100 miles of (mostly) smiles at the Haliburton Forest

By Darren Lum

Whenever I tell people I raced this summer in the 8
Hours of Hurtin’ in Haliburton held a few weeks ago at
the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve the common
question is how did I do and what did you do to train
for it?

Well, I finished in the middle of the pack, which is fitting
for a middle-aged me, and, as for training, I just rode
a lot.

When I registered to race several weeks before, I had
aspirations of achievement dancing in my head. How
that would manifest itself I wasn’t entirely sure, but I
thought the 3,000 kilometres of biking, including a little
more than 40,000 metres of elevation should count for

At the end of it all I was very satisfied with my 100-
mile performance, finishing 41st out of 84 solo men riders.
It’s not exactly anywhere near a podium, or a top-
10 finish, but I think I’m what can be best described as a
weekend warrior and far from being a high-performance

The marketing for the race included the statement,
“Easier than a day in the office.”
I’m not sure about that, but it was definitely far more

The race included a variety of racers tackling the 27 kilometre
loop as many times as they could in an eight hour
period on single-speed bikes, and geared bikes, as pairs
and individuals, which included endurance challenge
seekers like me.

The race route starts with a quick descent, followed
by a few punchy climbs that gets the body primed, one
steep climb at close to the 14 kilometre mark that tests the
heart and lungs, another fast descent to dilate the eyes
and test the reflexes, and ends with about a five kilometre
climbing section to challenge the resolve for a return
to the start. At first glance, or really one lap, it’s not very
difficult, as far as routes go in the Highlands where
enduring elevation that tests ones desire to cycle is part
of every ride. Do it six times though for a 100 miles and
you definitely know whether you’ve prepared, putting
the time in on the saddle.

While some racers cursed the climbs, it was the one
area of my riding that I gained on other racers. As a
shorter rider, I appreciated the opportunities to see some
semblance of progress. It was actually the flat sections
that I found most difficult – I think I need more weight

At the start of the race, I was riding well, keeping with
a pack of several riders, who made it possible to ride 27
kilometres an hour – riding with other riders creates a
break from the wind for those that follow.
In my mind, it was a strong pace and could yield a
solid finish, if we stay together. That wasn’t meant to be
as the group broke up with some dropping back and others
moving forward.

On my own my average pace slowed by a few kilometres
an hour with the exception of the end of the day
when I rode my fifth lap with the eventual third place
solo woman finisher, and the last lap with an unnamed
solo male rider, who helped me go faster with his pace
and also created a slipstream for me to follow for about a
quarter of the sixth lap, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Any notions of racing glory, which include the likes of
raised arms in the air at the finish line or even nipping
another competitor at the line for a top-10 finish were
quickly dashed part way through the first lap of the race.
At close to the 13 kilometre mark of the first lap, a lead
pack of riders came by me and the group of riders I was
with, like a train, two-abreast charging up the continuous
climb that peaked close to a 10 per cent grade. It was
both inspiring and humbling at the same time.
At that point, I started to tell myself: I’m a tortoise, not
a hare. I’m a tortoise, not a hare. Pacing and nutrition is
key to a multi-hour effort. I didn’t want to hit that proverbial
wall when you don’t know what’s up and what’s

100 miles of (mostly) smiles at the Haliburton Forest
down from being so tired. I spent about 30 minutes eating
lunch and speaking with friends, catching up with
one friend, who I hadn’t seen for several years. ‘This was
a race, but it was also an opportunity in the social interaction
opportunities and the beautiful scenery and savour
the scenery on the less technically demanding sections,
which offered shoreline clearings enabling views of
shimmering lakes and golden sunshine.

There’s a lot of personal mind games at play with an
endurance event that takes the course of a day.
Stricken by calf tightness, I can remember telling
myself: just one more. I can still make the cutoff time
before they stop me from starting another lap. This was
happening at a time when shadows stretched across the
roads, showing the approaching end of the day. With
135 kilometres completed over a little more than five
hours, I had contemplated calling it quits with the leg
cramps and overall fatigue setting in. However, with a
couple hours still to go I figured I could ride my last lap
slowly. I started with this plan and was pretty pleased
with myself. However, only about eight kilometres in
and I found another male solo rider, who I wished I got
his name because he not only helped me stay motivated
to ride at a strong pace, attack the climbs, even lead the
way, which enabled me to follow in his slipstream where
the effort is less, but the time together was jovial and
made the return to the finish line fly by. It was a memorable
aspect to this race, which I believe is true of endurance
tests, where there is a mutual understanding of the
suffering and the desire to finish that is difficult to accurately
be described without experiencing it first hand. As
I crossed the finish, strangers applauded my effort.

By end of my odyssey, I retreated to my camp chair
by a set of trees off to the side of the finish and ate, and
ate, and ate. I must have spent about 30 minutes eating
and drinking. I was completely drained physically and
mentally from the high output of energy and the constant
focus of racing on an ever-changing terrain inherent
to gravel road racing. If smart watches are to believed, I
was in a low state. It showed five out of a possible 100
rating for energy. Despite this quantified evaluation
of my overall state, I felt elated for having met my initial
goal to complete six laps for a 162 kilometres. The
last time I had ridden a distance like this I ended up at
the hospital with heat exhaustion, so being tired was an
improvement and made the finish all the more rewarding
for this average Joe.

Like most things in life, it’s not how you start, so much
as how you finish something.
The really great aspect to racing isn’t so much the competition
for me, but the people there, who come from
down the road and across the province.

For me it ranged from getting to speak and share time
with friends I hadn’t really seen except through social
media interactions, or the friendly and encouraging volunteers
stationed at the aid stations and close to the start
finish areas. I typically don’t race because I’m a terrible
racer: overly competitive for no legitimate reason and
how I can get consumed with anxiety in the lead up. I
registered for this race for not only the experience and
to see how my fitness measured up to others, but it was
also to be part of a growing sport that has found a place
here in the Highlands. I wrote a promotional article for

this race in its first year and that was a small affair with
a few dozen racers. This year registration exploded to at
least three-fold and this growth is expected to continue.
Kudos to event sponsors, founders and organizers Marc
and Heather Sinclair of Valley Works for bringing people
from all over to fully experience and endure the rugged
beauty of the Highlands on two wheels in a safe and
fun way.

A shout out to the many dedicated volunteers, who
provided assistance at the aid stations, erected the signs
for the route and kept competitors hydrated, fed, motivated
and smiling.

By the numbers, I completed six laps, each 27 kilometres,
totalling 162 kilometres, which included close to
1,800 metres of elevation in seven hours and nine minutes
for an average speed of 22.7 kilometres per hour.
It didn’t put me anywhere near the podium, which
included area residents Nick Emsley in the solo men’s
race and Belinda Bain, both second place finishers. Emsley
completed eight laps in seven hours and 30 minutes
while Bain completed seven laps in seven hours and 37

Despite my experience lacking race glory, I won where
it really counted for me, which was my soul tally. This
includes the completion of initial goal of six laps at my
first gravel bike race and having the energy to ride the
next day. That is a victory in my books and that’s what
really counts.