I spoke with endurance mountain biker Carey Lowery after she won the extremely challenging Marji Gesick 100 mile mountain bike race for the third time. At age 51, Carey has had a long and impressive career. Highlights of Carey’s career include placing 2nd at the Marathon Nationals in 2013. She has also been crowned the 24 Hour Amateur World Champion (2006), NUE 100 Mile Series Champion (2007), Pisgah Productions’ Queen of Pisgah twice (2013, 2014) and Single Speed Marathon National Champion twice (2015, 2016).
In addition to being a mountain biker, Carey is a wife, a mom and a veterinarian. She races for the Rescue Racing cycling team and uses her platform to offer spay/neuter clinics and to fundraise for her local humane society.
I spoke with Carey about her experience as a women in a male-dominated sport, why she finds riding technical terrain so satisfying (particularly at age 51), and how she saw this pandemic as an opportunity to tackle a 5-year-old dream.
How did you learn to mountain bike?
I have been riding bikes since I was five. Back in my youth, I would take my Huffy BMX into the woods behind my house and ride the trails, which at that time were more game and hiking trails than actual biking trails. As an adult, when I got my first real mountain bike in 1999, I went with my local LBS group and just followed those who were better than I and learned on the job.
When did you first learn you enjoyed mountain biking?
The first time I rode a true mountain biking trail in 1999. It was further solidified after I did my first cross country race a couple months later. Fourteen miles and two hours later, crossing the finish line totally exhausted, I fell asleep on the drive home with my husband. Upon awakening, I immediately began planning my next race and purchased Joe Friel’s Mountain Biking Training Bible.
This past year, your “A race” was the Marji Gesick 100 mile, an extremely technical and challenging mountain bike race. Why did you focus on the Marji Gesick 100 rather than a gravel race?
I love shredding ribbons of dirt through the woods. I especially love rocky, technical terrain. The challenge of being able to clean sections of trail is where I find my flow state. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy gravel races, but my happy place is on single track. I love that, even at the age of 50, I can still learn and improve upon those skills.
I especially love rocky, technical terrain. The challenge of being able to clean sections of trail is where I find my flow state… I love that, even at the age of 50, I can still learn and improve upon those skills.
Why the Marji Gesick 100 rather than a shorter mountain bike race?
Because I love riding my bike all day… and sometimes night. This time on the bike, I get to enjoy myself, detaching from the matrix of life and entering a soul-searching “me-time” mode. I love the challenge of pushing myself, both physically and mentally, and discovering I can always go further and harder than what I thought.
What bike maintenance skills are needed to ride Marji? How did you learn them?
You need to know how to fix a flat, fix a broken chain, make on-the-fly derailleur adjustments, and change brake pads. I have had to employ these skills at one time or another in a race situation. I was thankful I had no major mechanicals during this year’s race.
I had one minor mechanical this year. A stick had flown into my rear derailleur and had caused the chain to get wedged in between the pulley and the cage. I was aware enough to stop pedaling when it happened, or I probably would have broken the derailleur. It took a minute and some forceful pulling to pull the chain free.
You were one of only ten women (in a field of 137 riders) to finish this year’s Marji Gesick 100 mile. What was it like to see other women during the race?
It was inspiring to see so many women on the trail. I saw more of the 50 milers and the runners as I hit the Jackson Park and Ishpeming portions of the course. I gave shout outs to each and every one of them. I knew they were hurting as much as I, but every single one of them had a smile on their face as I went by.
I remember seeing a group of three or four very young women (teenagers) on one of the steep doubletrack climbs in the last 15. They said I was awesome after they asked if I was doing the 100 mile. I replied that they were just as awesome. When I was their age, I thought a 5K was hard! I was in awe of the runners! I cannot imagine doing that race on foot!
When you are riding Marji, are you thinking about the fact that you are a woman and most Marji riders are men?
No, I don’t really think of myself as a woman — just another racer. One exception, though, is when I pass other women. I make it a point to give them words of positivity because I do know that some women lack self-confidence in a racing situation.
I also realize that women can be “bullied” by male racers in a passing situation, so I do try to instill some confidence in them by giving them words of encouragement and letting them know they have every right to hold their line when being approached by men. “Holding their line” means moving over but still maintaining their own speed, not stopping and getting completely off the trail.
Without races to train for, what biking goal did you set for yourself?
After five years of patiently waiting for the right opportunity, I was able to tackle a full pull on The Massanutten Ring. The Massanutten Ring is a 71 mile, rugged back country trail that encircles Fort Valley, Virginia. Originally established as a hiking trail, it is now also used for mountain biking. It is a 90% single track with lots of hike a bike sections. 13,000 feet of elevation gain.
I was so nervous going into this attempt on The Ring. It has been a long time since I have had butterflies. So much could go wrong, as this trail is technically brutal. A lot of bikes have died on this trail. I knew it was going to take a mental toughness to knock this out. I knew it was going to hurt and hurt it did. But I also knew that the pain would go away.
After dreaming about this goal for five years, how did it feel to complete this big goal?
This five year build up made me bound and determined to get the job done. I hate unfinished business and I did not really want to have to come back. I think I left a little bit of my soul out there last night. To have finished this beast is a sense of accomplishment so great that proves to myself I can do anything I put my heart, mind, and body to.