May 23, 2007 - Runner’s World

A Brief Chat With Matt Carpenter

By Brian Metzler

At lower elevations, Matt Carpenter is a very good runner with a 2:19 PR in the marathon. But in the rarefied air of high altitude, the 42-year-old resident of Manitou Springs, Colorado, has been virtually unbeatable. His most prolific success has come running up 14,115-foot Pikes Peak right outside his back door, with a record 12 victories in the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon (five in the Ascent, seven in the Marathon) and both course records (2:01:06 in the Ascent; 3:16:39 for the Marathon). In 2001, he became the only person to win both the Ascent and Marathon in the same year, and last year he won the Marathon when it doubled as the World Mountain Running Association Long Course Championship. Carpenter also has the world’s fastest recorded times for a flat marathon held at altitude (2:52:57 at 14,350 feet and 3:22:25 at 17,060 feet). He made a brief foray into ultrarunning in 2004-2005 and set new course records for the San Juan Solstice 50-mile race in Lake City (7:59:44 in 2004) and the Leadville Trail 100 (15:42:59 in 2005). The last two years he’s dominated the highly competitive 10K trail running championships at the Teva Mountain Games in Vail and should be the favorite for this year’s race on June 2. He’s also the co-founder of the Incline Club running group and the 12-mile Barr Trail Mountain Race held in mid-July on the lower half of Pikes Peak. He and his wife, Yvonne (who were married during a trail run in 2000) have a four-year-old daughter, Kyla.

What’s on your racing agenda this summer?
Matt Carpenter
: I’m opening up the season with the Teva Mountain Games. I just love that course. It’s got a little bit of everything in it. And you can’t be weak in any one spot or somebody will run you over. Then I’m doing the Barr Trail Mountain Race (July 15), because I’m the co-director of that one, and I definitely want to do Pikes (August 18-19) because it’s the hometown race. I’m hemming and hawing between the Ascent and the Marathon because I’m thinking about heading out to a mountain race in Vermont (the Herc Open speed hiking competition on August 11 at Sugarbush Resort in Warren, VT) before that and possibly doing the Jungfrau Marathon on September 8 in Switzerland after that. If that comes to pass, I would probably lean more toward the Ascent. At some point, I have to make some concessions about recovery.

Has it been a challenge to maintain your speed after 40?
: I’ll be 43 in July. That’s a real concession, but I’ve found and proven to myself that I can be just about as fast as I was when I was younger. The difference is that I have to be a lot more careful and treat nagging soreness or injuries. I’ve always treated nags like cancer, but now it’s even harder to heal the nags and I have to be a little bit comfortable with recovery. About the only time I stretch is when I feel something coming on. The big change for me was after running the Leadville 100 in 2004, I went and bought a quality weight machine. It hasn’t made me any faster, but it’s made me stronger and that helps with my recovery.

There’s prize money in the Pikes Peak races for the first time. Why the change after so many years of the race organization staunchly opposing it?
: The shift came because the former race director had to resign. And I have to be honest, the way he competed with athletes, he thought he could beat them by keeping them out. Top runners couldn’t even get into the race and that was always my problem. You can’t make prize money your fight, because people can turn that around and say you’re elitist. My argument was always to say at least hold spots so the top runners can get into the race if they want to. And they did that and it worked great. People like Simon Gutierrez got into the race late and won the race. Age group records were set that way. They saw that the race didn’t die and that the race got more publicity when it was a better race. It just came full circle, and the races have a great sponsor in EAS. EAS has a race series of its own and they looked at Pies Peak and thought it was a good fit. So there’s $30,000 in prize money this year.

When did you realize you could run well at high altitude?
: In 1987 I was living up in Vail and I jumped in the Pikes Peak Ascent thinking I was a pretty good runner, and it humbled me pretty good and had me puking on the road on the way down. That’s the kind of way I fell in love with the mountains in the first place. The first run I did in Vail was the Piney Lake Half-Marathon in 1984 on a summer trip with my aunt. It killed me so bad that I wanted to get it right. And that’s the same kind of attitude that I took to Pikes Peak.

Before you became an elite mountain runner, you aspired to become a marathoner. Why the change?
: I moved from Vail to Colorado Springs in 1991 to train for the 1992 Olympic Trials in the marathon. There was not enough flat running in Vail, and more importantly, the trials were at the beginning of the year, and there’s almost no good running in Vail in the winter. The plan as to come and work with the Olympic Training Center because I had some testing done there with my VO2 output the year before. I was going to work with Dr. Peter Van Handel, but he died in a plane crash in Colorado Springs. I ran 2:19 and ran in the Olympic Trials, but at the same time I was a little aimless.

How fast could have you run?
: I ran 2:19, but I don’t think I ever reached my potential in that aspect because there was a lot to learn. It’s one of those things where what we think we can do isn’t worth much. I ran a 1:05 half-marathon during one of my marathons, and to me, that shows more of my potential that my actual marathon time. I did a handful of marathons, but I never got to focus completely on one, and I still have regrets about that in a strange way. In fact, sometimes I want to go back and see if I can better that. But it’s one of those things where what we think we can do isn’t worth much.

You’re known to be pretty consistently rigorous with your training. What’s your training philosophy?
: I set my training up like a triangle with a C on top for consistency and an R down on the lower left for Recovery or Rest and a Q at the lower right for Quality and Quantity. So if you think of a pendulum between the rest and the quantity and quality, that’s how I base my structure.

Are you still a streaker who runs every day for years on end?
: I’m a streaker guy myself, and I think people don’t realize that sometimes you’ve just got to do strange things to keep the motivation up. I remember when I didn’t do the streak stuff. And one day can turn into two days and it’s just so easy. For me, I have to take it to the extremes and do things like two hours a day. And that’s what gets me through it. The training is hard. People talk about loving running. Well, I can love running in the 15 minutes it takes to run a video back to the store. I don’t need to do two hours to love it. That’s pain.

When was the last day you didn’t run?
: Last year in June, I stepped on a piece of plastic and cut my heel to the bone, and I missed four days of running and then had to do a whole month on the treadmill because I couldn’t even put my heel on the ground. In fact, my first run back was the Barr Trail Mountain Race and that race just hosed me. I think I’d have had an even better Pikes Peak Marathon last year if it wasn’t for that. It was just a puncture wound, but it hit the bone and bruised it so bad, I was out of commission for a while. But, to answer your question, I haven’t had a day of less than two hours of training since September 13. I’m coming up on eight months straight with no days under two hours. It’s kind of old school. I believe there are so many ways to train. I’ve gotten to a good level with a lot of different ways. But the key is, whatever way you’re going with, you have to be consistent with it.

How has your training changed since you and your wife had Kyla?
: I run 13 times a week and probably ten of them are with the ‘Kyla jogger.’ We don’t call it a Baby Jogger anymore, because Kyla is four and not a baby anymore. We use the jogger for what we call the park circuit. I’ll run for a half hour and then we’ll wind up at a park. I’ve done up to 200 laps around parks when she plays for however long, and then we’ll go to another park. You’ve gotta do what you gotta do. The competition doesn’t care that you have family. Kyla loves to go to the parks, so we can combine the two, and that’s been great.

You must hold some kind of record for Baby Jogger mileage.
: We have the one with 26-inch wheels and shocks. Shocks are great, because Kyla spends a lot of time napping. I’m on my fourth set of tires. The guy at the running store I got it from said ‘most of these things end up in the closet.’ It was my secret to Leadville. Running with a jogger forces you to run slower, but you still get to work your lungs a little more because you’ve got to push it.

Your VO2 max was once recorded at 90.2 (milliliters of oxygen burned per kilogram of body weight per minute), which is much higher than Lance Armstrong’s 85. As a runner, what does that mean?
: I actually tested higher at sea level, but they claim their machine was broken so I just go with the 90.2. But it means I have a good capacity to utilize oxygen, but when I did that test I had a very poor economy. I had a Porsche engine, but I had the poor gas mileage to go with it and a slope problem. But that’s part of what we were going to work on. My slope started out went really good and went down to really poor. Dr. Van Handel theorized that I was living in Vail and only training in the mountains and only training slow. So I went down to the center and he gave me some specific workouts that miler Steve Scott would use to improve his economy, and sure enough we fixed my slope problem. I love the science behind the sport and the art of using that science. But these people just going out and running without looking at the science are just spinning their wheels.

Along those lines, do you still maintain a pretty strict diet?
: I’ve never had any alcohol or coffee. I try to avoid a lot of junk food, but the occasional donut or ice cream is not a problem with the amount of mileage I put in. Sometimes my problem has actually been not being able to gain weight. I actually get benign exercise-induced hematuria [blood in the urine] if I cut out too much fat, so I live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during the day just to get a little fat in me.

Given your noted frustrations how USATF is involved in trail running, you’re probably not going to run in the USATK 10K Trail Running Championship in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, on June 30, are you?
: No, I won’t be running that one. With USA Track & Field, if it put the money into the sport, I would have no issue with them and I would be singing their praises just as well. But right now, race directors do a lot of work to get money and USATF is just taking over that and making everyone pay a fee and join. Last year when I crossed the line first at the USA 10K Trail Running Championships in Vail and I wasn’t the winner [because Carpenter is not a USATF member], people said, "You just lost $1,000." But it wasn’t about the money. If it was about the money, I would be using my computer science degree instead of running. I love it when there is prize money in a race, but I’m not going to sell out on a principle for it. At the very least, I think USATF should put the money back in that they’re taking out.

Are you still running unattached? Have you been approached by a shoe company with any sponsorship deals?
: Currently, I’m unattached. In fact, I’ve been that way since before Leadville in 2004. I fell through the cracks when Fila was bought by another company a few years ago and then a couple months later, they wrote and asked me to come back. But I’m at the point in my career where I kind of like being unattached and free —unless there is a real sponsorship that comes along, then I’ll jump on it. I’ve had five different shoe companies write me and offer me shoes. Again, I hate to sound that way, but a couple of shoes a year doesn’t cost that much, and I don’t want to be hooked up for that. I’d rather be free.

So, given all of the places you’ve raced around the world, where is your favorite place to run?
: I love the top three miles of Pikes Peak. They’re not too steep, but they take you right to the edge and you have that fight, if you’re tired, of whether you’re going to bonk or not. I like a lot of other areas in Colorado, too. The Leadville area is beautiful and I really enjoyed running in Vail when I lived there. I’ve been fortunate to run in a lot of places all over the world, but I just always pine for Colorado. I've stood at base camp of Mt. Everest and pined for Colorado. This is an awesome place with so much variety and great weather, I just love it here.

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