on top runner lists. And last year he broke the Appalachian Trail speed record, completing the 2,200-mile trail just over 46 days. What would make most people want to take a month-long nap seems to propel Jurek to seek the next challenge and adventure.

_ What inspires you? _
I’ve looked to the samurai code. It’s about humility and respect. You have to be humble with your body and understand its limits. But then there’s also that idea of digging down deep and having a resiliency and being adaptable. Adaptability is everything when it comes to running in the mountains. When faced with adversity, you have to weather the storm and the challenges.

_ What do you like about Boulder? _
What makes Boulder a special place is access to the mountains. There are a lot of opportunities right out the door. Even more so what drew me to Boulder were the other athletes. I gain a lot of inspiration from them.

_ Where you love to run here? _
I love to be able to run out my door. I love Green Mountain and Bear Peak, but I think one of the special places is right in between: Bear Canyon. We also have amazing mountain roads. I love Sunshine Canyon and the loop through Gold Hill.

_ What do you like about running? _
For me it’s about finding new challenges, new inspiration, new motivation. I just love the simple beauty of running and how it grounds me amidst all the craziness of modern life. It helps me return to the roots of primal living. It’s one of the best ways to live in tune with my surroundings, stay in the present moment, and distill life into very simple terms.

_ How did it feel to break the Appalachian Trail speed record? _
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s one of the most rugged trails out there. It was a culmination of hard work and effort, taking all the skills and experiences that I’ve learned throughout the years of my career. It’s hard to sum up in just a few words because it was an epic journey for me.

_ What’s next on the horizon? _
I’m looking for new challenges and finding things that pique my interest rather than things I feel like I should do because this is where the competitors in my sport prove themselves. The things that inspire me most are longer adventure runs. And I’m working on a book about my experience on the Appalachian Trail.

Anton Krupicka

Anton Krupicka makes scrambling up the Flatirons look like child's play.
Anton Krupicka makes scrambling up the Flatirons look like child's play. Eric Lee

When you’re climbing Boulder’s Flatirons , Anton Krupicka  just might scramble past you in tiny running shorts and no shirt, putting your methodical efforts to shame as he ascends the slab like Spiderman. Don’t feel bad: His personal best on the First Flatiron is 33 minutes car to car. Now 32, Krupicka first made a name for himself in the ultra-running world 10 years ago when he won the Leadville 100. He repeated the victory in 2007, and has since racked up top ultra-running finishes around the globe. But don’t try to put him in a box: Krupicka describes himself as a mountain enthusiast who savors all sorts of outdoor pursuits.

_ How did you get into running? _
You know when you’re in elementary school and you have to take the Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge, and you do a 1-mile run? That’s how I got into it. My fifth grade year I said, “I’m going to prepare for this by running 1 mile a day every day for the month beforehand.” I started keeping a daily training log, and I’ve kept a log ever since for the past 21 years.

_ Why do you live in Boulder? _
A huge reason I live in Boulder is for the Flatirons. They’re a really unique geologic formation and offer a lot of low fifth-class scrambling that you can’t find anywhere else in the country. And there’s pretty quick access to alpine stuff in Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park.

_ What are your favorite running trails around town? _
I don’t think about trails. I think about summits and rock formations. My favorite Flatiron right now is either Satan’s Slab in Skunk Canyon or the Matron down south near Eldorado Canyon. Those are big iconic rock formations that are fun to scramble.

_ How would you categorize yourself in the mountain running world? _
I’m a mountain enthusiast. I’m passionate about getting outside in the mountains. People would say some crap about having some sort of minimalist persona, long hair, and a beard. It’s frustrating to be reduced to a caricature. I haven’t run barefoot in five years. I don’t know why people still talk about that.

_ Are you a freak of nature? _
No, absolutely not. I’m a shitty runner. I’m not talented. But for whatever reason I’ve always been obsessed with it, really passionate about it, and put a ton of time into it. There are so many people in the sport that are more talented than me. But there are very few people who have the same appetite for mountains on a day-to-day basis.

_ What’s your running philosophy? _
To minimize distractions and focus on the experience. That’s why I’m out there: to have a richer life.

_ What’s coming up for you? _
My big race goal for the year is the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, a 100-mile race that circumnavigates Mont Blanc [in the French Alps]. It’s the most important race in the sport. I’ve run it twice, but not well. My goal is to get on the podium.

_ What's your thing now? _
I’m interested in big, self-powered adventures in the mountains. It doesn’t matter whether it’s running, biking, climbing, or skiing.

_ Do you have an oddball habit? _
It takes me a long time to tie my shoes.

Darcy Piceu

Steep, technical trails are Darcy Piceu's favorite terrain.
Steep, technical trails are Darcy Piceu's favorite terrain. Gary Wang

Somehow Darcy Piceu manages to juggle motherhood, serving as a student counselor, and competing in multiple ultras each year. She crushes it on the trail, setting course records and giving guys a run for their money on the leader board. One of her favorite races is the Hardrock 100 , a 100-mile trail race with 34,000 feet of climbing (and descending) that is considered one of the toughest in the world—and she’s won it three times.

_ What do you like about living in Boulder? _
Having access to trails. I love steep, technical mountain trails. We live so close to miles and miles of great trails. For me that’s a huge bonus. The weather is also pretty amazing.

_ Where you love to run here? _
I live in North Boulder so I typically run from my house. I do Sanitas quite often. And I’ll go to Chautauqua and run peaks. I do Green Mountain a lot. Every once in a while I’ll link Green Mountain, Bear Peak, South Boulder Peak, and Flagstaff.

_ How did you get into running? _
I was working for Outward Bound so I was spending a lot of time in the wilderness with a large backpack. Then I discovered if you take off all the weight and throw on some running shoes, you can cover a lot more terrain and see a lot more. Being more of an explorer, I got into it through that.

_ What’s your running philosophy? _
Listening to your body and not pushing it when you’re not feeling it. It’s keeping the spark alive and reminding yourself on a regular basis why you run. For me that means going out and having adventures, having fun with it, exploring new trails, seeing new places, finding new races to do that look interesting, and keeping it fresh.

_ How does meditation help with your running? _
It’s really easy to convince yourself that you should stop when you’re mind is telling you, “I don’t want to be doing this” or “This is awful.” Even if you’re not in pain, your mind is taking over. Meditation helps because it allows me to realize that it’s just the mind doing its thing, and I don’t necessarily have to follow it down that path. I can come back to the present moment. When you’re running 100 miles, you have to be in the present moment.

_ What’s on tap for this year? _
I’ve run the Hardrock 100 six times and won it three times. Last year I was second, so I didn’t get an automatic entry this year. I’m seventh on the waiting list. If I don’t get in, I’ll be volunteering. I also signed up for the Wasatch 100 and the Bigfoot 120.

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