This story has been archived from the Friday, August 18, 2006

King of the mountain returns to Marathon

Opinion by MILO F. BRYANT
Gazette Sports columnist

Game recognizes game.

That’s how it is in athletics. It’s a respect thing.

You’ve got skills, folks can see it. If the competition has talent, you take note. Then you raise your game. You take the challenge to a level that makes the competition blink.

Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon recordholder Matt Carpenter will race Sunday.
Enter Manitou Springs’ athletic abnormality, Matt Carpenter.

When it comes to running through mountainous terrain at insane speeds, Carpenter is our wunderkind. When success stems from mental fortitude mixed with athleticism, Carpenter isn’t too far down on the roll call list. Jordan? Here. Armstrong? Present. Woods? Here. Carpenter? Here. Normal humans don’t do to mountains what Carpenter does. Even good-to-exceptional athletes struggle to mimic Carpenter’s best. Derek Griffiths, publisher of Colorado Runner, told The Gazette that Carpenter had just “raised the bar of ultra racing to a whole new level.”

That statement came after Carpenter set a record in the Leadville 100 race, a rather quixotic 100-mile run, walk and crawl. Carpenter’s 15 hours, 42 minutes, 59 seconds destroyed the old record by 1 hour, 33 minutes.

The Pikes Peak Marathon isn’t an ultra race. But talk with anybody who has attempted to complete one, and you’ll learn that it’s ultra difficult. This year Sunday’s race is part of the World Mountain Racing Association Grand Prix. That means some of the world’s best mountain racers will be racing on America’s Mountain.

Game on.

The competition, skills, talent, respect — all of it has Carpenter back in the event after a two-year hiatus.

Ulrich Steidl, a German who lives in Washington, may be Carpenter’s toughest opponent — outside of the challenges Pikes Peak presents. Slovenian runner Anton Vencelj, Australia’s Trevor Jacobs and Boulder’s Galen Burrell should all be tough, too.

“I think it’s going to be one of the more competitive races in recent memory on the men’s and the women’s side,” Nancy Hobbs said. Hobbs is the founder of the All American Trail Running Association. “...Uli is a very formidable competitor. He’s got course records on quite a few mountain races, many of the longer distances and he’s also quite an accomplished road racer. So he’s very fast in the marathon distance. If he runs well at altitude he could be the first to the finish line.”

Such a finish would surprise some locals. Actually, “an upset” would be the correct phrase.

The Pikes Peak races define Carpenter. He has won 11 times (five Ascents, six Marathons) on the mountain. He holds the course record for both events. In 2001, he won both races.

Pikes Peak is in Carpenter’s backyard, his turf, his house so to speak.

“It’s his mountain, I guess you could say,” race director Ron Ilgen said.

And Carpenter is back to protect it.

“The bottom line is it’s a race,” Carpenter said. “Surely we can talk about the challenge of the mountain itself. But a person can gain that (challenge) on any weekend of the year. I like the challenge of having runners come in. That’s what’s got me excited about it again.”

What makes this running of the Marathon special is that Carpenter can’t just show up. And he knew that. If Carpenter fails to win, he said it wouldn’t be because of a lack of training.

Sometimes Carpenter’s training borders on what we non-elite call maniacal.

“He’s going to have to run really well and have a good strategy like he always does,” Hobbs said. “I don’t think he’s entering the race to finish second, third, fourth or 10th.

“...Matt is one that I don’t believe that he has ever gone into a race thinking he’s not going to finish first.”

Copyright 2006, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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