The 12-time winner of the Pikes Peak Marathon, Matt Carpenter has been selected for induction into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame. The induction ceremonies are slated for Oct. 29 at the Colorado Springs World Arena.
This is the second and final part of our interview with Carpenter. You can read Part 1 here.
Your sign off or motto, "Go out hard, when it hurts speed up." Where did that come from?
It started out as kind of a joke. I think Walt Stack had one like "Start out slowly and taper" and I wanted the antithesis of that. It was kind of a joke on how you could win a race, cause if you went out really hard and then sped up when it hurt, by definition you would win every race. It's not practical and I love the jokes people play off of it, like "Go out hard, when it hurts fake a hamstring injury." I get all kinds of those. It just kind of stuck.
I still have a huge ego, I mean, I'm an athlete. But there was a time when I was younger and my ego was even crazier. It was just kind of a brash, in-your-face sign off. It makes people go "huh?" It's kind of my approach to life. Whether running for city council and knocking on every door in town, or shooting the basketball, whatever I've tried, I've always tried to excel at it.
You're going to be inducted into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame.
That's a big honor, especially when I look at some of the names. Who hasn't heard of Goose Gossage? And Justin Armour, from right here in Manitou Springs. (The list of inductees) is very diverse. And It is kind of neat to be the first runner.
You've talked about high school and becoming a cross country runner ... it was the only thing you were good at.
It was a way to fit in. My mom had lupus and she made it clear that if I was going to go to college, I had to get scholarships and stuff like that. We moved a lot, so I didn't really fit in. When I heard that announcement to go out for cross country, I was stupid, I actually thought we were going to run across the country, I was going to get out of school a lot. It didn't turn out to be that, it was local golf courses, but very quickly I fit in with a group of people for a change.
But it (running cross country) was still individual. I was a wrestler before and there is a lot of team stuff in that, but wrestling is individual as well. I first started running for wrestling. I remember the coach had us running up the hall and down the steps. And I remember that next day having the worse case of shin splints I've ever had, but what I also remember is passing all the other wrestlers and they were making fun of me "listen to how hard he is breathing." And I was thinking, it's because I'm running faster.
It was just another thing to see how far I could take it, so I started running on my own. I could have been a really good high school runner a couple of years after high school. Same with college, I could have been a good college runner a couple of years after college.
I started running basically as a senior in high school. I was good but by no means very good. But I think, because I started late, I was always into it more for my reasons vs. the guys who had been running when they were so young. And so many of them quit after college.
What were your best times in high school?
I'd have to go and look them up. We ran three miles in cross country. I know my senior year I broke a 5-minute mile. It was 4:59 and I got third in a photo finish. I'm not fast (like a sprinter), my fastest quarter mile to this day is 1:01. My thing right now is I'm trying to break 30 seconds for a 200. I've gotten a 30.2. I still go out to the track and try to work that down. But I would estimate I was in the 18's (ran the 3-mile in 18 minutes and change).
Your mom (Judy) committed suicide. Athletically, how did that change your life?
You know, when part of the suicide note is "just keep running and don't let anybody tell you you can't accomplish anything" ... You know, she died and left me with two grand and I was on my own with that in college. It's a lot to take on. And running ... in high school it was a way to fit in. In college it became a way to cope, because it was the only thing that was in my control. To this day, running is the only thing that's in my control. I decide how far, when, what time, where. There is nothing else in our lives that we get that much control over. It was an escape.
She had lupus. What is that?
Basically it's when your white blood cells attack your body. Her joints would swell up to the size of baseballs. She couldn't hold a job very long. But you asked where I get the hard-headed stuff from ... she was hard-headed, too. I mean one of the best ways to control lupus is to stay out of the sun. She'd go out sunbathing all the time, she was like, "I'm going on my terms."
Even the suicide thing, she told me she was going to do it. And I told her, "if you were going to do that you would have done it when you were flat-lined in the hospital." She was like, "you know me, I'm not going out when I'm down. I'm going out when I'm happy, and when it's on my terms." And that is exactly what she did.
She told me she was going to do it, I knew it was coming. You know, you make a series of decisions. Do you try to intervene, or not? And you have life decisions when somebody does that. Do you blame yourself, or not? Or do you move on? People handle decisions differently. Why do two people go out into their backyard, or in my case we snuck into a pig stye when my friend stole his dad's cigars ... he tried a cigar and I tried a cigar. I puked and got sick and never touched another thing, but he became a smoker. What determines those things?
The decisions after my mom passed away I feel were good decisions ... to not pity myself or get down. At the time, I thought, OK, she is gone. I have the ability now to see what's out there. I went to Colorado and I saw Vail and I saw mountains and that's where I wanted to be.
Starting then, every summer I'd drive from Mississippi to Vail and live there in summer and then go back to school. I skipped college graduation so I could get to Vail a couple of weeks earlier. I got my degree, but I didn't go to graduation.
I kind of say that in some ways her death opened up possibilities. Who knows I might still have been in Mississippi.
So right now, you have no plans for any racing, but you are going back to Pikes Peak someday, right?
I don't know that. Twenty years from now will there be any difference if I've won 18 Pikes Peaks or 20? I'm not ever going to say there is such a thing as too many wins, but there might be such a thing as enough. And maybe I'm satisfied. I'm at the point now where there is not a lot to be gained. It might be fun to see if I can do it when I'm 50. I've already set the records for the oldest guy to win it.
Before I came along, I don't think anyone had won it in their 40s, and I did it in my 40s six years in a row. There are always new guys coming around and all this hype. I mean look at all the hype around Killian (Jornet) last year. And there was all this talk about, "Oh, the record is going down." He came close to my record ... my 45-year-old record, the age-group one (Jornet won the 2012 Pikes Peak Marathon in 3:40:06. Carpenter's 45-49 age-group record is 3:37:02.)
I get just as much press by not running the race as I do when I'm running it. That's going to be the standard. I run it and I'm expected to win it. I don't run it and I get all kinds attention. When I do things, there is a reason why. I'm going to do it (Pikes Peak Marathon in 2011) because it would be six (wins) in a row. So I jumped in even though my weight was low. There was always a reason. But I haven't been able to find a reason (to race on Pikes Peak again.) I'm hoping that when I turn 50, that would become a reason. That would be neat.
But if I don't race again, ever, I think I would be comfortable with that. I've had a really good career. I'm not going to say I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish, because I was never satisfied. But I feel comfortable with what I've done, because I've finally realized there is always that next thing, and that would never stop.
I learned that lesson when I went to Everest, and I'd say, "well I'll just run to the next ridge." And I realized that if I kept that philosophy I'd have to run all the way to the top of Everest. You have to draw the line somewhere. So when I got to the Khumbu Icefall I stopped my run. I saw the crevasses, I was like, "no more." So, that's where I get back to reading race results, and say "I could do that, but I don't want to."
You hold the record for the Everest SkyMarathon (3:22:25 at 17,060 feet.)
Yeah my training runs would be out and back to Everest Base Camp. But the race was on the Tibetan side. It was totally flat, they made it flat by going out and back, 5K, several times. And even that had a little dip in it. As little as it was, the uphill at that altitude was so insane, because your fingernails were blue and your lips were blue.
How many were in the race?
There were supposed to be several dozen of us in the race, but at the end there were only seven or eight, because races over there are more about who can get to the finish line healthy. Guys would go over there and get sick. Rob and I were running one day and we ran by some kind of trash heap, and within 15 yards we both had spontaneous diarrhea. We went running into this shop and we we're like, "bathroom, bathroom" and they were looking at us all weird because they don't know how to speak English. So I'm not proud, I ducked down like (he's squatting to defecate) and they were like "Oh!" and they pointed us the right way. And we went back there and we were wondering, "where is the toilet paper?" And we see this basket and think "that's a weird way to keep the toilet paper." And we're wondering, "what the hell smells?" And we realize they recycle the toilet paper and we're wiping our butts with .... and it made me appreciate living in a country where we have a place to go to the bathroom and clean water you can drink and food. It was very eye-opening to be able to experience that and travel the world. It was amazing.
What is the best piece of advice you've received about running?
My high school coach (Terry Delcuze) engrained on me pretty heavily about consistency. Because when I first started out, I would miss a day in the week, and then I'd miss two the next week. We'd have to turn in our logs and he'd show where I had missed two weeks total over a three month period. That's a lot of time. But then, boom, I became a streak runner. Or I wouldn't miss a day. I would go five years without missing a day. I had lots of year streaks. I would just be consistent.
You know you look at the magazines and things like that ... they can't sell magazines by telling people that running is really simple. Every month, Runner's World comes out with how to run like a Kenyan in 20 minutes, the best way to do 800s, how to run a PR. The reality is, it doesn't matter what you do. If you do it consistently, you're going to get better at it. Now it's true, it makes more sense to do the right thing consistently, because you're going to get better at it faster. But you can do the wrong thing consistently and you're still going to get better.
That's where people mess up. They do this one week, and something else the next week. I kind of have a five-week rule. I won't change something, unless it goes bad, for five weeks. Then I know I've hit a plateau, or that I need to change to one on and one off, to tempo runs, or move up in altitude.
The other thing he taught me was train to your weaknesses and race to your strengths. So many people, they train for what they love. But that doesn't help you so much on race day. I train for what I hate. Speed was always my issue. Like I said, I was a 1:01 guy (61 seconds in the quarter mile), but I got to where I could do 24 quarters in 1:06 (66 seconds each) at altitude, with 54 seconds rest. My weakness was speed so I trained to fix that. When I found out I had a pour economy I trained to fix that. I didn't train to improve my VO2, it was already one of the highest recorded, what's the point?
(On Pikes Peak) I didn't train my up-high time, I'm pretty good at altitude. I did train to get to Barr Camp in one piece so I could use my ability up high. Pikes Peak is a long and complex race, so you have to figure out where you're weak. That's where I use the pace calculator (on his website Skyrunner.com). I don't use the pace calculator on race day, I use it more in training. I'll run up and then go back and look at the pace calculator and see that I was behind down low. I still ran good on top, so I know I need to work low. Or, I was behind up high, well I haven't been at altitude enough, so I know I need to adjust that. And then race day comes along and you reverse it, you race to your strengths.
Your high school coach played a big role in your life.
He was my de facto dad because my mom was divorced. He's the one that came up to college and told me my mom had committed suicide. She Fedexed him overnight a letter of where to find the car and a detailed map, and what to tell me. I mean, my mom had this planned out, down to how much duct tape to put on the windows to keep the carbon monoxide in, letters to police, funeral home stuff. This wasn't a wake up and do it thing, this was planned for probably years.
But he was an ultra runner, he got me into the long stuff early, the value of long runs and the strength that they build. Because everything is a cycle. You do speed workouts so you get faster, so that you can do your long runs faster. And you do your long runs so that you can do more of your speed workout.
And it all relates. If more people did their training like they were doing the double on Pikes Peak, they'd all do better because people who do the double learn that they have to be smart on Day 1 to get through Day 2. Too many people run for just that one day (the Ascent), so they go out and thrash themselves. I learned that I have to go just hard enough to get better, but still be able to recover for the run that's coming up in two days. You can't go so hard on your long run, or so long, that it prevents you from having a good Tuesday (speed work). You get the balance right with consistency, you can't help but improve. Running is simple and people make it far too complex.
You've done some good stuff in the community.
It's a very important part for me, starting the Incline Club and the Barr Trail Mountain Race and giving back. You know, you look at the thousands of dollars the races I've put on have given back to high school running teams, and 100 percent donations from the Barr Trail Mountain Race. Or when I took over Garden of the Gods (10 Mile Run), and the first thing I did was put in the high school challenge, and took the race from 900 to almost 2,000 runners. The giving-back side is just as important to me.
To see people heading up the mountain to do an Incline Club run, to see the guy that quit smoking and has lost 100 pounds, or somebody that just found trail running. That's important to me. And I've given countless talks at schools on career days, because for me it's the sharing of this that has been more important than what I'm doing myself.
Someday all of my records will go down. I don't know who it's going to be, but I hope I'm alive to see it. But it's the giving back that I think and hope will live longer. The fact that I fought for those competitive spots (comp entries for elite runners) in the Pikes Peak Marathon is more important to me than wins.
When it comes to running, is there anything else you want to explore?
No, in fact it would have been so simple for me to go into coaching as a great way to make money, but I bought a custard shop because it's not related to running at all. I really am an all-or-nothing type person. After bad periods, I came back to running because I wasn't satisfied with just doing something half way. I'm at the point where, like it or not, I'm too old to do my best and I'm not sure I can settle for that. To be around the sport kind of hurts in a way. So I don't know if I'll continue.
You're not going out to win age-group awards.
I don't believe so. I never learned how to lose. That's why I don't do good on teams. It's just that I was always in it for myself. I'm glad that I could take people for the ride. I love it when I'm running down Barr Trail, and somebody says "Do it again for us old guys!" That's what I got during that six year streak (six consecutive Pikes Peak Marathon wins while in his 40s). The most inspiring thing to most people, I think, is the fact that I was old.
But there was a guy in the Barr Trail Mountain Race ... I'm running down and he says, 'How does it feel to be old?' And that enraged me so much, that I came back the next year and set the record (1:29:33, since broken by Ryan Hafer, 1:29:05). At some point age is an excuse, but not in your 40s. It's just a matter of being willing to put the time in. Jobs aren't excuses, kids aren't excuses, families aren't excuses. City council. I was elected to city council and they said he'll never win (on Pikes Peak) again ... I have two wins since then. If you are willing to put the time in and be consistent, it's there.
"At some point age is an excuse, but not in your 40s."
That's encouraging as I move into my 40s soon. Another great interview Tim! Thanks to you and Matt for providing it
Matt Carpenter is the current course record holder for the Leadville trail 100.He finished that grueling 100 mile run on the old course in DAYLIGHT15 hours and 42 minutes in 2005.(he paced it for a number of years before even attempting the run itself) I go every year to watch the finish even the strongest young studs have only gotten within an hour of that record..and they are running an easier route ..hahahaha.To have the mentality that Matt has is to believe in excellence so much that you study everything you do to achieve the VERY best your body is capable of...Matt Carpenter KNOWS his limits and is never afraid to try to better his efforts...he should be an inspiration to every runner for that. http://www.skyrunner.com/story/2006mab_mc.htm