After a DNF at last year’s exceptionally brutal Fat Pursuit, Salsa Team Rider Jill Martindale had a bone to pick with this ultra-endurance winter fat bike race. With plenty of time to put a variety of miles in and reexamine her tactics, she returned this year and settled the score – not only was she the first female finisher of this year’s 200-miler, but she’s also the first female to ever finish the 200-miler!
Here she gives a nice recap of what went down in Idaho.
Salsa: Congratulations, Jill! What factors contributed to this great accomplishment? How was your physical condition? The weather and trails? Your gear selection? The bike?
Jill: The bike made a HUGE difference this year! I am incredibly lucky to have added the Salsa Mukluk to my stable. Last year, I rode my Salsa Beargrease, and while that bike is my baby and the bike I ride a majority of the time, there were aspects to the Mukluk that were perfect out on the Fat Pursuit course. Wider tires gave me much better float, and I found myself riding up some climbs I had a harder time with last year. I dropped a few folks on descents, too, and I attribute that to the better handling with the new 45NRTH 4.8” Husker Du’s. More mounts and a rear rack also made carrying all of my gear a little easier than using the rack-less setup I’ve used the last couple of years on the Beargrease. I had worried about the placement of my sleeping pad but was happy on a ripping downhill segment that I had placed it horizontally behind my saddle because it gave me an extra platform to set my butt on for the gnarly fast downhills. I was not happy with where my sleeping pad was when I was pushing my bike up Two Top… but there were a lot of things that attributed to my unhappiness on that stretch (i.e., pushing my bike up Two Top!) I may play around with that placement before ITI. Physically and mentally, I’ve been dreaming of conquering Fat Pursuit ever since I DNF’d last winter. I added more hill repeats to my training regimen (although there’s nothing like Two Top in Michigan!) and I trained more with a loaded bike. I saw a lot of riders shaky on the handlebars towards the end of the race; I think a lot of folks overlook training with a handlebar roll or weight up front, and practicing with that weight there in collaboration with upper body work can help with a lot of the fatigue that is felt at the end of a 200-mile ride. I forced friends to ride laps at our local mountain bike trails with me – them on their fast fat bikes and me on the loaded-up bowling ball. Some friends and I have been riding every other Sunday on gravel, and hustling to keep up with them on their light and frisky bikes while I towed weight in my packs hurt and made me worried Fat Pursuit was out of my league. In the end, it helped prepare me pretty well! We’ve had a great winter in Michigan so far, and I was able to dial in all of my layers. I was prepared for anything 40 degrees on down to below zero thanks to a lot of wool layers and my 45NRTH gear! I had a night-time outfit and a day-time outfit and changed accordingly if I was climbing or descending! My friend Marnie joked that climbs were just slow downhills, and I found myself both cursing her and laughing, imagining her there on Two Top with me. Having a stash of happy riding moments helps get me through the darker times, and I think mentally you need stuff like that to smile about when you get to the pain cave.
Salsa: It’s hard to imagine what didn’t work – you won after all! But if you were going to change anything, or if there was anything you think could have made things go even better, what would they be?
I had read JayP’s reminder on the Fat Pursuit Facebook page to test your hand pump. I tested it inside and was happy with how it worked. I failed at field-testing it in the snow, and when I went to put air back into one of my tires just past West Yellowstone, the pump wouldn’t seal on my valve-stem, and I dumped more air out of my tire! I panicked a little and reached for a CO2 cartridge, but the conditions also prohibited my first cartridge from working. Bailey, from Chicago, rode past and he offered to let me borrow his pump since mine was apparently useless. I threaded the hose on, pumped air into my tire, and then accidentally removed the valve core when I unthreaded the hose. All of the air dumped out of my tire again!! Poor Bailey is such a nice guy, and I could tell I was bumming him out hardcore as I was failing at tire pressure. He decided to let me hang on to his pump while he kept rolling, and there I was with two pumps, a useless CO2 inflator, and the realization that I had forgotten my valve core tool and a Leatherman back at Pond’s Lodge. I finger-tightened the valve core, and miraculously it stayed for the remainder of the race! I didn’t dare mess around with my tire pressure after I delicately got the right amount in at that time, and I was regretful that I didn’t have the tools I needed and that I hadn’t practiced more with the tools that I knew I would use. I was happy that I had packed two multi-tools because I had come upon another rider who had forgotten his and it made me feel really good to be able to share one of my tools with him. I will remember to pack a Leatherman and my valve core tool in my next winter ultra, as well as some of the other things I had forgotten to pack at Fat Pursuit: tinfoil, those missing tools, and a few extra Ziploc bags. And I will make sure to have both a right and a left-handed glove as opposed to two left-handed Nokkens. Luckily, I had Cobrafist pogies on my bike, and they kept my hands perfectly warm the entire ride. In colder temperatures, dry gloves would have been a morale booster, but I was able to be comfortable with what I had.
Going off of the two left-handed Nokkens, I also need to dial in my organizational game! There were a few times when my gear exploded all over the trail at Fat Pursuit because my weary mind couldn’t remember where I had packed the extra batteries or a specific pair of socks or gloves. I had brought wool liners with me, the Nokkens, and the Sturmfist 4’s, and it took a few tries to find where they had been stashed. What a waste of time! I need more work in this area.
Salsa: How much did the weather play a role in this run?
I learned a lot about patience after crossing the finish line at Fat Pursuit. I kept pushing on despite soft snow in areas, snowmobile traffic outside of West Yellowstone, and through a snowy squall. After we had finished, Missy Schwarz told me that she had sat in a few checkpoints watching how slowly my Spot Tracker had been moving in areas. She had waited for the temperatures to change slightly for better riding conditions, and she was able to ride faster through snow that had set better than I had ridden through it a few hours beforehand. A great tip that she undoubtedly picked up while living in Alaska! I think Jeff Kerkove was able to get out ahead of a lot of stuff for his amazingly fast sub-24-hour run, and I’m motivated to try to push harder next time. I came across a groomer while traveling up Two Top and had to move off of the trail to let it pass – the snow came up to my waist! When I got back on the trail, it was much easier to ride on because it had not been torn up by snowmobiles yet. One of the things I love the most about riding in snow is how many different variables contribute to conditions and how hitting the trail at the perfect moment can really improve the ride – I love the learning curve! If you can’t hit the trail at the perfect moment, that’s okay, slogging along helps to keep you warmer. ;)
Salsa: What’s your biggest takeaway from the weekend? What new things did you learn?
People are a lot more capable than what they give themselves credit for. Staying positive is huge when you’re out there! I keep learning that making smart choices is one thing that will get you to the finish line – rest before you make mistakes, anticipate changing conditions, and be prepared to modify your plan. Take a change of clothes. I learned it’s a fine line between being patient enough to wait for the snow conditions to improve and pedaling forward. Try to stay ahead of weather or varying obstacles, or competitors! All in all, keeping composure and not freaking out when your valve core explodes from your valve stem will help to get you across that line, too, and that it’s okay to ask for/to accept help from other riders. Accepting a snack of smoked salmon from Perry boosted morale when I was moving slowly through a squall, and borrowing Bailey’s hand pump got me out of a pinch! I felt relief when I let Jose borrow a multi-tool because I imagined being out there myself without one! I keep falling more and more in love with the winter ultra-community and really appreciate all of the down-to-earth racers that are out there. Jeff Kerkove immediately handed back his first-place pay-out to be split with the first-place female, and that type of generosity is beautiful in a sport that’s still growing. I think it’s worth signing up for a winter ultra just to meet the big-hearted folks that are out there!
Salsa: What stands out as your favorite moment or moments from this Fat Pursuit?
Crossing the finish line at Fat Pursuit, I took a win home not just because I crossed the line as the first-place female, but because I persevered and I pushed myself through 200 of the hardest miles I’ve ever ridden. I won because I didn’t give up and because I encouraged and cheered for the other women who were out there smiling and challenging themselves. Missy Schwarz and Kellie Nelson are incredibly strong riders and very tough mentally. In my opinion, they both won this race as well! This was the first year the 200-mile Fat Pursuit had any female finishers, and truthfully, it’s the first race I’ve ever been in that had 100% completion rate among all of the female competitors. That’s amazing! I have no idea if something like this will ever happen again, and I am so completely proud of the three of us. We have a great bond that will never be broken, and I am so excited to see them at other winter ultras!
Salsa: What separates the Fat Pursuit from some of the other winter ultras you’ve done, and why should it be on the to-do list of winter ultra-racers?
Groomed singletrack, riding along a pretty river, snowmobile trails, climbing Two Top, seeing the “Frost Giants,” and hallucinating things in the snow like dinosaurs, teddy bears, and igloos, meeting like-minded crazies out there, learning tips and tricks from Jay and Tracey Petervary, meeting Kathi Merchant and Amy Breen and so many other experienced Iditarod Trail Invitational finishers – seriously the weekend out at the Pond’s Lodge was one of the best winter training weekends I have ever experienced. The number of endurance veterans out there was mind-blowing! The fact that they offer a Winter Camp has me jealous that I didn’t stick around to reflect on what I had learned in the race and to pick up more skills. Jay and Tracey do an amazing job of hosting this event, and a great job of being approachable with your questions. I’m lucky to have Salsa teammates that share their knowledge to help hone my skills. Plus, there are some great raffle prizes and last year I saw a moose out there. I am super happy and satisfied after the Fat Pursuit, but I am also motivated to improve my own time and to get out to Idaho to race the course again.
Salsa: You’ll be heading to Alaska soon. How are you feeling heading into the Iditarod Trail Invitational?
I know better than to say I’m prepared! I felt prepared for Fat Pursuit last year and was entirely in over my head with 40 below zero temperatures and with three flat tires! I learned valuable lessons at Fat Pursuit that will sit fresh in my mind to help me make better decisions at Iditarod. Talking with Kathi Merchant, I feel very optimistic that things will be “okay.” I also know that everything depends on the weather and the snow conditions. Anything could happen out there. Arrowhead is coming up at the end of January, and my goal is to practice more of my skills and to race that unsupported to get the most training out of the ride. Everything this year has been in preparation of the 350-mile Iditarod, and above anything else, I’m just feeling very fortunate to get out there, and even more fortunate to be able to bring my husband, Dan, out to Alaska to experience it as well. I’m very appreciative of all of the support I have heading out to the Iditarod Trail Invitational and recognize how lucky I am to have this opportunity. I’m going to make the most of it!
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The bicycle to me means a whole heck of a lot of things - friendship, community, exploration, the best job in the world, independence, self-reliance. I love that it can connect me with so many people and so many places, but I also love that it can disconnect me from those places and people.