Fat Bike Ultra-racing Q&A with Jay and Tracey Petervary
Editor's note: This year’s Arrowhead 135 winners took a moment to recap their race and shed some light on what it takes to triumph over Northern Minnesota’s fickle winter demeanor.
Salsa: The Arrowhead 135, like most winter ultras, seems to dish out a different experience each time around. How do you deal with this unpredictability (temperature and snow quality/quantity) in your preparations?
JayP: I have said this before and will say it again: I’m lucky to live in one of the best areas in the country to train for winter ultras. Here in Idaho we have very consistent inconsistency in terms of both good and bad snow conditions, if that makes sense. The snow trails are never too firm or too soft or too long, and I’ve trained in every scenario. If anything, they weigh on the soft side. We see the deep negative temperatures that are famous of the Arrowhead, and that also aids in preparation. Those things help with physical and environmental readiness, but on top of that, attitude tends to be really important. For obvious reasons, some people just don't like the soft conditions, but you need to embrace it all and not let a bad attitude get in the way of what the reality is. This year the conditions were demanding, but it was actually easier to break trail than it was to ride in the left over broken snow. Who would have thought!
T-Race: Fortunately I get a variety of temperatures and snow quality throughout the “winter” months of November through April in Victor, where I live. Our temperatures range from minus-20 degrees F to 65 degrees F during these months, and they change weekly. We can get 1 to 30 inches of snow in a single day. With these conditions I am able to ride in and test different pieces of gear accordingly. As the race gets closer, I watch the forecast, compare past conditions, and use my best judgment from past experiences on which gear items I will most likely use. I bring more than I need and remain flexible up until race day.
Salsa: You’ve both raced winter ultras for many years now. While the events are still distinctly not mainstream, is it fun to see the growth in the sport (more races and racers)?
T-Race: It has been amazing to watch fatbiking grow over the past several years and be a part of it. Seven years ago we were the only two people in Teton Valley with fatbikes; now I don’t know many people who don’t own one. It’s exciting to see all levels of riders and the skiers who swore they would never own a fatbike out enjoying the sport.
JayP: I've been competing in winter events for 10 years, and to watch the sport grow has been beyond fun. Seeing so many different types of people embracing the sport and the competition getting stiffer as a result is just excellent. I also like to think I have a part in helping it grow. I enjoy sharing what I have learned to help others, and I do it often. There are even a couple of videos I have done with Salsa to spread the knowledge, too. It's also another reason why I launched my own winter ultra event, Fat Pursuit, which has some structure to it that will make people use more of their equipment. For example, there’s a mandatory water boil mid-race.
Salsa: If you could only give one piece of advice to someone preparing for his or her first winter ultra, what would it be?
JayP: “Time.” Understand that time will heal a lot, and it should not have an effect on your decisions. Don't be afraid to take a little time in the form of a break, and to heal yourself of a bad attitude and/or the thoughts of quitting. Take the time to hydrate and stay fueled. Bivy if you need to. Time is what will get you to the finish. If you thought you would be going faster than you are, you must accept it, re-adjust, and allow the race to take more time. Tell yourself that the reality is that you might finish tomorrow, but that’s way better then quitting today!
T-Race: I would tell someone who is doing their first winter ultra to take care of themselves. It is a discipline to learn, like any other part of training. You have to eat and drink to move forward, to stay warm, and to be able to focus. If you are cold or something is affecting your performance, fix it ASAP. Leaving issues unattended can snowball very quickly in the cold.
Salsa: What was your favorite thing you ate during this year’s Arrowhead 135 race?
JayP: The grilled cheeses at the second checkpoint: They were half sandwiches, and I can't remember if I had three or four. I washed them down with several cups of pop, which was equally delicious. Considering that all I ate was a pile of GU gels, a Snickers bar, and a coconut bar while I was out on the trail, it was a pretty easy decision to chow down.
T-Race: My favorite thing I ate during the Arrowhead 135 race was at Checkpoint 2: Two bowls of homemade wild rice soup and two grilled cheese sandwiches. It was way more then I needed, but I couldn’t stop eating it!
Salsa: When you think back to this year’s race, was there one critical decision you made that you feel contributed to your win?
T-Race: One of the decisions I made that I feel contributed to my win this year was the can of Red Bull I put in my drop bag at Checkpoint 2. I carried it about 50 miles and, from past experience, I knew I would need it in the early-morning hours. I started sleep walking around 5 a.m., so I drank the Red Bull, ate some sugar, and within 15 minutes I was back in action. Next year I might carry two cans.
JayP: It takes many decisions to be at the front and to win—they are all critical. It only takes one bad decision to lose. With that being said, the morning of the race I made my final tire selection. I ran the 45NRTH Dillinger 5s instead of the 4s. This decision was based on the temperatures, my pre-ride the day before, and previous experience. I also asked myself the question, “What will the trails be like midday at mile 90? What tire would I want then?”
Salsa: When you think back to your first winter ultra, what would you tell your younger, less-experienced self?
T-Race: It ain’t over ’til it’s over! Never let up. Everyone is feeling the same way and pushing hard, and anything can happen.
JayP: There is no substitute for learning on your own, and trial and error.