Published: August 15, 2013
Matt Carpenter running alone down Ruxton Avenue is one of the welcome scenes of summer in Manitou Springs. He slaps hands as he nears the finish line of the Pikes Peak Marathon. He is, as usual, the dominating victor of the race he loves maybe a little too much.
We - and Carpenter - might never savor this scene again.
Carpenter, who turned 49 in July, will not race this weekend at the Ascent and Marathon. He talks of his departure with the joy of a liberated man.
"It's nice to be able to enjoy my running for a change," Carpenter said. "I've run for at least an hour every day for a year. I enjoy it. I look forward to it. If I'm supposed to go a little harder and I don't feel like it, I don't.
"In the old days it didn't matter how you were feeling or what your motivations were - you had to go hard on the hard days. You had to put in an absolute 100 percent. Now, I'm back to the roots of getting to do it for the right reasons."
Carpenter made his victories look easy. In 1993, he obliterated the Marathon field with a still-astonishing run of 3 hours, 16 minutes, 39 seconds, a record that could stand for another 20 years.
After he crossed the finish line in 1993, he immediately ran a mile in reverse along the course. He wanted to encourage his running friends as they neared the end of the long run. And, maybe, he wanted to display his matchless conditioning.
This apparent ease arrived with a massive price tag. He punished his body in pursuit of running supremacy. He obsessed over victory.
In 1992, a year before his barely believable record time, Carpenter finished second to Mexico's Ricardo Mejia. The second-place finish, which Carpenter considered a defeat, inspired him to work with even more diligence.
"It forced me to raise my bar," Carpenter said from his home in Manitou Springs.
He won 18 times during this running weekend, 12 in the Marathon and six in the Ascent. Following his 2011 Marathon victory, which ended with him soaking in the adulation of fans who lined Ruxton, he found himself facing a draining, troubling question.
Why go for No. 19?
"I couldn't answer the question of why," Carpenter said.
"Ultimately, I couldn't answer why it was important to win it 18 times or 19 times. It's a lot different going for your first than your 19th. I haven't been able to answer that question. If that answer ever comes back, I might jump back in there."
Even a decade ago, Carpenter fixated on the end of his running dominance. When he won the Marathon in 2003, he instantly slumped in a chair and didn't move. He no longer had the energy to run back along the course to cheer for his friends.
"Nobody wins it forever," he told me that day.
Carpenter despises losing as much as any athlete I've met. For decades, he used this seething hatred to drive him. This hatred inspired him to defy his aging body.
Still, he could always see the end.
The end of his dominance. The end of those happy, solitary runs to the finish line.
"I set very high standards for myself, and I was able for the most part to pull that off," Carpenter said. "But I don't care who you are, it's not a sustainable thing forever. Time doesn't hold back on anyone. Eventually he catches up on you. I'm not going to win this race when I'm 100."
And so, not quite halfway to 100, Carpenter will not run up and down America's Mountain. This is, he insists, a plus for him.
Even if it's a minus for the rest of us.