Monday, November 24, 2008

A Rare, Non-race Weekend

Yes, you read that right - no racing for the Rowells this past weekend! It was nice not to be in the pack/travel/unpack/clean bikes/laundry/repack/travel/unpack/clean bikes/laundry cycle this weekend.

So, what did we do with our time? No racing means time for - riding for FUN! Yes, I said the F-word ;). We've been racing/training since the spring, and at this time in the season, it was nice to get a group of like-minded, race-weary friends together to head out and ride for fun. Of course, some might say that riding for over 3 hours, in the woods, with temps in the 20s and wind gusting is anything BUT fun, but for us, it was a good time.

Just before 10:00 am on Saturday, two groups (the boys, and the girls) set out from our place to hit the woods. The boys (I think there were 7 of them) were off for a 4+ hour ride, and Tami, Teri and I decided that 3 hours was plenty, so we did our own "mini-epic". We rode in the PR (aka the Landlocked Forest) for the first part of our ride, looping most of the trails and practicing some technical skills along the way. Tami rode some corners and bridges she had never conquered in the past, and Teri and I had our own successes along the way (minus her "resting" on the final uphill ;)).

From the PR, we took to the road and bike path for a short and VERY cold section, before heading back into the woods on the rail trail extension heading out to Concord, and towards Estabrook Woods. There wasn't any mud - too cold! In fact, part of the trail was iced over. By the time we made it to Estabrook, the riding and cold had done us in - we did a short loop to say that we had made it, and then headed back for hot coffee, hot showers and hot food. We still ended with over 3 hours of ride time, and about 26.5 miles.

Teri - dressed for the weather; "You can do it - no brakes!"

Tami the tree-hugger; "That was easy"

The Old North Bridge in Concord

Yes it was cold, and yes, that is ice!
The boys trickled in in small groups, but once everyone was back, clean and slightly warmer, we celebrated the ride the way all cyclists love to - with a feast! Lasagne, salad, snacks, bread, pies, brownies and beer. YUM! It was a great day - good riding, good food, and great friends. I'm looking forward to more "fun" riding as we finish the racing season.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hot Off the Press

(Image shamelessly "borrowed" from

The promoters (IBC and of a NEW race in December - The Ice Weasels Cometh - are giving the Cat 4 women's field THEIR OWN RACE! This is your chance to be the ONLY field on the course during your race - no juniors and no Cat 4 men.

Go here for more info and to register. Let's support these promoters who have listened to your suggestions.

Pics from BRC Shedd Park

As promised, here are some pics from last weekend. Click here for the album and access to full-size photos.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Shedd Park

Am I winning yet? (photo by Mark S - aka Soups)

After a full day and night of heavy rain, we arrived in Lowell expecting a course with mud, and that's what we got. Lots and lots of mud! The day started with overcast skies and temps in the mid 50s, but the winds picked up and by the time the Elite races went off in the afternoon, temps were down into the low 40s under sunny skies. It was colder and windier than a lot of people were expecting, including me!

For the past two years, the Lowell course has been relatively unchanged, so we were surprised to see racers pre-riding out near the road into the park - clearly, the course was different this year. First, the staging and start were on the infield of the track. This set racers off on the grass before hitting about 3/4 of a loop of the track. The tight 180 uphill corner was still a factor (and a mess in some of the bigger fields), before coming down and heading up to the side hill, which was slick with mud. For some added adventure, the organizers ran us up "the hill" twice on the course this year, with the requisite off-camber corners in between the two sections.

After that came the mud-slicked downhill chicanes. Typically, these are frozen and rutted for the early races, and dry by the later races. This year - MUD and lots of it! This was a tricky section where many riders ended up going down. We went back through the main part of the park, and the course sent you into the woods and through the mud bog. Imagine about 80 yards of thick, gooey, shoe-sucking mud. What fun! Originally, there was a set of barriers in the middle of this mud-bog, but they were removed early since most people ended up running the entire length. This actually became less rideable as the day went on, but made a good spectator section. Out of the mud, we went back into some twists and turns in the woods, and out onto the track to come past the start/finish.

We arrived before the first races of the day, and I was able to watch Alexis in the Cat 4 men's race, the NEBC women in the 3/4 race, and Mike's Master's 1/2/3 race before I had to change and start getting ready myself. Warming up, I had on two pairs of leg warmers, my skin suit, team jacket and my rain coat - it was COLD!

I stood in the second row on the line, and had a TERRIBLE start. I don't even really know what happened. Before I knew it, I was DFL on the track, and going through the 180 uphill/downill turn. I tried in vain to get around Hannah before the first off-camber hill, but every time I zigged, it seemed that she zagged ;). I finally got around her, and onto Sue M's wheel. Sue is great at moving through traffic, so I stuck with her, and we moved up pretty well in the field. At one point, I ended up on Clara's wheel going into the second hill climb, and told her that I was going left and was going to ride. She moved, but I didn't make the hill. We went into the downhill chicanes together, and I coached her through some of the corners and back down to the main part of the park.

Going into the mud bog in the first lap was utter mayhem. By this point, Sue had moved ahead of me, and I went into the mud behind Clara. When she got bogged down and stopped, I literally ran into her - sorry Clara! We all ran through the rest of the bog, and were off.

I dropped a few more places, but was still in a decent position going into the third lap. With all of the beach practice we've been doing, I KNEW that I could ride the mud if I tried, and on this lap, I had a clear shot at it. In I went to the cheers of the many spectators lining both sides of the bog (including Mike). I kept the power on and tried not to steer the bike, but it was tough going. A short way into the bog, on the most rideable line, was a hole, followed closely by a big clump of roots. Hitting these at speed scrubbed the momentum you may have had... But, I kept on it and with a lot of cheering, managed to get all the way across and to the other side. THAT was the best part of my race (and MANY thanks to everyone for the encouragement, and Soups for the photo!).

Riding the mud gave me a gap on the racers behind me, and I tried to keep that gap. I managed to catch the two riders in front of me, but crashed at the bottom of a downhill, with both going ahead of me. After apologizing for the crash, I managed to get by both of them again in the downhill chicanes, but in attempting to ride the mud a second time, got passed by both of them again, and wasn't able to catch them for the remainder of the race.

I ended up finishing 11th of 16. While the results don't sound impressive, to me, I feel that I had a terrific race. Why? How can 11th place be looked at as a success? I later found out that on my third lap, I was the ONLY woman to have ridden the mud - success (although 2 others later did the same)! I managed to beat someone I have not beaten in a cross race this season, and finished ahead of two of my nemeses as well - success.

You see, success in racing doesn't ALWAYS come from winning or placing in the top 5 or 10 (although those are, of course, desired outcomes!). Success comes sometimes from races within the race, requiring us to change perspectives. Sure, I could cry in my soup about not keeping up to Sue, crashing when I did, or not finishing in the top 10, but instead, I choose to look at my wins, however small they may be.

I have additional photos of friends and teammates that I will post tomorrow.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Swell Day for a Ride...

Well, the temps cooperated - it was about 65 degrees when we went out to ride. It was also "dry-ish" since we were between green blobs on the radar. So, since we weren't racing, and I wanted to give my new SS 'cross bike a go, we headed out for an on/off road adventure.

Not 20 minutes into our ride, it started raining. And then it rained harder. We were already wet, so might as well keep going, right? After all, at least it was warm ;).

We ended up gettting in about 35 miles, and rode the rail trail extension, newly discovered trails in Bedford, part of Great Brook and part of the new Bruce Freeman Rail trail. The bike worked great, and Tide took care of all of the dirt ;)

New Ride

Yes, another new ride has shown up chez Rowell, and I happen (yet again) to be the beneficiary. Gave it a whirl on Weds of this week, and really liked how it felt. Not sure that I'll be racing this one (it's a single speed, and really intended for the road), but it looks pretty cool!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Now What?

This morning, we lost our backyard 'cross course...

First time they have come before Thanksgiving week!

Monday, November 10, 2008


Before I delve into the race reports for Plymouth, let me show you the prep drills for last week:

Yup. Mike raked the leaves in the yard into a course full of corners, and we spent a lot of evenings, just practicing skills. Just goes to show that all you really need is a rake! Drilling the corners in the yard was awesome practice for the races - especially since nothing we encounter in a race is quite as tight as what we had to conquer in the yard...

Plymouth North
Last year, the weather for this race was FRIGID! This year was definitely better - the temp was in the high 60s, and the air was humid. I had originally decided to sit out on this race, but was glad that we ended up going. As I've said before, racing is really about more than just the course and the bike - it's also about being with friends and hanging out (much more fun than racing ;)).

We pre-rode the course, and it was pretty much unchanged from the previous year. Uphill pavement start onto an uphill grass grind, downhill into some sweeping corners, a tight up/down chicane, more grass, a single barrier (I LOVE this!), into some [mucky] woods, back over a single barrier, down a singletrack section of woods, onto an uphill sidewalk, more uphill and then a run-up (well, the guys were riding it, but for me it was a run) and back again. Despite the warm temps, it was windy, and this was going to play a factor - a good draft was going to help, and going it solo was going to hurt.

Mike's race was first, and he had an AWESOME start, hitting the grass uphill third behind Curtis and Mark M. I watched proudly as he sat on Mark's wheel for the entire first lap - he looked great and was sitting between the McCormacks - not a bad place to be. As the leaders came through for the second lap, however, my heart sank some when I didn't see Mike. I waited, and waited. When I finally saw him, he yelled that he needed a wheel, and I took off for the pits. While I couldn't figure out what had happened, it turned out that he rolled his tubular at the bottom of the ride/run up, costing him his position in the race. Luckily, we had spare wheels in the pit, he changed it out, and was off to chase down the field as much as he could.

Off to a great start; Catching air chasing Mark

Mark's wheel, Dan Coady, Mike and Frank; Up and over

Chris leading a chase; Sam on the way to winning the 45+ race (with Bob B)

Wayne and Gewilli; Mike flying onto the bike

Wayne riding a great 45+ race; This guy finished well - on a Pugsley!

I was up next. I didn't spend any time on the trainer getting warmed up though - given Mike's trouble, I waited in the pit for a couple of laps to be sure that he was all set. I did have to sprint a few times to get there though, and did some "hot laps" in the parking lot before the race. I did one more pre-ride of the course before we were off, and that was my warmup. That was ok with me - I don't like the trainer anyway ;).

It was a good-sized field for the 1/2/3 women, and Kathy Sarvary was out for her first race since she broke her foot in September. I got to know Kathy last year, and spent some time with both she and Sue M before the race. I love both these women - they are great people and awesome racers (and Kathy is a current World Champion!). My goal for the race was to stick to the two of them - something I haven't been able to do in past races.

On the whistle, Mo Bruno took off after the hole shot prime (she ended up winning by a pretty big margin). I had another great start (I think this is 3 or 4 in a row!), and landed on Kathy's wheel going into the grass. As we headed uphill, most of the women chose to ride the pavement, but I made up time and places by riding the grass just to the left. I continued to move up in the first lap, passing Julie before the singletrack, and then saw that I had a gap behind and Sue and Kathy just ahead. I made a move to catch them at the run-up and called out that we had a gap and if we worked together, we could keep it. I moved to the front to take my pull, looked back, and none had moved with me! I later found out that it was too much of a move - I hadn't meant to drop them, but did.

Kathy bridged up to me, and we rode together for the next part of the lap. It was music to my ears when Kathy said to me, "We'll work together, ok?". Over the barriers we went, and in an effort to stay on Kathy's wheel (we had a growing gap behind us), I got too close going up a short uphill, and slipped. Not only did I slip, but I also lost my footing completely, and went down. Sh*t! Kathy made the right move and went ahead, and now I was chasing. And I chased, and I chased. I just couldn't close the gap.

With one lap to go, Kathy was still ahead, but Sue and Ilana B from MIT were working together to close the gap behind me. As they passed, I jumped to get on their wheels, but couldn't pull it off. I had burned too many matches on my own in the wind. Once again, I ended up finishing with Sue in sight just ahead, but as disappointed as I was with losing Kathy's wheel, I was pleased with how I raced overall - strong and determined, and this time (unlike in races past), I didn't mentally quit.

Into the run-up; Leading a world champion - for now...

Plymouth South
Last year, this was my favorite race course of the whole 'cross season. I had been looking forward to returning this year for awhile, foregoing Porky Gulch this year in favor of this race. I had even told Mike Keough, the promoter, how much I loved this course. Poor Mike, though, found out on Monday that there was going to be a problem - the high school Superbowl was going to be played at the same location on the same day! He was in a panic, but he, his boys, and all of the folks who put on the race did a great job of moving the course, and still making it one of my favorites (although I have since heard words like "heinous" and "brutal" used as descriptors...).

When we arrived at the venue, Sam told us that he hoped we brought strong backs, small gears and good legs - the course was tough and there was a lot of climbing. We went out to see what the fuss was about, and sure enough, there were PLENTY of climbs on the course. Power climbs, but hills that took almost everything you had to get up and over. Add the wind on the upper fields, and this was going to be a very tough race. Despite that, I really liked the course - except for the barriers. It seemed they were in an awkward place (a slightly uphill approach into a vicious headwind left no ability to coast into them), and disrupted the flow of the course.

We watched the Cat 4 women's race, and I was so excited to see THREE NEBC women in the top ten - Shannon added a 4th place to Saturday's second place finish, MTB'er Janet ended up 9th, and Kathy M had a stellar race, finishing 10th! Katherine, Karin, Jean and Julie all looked great as well, and I KNOW they had a good time - a couple of them went out for their final lap after the official noted that they had already raced for their 30 mins, and could be finished and placed if they wanted - they chose to ride out their laps instead!

Once again, I decided not to sit on the trainer (I figured I had had good results the day prior without it, and wanted to see if I could carry that through today), and Teri and I did some laps on the upper soccer fields while Mike raced. The 35+ race split up quickly, and it looked like most of the guys who had raced on Saturday (perhaps with the exception of Mark who won both days) were tired and suffering on Sunday. On one lap, Mike had the added challenge of missing a turn on the course when the tape blew off the stake, causing him to have to dismount as he was chasing down Gray...

I spent time talking to Kathy and Sue before the race, and the three of us agreed to work together. It was windy, and working in a group was definitely going to be an advantage in this race. I confessed to Sue beforehand that my goal for the season, especially after Saturday, was to finish ahead of her in just one race ;).

My start wasn't as good on Sunday, but I did quickly end up on Kathy's wheel - right where I wanted to be! Sue was ahead of us, but we chased her down as well, and now we were together. After the climb behind the stadium, we went through the mud and into the next tight section with a short uphill. Today, it was Kathy's turn to slip - she dismounted, I rode and ended up ahead of her. With Karen and Hannah just ahead of me, I worked to try to bridge to them, and built a gap between myself and Kathy, with Sue behind as well. Karen was off and I couldn't seem to catch her, but I did manage to connect with Hannah. The two of us worked together through the windy fields on one lap, which was awesome.

As we came up the hill behind the stadium and into the mud, I saw Karen slide off of the line and off the course. I thought this would be a great place to take advantage, and to try to bridge and/or get by her. Unfortunately, I was so focused on Karen, that I did the EXACT same thing and slid off of the course. I yelled to Hannah to go, and got myself back on track.

Well, Hannah went, and I was never able to bridge back up to her. With two laps to go, I could see that Kathy and Sue were now working together, and that I had to work to stay ahead of them. I tried to focus on the race ahead of me instead of the race behind. With one to go I still had a gap. I wanted this BAD. The whole lap, I talked to myself, "Ride it like you mean it", "You need to clean this", "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon!", "Fast, fast, fast", "Not today!", and the best one of all, "If you finish ahead of them you can retire!". With my HR pegged, and my back screaming from all of the climbing, I put my head down and drilled the last lap. It was full on TT mode - sprinting out of corners and off of the climbs, pedaling through all of the corners. I could see them behind me, but managed to stay ahead through the finish!

This climb hurt on the 4th and 5th time up; Another power climb

Who left all those wheels in the field? ;); Racing against myself...

I literally had to stop as quickly as possible after the race for fear of falling over and/or throwing up. I couldn't breathe, and everything hurt. Signs of a good race, right? I ended up finishing 7th, but felt like I had just won. I was really excited about my weekend of racing - maybe some time off the bike is a good thing?

Oh, and Sue and Kathy are urging me not to retire just yet ;). Kathy is looking to come back on form after lots of time off from 'cross, gearing up for Natz and maybe even Worlds again to defend her title, and told me to watch out.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

NoHo Weekend

It was a beautiful weekend for racing out in Northampton, MA this past weekend. Sunny skies both days, although the temps on Sunday were a wee bit on the cool side - nothing that down jackets, flannel lined pants, hats and gloves wouldn't fix, mostly.

For the past two years, we have raced Porky Gulch the weekend of NoHo, so have never raced at this venue. This was also the first year (since we've been racing 'cross) that this was a two-day event at the same park. Unlike most of our friends, however, we opted to drive out and home both days - better to drive and sleep in my own bed!

We previewed the course on Saturday morning, and I didn't like it. I felt like there wasn't any place to find a good rhythm - loose, nasty, steep run-up into a twisty, turny, rooty section of woods, four separate miniature railroad crossings, a steep downhill, a sand section that was rideable if no one was in your way (which only happened for me on one lap) and a ride up that I couldn't make and had to run. Oh - and let's not forget the 90 degree right hand turn off of the pavement at the start that had the men's races grabbing so much brake you could smell burnt rubber pads for 2 or 3 mins after they had passed. Nope. This course didn't suit me well.

I got to watch part of Mike's race, but only the very beginning and very end. As usual, he was battling it out with Matt M all the way through to the final lap. Matt gave me some grief after Gloucester - said I stopped cheering for him when Mike was coming up to pass him. Since then, I have made sure, regardless of where either of them are, to cheer for Matt. This weekend, he heard me screaming at Mike, "Matt is right on your butt" - hey, at least I was still cheering for him!

After Mike's race was the 3/4 women's race. I had a front row start thanks to Mike registering us wicked early. And there I was - me and the entire MRC team. That was a bit intimidating. Had some levity though when Roz started complaining about being old. I told her to shut it, since her age didn't start with a 4. Christina, lined up beside me, looked astonished and said, "I hope I look as good as you and race as strong when my age starts with a 4." A great compliment - especially from someone whose age doesn't yet start with a 3 ;). Made me feel a bit better that many of them have been beating me this season (not a lot, but a bit).

I had a GREAT start, and went off of the pavement on the first hard turn about 4th or 5th wheel, but immediately got pinched in the next corner by Alison K, losing a bunch of places. I don't remember a whole lot about how the entire race unfolded except that there were a LOT of crashes in front of me - Roz and Stacey, Julie (again!), the Keltic girl I really wanted to beat... It seemed that staying upright in the race was a win in and of itself.

I laid it all out in the race, and finished with no gas left in the tank. I was frustrated by the roots and rocks on the upper part of the course, and the fact that I had to run the ride-up. Generally, though, I was happy with my finish - until I looked at the results. Once again, for the umpteenth time, the results listed lapped riders in the top 20, and were incorrect. Sigh.

Thankfully, the officials listened to the frustration. Alan, Richard, Diane, Kelly and Kristen worked dilligently to correct the results and have them re-posted. I had a long dicussion with Diane about the situation - she was willing to listen to suggestions, and we had a great conversation. The next morning, the results were corrected, and I moved from 21st to 16th! Woohoo!

As much as I didn't like the race course on Saturday, I loved the changes for Sunday's course. Gone was the loose, nasty run-up. There were more tight, twisty turns (I love those), a shorter, more rideable sand section, and a reversal of the downhill/uphill from the previous day, sending us up the off-camber we had come down on Saturday, and down the rideable uphill, and over the tracks (being careful not to catch too much air for fear of missing the hard turn!). It was a course that suited me much better, and I was excited.

To help ensure the results were accurate, the officials decided to run the U19s and the Cub Juniors ahead of the women, but to leave a 2 minute gap in between us. The hope was that this would enable the officals to keep better track of the laps, and any lapped riders (it worked - the results at the end of the race were accurate!). It was cold standing on the line waiting, but that was soon forgotten as the race started and I took off after Anna B, who went like rocket boosters were attached to her bike. Unfortunately, in her haste to get the hole shot, she overcooked the first corner, and ended up in a tree! I was close behind her - either 3rd or 4th wheel off the pavement (yay - another good start!), and managed to avoid that crash and another quickly thereafter.

I soon settled into a good pace for me, trying to use others to recover/rest where I could, and to try and make up time in places where I knew I had an advantage. On one lap I came to the sand neck and neck with Julie L. She chose to run, and I chose to ride through. On reaching the other side, I was able to sprint out of the sand and build a small gap as Julie had to remount her bike - I think that was my best move of the weekend, although in the end, Julie still beat me ;).

I got caught on the uphill one lap behind a rider who didn't quite make it. I dismounted and lost my footing, and had Karen T fall on top of me. As we both moved to get back up, we had to untangle our bikes - her bars had become one with my rear wheel. I took off pretty quickly to try and get an advantage, and heard someone yell to Karen to use a harder gear going over the rooty sections on the top of the course. I tried this, and it worked really well for the remainder of the race (although Karen also managed to get by me!).

Again, I left everything I had on the course, trying to catch the riders just ahead, and to stay ahead of a couple who were close behind. I managed to hold my final lap position and finish 12th - an improvement over Saturday's race for sure, and a nice ending to a great weekend.

Here are some more pics from the weekend:

Steve and Alexis - 3/4 35+; Mike and Gewilli - likely discussing the viscosity of tubular glue ;)

The crush of the 1/2/3 Masters start; Mike and Matt battling it out

A frosty start to the morning on Sunday; Mike approaching the tracks with John G.

Mike and John M.; Paul W ripping up the sand

Marc B. through the sand; Mike and Matt - again

Turning the corners with Julie and Karen; One last time over the barriers

The women 'cross racers have a fan in Geoff M!