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ST: This year will be your second attempt to do the Iditarod Trail Invitational 1000. Could you explain the basics of this endurance event to our readers?
Peter: The Iditarod Trail Invitational is a human powered winter ultra marathon. There is the 135 mile, 350 mile and the 1,000 mile race. Folks either run, bike or ski the route. I run the route on foot or in other words, I am the dogs. We start a week before the Iditarod Sled Dog Race and I will be passed by all the dog teams while on the trail. In my not humble opinion, it’s one of the toughest challenges on planet Earth. I sincerely hope to finish the 1,000 mile route in a few weeks. We have to come in 1 second under 31 days to become an official finisher.
ST: When are you flying to Alaska and when exactly does that ultra marathon adventure start?
Peter: I leave North Carolina on Thursday, February 23rd and the race starts on Sunday, February 26th at 2:00 PM Alaska time. You can find all the tracking information at the race website iditarodtrailinvitational.com
ST: Why such a late afternoon start?
Peter: Because I don't think it matters much. After one week on the trail I won't know whether it's 2pm or 2am. I'll just know to keep moving.
ST: Last year you narrowly escaped death when you broke through thin ice and fell into the water. Is that a somewhat accurate description and can you tell us more?
Peter: I would say that’s an accurate statement. I had a close call. These things happen in Alaska. Being all alone when it happened, I’m glad to say I made all the right decisions in dealing with the situation. I survived just fine. It shook me up, no doubt. I went another 300 miles after the accident and then quit at 500. I was very comfortable with the decision at the time. Simply put, I wasn’t mentally prepared to go another 500 miles. I don’t blame it on falling through the ice at mile 200. I blame it on me not being in good enough shape and not having the right finisher’s mentality. I learned a bunch from the friends that I hiked with last year. There are absolutely no guarantees in this race but I feel great heading into this giant adventure!
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ST: Going into the race was that a possible scenario you had on your mind?
Peter: You know, you hear things like “nobody has ever died during the Iditarod” and I feel truly like if things were just a tad different, I would’ve been swept down a rushing river and been the first. Honestly, falling through the ice happened so damn fast that it was just a matter of reaction and the need to survive. I have a beautiful wife and two awesome little girls. I wasn’t going let this river take me from them. God still has plans for me, that’s the way I look at it. I knew the race wouldn’t be a walk in the park but the ice ordeal came out of right field, to me!
ST: How long did it take after the plunge into the icy water until you encountered another human?
Peter: First, I truly don’t know how long it took me to get out of the water. My best guess was that it was 2 minutes, which felt like 20 minutes. Very luckily, the next checkpoint was only 3 or 4 miles away and I knew exactly where I was from previous years. Within 45 minutes of falling in, I was warming myself near a wood-burning stove. All in all, it could’ve been much worse. It was 20 above, but it could have been - 40. It was 6pm with some light left and it could’ve been 3am and pitch dark. Lastly, I was only 3 miles from help. I could’ve easily been 50 miles away. That would’ve certainly changed the situation and how I reacted. If this was going to happen, it happened in the best place at the best time.
ST: Has that accident influenced how you will approach the 2017 event?
Peter: The accident has influenced my approach in many ways. I will say life has been sweeter since that day. Knowing my life could’ve been taken from me makes me appreciate each opportunity I have in life whether it’s another race, French kissing my hot wife or hugging my daughters. I feel blessed to be alive and life is sweet.
ST: Talk about how you plan to pace.
Peter: I plan to take what Alaska gives me. If the weather is decent early on in the race, I’d like to try to make a good amount of miles per day (40-50) knowing that weather will come and my body will deteriorate. I will also try to make more shelter cabins and checkpoints rather than multiple nights sleeping off the trail in the elements. I believe being in much better shape will help me to move more efficiently on the trail. I haven’t done too much running on the Iditarod trail and I would like to build in some running into my daily schedule just so my muscles remember how to do it. It’s mostly power hiking on the trail.
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ST: How much gear are you taking and or shipping over to Alaska?
Peter: The pull sled that I pull will be roughly 50 pounds and I have worked very hard to get that number down. I’ll fly with my sled and a big duffle filled with gear. There are only a couple things I need to pick up in Alaska once I get there. Again, I’ve done most of the work with preparations. There’s less stress that way and I’m all about less stress!
ST: I think you also have run a marathon in 50 states. When did you finish that quest?
Peter: I did. I ran 50 marathons in 50 states and raised over $62,000.00 for Breast Cancer Research and Support in memory of my mom, Hillary Ripmaster who passed away in 2000. It took me less than 5 years to finish that project or about 10 marathons a year. I was happy to get that project over. I was born to run ultras and trails, not city road marathons, that’s for damn sure!
ST: What else is on your bucket list?
Peter: I’m seriously considering travelling to Bhutan next year to run a 6-day stage race. I’ve travelled the 50 states too many times to count. I love my country dearly but my spirit is ready for some diversity. I want to spread my wings. Bhutan has called my name ever since I heard of their GNH or Gross National Happiness. That’s an idea I can get around. As for races in the states, Hardrock has got to get done one of these days. I lived in Telluride for many years and I vividly remember walking out of a bar about 2:30 AM and seeing folks with headlamps running through town. They looked like aliens. Little did I know at the time, those were Hardrockers and I must run that race. These lotteries are a bit crazy these days though. Maybe I’ll just go run the route sometime? Who needs finisher medals?
ST: I met you last year when you volunteered to sweep the SwimRun NC event. Was that the first time you had seen an event like this?
Peter: Yes. I had to be a part of it. I promised my friend Jan Kriska that I would be there for him. He has been there for me though a number of fun adventures. I loved what I saw. I think this sport has a BIG future in this country and I’m happy to be a part of it. I’ll probably volunteer again this year and then sign up once I get over my fear of fancy wetsuits.
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ST: How good of a swimmer are you?
Peter: Not good. With that said, I have endurance. I think I could swim as far as I wanted. I wouldn’t be breaking any speed records or have people tell me how great my form is but I could get from point A to point B. I’m also scared shitless of the ocean so it would have to be in a river or lake. No ocean swimming for this mountain man. Speaking of swimming from point A to point B, I just finished reading Diana Nyad’s book about swimming from Cuba to the Keys. Holy moly was I inspired and there were some similarities between what she did and what I’ll be attempting.
ST: Have you swept a course before?
Peter: Yes, I find I can usually help the people who are struggling a little bit. Those are usually some of my favorite athletes in the race. The back of the pack folks are the most fun! You know it’s like a mullet: business in front, party in the back.
ST: Anything else we should know?
Peter: Once I get back from Alaska this year, I would like to continue doing public speaking and slideshows because I love sharing my Alaska with people. I also have a book in the works. It should be an interesting read - which covers much more than running. You’ll have to wait and read!