Take It Higher

Mountain runner, musician, and speed scrambler Kyle Richardson is shattering records and speaking out about climate action in Colorado—and he’s ready for a bigger stage.

In a town full of mountain running legends, the biggest rising star finds his biggest inspiration in music. Calculated and methodological when he’s on a project, Kyle Richardson has carved out an elite spot for himself running and scrambling up bold routes. He came to town in 2014, not as an athlete, but thanks to a music scholarship at the University of Colorado—and once he got here he found music in the hills. In the years since, he’s summited Green Mountain 416 times, soloed the First Flatiron 315 times, and set a slew of new speed records.

In 2018, Richardson zoomed through the “LA Freeway,” a high-stakes 34-mile ridgeline between Longs Peak and South Arapaho peak, setting a blistering 16-hour, 29-minute record. In 2019, he broke coveted speed records on the First and Third Flatirons, free-soloing each in a little over 30 minutes, trailhead-to-trailhead. In 2020, he’s ready to step onto an even bigger stage, training to compete in trail-running races around the globe. Beyond that, Richardson’s been active with nonprofits such as Up for Air (upforairseries.org), a series of endurance events that raise funds for organizations fighting for better air quality. We sat down with him to pull back the curtain on the first of many noteworthy acts to come.
You’ve been a runner your whole life. How did your relationship with the outdoors begin?

Starting at a very early age, my family would go on camping trips every year in the Texas hill country. I remember learning to fish, build a fire, read a compass and map, etcetera with my dad and twin brother. I began running at age 8 as a way to stay fit for soccer. Slowly, it evolved into a way to explore my backyard. I always defaulted to running on the trail network behind my house versus running on the roads. There was always something more appealing about wandering through the woods.

How do your passion for music and nature intertwine?

I see rhythm in nature and the landscape. Whether that’s footsteps down the trail or the cadence of my breath, I relate a lot of my surroundings back to the world of music. I really enjoy sitting down to play or compose music after an outing in the hills, my mind is clear and fresh. I do my most creative work after I’ve been outside pushing myself.

When you first arrived in Boulder in 2014, you weren’t yet blending running and climbing. What led you to scrambling?

My brother taught me how to belay and tie a figure-eight knot my freshman year at CU. I learned how to place gear up at the Amphitheater in Gregory Canyon, and I did my first multi-pitch climb on the First Flatiron. I worked at a climbing gym the following summer, building finger strength and knowledge about moving safely and fluidly through vertical landscapes.

Then one day I met Anton Krupicka up in the Flatirons, and I really started getting my systems dialed. The first time I climbed in Eldorado Canyon was with Anton on the Long John Wall and Yellow Spur. I was blown away by the terrain—my eyes opened to a whole new world of movement. Anton has been my most influential mentor in moving efficiently and safely over technical terrain, as has another Boulder local, Cordis Hall.

I slowly began incorporating some of the Flatirons into my daily trail runs, starting with the lower-angle slabs. Much of this process takes time, learning to trust your feet, figuring out how to read the rock, and learning the routes. I spent a lot of my sophomore year of college up in the Flatirons, obsessed with intimately learning my backyard.

In setting speed records on gnarly terrain, how do you approach these relatively dangerous objectives that require an elite mix of endurance and technical skills?

Practice. Practice. Practice. I spent three years slowly learning the different sections of the LA Freeway, dialing in each technical scrambling pitch and building my endurance fitness for movement over 12,000 feet. It all comes down to how dedicated you are to refining your systems and intimately learning the landscape.

That said, I’m proud of the daily practice this takes. Setting records in the mountains is awesome, but it isn’t sustainable to always be chasing records—you will surely burn out. I like going back to the drawing board and thinking about how I can better myself and improve as an athlete. I’m in it for the long haul and continuing to perfect my craft.

You’ve been involved in a few environmental advocacy projects, such as Running Up For Air. Why is activism important to you?

Being an activist for the environment is vital. It’s important to have a voice even if it feels a bit weird, awkward, or preachy to tell people what they should and shouldn’t do. In order for people to truly understand how critical climate action is, they need to get outside and experience the wonders of our world. Building a relationship with the landscape is key. Find that spot on this earth—that one mountain, waterfall, desert tower, or vista. Fall in love with the landscape and you will start to care about it.

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