August 18, 2002
Winner believes Ascent on decline
Matt Carpenter sat on a rock at the summit of Pikes Peak, gaze vacant, shirt bloodied, voice glum.
He did not look or sound like the winner of the Pikes Peak Ascent, where runners slog up a narrow, dusty, sometimes rocky 13.32-mile trail that finishes at 14,110 feet in elevation.
But on an uncommonly warm Saturday morning atop the peak, that's just what Carpenter was - a winner. Probably the most reluctant winner the event has seen.
Carpenter, 38, of Manitou Springs, described his 10th overall Pikes Peak title as "a hollow victory" because of the substandard field of 1,800 he topped to win it.
"I'm not going to lie," Carpenter said, blood soaking through his racing shirt in two spots where his nipples had been rubbed raw. "It's great to win, but I should've been passed the last couple of miles."
The course is so unforgiving it can break veteran marathoners, and often reduces top runners to a shuffle before it's over.
Without question, Carpenter is King of the Mountain. He won his fifth Ascent title in 2:23:22, more than a minute ahead of second-place finisher Nathan Schultz, 31, of Boulder. Bernie Boettcher, 39, of Silt was third in a time of 2:26:37.
But another title didn't necessarily please Carpenter. It was the second-slowest winning time since 1981, when the Ascent and Marathon started being held on separate days.
Carpenter is outspoken about the Ascent's and Marathon's fall from elite status on the national running circuit. He boycotted the races in 1999 and 2000 in hopes for change.
His philosophy is at odds with the current race committee's, which doesn't want to offer money or incentives to lure big names. Instead, the events are akin to citizens' races with the occasional top talent entering.
So Carpenter, with a reputation as one of the world's top skyrunners (marathons above 14,000 feet), wins and wins.
Saturday was no exception to past years, though Carpenter admitted he was "suffering" most of the way and at one point found himself wondering if he'd finish in fourth place.
That was before Barr Camp, halfway to the finish at 10,200 feet, when things got interesting.
Carpenter was running in a group led by Schultz, who narrowly missed making the U.S. Olympic Team in cross-country skiing earlier this year.
In the foursome that included Carpenter, Schultz and Boettcher was Boulder's Scott Elliott, as close to a nemesis Carpenter has in this race.
Last year, the seven-time Ascent champion Elliott made it his mission to unseat Carpenter, but couldn't as Carpenter managed his historic double, winning both Ascent and Marathon on consecutive days.
Running shirtless, Elliott bolted to overtake Schultz at the flats, a relatively tame section before Barr Camp.
"Scott passed us, then Matt passed all of us," said Boettcher, who ran a personal-best time. "He passed us like we were standing still. By the time we got to Barr Camp, we couldn't see him any more."
Carpenter led the rest of the way, even though the mountain had reduced his stride to nearly baby steps by the time he neared the summit.
Elliott wound up fifth after tripping over a rock, crossing the finish line with a grimace and a limp.
For Ortiz, the women's winner, there was no contest. She led from start to finish, reaping the rewards of perhaps the best conditioning of her life.
Ortiz, a first-year member of the U.S. World Mountain Runners Team and mother of four, bested her winning time from last year by three minutes.
Still, she ran scared.
"You don't know just how badly you're going to fall apart," Ortiz said. "You want to get as much of a cushion as you can."
Last year, she had never run the course. Few even knew her name.
"When I won last year, I was sort of 'Ignorance is bliss,'" Ortiz said. "This time I was nervous because I knew how much pain is involved.
"I've done a lot of races but this is still the one. There's something about this mountain. I really had my sights set on winning this one."
Carpenter can relate. He just wants his victory to mean something.
"In 1987 I ran a 2:18 and I was fourth," he said. "It's kind of weird to run 2:23 and win it."
Copyright 2002, The Gazette, a Freedom Communications, Inc. Company. All rights reserved. Used with permission.