I opened my 2015 road/gravel campaign with the Lowell 50, which is dubbed a "Classic Gravel Road Race" by the promoters. It features smooth paved and unpaved roads, plenty of climbing, and small field sizes given that it follows on the coattails of Barry Roubaix by just a few weeks. I competed in the 34 mile race (they also offer a 57) and went in with the goal of finishing it in under 2:10. I smashed this and ended at 1:54:08, earning me 4th in my age group and an overall finish of 55 out of 264.
I lined up with the second wave at 10am, watching the competitors in the 57 mile race roll out with the blow of a whistle. I looked around and didn't recognize a single face. People seemed calm. I'm always a little nervous at the start of these things: will people hold their lines or chop wheels fighting for early position? Will things begin at tempo or with a violent CX type burst? It was a little of both. The event promoters tried to curtail the fast start that is common for gravel races by doing a neutral roll out to a covered bridge just at the bottom of a hill. However, nobody wants to just sit at the back of a field of almost three hundred riders and people were trying to move up. Two crashes before we even started racing had me a little worried. But we got through it, made it to the covered bridge, and we were off.
Folks didn't hesitate and we hit the gas as soon as the pace car dropped off. Up and down, up and down, something that I'm built for, but certainly not used to as a Chicago native. I had my goal and knew that I needed to average just under 17mph in order to hit it. I told myself going in that I wouldn't leap frog from group to group and try to move up. Of course, the racer in me wasn't content with sitting on an island or allowing other riders to blow by me. I ignored my MPH goal for now and stayed on the gas, keeping me closer to a 20mph average.
The up and down continued, along with the leap frogging and staying on the gas. The hills hurt, but I kept my rhythm. I tucked on the downhills and used them as an opportunity to recover.
I had my tire pressure dialed and I floated along those gravel roads in the brilliant Saturday morning sunshine. I felt very thankful for the day and the opportunity to race. At one point we passed a sheep dog, majestically standing atop a hill and keeping a watchful eye on all us racers.
Around mile twenty I settled in with a group of five or so riders and we took turns taking pulls. My legs hurt and I thought about sitting up a time or two. I looked down at my computer and saw that I was on track to smash my goal and stayed on it. This was a great lesson in the power of setting such things. Without it, I might have dropped off.
Things started to get chaotic around mile 30 as we caught groups and groups caught up with us. The fun thing about these types of races is that you have no idea who is and isn't in your age group so you end up just keeping an eye on everyone. Riders were taking up the entire road and trying to squeeze between one another. We bombed the downhills and I did my best to reel in anyone trying to escape, trading blows frequently with a rider on a white focus.
The pace really picked up as we approached mile 33. "We have to be close to the park" I told myself. Down and up, I saw a police office directing traffic and then I saw the sign letting us know we were close to the finish. I mustered up my final bits of strength and kicked hard. I dropped many of the folks from my group, except the guys on the tandem who were absolutely crushing it, and came flying across the line with cheers from my wife.
That was a fun sprint and I ended up beating the guy on the white focus by 2/10ths of a second, who happened to actually be in my age group.