15. The Humbler

Team Colin raced the Northumberland Humbler yesterday (the third race in the Dan Marshall’s Substance Projects XC Marathon. Team Colin is a bit tired. Team Colin has a sore back. Team Colin is HUMBLED.

And it feels awesome!

I’m tired because I worked hard and didn’t leave anything on the course. My back is busted because I raced my rigid single speed and had to grind up each hill (and shoulder every bump). I’m humbled because my body let me get on a bike and bomb through a forest for two hours.

I could have taken up golf and spent the day in a golf cart (not that there’s anything wrong with that), or I could have taken up sailing and spent the day jigging the main sail (not that there’s anything wrong with that—or factually accurate because I don’t think you actually jig a main sail). Instead, I took up mountain bike racing.

And it’s awesome!

I think the race went well. I can’t really gauge my results against last year because I’m in the Single Speed category, but I’m pretty sure I at least did a bit better.

I placed 64/81 overall (compared to 53/72 last year), and my time was within 30 seconds. Last year I had gears. This year I didn’t. So I’ll take it as a win.

And that’s awesome!

Plus, the whole rigid fork thing was a killer.  It probably added at least an hour to my time…

They say Northumberland Forest is “single speed friendly” because it’s “fast and flowy”. Maybe “they” are right, but after two hours at race pace, it didn’t feel fast or flowy. In fact, after the first hour it felt slow and trudgy, and it got worse from there.

And that’s not so awesome (but I’m okay with that).

A word about my pacing. I started at the absolute back of the pack, with 80 riders ahead of me. I wanted to set my own pace, and not feel the push to keep up for the first few minutes (and burn too many matches) and it worked. I held back from my usual pace, and by the time we hit the start of the second hill (2 or 3k in), I had energy. Lots of it. I picked-off almost a dozen riders in the first 20 minutes. I had the lungs to pass riders, and the to legs to attack the climbs. With gears, I usually only pass on the double track, and fall back on the single track. Without gears, I attacked everywhere. I didn’t have to attack on the double track, because I had already passed a rider or two on the single track (which is something new for me). I even felt strong on the descents, and instead of working my brakes too much (because I’m usually gasping for breath and feeling unsteady), I had the strength to just let go and fly.

Northumberland is kind of my home forest. My riding buddy, John,  and I ride there often, and despite sometimes getting lost when I’m not with John, I sort of know the trails. So I had something to prove, and I think I did. Not to the 63 riders who bested me, and not to the 17 riders that I beat, but to myself. I raced my single speed for the fourth time, and I finished with a smile.

Race Report: Northumberland Humbler (June 18, 2016)

The race started with a 700m choke up a dusty hill. It made us all look like we were coal miners. It was so dusty, at times I couldn’t see the actual ground on the single track. Thanks for the shake up, dust obscured roots and rocks.

“They” were right. The first 16k of the course was awesome. Fast and flowy. The descents were long, winding, and fun, the climbs were long, winding, and fun, and everything in between was…fun. Even the (very short bits of) double track were fun.

But then there’s a road crossing that brought the course to a moto cross trail for the next 6k. If the word to describe the first part of the course is FUN, the word to describe the second part of the course is SHITTY.

The second part of the course was like an angry country song about a cheating boyfriend. And you’re the boyfriend. It was 6k of raw, beat up, single track, scattered with steep climbs and rocky descents. When that section was done, there was a long shot up some double track to the next 6k section, which was better, but not by much. That part of the course was like an angry Taylor Swift song–mildly annoying, but you’re still the jerky boyfriend.

My truck wasn’t getting its’ headlights smashed, and I wouldn’t need four new tires, but my back sure took a beating.  Track like that is not the Clydesdale’s friend; I felt every inch of my 6’2” frame, and every ounce of my 250 pounds.

That part of the course is also where I got a killer case of poison ivy last year, so I was riding tentatively the entire time, on the look-out for the bastard stump that jumped out at me last July…

It zapped so much of my energy. I tried to pace, but I spent most of the 12k bouncing off rocks, careening down sharp descents, navigating (and stalling) around tight corners, walking up a few of the climbs (embarrassed face) and trying to keep my momentum over the. Stupid. Bumpy. Uneven. Trail.

I hate you Elderberry and Firefly trails!

By the time we crossed the road again, I was pretty shaky. For the second time this season (and in all of my races), I had to stop to catch my breath, refill my water bottle, and take a knee—even though I knew it was less than 5k to the end. There were two riders about a minute behind me, and it gave them a chance to pass (I never made up the deficit). My imminent heart attack also gave the one rider ahead of me (Angela Emsley) a chance to take off. Angela and I spent most of the race (and the past few races) dancing back and forth, and it would have been nice to finish with her, but she had the legs and lungs.

The end of the race was a snap, and my stupid rest break gave me lots energy for the last climb, with about 2k to go, which wasn’t really much of a grind.

A quick shot down a fun hill, through some fun pine trees, and boom, it was over.

Overall a pretty awesome day: I spent the first 7k beside my riding buddy, John (until I couldn’t keep up with him); I paced myself okay; and I gave it my best shot.

And Team Colin even doled out some frozen treats after the race!


Oh, and my race photographer was there too.  Ted Anderton from Apex Photography was on hand to capture my glorious (and ample) spandex clad frame.

The course didn’t humble me—I humbled myself when I took up racing mountain biking as a hobby, and then developed into a racer. Scratch that. It’s not a hobby, it’s much more than that.

And it’s awesome!



PS.  If you golf or sail, that’s cool. I was just making a joke. Whatever makes you boom, keep doing it.


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