Matt Carpenter by Peter Gambaccini
On July 2, Matt Carpenter won the Vail Hill Climb for the seventh time in 48:26. He will be part of the U.S. team competing for the World Mountain Running Trophy in Bergen, Germany, on September 9. Carpenter was the 1999 USATF Mountain Runner of the Year and the winner of the 1999 Telluride Get High Sky Marathon. He has won the Everest Top Sky Marathon Tibet five times, running 2:52:27 at 14,350 feet and 3:22:25 at 17,060 feet. He holds course records for the Pikes Peak Ascent (2:01:06) and Marathon (3:16:39 up and down). His fastest "flat marathon" was a 2:19:46 at Houston in 1992. Originally from Lima, Ohio, and a graduate of Southern Mississippi, he is now a part-time webmaster in Colorado. Carpenter's age and resting pulse are both 36.
Runner's World Daily: How difficult is the Vail Hill Climb?
Matt Carpenter: As far as mountain running goes, Vail is one of the tamer ones. After the first paved mile through town, it goes up a dirt road to the top and it only gains 2,000 feet over 7.5 miles. But it was a selection race for the Worlds, and that made it important. People think they have it hard in track, but in mountain running you can qualify for the Worlds and represent the U.S., but guess what, you pay your own way. It was nice to have a sponsor step up, Mountain Athletics by Timberline, to help pay the way for the top two athletes [Carpenter earned a $500 travel stipend].
RWD: What were some of the 1999 victories that got you the Mountain Runner of the year title?
MC: One was the Aspen Sky Marathon in a new course record, 3:16. That one even has a "sky wall," where you have to grab some ropes in some sections. It gets ugly. You're up to 13,000 feet and you go through some snow. You do a little of everything in a crazy thing like that.
RWD: Is the U.S. one of the stronger nations in mountain running?
MC: I wouldn't say that. We're right in the middle right now. But it looks like we're going to be sending our strongest team in a long time. Dave Dunham [a veteran team member] says we have an outside chance of getting a medal.
In mountain running, people have this attitude that people should do it because they want to and there shouldn't be prize money. That's fine, but that doesn't help us on the world level when the Italians, for example, are a fully subsidized team and have won this several years in a row. I love the sport as much as anybody, but the economic reality is that it requires a lot of time and dedication and you're just not going to pull off the world level if you have a 9 to 5 job.
RWD: How did you evolve into a mountain runner?
MC: When I was in college, I ran this race in Vail called Get Your Hiney up the Piney, a half-marathon. Where I came from, a hill was stepping over the railroad tracks. In this one, every time we turned the corner we went up more and more. It's a different concept than loop courses. Here, you're going from one point down here to a point way up there. I know it sounds almost crazy, but what attracted me to it was how thoroughly humiliating it was. Here I thought I was a pretty decent runner, and it just killed me. I was hooked right there.
RWD: Why are you so good at mountain running?
MC: I consider myself methodical, and I have a good work ethic. I went eight months once without running less than two hours on a single day. Right now, I just passed three years without missing a single day. Genes have something to do with it. I have the highest max V02 for a runner there is, 90.2. A lot of my best performances have been at extreme altitude.
RWD: How does your training compare to what a road racer does?
MC: On the trails, I can do 140 miles week in and week out and not get that beat up. The trail is soft, and every single footstep is different. It's not that repetitive pounding motion you get on the road. If I feel bad, I'll just take a run up to the top of the peak and then get a ride down, with absolutely no pounding on my body whatsoever.