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The Legendary Matt Carpenter

Some of you may have heard of Lance Armstrong. In fact, most of you have probably heard of him, which is kind of surprising given the fact that Armstrong's sport, road cycling, is so unpopular in this country that most of you probably haven't heard of Eddy Merckx. (Don't worry; he's only the most legendary cyclist who ever lived.)

There are other obscure sports with legends that you may not have heard of. For example, mountain trail running.

In Colorado, they run an ascent and a marathon every year on the trail that climbs 14,110 ft. Pikes Peak. A runner named Matt Carpenter has dominated these races, winning the marathon six times, the ascent five times, and setting the course records for the ascent (2:01:06) and the marathon (3:16:39). Carpenter is the only runner ever to win both the ascent and the marathon on consecutive days in the same year (2001).

This year was the 50th anniversary of the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon. Carpenter didn't win, but that's only because he didn't enter. Instead, Carpenter had set his sights on a new challenge. He was in Leadville for a 100-mile trail race appropriately called the Leadville Trail 100. When he first ran the race last year, he was way ahead of everyone after 75 miles when he got leg cramps and ended up finishing 14th.

Now, no legend is ever going to be satisfied with 14th place, even if he's a really nice guy like Matt Carpenter. Sure, he had an excuse -- he wasn't used to competing at that distance. But excuses are not for legends.

So this year, Matt Carpenter went back to Leadville and did this.

For those of us who like to make analogies to athletes in other sports: is Carpenter a legend in the mold of Armstrong (dominating one major race like no one else), or is he more in the mold of Merckx (capable of winning every kind of event, at every kind of distance)? The only thing that isn't in any doubt is that Carpenter is trail running's fastest legend of all.