UPDATE: Matt Carpenter has been selected for induction to the Colorado Running Hall of Fame. He will join three-time Boston Marathon winner Uta Pippig and four others, including Adams State track and cross country coach Damon Martin, John Gregorio, an All-American for the University of Colorado in the 1970s, Brian Metzler, editor in chief at Competitor Running, and successful road and track runner Nadia Prasad, The induction ceremony is set for April 15 at the Denver Athletic Club. Tickets are $25 with limited seating. More information here > http://corunninghalloffame.com/.
(This interview was originally published when Carpenter was chosen for induction into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame in April, 2013.)
Matt Carpenter bounced through the doors at the coffee shop in Manitou Springs. A celebrity of sorts, he moved around the room and greeted the locals who extended their hands.
Carpenter is 48, but take away some faint lines around his eyes and he's easily mistaken for 25. He still has a child-like energy. Of course, he'll tell you that his 120-pound body doesn't feel young. Aches and pains that don't subside are common among the world's greatest mountain runners. And Carpenter admits that 25 years of running hard at high altitude, pounding away on rugged singletrack trails almost every day of his life, has left some marks.
He hasn't raced in almost two years, and he is satisfied - for now - to run for fun.
Twenty years ago he set the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon records, charging to the summit on that August day of 1993 in 2 hours, 1 minute and 6 seconds. He then turned for home, dashing back to Manitou Springs to complete the round-trip in 3:16:39. Other runners have tried to track him down, but none have really come close to those times.
He has 12 victories in the Pikes Peak Marathon and six Ascent championships.
Carpenter holds records in some of mountain running's most difficult races, including the 50-mile San Juan Solstice (7:59:44), the Mount Evans Ascent (1:37:01), the Leadville 100 (he was 41 years old and ran 15:42:59), the Everest Sky Marathon in Tibet (3:22:25 at 17,060 feet.), and the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler.
He was a co-founder (with Nancy Hobbs) of the Barr Trail Mountain Race, one of the area's best running events. He also started the Incline Club, a training group for trail runners. And he has helped raise thousands of dollars for high school cross country and track teams.
It is for these accomplishments that Carpenter becomes the first runner selected for induction into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame. The Induction ceremonies are slated for Oct. 29 at the Colorado Springs World Arena.
"You just made my day," he said when informed of the selection. "This is a real honor."
He joins Olympic gold medalist speed skater Bonnie Blair in the 2013 class. Others who will be inducted include Pikes Peak Hill Climb legend Nick Sanborn, Colorado College hockey player and coach Jeff Sauer, the great Sky Sox baseball player Luis Medina, football coach Dick Westbay whose 1971 Wasson team won state championship, and the state champion 1987 Rampart High School boys basketball team.
Carpenter is quick to voice his opinion, shooting straight and honest with all who engage him. He insists on giving 100 percent of himself, whether he's running to the summit of Pikes Peak, or giving an interview.
At the coffee shop, I turned on my recorder. With little coaxing, he began to talk. This is the first part of "Matt Carpenter: The Interview," lightly edited for clarity.
Part 1 of the interview
You set the Pikes Peak records 20 years ago.
I would have never thought it would have lasted that long. Oddly enough, that was still one of my easiest ones. It's the one that I remember the most details, like passing a certain tree or a sound that Ricardo Mejia (who finished second) made at the start of the Incline switchback. I remember certain details about that race that I don't remember with a lot of them. I don't know if I was in a certain zone that year. Just really intricate details still stand out for some reason, so it was a special race.
Did you ever get close to those times again?
On the uphill I had some good ones, 2:05, 2:07. Then, for lack of a better word, I became a "professional" athlete and started traveling the world, getting a schedule that wasn't always conducive to making that (Pikes Peak) a prime race. Then the competition started going down at Pikes. I think two of the years that I was most fit I actually boycotted the race in protest that they would fill it up and not let anybody (elite runners) in. It got to the point where it was being won in times that hadn't been seen since the 1960s.
The only way to run fast is to have fast competition. I was 40 something not long ago when I ran 3:33. It was competition that brought me back even remotely close to that.
In your Pikes Peak record year you must have been in impeccable condition.
If you look at the history of my running, the record year wasn't really in and of itself. The record year happened because the year before I got beat. If you look at a lot of my races like the North Face 50- miler in 2008, well I got beat the year before. Same thing in Leadville. I tried the Olympic Trials in marathon and totally got waxed and came back and got it right the next time. For me, the record year was kind of more about redemption than anything else (he had lost to Mejia in 1992). There was a letter in the paper asking 'why can't the locals win in our race?' A lot of out-of-state people were winning. That kind of impacted me. For a year I was running and having to look up at that mountain. At that time I lived clear on the other side of Academy and I would run downtown to get to the Business Journal (where he worked) and I would see that peak all the way in on my run and think, only the Ascent (he held the record at 2:05:05 at the time) is mine. And that bugged me for a year. I'm driven by that type of thing more than records.
Where does that come from?
You know, I'm not sure what ingrained that in me. It's always been with me. Whatever pool I went to when my mom moved a lot (she had lupus), I always wanted to set the record for who could hold their breath the longest under water, or the laps record. I would set goals for myself. I'd say, I'm not going in until I hit 10 free throws in a row. I'd be out there for five or six hours and not give up until it got dark. There is a very obsessive part of me.
What brought you to Colorado Springs?
(He lived in Vail) and I came down for some testing in 1990 at the Olympic Training Center and I posted phenomenal numbers for my VO2, which is the engine. But the other part is the economy. I had really pour economy (could not run fast for long periods), which is like the gas mileage. So I had a Porsche engine and Porsche gas mileage.
Dr. Peter VanHandle who was at the Olympic Training Center at the time hypothesized that it was because I lived at 8,000 feet, I only ran very slow, and I ran uphills on trails.
So I was very efficient on the slow stuff, but the fast stuff I hadn't done. And he offered to work with me. The Olympic Trials were coming up and I couldn't do the training in Vail with the snow cause the trials were in February.
So Peter VanHandle agreed that he would work with me. So I moved here to work with him and train for the trials. But then the airplane accident happened (United Flight 585 crashed in Widefield, March 3, 1991) and Peter was one of the people killed. But I moved down here and I made the trials. So I moved here for road running.
But it's funny, you miss what you don't have anymore. I was out of the mountains and gravitated toward Palmer Park cause that's where I lived. But I took a lot of the things that I learned through his hypothesis - very specific workouts (and applied them to mountain running.)
It's kind of funny because the other part of my career, besides redemption, is people telling me things can't be done. When I was in college I tested with a low VO2, and they were like, 'it's genetic, that's the way it is.' Well I did specific workouts to improve that and they said, 'well, it's genetic that you were able to train your VO2.' With economy they told me the same thing at the Olympic Training Center, 'that's just genetic, you're stuck with that.' Well, VanHandle gave me these workouts that improved my economy, and the first thing they said ... 'it's genetic that you can train your economy.' So everything is genetic. But I always tell people, unfortunately, it's the genes above the neck that count.
I took a lot of what I learned making the Olympic Trials and applied it to the Ascent and Marathon. Because I think a lot of trail runners, they are so enamored by trail running that that is all they do. I win Pikes Peak down on my treadmill and on the track. I don't necessarily win it on the mountain. In fact, I spend a lot less time on the mountain than a lot of runners. Because Tuesdays and Thursdays (speed work) are where you get fast. And that is down here. The altitude is important, but without the speed, you're not going to be able to run fast.
I set that record in 1993 and the Skyrunners called and invited me to run a flat marathon at Everest. I got signed on with them and the road stuff went out the window and I never followed up on it. That's kind of how it all transpired.
That was something where I had paced my friend way back when I was living in Vail. I fell in love with the concept of the race because when you are pacing and waiting for your runner to come in you see these other runners running in the dark and coming in and I said, 'someday, I'm going to do that.' I set it as a goal. I was going to do it twice. I was going to do it at 39 and 40. That way I'd get two different age groups and the masters. You know I always have these little reasons for doing things. It worked out that I did it when I was 40 and 41. When I set the record, I broke it by 90 minutes.
That must be a source of pride for you, especially considering how popular ultra running has become.
What I'm more proud about on that one (Leadville), and what I get more comments about to this day, is the year before (when he fell off the pace and struggled to finish). Because most people will drop out and quit. I got more e-mails from people I never heard of who said, 'that was really big to just do the death march in like the rest of us.' That's because I don't quit. If I'd have quit then I would have had to go back (he did return to win the next year), so at least by finishing I could mark it off.
But again, the next year, it was insanely easy. Cause I did it right and I trained right and I learned the secrets to the ultras ... and once you know the secrets it's not really hard.
What are the secrets?
Fuel is the secret to the ultra. And I guess you could call me an experiment of one, but my long run was 23 miles. Some of these long runs these guys do, just break your body down. They wear you out and don't teach you anything. Running an ultra ...if you can find something you're comfortable with for four hours that works good with the fuel, it's just a matter of repeating that all day long because it's calories in and calories out. You look at all the races, people crash and burn because of fuel issues. And that's the bottom line.
You look at your average ultra guy and they eat regular meals day in and day out and then come ultra day they expect to somehow survive on liquid GU's. I took days of my life and had only GU. Every run I would drink every 10 minutes so I got 50 calories, so I got 300 calories an hour, which is about the limit a body can absorb in a given hour while you are doing exercise. Instead of going and depleting myself and then getting some kind of food ... 10 minutes into the 100-mile run I already had 50 calories in me that nobody else probably did.
That same thing worked at the North Face 50. Of course my issue there was I wasn't prepared for the steps on that course and the way they do their trails. So it was a whole new thing I had to learn and get right for the next year. And I went out to Waldo Canyon and did repeats on that first section where they have all the little stairs and went up and down and tried to figure out how to run them smoothly. I just tore my quads up in the first 30 minutes of North Face ... going down stairs.
And you have the record at North Face.
Well they have changed the course. I have the record on this course.
And you still have the record at Leadville, too.
It's kind of funny. After I set the record they had the helicopter crash up there and diverted the course and made it much simpler by 20 minutes. And now they've changed it again and everybody talks about it being longer. Whatever ... it's a 100 miler. I wish I wanted to train again, I'd go back and set it (the record) on the new one.
I though you might consider that.
You know I am never going to say never, Cause I turn 50 next year which may open some new excitement for me. I'm at the point where I'm not going to deny that I have talent. But I won the races not on my talent, I won on my training. And I'm at the point where I don't want to train to the level that it takes to win these things. I didn't do any races last year, but I haven't missed a day (of running), I haven't gone under (ran less than) an hour a day since September of last year. I run every day. I enjoy it again.
It has probably been 10 years since I actually enjoyed running. I mean, the pressure that I put on myself. It's not a fun season when you spend an entire year running because you got beat the year before. That's what drove me and kept be going, like North Face. But the time I put into that, the runs I would do from my house, run out Ute (trail) and do Waldo and Longs Ranch Road up to Barr Camp and then down Water Pipe Trail and down the Barr Trail and then go up the Incline and down and then go half way up the Incline all in one run? That's work. I'm not convinced I want to do that.
I'm at the point ... it's the silly phase because I know I can do it. But knowing you can do it isn't worth jack, so I just try to distance myself from the whole sport as much as possible in a way. Cause I read a result and I think 'I can do that' and I think about going out next morning and what I can do to focus and go win this again. And I get up the next morning and think, I don't want to train hard, I don't want to hurt.
Enjoying running is important. But it sounds like it's the next step to getting back into competition.
I think it's the most important, because if that step doesn't come there will be no more competition. But to be able to get up and look forward to going and running an hour just because it feels neat to breathe and be on the trail, that's the part I had lost in the competitive phase. When I signed on with the Skyrunners, every race I felt like those other people are out to get my sponsorship and my stipend and my records and my times, which is part of it, cause I was after theirs. But I took it personally. I took getting beat personally.
I remember things like when Paul DeWitt set the record for Leadville a few years back. And he tells the story, he was at the May Queen (campground on the Leadville course) and he new he was ahead of the record so he took a little more time to eat pizza, or whatever he did. Or Tony (Krupicka) is running something and he says something like 'I was cruising and felt good.' I never had those moments. I was always thinking how much faster can I go even if I had the record. I never really enjoyed it. Even after (the record run on) Pikes, the next day I was thinking I should have gone faster, I should have broken two hours. I was so afraid of what happened the year before when I crashed and burned. I played it a little conservative in an area to save something for the downhill, cause you're thinking next year I'll get it. But there was no next year as it turned out. The race quickly went to shit. It started getting won in 2:24 for God's sake.
Do you think a lot about the two-hour mark?
Constantly, to this day I wish I could be back at A Frame (in 1993), knowing what I know now. Knowing that because of the way things unfolded with that race director, that that would be the pinnacle, and that I wasn't necessarily going to get another chance. I would be in that good of shape, there wouldn't be that competition to push and stuff like that.
Why hasn't anyone beaten your records?
Really, it has to do with these guys aren't doing what's required on the track. You have to be fast. It's getting to the point now where people are realizing there is something to be made from the sport of mountain running. But I don't think they train right. I look at all of the ultra runners and mountain runners ... one of most successful now is Max King and he's a 2:13 marathoner if not faster. It didn't equate to him for the altitude (King was third in the 2012 Pikes Peak Marathon with a 2:29:58 Ascent.) It's going to have to also be somebody who trains at altitude. But you look at other races and he tears them up. You look at Sage Canady ... what he did at Mount Washington (won national championship), but look at his speed. One (speed) doesn't come without the other (altitude training). They both translate, but you have to have an even mix. I think what happens to a lot of the guys is they switch over (to mountain and ultra running) and forget what got them to that point.
fastest man on trails in the Pikes Peak region ..record setter in too many races to mention..Congratulations Matt Carpenter..You're a treasure to our community ( and the custard shop is pretty nice to have too)
Great interview and I look forward to Part 2. Matt is a true champion!