Peter Ripmaster will soon return to Alaska to attempt another Iditarod Trail Invitational 1000. In 2016 he narrowly escaped death when he fell through the ice during that 1000 mile running race.
Slowtwitch: Thank you so much for your time Peter.
Peter Ripmaster: Of course. Absolutely my pleasure.
ST: I assume you are in the middle of your prep to get ready for Alaska.
Peter: Yes, although I am as type A as they come so it’s been a process over the last few months. I struggle with details now so things can run smoothly on the trail.
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!
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.
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.
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!