Q & A with Winter Ultra Endurance Athlete Charly Tri

Image Credit: Tina Stiller

With the completion of the Arrowhead 135 earlier this week and several other really tough ultras coming up, I wanted to talk to a veteran of this type of demanding fatbike racing.  Charly Tri of Rochester came to mind having competed in both the Arrowhead 135 and the Iditarod Trail Invitational.  The extreme cold combined with the long distances of these races can be tough on equipment and even tougher on the athletes that compete in them.  I got in touch with Charly and he was happy to answer some question so we can find out what it takes to race a Winter Ultra.

How do you prepare mentally and choose the equipment/clothing for the extreme cold that both the Iditarod Trail Invitational and Arrowhead 135 are known for?

"Well that is a 2 pronged answer I guess. Mentally I try to put myself into scenarios and think about what I would do. For instance, I had planned what I would do if I broke through ice and found myself soaking wet in nowhere Alaska at sub freezing temps (cry and yell a lot). Equipment and clothing would involve a lot of reading, testing, read more, test more, ask other guys I know, test more, repeat. It is funny, but as people moan about cold temps coming, riders doing this rejoice...more testing!"

Image Credit: Sveta Vold
Being an endurance athlete, how do you adjust for your asthma in the extreme cold?

"I am not sure I am the guy to ask, as I still have issues! My first Arrowhead I dropped out with an asthma attack at -20F not knowing I even had asthma. I had my suspicions, but nothing like that! Mayo Clinic has been one destination along with the drugs that brings. The Coldavenger has been a big step in the right direction for sure. I wear it anytime it is below freezing. I remember one Arrowhead all I did was focus on keeping my breathing steady and relaxed. Also, finding triggers are a big issue. I have found to stay away from processed sugar and alcohol. Processed food in general is bad news, better to stay away from it. I am human though. I forget, do things I shouldn't, pay for it, and learn from it."

Image Credit: Charly Tri

How has your asthma affected you in past years' races? What have you learned to manage it and has using the ColdAvenger cold weather facemask helped you?

Image Credit: Charly Tri
"Oh, I have DNF'd out of 2 Arrowhead 135's and 1 Tuscobia 150 because my asthma was so bad I could barely stand or worse. Iditarod I had issues coming out of every checkpoint, took 1/2 hour or so for the breathing to calm down and settle into a nice pace. The Coldavenger makes the cold possible for my lungs."

The brutal cold was definitely a factor at last year's Arrowhead 135. What were some of the lessons learned that will help you this year?

"Well, last year had plenty of cold days so plenty of time to test. I ended flatting about an hour into the race at close to -30F. I found out that tubes are awfully stiff at that temp and the seam will burst really easily when filling quickly with a co2:) Took me a bit to figure out why my tube wasn't taking air as it happened silently. Also found out that I have at least one friend in Ben Doom, whom stop to help. At those temps the nature of your equipment takes on a whole new dimension. I could probably write a few pages on how things change at those temps as is pretty crazy. Just imagine having to unfold a tube using the force of both hands as it is so stiff. Pretty nuts, and as long as you come out the other end healthy, pretty cool. My race ended early at the 1st checkpoint as I was battling sickness though which was pretty disappointing." 

Image Credit: James Stull

What are the coldest and most challenging temperatures/weather conditions you have raced in and what helped you through it?

"-30F would be the coldest air temp. I went on some rides last year when the windchill was around -50F. What got me through it? The fear of dying I guess. Also, the thought that I need to master those temps to prepare for the time it is even worse. You can't fool around or take things for granted. Honestly, I wish I had more opportunities to ride and train in those temps. I am jealous of those Fairbanks guys. You know, it is not like I started riding at these temps overnight. It has been a progression." 

Image Credit: Charly Tri

You have to rely on your experience, knowledge and equipment to get you through the Arrowhead 135 and Iditarod Trail Invitational. What was the most valuable lesson learned as an experienced veteran during these brutally challenging races?

"Most valuable. Train and test. Look for those absolute coldest days, and if it means waking up at 3am to finally get a ride in at -20F the do it. Pushing yourself through crappy weather in training gets you ready to push yourself through crappy weather in races. Leave your bike out overnight on the coldest nights and see if it still operates correctly in the morning. Do the cables still work well? Do your axles turn without a lot of added force, pulleys? Brakes still retract? Tires still hold air? If you can't ride all night at silly cold temps, you at least can make sure you bike tries it." 

Image Credit: Tom Morgan

With the large number of calories burned during races of this magnitude, how do you fuel up before and during a race to give you the energy you need?

"I have a steady diet of butter and ice cream leading up to a race. Kidding, kidding. I really don't eat differently. I will make sure I am full all the time the day or 2 before, but you can only load your body with so many calories. Also, you body adapts, especially the long the effort. It learns to feed off your own fat stores more (I have a lot). I am always surprised how much less I eat than I anticipate in these really long races. Now, you need to eat, regularly, but it is not like you need to stuff your face at all moments. You need to ride your bike a lot. I find my asthma is effected by processed sugar, so I tend not to fill my feedbags with such things. I have found recently though, it is something good to have on hand." 

Image Credit: Tom Morgan

How do you keep dehydration becoming an issue when you are out on the course for many hours at a time between checkpoints?

"I drink.
You want more?:) I bring a 100 ounce reservoir. That is enough for between checkpoints for me in most ultras. For Iditarod, I also brought an insulated thermos to carry hot water. My theory is if I ran out of regular water, I could stuff my Camelbak full of snow, and melt it down with with the hot water quickly. Never had to do it, but it I was prepared to. Also, you need to bring the ability to melt down snow."

Image Credit: Adrienne Gillespie

I've heard stories of racers encountering wolves out on the Arrowhead 135 course. Have you experienced this in the past 5 times you've competed?

"I wish, but don't wish at the same time, but no. Seen tons of tracks. Two years ago the snow was coming down extremely heavy, I saw fresh tracks as I had my head down at one point. Had I been looking up I am sure I would have seen one. In all of Iditarod I saw one moose, at night. I don't have any good animal stories, sorry. But, my plan for Iditarod is if it gets to cold is to slice open a Tauntaun's belly and sleep inside." 

Do you have a training regimen to get you ready for the Arrowhead 135 and Iditarod? How do you work it in to your schedule with work and having a family? Both must be very supportive of your endeavors.

"My wife is amazing. She is a marathon runner that understands much of the "why" in what I do. She is great and I could not do what I do without her. That being said, it is not uncommon for me to leave the house late at night in order to sneak in a ride. Rochester Cycling is also very accommodating to my silly attempts at trying to kill myself. I have a plan I often follow leading up to events, much based off of Joe Friel's book."

Image Credit: Charly Tri

Your choice of bike, components and equipment are very important to being successful during these extreme winter endurance races. What bike/equipment choices do you think give you an advantage over the competition?

"I don't think of my gear choices as an advantage as much as seeking out the best. Thanks to 9:ZERO:7, Bike Bag Dude, Nextie Rims, and Wolftooth Components I have extremely light equipment that is able to take a huge amount of abuse. Reliability is what I value above all else, but I, like everyone it seems, also strive for a light set up. The rest of what I ride has been acquired over the years, often as Xmas gifts and such. I want absolute confidence when I start again on the Iditarod Trail or any other ultra race. My sponsors, especially 9:ZERO:7 make what I do possible." 

Image Credit: Tom Morgan

The cold temperatures that the Arrowhead 135 and the Iditarod Trail Invitational are famous for can wreak havoc on the functionality of your bike's components. How do you avoid these problems and have they ever played a role in cutting your race short?

"The cold has tried to wreck my race, but equipment wise it has not yet. Changing a tube at -30F is an experience I would rather not relive. But I seek out cold days to test, test, test."

Thanks again for doing this. I really appreciate it. I know how important having sponsors for my own site can be and I make sure to promote them every chance I get. Without them I wouldn't be able to do what I do and I'm sure you would share the same sentiment with regard to your racing.


Charly placed sixth at the 2015 Arrowhead 135 with a time of 15 hours 51 minutes.  His next challenge is the Iditarod Trail Invitational which starts on Sunday, March 1st.

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