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.