One of the great things about the fatbike community is how back-of-the-pack guys like me can talk to and learn from racers who are way up front – people like Tracey Petervary, an accomplished long-distance cyclist, a really cool person, and a pretty dominant champion.
T-Race has enjoyed particularly remarkable success in fatbike racing, which everyone agrees is the hardest and best form of bike racing. Most notably, Tracey has won the Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska by setting the women’s records on both the northern and the southern routes – 1,000 miles between Nome and Anchorage. Back home in Idaho, she was first female champion at JayP’s Backyard Fat Pursuit in 2014, making a gigantic late-race push to finish second overall.
And here in Minnesota, Tracey has now won back-to-back titles at the Arrowhead 135, taking the last year’s race in memorably cold conditions (and finishing fifth overall) and winning again this year. With the win, she became the only female rider to win the Arrowhead twice. (For reference, only one man – Jeff Oatley – has won the race twice, back to back in 2010 and 2011.)
Proving her awesomeness, T-Race agreed to answer a few questions from me about her 2014-2015 racing so far. I’ve lightly edited her answers for clarity.
Talk first a little about your training this winter. What does a week look like for you – long rides, short hard sessions, a mix? Do you do much training off the bike?
Training? I am a bookkeeper so I get a lot of training sitting on my ass, ha ha. I have been supplementing my time off the bike with Targhee CrossFit, where my coaches keep my weight low, to keep me light and add to my strength, which adds confidence. A week may look like 2-3 days of CrossFit during the week, an hour of snowshoeing to pack down the local Rush Hour Trail I like to ride with the boys [ed.: Rippin’ and Chillin’, the Petervarys’ dogs], and 2-3 days of weekend riding anywhere from 2 to 5 hours.
One part of your winter was serving as co-race director for the Fat Pursuit in early January. What was it like to help run the race, rather than race the race?
The stoke was huge at this race, so it was just straight up fun. The quality of racers and the excitement from the volunteers and the community made it stellar. It was fun to be on the other side, helping racers have a good time, cheering everyone on at different checkpoints, making notes to make the event better, and organizing and talking to the awesome volunteers, who were just as excited as the racers. I got to spend time with friends who don’t race but love to be a part and volunteer. Helping JayP was great; he had a lot of patience and I know he was relieved to have me help, which made me feel good.
The Arrowhead is just part of your winter campaign, which also includes the ITI next month. Why did you choose to race the Arrowhead again this year?
I chose to race the Arrowhead again because it’s a fun race and because I wanted to come back to challenge myself to get a better finish time. It’s like a reunion of friends I don’t get to see often which is really special. I also knew it would be a different race, as far as temperatures.
Tell me about your race strategy at the Arrowhead, given the conditions this year. Did you have a goal time in mind (Eszter Horanyi’s course record – 18:18, set in 2012?)? Did you have goals – in terms of time or effort – for particular checkpoints or other landmarks on the course?
I thought about the record briefly going into the race, but I didn’t feel in record shape – which is how racing goes sometimes. My goals were to beat my own times, have a solid race, and be efficient, making no stops other than the checkpoints. When I was getting close to Melgeorges [the second checkpoint, near midway in the race], it started to set in that I may have a chance at the record.
What kind of tactics played out during the Arrowhead? Racers were finishing fast and furious around you – four finished in the half hour ahead of you and five finished in the half hour after you did. Did you ride with anyone? Chase? Pass?
The section between Melgeorges and Ski Pulk [the third checkpoint] went very well for me. I passed a few guys, my riding was solid, I felt good. I wasn’t really sure where others were; I was just focusing on getting to the finish ASAP.
Some more general questions. First, your bike. You ride a gorgeous Salsa Beargrease, “Fave.”
How did you set up Fave for the Arrowhead – tires, drivetrain, bags, et cetera? Do you always use flat pedals and regular boots on Fave, or is that a race-by-race choice? Were you testing anything interesting? Did anything work particularly well or not work particularly badly?
The set-up for this race is usually the same as far as gear: tires were 4 inch Dillingers front and back, drive train was a 1×11, my frame bag is custom from Carousel Designs with a stretchy part for expansion and embroidered with my name. I got a pair of 45NRTH Wölvhammers this year, so that was different. I really like being clipped in. The warm temps made it tricky. My feet actually overheated and then got wet and cold, but I was able to dry my socks and and the second half of the race my feet felt great!
Second, food! You are a pretty accomplished cook, and maybe even a little bit of a foodie. What do you like to eat and drink during races, when you’re rolling and when you’re stopped? Any treats that you save for particular moments?
Thanks! I like to eat things that make me feel good, that I can be ok with eating as far as ingredients. I also try to eat things I don’t eat all the time and save for race food, but that I have tried in the past so they’re not a shock, such as locally made Kate’s bars and GU Brew, Gel, and Chomps. This race I ate jerky from Wyoming Ranch, which was dynamite. I liked the salt and it was easy to eat. I used to eat a lot more sugar and candy, but these choices were better. My stomach never went south.
Third, what do you think about when you’re on the trail? What goes through your head? Your effort? The sounds Fave is making? Dreams of food and drink?
It depends where I am on the trail. I listen to music to change the mood or just to listen to something. I think of what I am doing and that this is a race and try to keep that focus. I also think about my time in the checkpoints, what I will do and what needs to be done to get in and out, and yes definitely how good the grilled cheese and wild rice soup is gonna taste!
With the AH now past, how are you building up to the ITI?
Mental preparation for me is big. I think about the sections of the trail, what they could be like, how I will handle the lack of sleep, the checkpoints, but always remaining flexible. I am following my regimen of 2-3 days of CrossFit. My coaches keep my weight low, so I am getting stronger but not bigger. I ride two or three days a week and will snowshoe one day a week.
Looking past even the ITI, what’s your “off-season” look like, besides cooking and walking Rippin’ and Chillin’? Races? Tours? Advocacy?
There’s an off season?
Finally: I see a lot of racers carrying mementos, slogans, and the like on their bikes. I pin a card with Mike Riemer’s “Stay constant” advice to my bars, for instance. Does T-Race carry anything like that with her when she’s out there on the trail?
I don’t have anything on my bike, but some quotes that have stuck with me and that I think of often are “You gotta want it,” “It ain’t over til it’s over,” and “Tell the mind to go, the body will follow.”