Sky high 

Local legend Matt Carpenter talks races, routes and reasons why

click to enlarge Manitou Springs' Matt Carpenter, at mile 52 of the 2005 - Leadville 100-mile trail race. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT CARPENTER
  • Photo courtesy of Matt Carpenter
  • Manitou Springs' Matt Carpenter, at mile 52 of the 2005 Leadville 100-mile trail race.

In his clean, modern Manitou Springs home, Matt Carpenter proves a gracious host. But when he excuses himself to answer a phone call, and unconsciously wanders out his front door, he confirms what his tanned, boyish face and overactive legs suggest: He belongs outside.

This is the guy, after all, who competed in high-altitude marathons professionally for 12 years, as a "Skyrunner," in places like Nepal and Tibet. Who holds the records for the Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent. Who last year broke the record for Leadville's 100-mile trail race an annual draw of some of the nation's most dedicated athletes by 93 minutes.

Not to imply that his life is one-dimensional. Since Carpenter moved to the area to train for the 1992 U.S. Olympic marathon trials, he's gotten married (to Yvonne, a fellow member of his Incline Club), had a daughter (Kyla, now 3) and kept his hands in a computer career.

Though the 41-year-old still doesn't intake caffeine, never has had a beer and chooses to run rather than drive, he has, in recent years, actually allowed himself one indulgence: watching "Survivor" on TV.

He also spends hours a week responding to fledgling runners who contact him through his skyrunner.com Web site to ask for trail running advice. With the same thing in mind, the Indy recently stole a few minutes with Carpenter on a beautiful spring morning.

Indy: Have you already been out today?

MC: When you're done, I'll probably head over to [Red Rock Canyon Open Space]. The last couple years, that's become one of the neater additions to our running collection.

Indy: Are you training for any race in particular right now?

MC: This time of year, it's always training with just in the back of my mind what races I want to do. I tend to train and then pick my races, as opposed to the other way around. I always have the goal races. For example, last year I knew all year long that I was going to do Leadville, but I didn't sign up until two weeks before, because you never know what's going to happen.

Indy: Where did you train for Leadville?

MC: I stuck to my normal Pikes Peak routes. I went in with a little different philosophy from most ultra runners. I concentrated on the speed, and not so much on the distance. My longest run for that was 23 miles. A lot of guys will do 40- and 50-milers, but I couldn't do a run like that and recover, and still do the speed workouts I needed to do to win the national 10K championships.

In Leadville at 25, 50, 75 miles what did it feel like?

At 25 miles, the excitement's still there. You're coming out of the dark and stuff like that. And at 50 miles, you're dealing with Hope Pass; you've got to go over that 12,000-foot thing twice. ... But 60 miles was the roughest part for me. I was thinking, "Man, this is going great, but people bonk in a marathon, and I've got 40 miles to go.'

Indy: I read that for a stretch of five-plus years, you ran every day. Are you still keeping up that kind of training?

MC: For the last two years, the only days I missed were [nine] days after Leadville, so I could recover. ... So far this year, I haven't had any days under two hours. It's the day-in, day-out consistency that makes the difference.

Indy: Say you were in an elevator with someone for 30 seconds and had to sell them on mountain running. How would you

MC: Thirty seconds? I'd say no cars, no people, and you get to see things most people don't. And that'd about wrap 30 seconds. ... It's hard to put into words how cool it is. Even when I was living on the other side of Academy [Boulevard], I was a 15-minute run to Palmer Park. Right in the middle of the city, you can get away from it all. You don't have to drive to Pikes Peak every day. Ute Valley Park has some great running, and Red Rocks.

Indy: What are some of your favorite races?

MC: The Barr Trail Mountain Race [which he co-founded in 2000], and the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon. Those are the cream of the crop for trail races here. For more people, the Fall Series with the Pikes Peak Road Runners is a great way to learn the trail networks.

Indy: Where can new runners find partners?

MC: There are Pikes Peak Road Runners runs on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, where you can meet people at Garden of the Gods maybe 60 people at each run. The Incline Club gets 60 to 100 people to its runs on Sundays, and maybe 55 to 60 on Thursdays. Between those four club runs, you're bound to meet someone who lives in your area, who can show you the ropes.

Indy: Do you have any big tips for trail running?

MC: Learn to start going by effort, not by pace. That's where a lot of people mess up they try to charge up the hills, when they could back up the pace on the hills, then make it up on the downs.

Indy: So, are you running the Pikes Peak Marathon this year [for the first time since 2003]?

MC: It's the [World Mountain Running Association Championship] course this year, and there's a lot of really fast people coming. That's rekindled my interest in it. It's not often a world championship comes to your backyard. So barring something unforeseen, I'm definitely there.


Pikes Peak Road Runners:


The Incline Club:



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