79. Northumberland Humbler

Stone Wall

One of my favourite races of the year.

70k of sweet Northumberland Forest single track.

Team Colin, no gears, my Substance Projects family, and catered snacks…

The Northumberland Humbler.team.colin.humbler.jpgTo say that I love the trails at Northumberland County Forest (Beagle Club Road) would be an understatement.  I LURVE the trails there.  Long and flowing sections of pristine singletrack connecting effortlessly to one another, punctuated by a few breathy climbs…sweet.

Northumberland rips.  If you haven’t been there, go, just go.

And the county staff at Northumberland have upped their game, like, BIG TIME, lately,  It’s not only MTB heaven, with its bermed corners, natural technical stuff, and new trails galore, but the terrain is challenging and fun for hikers, and the scenery is surprisingly picturesque, despite minimal elevation gain and no grand sweeping vistas to speak of.  They’ve even added some accessible stuff for people confined to a chair on two wheels.  I think it’s hugely important that trails aren’t just about a bunch of spokeheads shredding, and it’s a cool mix to have hikers and dog walkers, horseback riders, and those who couldn’t otherwise access nature firsthand.

Like so many places–OUTSIDE OF TORONTO–Northumberland is a testament to shrewd municipal planning and strong political will.  If they build it, people will come.

So how was the race?

Okay, um, here’s the thing.  I was looking forward to this race for the entire season.  Aside from my love for Northumberland, mon ami, Simon (he’s French) was going to tackle his first marathon distance, and I was excited to be there for it.  Also, I really love Northumberland (wait, did I already say that), but by the time late September clip clopped along, I just was not ready.  The beginning of school was busy, and with the 8 Hour the week before, I honestly didn’t feel even remotely recovered until…um, maybe Saturday morning, maybe not even at all.  No kidding, the week prior to the race found me at my doctor for a day, involuntarily slipping into a deep slumbering nap each night after supper, going to bed way too late with still-unfinished chores, and just plain tired.

“But Northumberland is MY forest….” I thought (with just a little foot stamping and pouty lips).  I cut my chops there with my riding buddy John, and the trails live deep in my MTB heart, so I was not going to let muscle stiffness and general (okay, total) exhaustion put a damper in my day.

So how was the race?

Okay, um, here’s the thing.  As much as Northumberland is MY forest, racing it is totally different from riding it, and this race holds a bit of dread for me. Some of the stuff there really beats me up:

  • the climb off the start
  • the next two climbs
  • the entire section on the “other side” of the road (but especially Stonewall, and two punishing climbs in particular)
  • the switchbacked climb in the last 5k

So, how was the race.

Okay, um, here’s another thing.  I had a plan for the Humbler, and it was a BIG plan.  I was going to race it.

“Yeah…okay” you say with a bit of confusion, a tinge of derision, and a tone of “well duh”.

It may seem obvious, but it’s not generally my mode of attack.  I usually approach a long distance race with the mindset of simply finishing. 

“Not this time” I thought to myself.  

Northumberland is MY forest, and even though I went to bed the night before still-sore and way too late, my mind buzzed with visions of me actually RACING the Humbler.  Under bleary eyes in bed, and with a slightly nervous badumpa-dumpa-dumpa in my heart, I planned my start, my pace, my technique, my everything, until…I actually fell asleep.

Yep, in my slumber, I knew the Humbler was going to be MY race.  Well, that was the plan…

…because I didn’t sleep for long, and instead of recovering and dreaming hazily about all the fun I was going to have racing, I was restless and sleepless.

The next morning, after a fitful seven hours of all-night-racing in my head, I awoke feeling like the race was already OVER.  Feeling like I already lost.

I was spent.

I crawled out of bed…took a hobo bath…ate breakfast….did a last minute gear check….packed my food stuffs…and embarked on a tiresome and tiring drive to Northumberland County Forest (By the way, lest you think I raced after only a hobo bath, I’ve taken the approach of driving to a race, registering, and THEN showering.  That way, I get to the race before the rush of people, and I can shower at my leisure–and maybe even take a nap–before the race).

I got to the forest and registered, eager for a little snooze, but the vibe was just so much fun, and there were so many people to talk to, so I barely even had time to shower before the 11AM start.  No matter though, the adrenaline was kicking in, and this was going to be MY race…

So how was the race?


Maybe it’s summer legs; maybe it’s muscle memory from three Epic 8 Hour solo ripe this season (and another marathon or three); or maybe, somehow, some way, by some freak of nature, I’m actually getting better.

I placed 1st in the Clydesdale category, and if I had entered in the Single Speed cat, I would have placed 2nd.  Now it’s true there were only two if each us in each category, but race results are only ever a reflection of who showed up.  I showed up.  Would I have won if others showed up?  Who cares, they didn’t.

By the way, if I had entered the half marathon distance, my actual first lap time would also have put me on the Clydesdale podium, and I was only 10 minutes behind a Single Speed podium.

How about mon ami, Simon?

He didn’t race.  He got a death cold, and couldn’t even half it, but he came out anyway, to at least be part of the vine, and to help Dan.  There’s always next season, mon ami.

Race Report. The Humbler: Northumberland Forest.  September 29, 2018.

I started at the back of the pack, as I usually do, and gritted my teeth for the dreaded first climb.

What the?  It was way easier than I remembered.

At the top of the climb, we booked it hard to the left for a quick rip down a speedy, rooty, descent, and then up a gentle switch-backed hill that was also way easier than the last time.  I knew some fun stuff was coming up fast, but I also knew about the next two dreaded climbs (the Hogsback Bypass and the “other” hill), almost back to back that would rock me out of my “hey, this is easier…” stupor.

They weren’t easy.

They were tougher than the first climb.

But again, they weren’t nearly as tough as I remember.

Wait, what?  That stuff I was dreading…It didn’t materialize. I don’t mean it wasn’t there—it was there alright—but on Saturday, September 29, at the Northumberland Humbler, it didn’t beat up Team Colin


I can reread it a billion times, but it won’t change.  For the second race in a row–the second week in a row–I felt good about my performance.

From the top of the one-two punch of the Hogsback Bypass and whatever the other climb is called, the Humbler just ripped.  Gentle, rolling, fast trails, that just seemed to merge into each.  It was 8k of me literally whooping.  I was shredding.  Corners were fast, the short, punchy climbs were almost faster, and I felt strong and lithe.  Wow, that’s a word I don’t use often.

If that’s not enough, I paced myself to a really strong fellow SS racer named Marc, and in between laboured breathing and visions of cardiac arrest (dude kept a mean pace) we actually got to chat about bikes and bike stuffs.

We hit the first aid station, which felt more like Kraft Services on a movie set (pop, chips, pickles, water and eLoad, jujubes, bananas, and not one, but two happy servers: Dan’s Dad, and mon ami Simon–he’s French).  I was hardly out of breath, but I stopped for a minute because pickles.

I heard Marc talking to a few other racers talking about how easy the course was.  “Yeah, just wait a bit” I thought, because I knew the “other side” was going to get crunchy.

And it did.  For 12k on the other side of the road, the Humbler got mean.  Raw, natural track that I always imagine was built by the trail builders from the Ganny WHEN THEY WERE TRIED, ANGRY, AND RESENTFUL.  The “other side” is ugly and I always hate it….

…but not this time.

Okay, it wasn’t easy, but I just didn’t hate it nearly as much as usual.  In fact, it was almost fun.  Note I said almost…

Also, I lost Marc.  I just couldn’t keep up.

Back on the fun side of the road, it was a wickedly fast 5k rip to the START/FINISH, along some familiar stuff, and then “…hey, what’s this?”.  New stuff!  So awesome.  The lap ended with an ugly, and dreaded, switch-backed climb that, at that point in the race, was…kind of, um easy (so totally awesome to write this) and then down to the start.

35k done, 2:08 elapsed time, and I was still feeling sort-of fresh.  Note, I said sort-of…

I stopped for a quick break, some treats worthy of George Clooney on set, and was off again.

The second lap:

Okay, there was a bit of bleakness near the start of the lap, but that’s only because I was still at ripping pace, and I was getting really tired.  Plus, the mental game took over, and I knew there was still 30+k left to go, with much of it on the “other side”.

There was also a measure of delirium that crept in.  Sure, lately I’m feeling better on my bike, but I’m still me, and no matter how you slice it, big boss MTB is really hard.

In my delirium, just after the third climb of the lap, I saw something ahead of me, moving fast, and it wasn’t on a bike, or walking on people legs.  I couldn’t tell whether it was moving toward me, or away from me, and I’m not gonna lie, it scared the poop out out of me…and there was more than one!

They seemed to be circling, maybe looking for a place to…

“Oh my God, they’re turkeys!”

A flock of them.   By the way, click that link.

Okay, when I say it now, it doesn’t sound very scary, but in the moment, I didn’t know what the heck was happening. There I was pooping in my bib, with a flock of turkeys screaming “gobble gobble gobble HOOMAN, gobble gobble gobble.  HOOMAN…”.  They were scattering in a sort of Chuck Berry waddle…Yeah, I know, not so scary, but in the moment…

Also, in my defense, they were giant, Chuck Berry-like, wild turkeys.  Like, hooman-sized.  I mean human-sized.

Back to the race, holy crap it was fun.  I hit the Simon/Ron aid station (pickles, chips, and pop); once again tackled the “other side” (ugh); hit the aid station again; nailed some more fun stuff, some new stuff; had some fun; and DONE.

My time, relative to the rest of the field was fair-to-okay, but I wasn’t racing them.  I was racing ME, and MY time (and performance, and pace, and everything else) was stellar.

Yup, it was MY race.


End of Race Report.

So, that’s it.  That’s the story of the time I did a 70k MTB race the weekend after a 100k MTB race.  Oh, and here’s the best part, I was kinda recovered by Monday.  Notice I said kinda…

Yup, after such a horrible recovery week after the 8 Hour, I needed a change (plus,I  spoke to Ian Sagle–yeah, THAT Ian–the week after the 8 Hour,and he said he was recovered by Monday), so promised myself that I wouldn’t spend another week wince-walking, and I stretched and ate and stretched, and moved, and slept and TRIED to act normal until I FELT normal.  It worked. I actually went for a short fatbike rip with my family the next day.

My fatbike somewhere in Cedarbrook Park


And I felt good enough for a post-work ,50k South Scarborough Loop on Wednesday.


Except now I have a big problem.  My body is in end of summer shape, I’m the lightest I’ve been (IN 20 YEARS!), and I’m feeling pretty awesome, but I can’t bloody stop eating.  I am hoovering everything in sight, and I just can’t feel sated.

But that’s a problem for another blog.

Until then, I can only hope to stay in shape for the upcoming Sausage Suit ITT (the last formal MTB of the year) and the inaugural Howling Coyote gravel race.

Two more chances for race glory left in the season.  Awseome.




Some of the winners:


And some other shots from the day:




Don’t forget to enter my contest for two free registrations to the upcoming Sausage Suit ITT.  It’s going to be one heck of a blast at Dufferin County Forest on Saturday, October


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