Archived from Cool Running - June 21, 1998

Going Down with Matt Carpenter

By Tom Derderian for Cool Running

Matt Carpenter
Matt Carpenter - Visit his web site at - very cool.
Photo by Molloy
Matt Carpenter, age 33, from Manitou Springs, Colorado, won the 38th Mt. Washington Road Race on June 20, 1998, at Pinkham Notch, Gorham, NH. On the way up, neither I nor anyone else could stay with him. But on the way down anyone sitting on the same seat in the media van had no trouble sitting still and listening to his stories revealing the strange, attractive world of this mountain runner.

One might think that his stories and maybe his entire world view have been shaped out of thin air by a lack of oxygen and from prolonged exertion at high altitudes. He lives in America, owns no car, does not want one, and does not like to drive. He is highly intelligent, employable as a computer programmer, but spent a great deal of time writing code for a program that counted down the remaining time to the nearest tenth of a second until the start of the next Pikes Peak marathon. The countdown can be found on his skyrunning web page. He explained with great chagrin that he had to back off the tenths of a second because his computer's CPU could not handle the load. He confessed that the tenths are fake.

Last August Carpenter won the Pike's Peak Marathon for the 3rd time, won the Imogene Pass Run, and was first to the summit in the Mexico Sky Marathon. He won the Everest Sky Marathon three times and was the first person to run a marathon at 14,000 feet in less that three hours. So he pays attention to detail.

He sat with wind-burned face and hair squirting out of his head and down to his shoulders and told us about his attentions to detail. He told us in detail about his attention to the filth on the streets of Katmandu, Nepal, where runners in the Everest Sky Marathon stayed. I had always pictured Lahore and Katmandu as exotic and splendid places of crystal skies, spiritual meaning, and clean air. But Carpenter saw those places as full of pollution, disease, and din that would hurt his race. He said it is as much a race to get to the starting line of the Everest Sky Marathon in good health as it is to run fast once you get there. In the air of the city Carpenter said he and a friend took one breath and both of them instantly, simultaneously, and spontaneously got diarrhea. He said on the streets there is nothing to drink, nothing you can eat, and if there were, there is nowhere to get rid of it. People defecate anywhere.

Perhaps the Carpenter technique for Sky Marathon preparation comprises an entire life philosophy: to hide from the septic city Carpenter stays in his hotel, the best in the city, and trains by running in the pool. He eats only white rice and power bars. Like a hypobaric Howard Hughes, he stays insulated and focused on the details that will allow him to arrive at the starting line healthy. Carpenter lives a disciplined, high-tech life in order to run to the wild mountains.

But Carpenter's methods can be attractive. One year when race organizers took the runners to a clean place 60 miles outside the city Carpenter went along. On that run he said that for competitive purposes he "hosed" the other runners. He ran away from them. The next day six other runners joined him running in the pool.

Attention to detail works for Matt Carpenter. His values are not those of commercial America. There seems to be a religion to his mountain madness. He is a glaze-eyed eccentric who like a monk has his mind set on earthly details as he squints through the glaring distance toward the highest peaks.

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