Matthew Carpenter (1964–) is a mountain runner best known for his performances at high-altitude races such as the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, where he set the course record in 1993, and the Leadville Trail 100 Run, where he set the record in 2005. In the 1990s, he traveled the world as a member of the Fila SkyRunners while also fostering a stronger local running community in Manitou Springs by cofounding the Incline Club and the Barr Trail Mountain Race. Now retired from competitive racing, Carpenter served on the Manitou Springs City Council from 2009 to 2013 and currently owns the Colorado Custard Company.
Born in Asheville, North Carolina, on July 20, 1964, Matt Carpenter grew up in Ohio. After moving to Mississippi with his family during high school, he started running for his school’s cross-country team. He ran his first marathon six months later, at age seventeen. In college, he ran for the University of Southern Mississippi. After his mother committed suicide during his freshman year, he started spending summers in Vail, where he competed in various local races. He moved to Vail full time after graduating in 1987 with a degree in computer science.
Pikes Peak Records and Skyrunning
Just a few months after moving to Colorado, Carpenter came to Manitou Springs to run in his first Pikes Peak Ascent, where he placed fourth. He returned the next year to win the Pikes Peak Marathon in 3 hours, 38 minutes, a time that placed him behind only Al Waquie and Rick Trujillo on the all-time list. This marked the start of a close, long-term relationship between Carpenter and the Pikes Peak races. Over the next quarter-century, he raced on Pikes Peak twenty-three times and placed first eighteen times.
Carpenter’s fastest times on Pikes Peak came in the early 1990s, when he was at his athletic peak. After quitting his job in 1989 to focus on his running career, he moved from Vail to Colorado Springs in the early 1990s to train for the 1992 Olympic marathon trials. Preparing for the trials taught Carpenter new approaches to training, which yielded remarkable success when he applied them to his mountain running. In the 1992 Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, he sprinted to the summit in a record time of 2:05. Then he fell apart on the descent, losing to rival Ricardo Mejía by nearly twenty minutes. In a pattern that repeated itself several times during Carpenter’s career, he used that loss as motivation. Returning to the Marathon in 1993, he set records in the Ascent (2:01) and descent (1:15) portions of the race en route to a new overall Marathon record of 3:16, more than twenty-five minutes ahead of Mejía. The race is often regarded as one of the greatest performances in the history of trail and mountain running.
Carpenter is best known for his results at Pikes Peak, but he posted plenty of wins and course records at other high-altitude races around Colorado and the world. In his 1993 racing season, for example, he also won the Mt. Washington Road Race in New Hampshire, set a course record at the Imogene Pass Run from Ouray to Telluride, and won the Everest SkyMarathon in Tibet. Those results got Carpenter a spot on the Fila SkyRunners. As a member of the Fila team until 2000, Carpenter traveled the world to race in high-altitude events. He won the world Skyrunning series title in 1994 and 1995. In 1995 he won a marathon held at 17,060 feet in Tibet in 3:22, and in 1998 he won another Tibet marathon held at 14,435 feet in 2:52—a time that is fast for most people even at sea level.
Later Running Career
Carpenter boycotted the Pikes Peak races for several years in the late 1990s over new policies that eliminated elite entries and prize money. Instead of racing on the mountain, he worked to build a stronger local running community. In 1997 he cofounded the Incline Club, a training group named after the steep Manitou Incline where they often ran. Carpenter met his wife, Yvonne, in the Incline Club, and in 2000 the couple held their wedding ceremony during an Incline Club run in Waldo Canyon. Today the club continues to draw dozens of runners to weekly training sessions in Manitou Springs. In 2000 Carpenter also cofounded the Barr Trail Mountain Race, a 12.6-mile race from the Pikes Peak Cog Railway depot to Barr Camp and back, and implemented the policies he thought the Pikes Peak races were getting wrong regarding elite entries, prize money, charitable donations, and overall race atmosphere.
Despite his differences with Pikes Peak organizers, Carpenter eventually returned to the race that made him famous. In 2001 he became the first person to win the Pikes Peak Ascent and Pikes Peak Marathon on consecutive days, a feat he repeated in 2007. When the race’s leadership changed, Carpenter worked with the new organizers to bring back prize money and increase competition.
In 2004 Carpenter marked his fortieth birthday by running his first 100-mile race, the Leadville Trail 100 Run. At Leadville he started strong but later suffered from dead legs and had to walk the course’s final thirty miles, leading to a fourteenth-place finish. He returned the next year and finished in a course record of 15:42, more than ninety minutes faster than the previous record. Like his 1993 race on Pikes Peak, Carpenter’s 2005 race at Leadville is generally considered one of the greatest ultrarunning performances of all time.
Even as he aged into his forties, Carpenter kept up his blistering pace. In 2007, just a few days before his forty-third birthday, he notched his fifth win and set a new course record at the Barr Trail Mountain Race. That fall he entered the first North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championship in California, where he finished a disappointing second. Never one to take a loss easily, Carpenter repeated his usual pattern and came back the next year to win and set a new course record. In 2008 he also set a course record at the Mt. Evans Ascent, a fourteen-mile road race along the Mt. Evans Road and Scenic Byway. Meanwhile, he had been ticking off Pikes Peak Marathon victories every year since 2006. That streak that lasted until his sixth straight win in 2011, after which he stopped racing.
City Council and Custard
As a cofounder of the Incline Club and the Barr Trail Mountain Race, Carpenter had long been interested in supporting Manitou Springs, where he moved in 1998. Starting in the late 2000s, as his competitive running career drew to a close, he invested even more heavily in his local community. In 2009 he won a seat on the Manitou Springs City Council, where he served one four-year term and was mayor pro tem. In 2012 he and his wife acquired the Colorado Custard Company on the city’s main street.
In 2013 Carpenter became the first runner inducted into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame, and in 2015 he was inducted into the Colorado Running Hall of Fame. Despite facing several challenges over the years, his records in the Pikes Peak Ascent, Pikes Peak Marathon, and Leadville Trail 100 Run still stand. Even though Carpenter has not raced since 2011, he continues to run an hour or two each day on trails around Manitou Springs. When not running, he can often be found taking orders and serving frozen custard from the window of his shop.