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August 17, 2002

Carpenter is no longer sky-high for Ascent

Carol Lawrence The Gazette

Matt Carpenter and his wife Yvonne have a new runner in the family. Born July 9, Kyla Carpenter already has a pair of little pink running shoes. Matt will be running in today's Pikes Peak Ascent.
By Meri-Jo Borzilleri The Gazette

Matt Carpenter is one of the world's best skyrunners, a guy who has dominated marathon races (26.2 miles) above 14,000 feet.

His lung capacity is legendary: In 1992, he recorded a VO-2 rating (the maximum amount of oxygen that can be removed from circulating blood and used by the working tissues during a specified period) of 90.2, the highest ever by a runner.

But nothing took his breath away like what happened July 9: his wife, Yvonne, gave birth to daughter Kyla Carpenter.

"It's awesome. It's everything we hoped it would be," said Matt, sitting on a sofa in his Manitou Springs home. "I stare at her for hours."

It's telling that Carpenter can sit still for that long. It's evidence that after a lifetime spent running mile after mile, Carpenter, 38, has come to a fork in the road.

He holds the records for both the Ascent (two hours, one minute, six seconds) and the Marathon (3:16:39), set in 1993. Last year, Carpenter made history by becoming the first to win both races, run on consecutive days.

Today, he'll toe the start line as the Pikes Peak Ascent defending champion. Again.

But this time, everything's different. Carpenter is ambivalent about the race he once loved.

Pikes Peak Ascent

7 a.m. today in Manitou Springs Note: Race directors ask runners to carry a water bottle due to low creek at Barr Camp

Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon

Course: Barr Trail (up to elevation of 14,110 feet)
Entrants: 1,800 (Ascent), 800 (Marathon)
Length: Ascent (13.32 miles); marathon (26.2 miles)

Contact information

Meri-Jo Borzilleri may be reached at 636-0259 or merijo @ gazette . com

"I hate to say it, but the race is not really a priority for me right now," Carpenter said. "The whole year I've been focused on Kyla."

Last year and in races past, Carpenter has run like a man possessed. Always another win to pursue, a record to chase, an opponent to break. This is, after all, Carpenter's home mountain, one where he's won nine Ascent and Marathon titles total.

But fatherhood doesn't usually allow for single-minded pursuits, and Carpenter realizes that being a top runner requires it. Already there are signs he's ready to take a step back in his racing career.

For the first time that he can remember, Carpenter didn't spend any time at Barr Camp, the climb's midway point at 10,200 feet.

Serious contenders generally stay overnight for days or even weeks before the race, going on training runs and getting acclimated.

"I thought about it," he said. "But I'd rather stay here with Kyla."

Back trouble is partly the reason he's been logging 30 or 40 miles a week compared to the 120 or 130 miles he used to do.

On a training run on Barr Trail a few months ago, Carpenter went up five or six switchbacks and thought: I don't want to do this. Then he did the unthinkable. He turned around and went back home.

"After a long run, we'd sit around and have a good chat," said longtime friend Larry Miller. "We wouldn't hustle off home. You see him disappearing a little sooner after a run."

It's not that Carpenter's no longer hungry to win. He is, and will probably win today, though Carpenter says if he does it's because the field is weaker than it should be.

It's not age, he insists.

"It's just a different time of life," he said.

It used to be so simple. Carpenter loves to run. Still does.

He started running in 11th grade when an announcement on the school intercom asked for cross-country runners. Carpenter had never heard of the sport. He took it literally.

"I thought that meant running across the country," Carpenter said.

His first thought: Cool!

What he really wanted was to get first chair in saxophone. But in the Mississippi school he had just moved to, band was the same time as chemistry and algebra, courses he needed to take.

Goodbye, first chair. Hello running shoes.

The sport fit him like nothing else had. Carpenter certainly had the wind for it. When he was little, he and his mom moved around a lot. She suffered from lupus, and jobs were hard to keep.

So at every apartment complex in every town they moved to, Carpenter made it his mission to set records in underwater swimming at each complex's pool. He could hold his breath longer than anyone.

Even now, he likes to make a game of it. Yvonne will be driving through the Eisenhower Tunnel, and Carpenter, riding shotgun, will hold his breath.

"It's a little game," Yvonne said. "I'll say, 'Don't pass out because I can't pull over.'"

Carpenter won't. What he does instead is manage to hold his breath the whole way.

"At the speed limit it's just under two minutes," he said.

Carpenter, whose resting pulse has been measured at 36-38 beats per minute, can hold it for 2:30. He practices on VCR movies, too, when the hero has to swim a long way underwater.

"He makes me rewind and see if he can hold his breath," Yvonne said.

Says Carpenter: "It's the obsessive side of me."

That side reveals itself in other ways. Carpenter has not missed a day of running since May 12, 1997, when a virus knocked him down.

He makes challenges out of chores, sometimes driving Yvonne crazy: How many handfuls to get the laundry from the washer to the dryer; how many steps you can run with your eyes closed.

Carpenter's a teetotaler - they drank alcohol-free champagne at their February 2000 wedding, where they were married at Waldo Canyon in the middle of a training run.

Present were members of the Incline Club, founded six years ago by Carpenter and a couple friends. Everyone wore running attire.

Now things have changed. But Carpenter couldn't be happier. This is what he and Yvonne wanted - a family.

The night Kyla was born, Carpenter vowed he'd honor the moment by finally breaking his streak of running days. But he couldn't. Instead, he ran for 78 seconds and made it meaningful: Kyla weighed in at seven pounds, eight ounces.

Carpenter doesn't think his elite running career is over. But he can see the end, and that's OK.

"I'm not going to use the word retire," he said. "I've always known that being at the top level that I was is a very small window of opportunity. And that window, because of my age and because of family and a lot of variables, is closing."

Copyright 2002, The Gazette, a Freedom Communications, Inc. Company. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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