Running Pikes Peak, Part III: The Champion

*Note: This audio essay first aired on KRCC (Colorado Springs’ NPR affiliate, 91.5 FM) on August 19, 2021. The link to the program is here; the audio file and the text from the essay are below.

Even the Pikes Peak Marathon’s greatest champion, Matt Carpenter, has been brought to his knees by the mountain.

His first Ascent race in 1987 left him puking bright yellow Gatorade and bananas on the way down the road, according to author Harald Fricker’s 2005 book.

From that less-than-stellar start, Carpenter went on to dominate the race, winning a dozen Marathons, six Ascents, and he’s twice “doubled,” which is winning both the Ascent and Marathon on back-to-back days. After a tough Marathon loss in 1992, he returned the following year to set  records for both the fastest Ascent (2:01) and Marathon (3:16) times still regarded nearly three decades later as one of the greatest performances in trail running history. 

In 2004, Carpenter went looking for another challenge in the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run. He started strong but then had to walk the course’s final thirty miles. But as was the case many times before, Carpenter didn’t give up. He went back the next year – a year wiser – and broke the course record by over ninety minutes. 

That’s like beating Usain Bolt’s 100-meter time by a full second. 

His time of 15:42 at Leadville, like his 1993 race on Pikes Peak, is generally considered one of the greatest ultrarunning performances of all time. 

Afterwards, publisher of Colorado Runner magazine, Derek Griffiths, said “It was a perfect race for him. He finished in daylight…no one has ever done that before.” 

Carpenter won every Pikes Peak Marathon from 2006 to 2011, and after that final victory in 2011 at age 47, he retired from running. 

Sort of. 

Nowadays you can find Carpenter in one of two places – either on the trails around Pikes Peak, or selling frozen custard on the main street in Manitou Springs, where he can keep a close eye on the mountain that’s so shaped his life. 

Until our next mountainside chat — be good, be well, and no matter what, climb on.

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