He’s been called the King of the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, and here in the mountain’s shadow, he’s been cheerily scooping custard.
Found between Manitou Avenue’s tourist pop-ups, you know who the owner of Colorado Custard Co. is by the newspaper clips plastered to the order window, chronicling his remarkable reign on the 14,115-foot summit.
What’s Matt Carpenter been up to since his 23rd and final race in 2011?
“Just scooping away!” he recently remarked between customers.
But he declined an interview, as he has several times over the years. He nobly prefers to keep the focus on runners competing.
So it will be this weekend during the 64th installment of the Ascent and Marathon: Carpenter serving up cold treats and cracking his usual one-liners while once again professional athletes from around the world hotly pursue the local eccentric’s seemingly untouchable records.
They do seem that way after 26 years — untouchable. In 1993, Carpenter clocked in at 2 hours, 1 minute and 6 seconds atop the peak, notching what is considered the fastest Ascent before blazing down Barr Trail for the Marathon record that also stands today: 3 hours, 16 minutes and 39 seconds.
Ask Carpenter about the marks, “and he’s the first to say they’re beatable,” said the race’s longtime director, Ron Ilgen.
And this weekend, “we’ve got two of them really putting the pressure on,” Ilgen said.
It appears a more daunting task for Marathon favorite Kilian Jornet. Not since 1997 has someone come within 15 minutes of the record. Jornet won his lone Pikes Peak Marathon appearance in 2012 with a time of 3:40:26, 24 minutes later than Carpenter’s clip.
But the decorated Spaniard returns to Manitou with steam: Two weeks ago, he shattered Sierre-Zinal’s 19.2-mile course record with a victory in 2:25:35.
“Now he’s coming here to do the same,” said Ilgen, who was in Switzerland to witness the legendary performance.
Heat could be a mighty foe on Pikes Peak, though; Sunday’s temperatures are forecasted for the mid-90s. And then there’s the factor that Ilgen blames for Ascent and Marathon times being generally higher since Carpenter’s day: the rutted state of Barr Trail.
“No doubt about it, it was a much nicer trail 26 years ago,” Ilgen said.
So for the Ascent, “it’s gonna take more than 2:01 effort to break that record, if you’re comparing it day to day,” Joseph Gray said. But Colorado Springs’ own world champion trail runner sounds up for the challenge.
He came within four minutes of the record in 2016 — as close as anyone ever — and followed up with another Ascent crown in 2017, finishing in 2:08:19 despite a delayed start.
His focus then was on winning, as it is now. “But this year’s different,” he said. “I feel like I wanna challenge myself. I wanna go after something very objective.”
Enter the record, which would be even more meaningful to Gray in a year like this.
He grinded out another impressive racing season in 2018 with nagging pain around his groin and pelvis. Finally in January, he decided to get scanned, resulting in an order off the trails — the start of his career’s longest shutdown.
He entered a deep depression. “I just felt like, man, I’m never gonna win a race again.”
The fear heightened in his initial workouts nearly five months later. He felt slower than ever. “You lose faith in yourself, and I think that’s something I’ve always had,” he said. “When I lost that, it was kinda hard to find.”
But he did with a string of wins, starting in his first race back in May at Vail’s GoPro Mountain Games. Last month, he dominated the Barr Trail Mountain Race.
A record Ascent would be ultimate redemption. “I would love to do that,” Gray said, “and I’d love to make sure the record stays local.”
And down at his custard shop, how would Carpenter feel? Ilgen was talking to him not long ago about that.
“Honestly, I think he’d be kinda glad to have the monkey off his back.”