Looking at the events that unfolded in Colorado earlier this month I couldn’t help but feel a bit haunted by the ghost of Matt Carpenter. While he chose not to race at Leadville or Pikes Peak this year, it was clear that his legacy is alive and well in the Rockies and it gave me pause to ask, will anyone ever break his records?
First, the Leadville 100:
The Carpenter Journey there began when he toed the line in 2004. After substantial preparation and training Matt took it out hard that year only to succumb to trashed quads around mile 70 after which he boldly walked it in for a 21-ish-hour finish. In 2005, he came back and took care of unfinished business by obliterating the course record with a time of 15:42. Along the way he ran as close to even splits as I have ever seen in a winner at Leadville, running the outbound 50 in 7:34 and the inbound 50 in 8:08. In contrast, in 2007 when Anton Krupicka won the race in the second-ever fastest time of 16:14, he made it to Winfield in 7:42, just eight minutes shy of Carpenter’s split, and back in 8:32. Picking the splits apart a bit more suggests that Matt really stretched it out in the second half as his gap on Tony grew substantially in the last 30 miles of the race.
Then, of course, the course was changed in 2009 following a helicopter crash and it was generally believed the new course was a bit easier. Nonetheless, nobody came within an hour of Carpenter’s record on this “easier” course although Krupicka made two valiant attempts at it in 2009 and 2010. This year, the organizers added a singletrack section on the way into Winfield to get the runners off the dusty road into Winfield and Leadville aficionados suggest that they more than made up for the difference that the 2009 course adjustment made. So, going into the 2012 race it was believed to be, once again, an “honest course.”
Not surprisingly, the stacked field at this year’s Leadville went out hard and Krupicka reached Winfield on the number with eventual winner Thomas Lorblanchet two minutes back of Carpenter’s course record split. However, on the return trip, Carpenter’s record once again appeared untouchable with Lorblanchet never getting closer than he was at Winfield (in fact, by the time he got back to Twin Lakes, only 11 miles after Winfield, Lorblanchet was already 26 minutes off the pace) and Krupicka dropped off the pace a bit later after Twin Lakes. Amazingly, in winning the race, Lorblanchet became only the second runner (along with Krupicka) to finish within an hour of Carpenter when he stopped the clock at 16:29 this year. Additionally, Lorblanchet joined Carpenter as the only runner to cover the last 13 miles of the course from May Queen to the finish in under 2 hours (1:59:33 for Lorblanchet and 1:57:59 for Carpenter) [Editor’s note on 9/6/2012: In the 2012 race, Zeke Tiernan made it only three men ever to run sub-2 hours from May Queen to the finish. Tiernan did it in 1:58:05. We regret the oversight on this awesome finish!].
As extraordinary as the Leadville mark is, I dare say that Carpenter’s Pikes Peak Marathon record is even greater. Consider, for a minute, that in this year’s race, Kilian Jornet, considered by some to be the best mountain runner of his generation, won the race in a time (3:40:29) that was 23:50 slower than Carpenter’s course record set in 1993. Carpenter’s record ascent time, 2:01:06 (which broke Rick Trujillo’s 2:01:47 set in 1975), set in the Marathon of his CR year, was 17:31 faster than Kilian’s ascent this year. Furthermore, Killian’s descent this year, 1:21:40 (keeping in mind that experienced observers on top of the mountain were, in the words of iRunFar.com reporter Meghan Hicks, “Speechless at his descending skills”) was a full 6:07 slower than Carpenter’s record descent of 1:15:33 from 1993.
One possible explanation of Kilian’s relative “slowness” was that he, in his own words, had nobody pushing him. In contrast, in the hotly contested competitive environment of the Pikes Peak Marathon of the mid-90’s, Mexican star Ricardo Mejia was Carpenter’s archrival who himself posted PR’s of 2:05:04 on the ascent and 1:16:28 on the descent during the 1995 event.
And perhaps, here, is the rub. For all the talk these days about the sport of ultrarunning getting more competitive, and it is certainly getting deeper, there are a few notable exceptions. I believe Matt Carpenter is one such exception. Certainly, records are made to be broken and perhaps, in time, with focus, precision, impeccable training, and just the right competitive environment Carpenter’s records will go down. But, from my perspective and based on recent results, it may take a Herculean effort to do so.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes, appropriately enough, from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Phantom Canyon Brewing Company’s Continuum Ale is a nice, summery wit beer that goes down easy and has a slight kick. Goes especially well with spicy food and high elevation!
Call for Comments (from Bryon)
- Which one of Carpenter’s legendary records is likely to be broken first? Any guesses as to whom will do it?
- What’s the key to someone breaking either of these records?