Running Pikes Peak Part 3: The Champions

August 19, 2021
In this photo taken in 2006, Matt Carpenter, 42, approaching the summit of Pikes Peak during the 2006 Pikes Peak Marathon. Carpenter reached the summit in 2:08:27 on his way to a 3:33:07 win in the Marathon.In this photo taken in 2006, Matt Carpenter, 42, approaching the summit of Pikes Peak during the 2006 Pikes Peak Marathon. Carpenter reached the summit in 2:08:27 on his way to a 3:33:07 win in the Marathon.Wikimedia Commons
In this photo taken in 2006, Matt Carpenter, 42, approaching the summit of Pikes Peak during the 2006 Pikes Peak Marathon. Carpenter reached the summit in 2:08:27 on his way to a 3:33:07 win in the Marathon.

The following is part of KRCC's 'Peak Past' essay series.

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.

Peak Past (formerly Peak Perspectives) is a weekly segment written and voiced by Matt Cavanaugh, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and a resident of Manitou Springs where he lives with his wife and two young children. Through his writing, Cavanuagh explores life in the Pikes Peak region, including the gradients and subtleties of our lives in the shadow of America's Mountain. 

You can find more work by Cavanaugh here.

KRCC's Abigail Beckman manages the "Peak Past" series. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of KRCC or Colorado Public Radio.

Peak Past is sponsored by Gold Hill Mesa.

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