Matt Carpenter: Will His Records Stand Forever?

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.

Bottoms up!

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?
Andy Jones-Wilkins: finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.

View Comments (60)

  • The order of breaking will be:

    1) Leadville 100

    2) Pike Peaks Ascent

    3) Pike Peaks Marathon.

    And I'm guessing 5yrs, 10yrs and 15-20yrs for them to go.

    Amazing landmarks.

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  • His San Juan Solstice record is equally impressive.

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  • MC's Leadville record is the most stout in US 100 mile mountain ultras.

    Each summer going forward MC's ghost will continue to be chased at each race but what contributes to the future likelihood of these records going down (increased popularity and depth in the sport) might also actually work against the odds of these records actually going down, or at least any time soon. There are just so many races now. And top runners race a lot. And more and more top runners might choose to focus on the $ events going forward or simply be too worn down by the time August rolls around. Thus making a Herculean effort at Pb or Pikes less likely.

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    • Neal, I agree with your first comment (sort of). Jim O'Brien's CR at Angeles Crest is equally stout. He's had it since 1989 and nobody has gotten any closer than 50ish minutes.

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      • Neal: Good point. But Leadville, unlike WS and a few other races, has the freedom and ability to offer a big purse. Leadville isn't really constrained by anything. I'll bet Leadville eventually offers a very large prize purse.

        Regarding being worn down in August, excellent point! One of the big lessons Matt learned from 2004 to 2005 was not over-racing before the big event. He totally focused on Leadville in 2005 and was fresh enough and peaking to set a CR that is up there with Kouros' 188 miles as ridiculously stout.

        Wyatt

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  • Kilian ran an awesome race for it being his first time on the mountain and running uncontested. In order to understand how Kilian’s time stacks up is Matt C’s 20-24 age group record. It is 3:38:05, which Matt set when he was 24 year old. So Kilian (age 22) actually got fairly close to it and set the new descent record for that age group. Not bad for his first crack at the mountain. When Matt was 24 he had not moved to the Pikes area and had not yet fully devoted himself to the race.

    Matt devoted so much time (years) and energy to the PPM, and is such a unique athlete, that I honestly doubt his record will ever be broken. As a previous commenter to iRunfar noted in ’93 when Matt set the record, he volunteered to be the caretaker of the Barr Camp cabins for the summer, for the sole purpose of training on the trail. It was noted that he was doing twice a day camp to summit roundtrip runs, weekly intervals sessions at 13k on the trail, etc.

    One would literally have to do what Matt did which is move to the base of the mountain, run on and around it over and over again, and race it year after year. Not to mention have an off the chart VO2 max, have a body perfectly built for the race, and be tough as nails.

    Kilian has the work ethic, natural abilities (his V02 is likewise off the charts and is built for speed), but we will never see him devote himself to the race like Matt did. It just does not inspire Kilian the way it inspired Matt. I doubt anyone, including Kilian, ever touches Matt’s PPM record.

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  • Carpenter is a machine! It's sweet that our sport has records that are not out of the realm of upcoming runners, but insanely hard to reach.

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  • From what I've seen, Killian mostly runs for 1st place more than a CR.

    Not to say he does have a few course records, but look at WS where he got to the top of the first climb up the ski lift and took a break to wait for the pack to join in. He did the same at Mont Blanc last year and only left the comradery of the "pack after 80 miles or so.

    So to say that Killian put in 100% effort at Pikes Peak is questionable?

    I think that is why he like to attempt ascent records up mountains. It is between you and the mountain. In a race there is a time as well, but if you can win anyway, then why not enjoy the comradery of the pack?

    Killian admitted Pikes Peak to being on of his favorite races, so who knows. He is not even the best climber out there at that distance, so him saying this could up the competiveness with more international runners???

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    • Killian said after the race he stopped pushing early on as he had no one to challenge him. So Killian could make a run at it I am sure.

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  • Carpenter's Leadville record was already Bob Beamon-esque seven years ago. Now, with the course change (Leadville was 101.2 miles this year, according to my watch), asking someone to break that record is like asking someone to long jump 30 feet. Conditions this year were perfect (no wind, rain, or heat, and good competition up front), and only one runner finished within an hour of his time. Never say never, but it will take something truly Herculean to beat that time.

    Pikes is more of a runner's course than a pure MUT course, so if it's going to be beaten, it's going to be beaten by a speedster with extensive mountain running pedigree, not a mountain running behemoth like Jornet. I think a sub-2:15 marathoner who trained in the mountains daily could theoretically have a shot. But again, Carpenter was a sub-2:20 marathoner who basically lived on that hill. It's so tough to compete with that.

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  • "perhaps, in time, with focus, precision, impeccable training, and just the right competitive environment Carpenter’s records will go down."

    You forgot to add the 90.2 VO2 max which would also be a helpful trait. That and the fact that Matt weighs 120 lbs is a tough combo to come by. Someone would have to train on Pikes Peak and have that intimate course knowledge. There's a reason people call Matt the "lung with legs" or a "rock-breathing alien." I personally think the records on Pikes Peak will stand for many years to come.

    By the way, the PP course was moved back 1.1 mi in 1976 so Rick Trujillo's adjusted Ascent time would have been 2:09:27.

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    • CJ, thanks for the clarification on the 1976 course change. In researching the article I got mixed messages on that one.

      AJW

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      • You bet AJW...great article by the way

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  • The hype around Kilian going after Matt's course record this year (by nearly everyone except Kilian himself) was almost comical. Just goes to show how silly it is to make predictions on Pikes Peak unless you've run the mountain yourself. Despite all the hype, Kilian managed to approach the race with humility and respect for the mountain and Matt's record. He ran as good of a race as he needed to win.

    I'm sure there will be other runners that come close, if not exceed, Matt's physical abilities at high altitude mountain running. But chances are, in this age of globalized ultra running, that special individual will be all over the world trying to make a living with prize money and sponsorship opportunities. And who can blame them? Matt did it for a few years too when Fila supported him. Kilian is enjoying a similar position now.

    Until there is another individual that not only matches Matt's physical ability, but more importantly, his focus, drive and dedication to achieve something special on that mountain, I doubt we will see the record fall.

    At any rate, it was nice to see Pikes Peak, and one of the most impressive mountain records of all time, back in the spotlight.

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  • I think Killian hit the nail on the head with the "nobody was pushing me" sentiment. A strong, deep field pushes athletes to do amazing things. A weak field typically produces a fast time trial for the winner. (That said, a review of Carpenter's results reveals he can some amazing times in those aforementioned "time-trials") In my humble opinion, the notoriety of Leadville 100 and Pikes Pike Marathon seems moderately out-of-proportion to the actual competitiveness of these events. This is related to an often cited issue in ultrarunning, right? Restrictive lottery systems, events selling out in 24 hours, etc. leading to a lot of top-level athletes being excluded or not wanting to deal with the hassle. The truly amazing performances will continue to come from "championship" type events like TNF Endurance Challenge and any type of new race that is invitation-only or has highly restrictive qualification standards. Consequently, it seems to me that Carpenter's records at Pike's Peak and Leadville 100 have a chance to stand for a long time. But, who knows? Maybe Ryan Hall will decide to focus on the ultra distance in the the coming years and run these two events because of their popularity.

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  • Matt's records are amazing even mind boggling. But will definitely be beaten eventually.
    The fact that he trained so thoroughly locally does matter, but the bulk of that benefit comes from the conditions: altitude, angle of ascent, rockiness, etc... These features exist all over the world. It is likely that if there were 2 Kilian level runners showing up, theyd close in on the record for PPM soon enough.

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  • Kilian will be 25 in less than 2 months. At the end of the day, Matt training on the course is only helpful in the regard of knowing the mountain well. Kilian trains at higher altitude and most of the course isn't really very technical, so a very intimate knowledge of the course isn't going to make someone all that much better at it. At the end of the day, Kilian won't touch Matt's record for one reason: Kilian has talent, but Matt has much more talent.

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    • With all due respect to both athletes, I think you are discounting "training" on a course a little too much. If a CR is a person's true goal, intimate knowledge of a course, and frankly going out and seeing how hard you can really run on it in practice, can lead to dramatic differences in times.

      Not to mention, elite athletes can get a marked improvement in their body's own ability to perform to the actual course by training on it. Much more than a "normie" can. This is why in endurance events like the Tour De France all the contenders ride the climbing stages before hand.

      I think it is safe to say both men are talented. Trying to rate them against one other is absurd. I'm sure Kilian's supporters wouldn't hold Matt's not being a multi-time world champion in an entire different sport against Matt. Any more than Matt's would try to "measure" Kilian's talent. They can both be stars. There's plenty of room for them.

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      • Dean, completely agree about Course knowledge. That is part of why I don't blink an eye about flying across the country to spend a week on the WS Course prior to race day. And I've run the thing 8 times! Trail knowledge makes a huge difference not just physically but, more importantly, mentally. I am sure Carpenter knows every rock on that trail just like Twietmeyer knows every tree on the WS course.

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  • I don't see any of today's current mountain runners breaking Carpenter's Pikes Peak record. That is as stout of a record there is. I do see his Leadville record going down eventually. If Carpenter ran Leadville in his late 20s or early 30s, I would think it'll be in the low 15s. Should, coulda, woulda, but if a young Carpenter ran this years Western States with those weather conditions, he would've obliterated the course!

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  • Keller, great points and I agree wholeheartedly...up until the comment about Ryan Hall. I don't understand the need to bring up elite road runners as being effective on the trails of the ultra world.

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  • The Leadville Race Series web site says that it took me 1:58:05 to get from May Queen to the finish. Sorry for the shameless self promotion just wanted to be mentioned along with Matt Carpenter. However, I do believe that someone will get his Leadville record soon, ultras are getting more and more competitive every year. The question is not if but when.

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    • Zeke, I am so sorry for the oversight. Obviously, I didn't research carefully enough to note that you went under two hours this year during your extraordinary race. Congrats and we'll get the mistake corrected ASAP.

      AJW

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      • AJW - No worries. Just super proud of my finish and someone had told me that I went under two hours. I wish I was more humble but a las my pride got the best of me. I enjoyed the article. Thanks - Zeke

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        • Actually, I love statistics and went through the results in great detail. One of the LT100 favorite metrics is "how much you slow down in the second half". It's worth noting that Matt C slowed down about 7.5% during his record braking run, and the best runner this year slowed down about 9%. Zeke is by this metric ranked 4th (also little over 9% slowing down), while the eventual winner is 12th. Tony K is (if I remember correctly about 108th this year, slowing down by 28%). The mean value is 37%. Anyway ... kudos to Zeke, and if anybody's interested, I'll provide my spreadsheet.

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  • Can anybody, please, explain why the helicopter crash caused the change of the course for the years to come ? And where exactly ? ... I ran this year's edition of LT100 ... so I am just curious.

    Btw.: I liked the new section to Winfield. i don't really want to even imagine how it'd been before ...

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    • @Vlad

      To your question about the helicopter crash: that crash happened in 2009 in front of mount massive just before the start of the race. The army was doing a training exercise on private land and something went wrong. The course has been changed ever since the 09 race. The change takes place a few miles past fish hatchery around miles 26-28. It's a small re-route and has not affected the course much overall.

      Hope this helps

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  • I guess, Kilian ist the runner of the century. If he will, he can break every record, better 100 mile or longer. If they let him run leadville he will get the record for sure, Pikes Peak is may be not long enough, after 3 h Kilian is just warmed up. I guess we will see records from Kilian where we all will say, that can not be possible. Lets give Kilian 2 or 3 more years, he is, he will get the best ultra trail runner of the world.

    Thomas

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    • I love Kilian, but is he motivated to break records. He seems complacent on winning. I think it'll be tough to beat Kyle Skaggs HR 100 record or even Timmy's WS100 record.

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    • My goodness Thomas. You need to do a little research before you make bold statements like that. Not doubting the potential of Kilian but you are severely underestimating how stout these records are. Leadville is way too flat for Kilian to break that record, just sayin....

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  • I think the other factor in someone eventually breaking Carpenters Leadville record is the amount of people in the race. I'm sure Matt didn't have to contend with the over 1,000 runners going over Hope Pass. Back then there were only 300 people at the most running Leadville. As anybody that has been in the race knows, the trail over Hope is incredibly narrow and if an oncoming runner doesn't give the right of way to the faster runner then you have to completely step off the trail and nearly stop to let someone pass. I wonder just how much time runners lost this year with the massively crowded trails. If Leadville keeps on letting more and more people in the race, Carpenters record will never be broken.

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    • I dont see this as a major impediment having run Pb ville this year and when the field was half as big. Most everyone I see yields for the top guys. A few minutes max. Matt's Leadville record is stout and that's with no one really pushing him.

      I think the sharing of singletrack is a bigger issue for mid packer and could be alleviated somewhat if they got rid of trekking poles.

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  • cool story

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  • As others have aluded to, I believe the consideration that Kilian can break MC's records as being totally speculative because of his developing "boredom" with anything that doesn't involve some type of true mountain scrambling/climbing. My impression was that he was disinterested in running the PPM as running 7K of vertical, to over 14K feet, wasn't "technical" enough. It is what you make of it! Physically, I believe KJ is the current person most able to threaten those records, but without the mental focus and desire to push yourself to the limit when no one else is around you, I don't see him capable of breaking those records.

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