This story has been archived from the Tuesday, May 29, 2007 Rocky Mountain News
The power to vanish into thin air
High-altitude runner Matt Carpenter leaves foes gasping for breath
Brian Metzler, Special To The Rocky
Put Matt Carpenter at a sea-level running race and he'll probably
finish near the leaders. But give him the chance to race in the
rarefied air of high altitude and he'll leave everyone in the dust.
Kristin Goode/The (Colorado Springs) Gazette/2006
Matt Carpenter has been the most dominant trail runner in the United States during the past 15 years. His body's ability to use oxygen during exercise is ultraefficeient, tests indicate.
Carpenter has been the most dominant trail runner in the United
States for the past 15 years, virtually unbeatable in races that start
at high elevation and go up. He holds numerous course records in
Colorado and has run the world's fastest marathons above 14,000 feet
and 17,000 feet.
What's the secret to his success? Tests at the U.S. Olympic Training
Center determined that Carpenter had an astronomical VO2 max of 90.2
milliliters of oxygen burned per kilogram of body weight per minute,
which mean his 5-foot-7 1/2, 122-pound frame is ultraefficient when it
comes to burning oxygen. His score is the highest mark ever recorded at the center,
eclipsing even Lance Armstrong's 85.
Secondly, he trains like a fiend, mixing high mileage with mountain
runs and speed workouts. He hasn't had a day with fewer than two hours
of running since Sept. 13. His longest running streak without missing a
day is five years, 57 days. (It ended July 9, 2002, the day his
daughter was born.)
In a nutshell
Name: Matt Carpenter
Primary sport: Trail running
Home: Manitou Springs
Originally from: Hattiesburg, Miss.
Family: Married to Yvonne; has 4-year-old daughter, Kyla,
Amazing feats: Has won virtually every high-altitude
trail race in Colorado at least once and is the course record-holder
for more than a dozen events across the state.
Most prolific success has come at the Pikes Peak Ascent and
Marathon, where he has recorded 12 victories (five in the ascent, seven
in the marathon) and owns both course records (2:01:06 in the ascent;
3:16:39 for the marathon).
In 2001, became the only person to win the ascent and marathon in
the same year. Last year, won the marathon when it doubled as the World
Mountain Running Association Long Course Championship.
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).
Made brief foray into ultrarunning in 2004-05 and set course records
for San Juan Solstice 50-mile race in Lake City (7:59:44) and the
Leadville Trail 100 (15:42:59).
In the past two years, has won the 10-kilometer trail-running
championships at the Teva Mountain Games in Vail and should be the
favorite for the race Friday.
In total, has won more than 110 races from two to 100 miles since
moving to Colorado in the mid-1980s.
Co-founder of Incline Club running group and the 12-mile Barr Trail
Mountain Race staged in mid-July on the lower half of Pikes Peak.
"It's kind of old school," he said. "I believe there are a lot of
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."
Yet he also has refused to run a race or avoided being eligible for
taking prize money when he has had philosophical differences with a
race director or organizing body.
"He's got the most stringent set standards of just about any
runner," said Boulder's Adam Chase, president of the All-American
Trail Running Association.
"He's absolutely pure in sticking to what he believes in and his
approach to training. And that's what makes him the runner he is."
In his own words
On heading west: I grew up in Hattiesburg, Miss.,
and I first came to Colorado in the summer of 1984 because my aunt
invited me out for a nursing convention she was attending. I ran the
Piney Lake Half-Marathon in Vail, and I just fell in love with the
place after that run. In fact, I had a picture taken after that race,
and I took it back to Mississippi and stuck it on my cork board and
said, "I'm going to move to Vail." So I spent the summers in Vail while
I finished out college. I got my credits to graduate (with a degree in
computer science from the University of Southern Mississippi) but I
skipped graduation just so I could get to Vail quicker.
On making the move: 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 was to come and work with the
Olympic Training Center because I had some testing done there with my
VO2 (oxygen utilization) 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
On marathon running: I ran a 1:05 half-marathon
during one of my marathons, and to me, that shows more of my potential
than 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.
On being a lab rat: My high VO2 max score 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, so I had to work on fixing that with some
On running with family: I run 13 times a week, and
probably 10 of them are with the "Kyla jogger." We don't call it a Baby
Jogger anymore, because Kyla is 4. 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 one. Kyla loves to go to the parks,
so we can combine the two.
Jerilee Bennett/The (Colorado Springs) Gazette/2000
Carpenter and his new bride, the former Yvonne Franceschini, head down Waldo Canyon Trail sporting "just married" signs and soda cans after a Feb. 20, 2000 ceremony.
On staying young: 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. 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.
On the Incline Club: Every Sunday morning, that gets
me out the door. And to see 60 to 70 people taking off into the
mountains, that's a charge. We do a lot of running, and there is a lot
of passion there. We have 60 training runs a year, and about 40 are up
on Barr Trail. We have slow people and fast people, but most of them
are dedicated. I'll take someone who is slow and dedicated over someone
who is fast and not dedicated any day.
On eating: I've never had any alcohol or coffee. I
try to avoid a lot of junk food, but the occasional doughnut 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.
Matt Carpenter is at home running on Pikes Peak. He has recorded 12 victories in the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon (five in the ascent, seven in the marathon).
Tips from a pro
1) Don't focus too much on mileage at first
Matt Carpenter has won dozens of high-altitude races in Colorado and
around the world. Here's some of his advice for high-altitude mountain
If you're just getting into it, I would recommend throwing away your
mileage log and just running by time. I find up here that it can be
really frustrating if you do something really rough and you can only
write down a few miles. That can mentally mess with you. And if you're
used to running by distance, then you can run too far or too short. I
find that if you go by time, the distance you need kind of takes care
of itself. For example, I run up the old incline railway grade and I
would have to write down 1 mile for that, even though it's 25 miles of
2) Take it steady when it comes to the mountains
You've just got to focus on your cadence. I think a lot of people
really try to grind it up hills. Let the terrain dictate your pace, but
if you can keep the same cadence overall, it should take care of
itself. If the terrain gets too steep, by all means, walk. The key is,
don't go into it with a hardheaded attitude. Even I have races where I
have to walk. If you can just relax and do it, that's OK. You're going
to do a lot better than the guy next you who's fighting and trying to
run when walking would be better.
3) Learn to deal with high altitude
If you can, take a vacation at altitude to learn what hypoxia feels
like. That's 90 percent of the battle, because there's really nothing
you can do. If you don't live at high altitude, your best defense is to
get in the best shape that you can. The first time every season, you're
just buzzy and you're dizzy and you can't even remember your own name.
But if you know that's going to happen, that helps.
On his favorite trails: 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've been fortunate to run in a lot of places all over
the world and I just always pine for Colorado. We live in an awesome
place, and there is so much variety and great weather.
David Clifford/Special to the Rocky
Trail Blazer Matt Carpenter is the ultimate peak performer, dominating races at high elevations the past 15 years thanks to a vigorous workout schedule and a body that effectively burns oxygen.
Elite adventurers share respect for mountain arena
For the past 10 weeks, we've profiled Colorado's top adventure
athletes. The athletes on our list were selected by polling athletes,
coaches and race directors throughout the state and considering where
athletes ranked on the world stage.
The combined résumés of the subjects profiled have a treasure chest
of hardware, including 20 world championship titles, more than a dozen
World Cup victories, Olympics, X Games and world championship medals,
as well as a few world records and a handful of unprecedented feats in
the world of adventure sports.
Many of the athletes on this list have added to their credentials
since this series began.
Chris Davenport continued his quest to ski big mountains by climbing
and skiing Wyoming's Grand Teton. Mike Kloser won another adventure
racing world championship June 1 in Scotland. Josiah Middaugh won the
inaugural Ultimate Mountain Challenge four-sport competition at the
Teva Mountain Games on June 3. Danelle Ballengee (less than six months
from having surgery to repair a broken pelvis) not only entered and
survived, but finished fifth in the women's division. Matt Carpenter
continued his dominance in the trail running world, beating a deep
field at the 10-kilometer race at the Teva Mountain Games.
Is it a definitive list? Yes and no. With so many world-class
mountain sports athletes in Colorado, we could continue this series
through the end of summer without watering down the subject matter.
Among the others on the cusp of the top 10 were climbers Tommy
Caldwell and Lynn Hill; mountain bikers Ned Overend, Travis Brown,
Shonny Vanlandingham and Mike Curiak; skier Lindsey Kildow; snowboarder
Chris Klug and backcountry skier/adventure racer/mountain biker Monique
What can we take from their wisdom and insight? Most athletes
recognized the mountains are a special place with a unique energy that
keeps drawing them back.
And that's the same for everyone, regardless of age, ability level
or what sports you do. All of the subjects acknowledged the huge amount
of respect they have for the mountains. They don't conquer the trails,
rocks, rivers and mountains they compete on, they merely endure the
terrain while they are there and get inspiration to keep coming back
from training, racing or just relaxing.
Our top 10
Ian Adamson, adventure racing/paddling/orienteering
Danelle Ballengee, adventure racer
Gretchen Bleiler, snowboarding
Matt Carpenter, trail runner
Chris Davenport, alpine skiing
Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, mountain biking
Mike Kloser, multisport
Brad Ludden, white-water paddling
Josiah Middaugh, Xterra triathlon/ snowshoeracing/trail running
Seth Wealing, Xterra off-road triathlete