I think I first came across this epic gravel race via a social media post from one of my new friends in cycling. She had completed her first 8 Hours of Hurtin’ in Haliburton on her fat bike and posted some photos on Facebook or Instagram in September 2020. I was immediately intrigued by the race and added my name to the mailing list.
In December 2020 when the race registration opened, I instantly secured a spot. Despite having a broken hand and arm in December 2020 due to a silly crash on November 9, 2020, I was motivated to ride hard and complete several challenging events in 2021, the year I turned into a young 50-year-old! I was amassing my list of epic events, Wendigo Fat Bike Ultra in February, The Log Driver’s Waltz in the summer, The Ghost Gravel in August (although it didn’t exist until May 2021), and the 8 Hours of Hurtin’ in Haliburton in September 2021. I had also planned on completing the Wilmington Whiteface 100KM Mountain Bike Race in upstate New York but due to Covid-19, that race was postponed to 2022. I’m pretty sure 2022 will be a repeat of 2021 with the addition of the Whiteface MTB race and probably the Growling Beaver and Reggie Ramble.
Those who follow me also know I am an ambassador for another gravel event in Ontario called the Ghost Gravel. There are plenty of incredible gravel events in Ontario. In addition to these events, I think the Ghost Gravel ride is phenomenal and I encourage any gravel afficionado to sign up for the 2022 event to be held in August.
8 Hours of Hurtin’…
First, I have to say I really like the 8 Hours of Hurtin’ in Haliburton race format. The course is a 27KM long loop with 330 metres of elevation. It is a timed event where the winner is the person or duo group in each category that completes the most loops in eight hours. Second, the location is stunning as the race is held within the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve. Third, the race organizers and volunteers are incredibly kind, well organized, and have some of the best aid stations around. And fourth, the fellow racers are courteous, fun, supportive, and full of smiles.
Marc Sinclair is the visionary and race director for the event. He first came across the roads of Haliburton in the mid 2010s and was inspired by the rapid growth in gravel racing to create an event that is accessible to anyone who wants an introduction to gravel racing. For any beginner the race is not intimidating as you can do one lap or as many as you can within the 8 hours knowing you will never be far away from the finish line or the next aid station. Often, many gravel races are 70 to 200KM or longer in length on long routes that require commitment and fitness. But this event, being a relatively short loop is inviting and less daunting for anyone new to the gravel scene but also challenging enough for any seasoned gravel racer to go full gas for 8 hours. The roads are also safe and the distance between the aid stations means you are never far from nutrition and drinks. To add some fun into the day, the aid station volunteers put on a show and cheer you on as you stop in for refills or simply cheer you on with lots of encouragement as you ride by.
8 Hours of Smilin’…
Do races ever unfold as planned in your head?
The race was more of a challenge than I had planned. It wasn’t a fitness issue, but more of a fatigue issue. I arrived exhausted… emotionally and physically. I was hoping to complete 7 laps but ended up finishing only 6 laps, or 162 kilometres. The week leading up to the race was wracked with life issues that drained me… emotionally. As we age, sometimes emotional exhaustion takes the same toll as physical work. I knew I was exhausted the morning of the race. I wasn’t sore, just tired. And once the race started, I knew I was in for a long day as my heart rate for the power output was higher than normal and it felt like my body took two hours to warm up.
Knowing that I had the fitness, I trusted my body, my nutrition plan, and knew that more than half the battle was to be mental. I knew I would have to dig deep but wasn’t sure when the digging would start. Laps 1-4 were more or less in cruise mode. I got through them without any issues. I kept turning over the pedals, smiling and waving at the aid station staff and any fellow rider I passed or that passed me. But for some reason, at the tail end of the fourth lap, I went into mental health spiral and began beating myself up for all the challenges I’ve been dealing with off the bike. I almost wanted to quit, but then I found a can of Coke, drank it quickly and powered through lap 5, which was the slowest lap of the day. During lap 5 I kept making excuses for why I should drop out after 5 laps… but amazingly the last aid station had bacon… yes, bacon at 3h30 in the afternoon. I grabbed two pieces of bacon, and slowly my energy came back. I continued fueling with other treats and slowly I came back to life physically and mentally. After the 5th lap, I still had plenty of time to go back out for one more lap. For some reason, I felt alive and powerful on the 6th lap. Every hill that I agonizingly climbed on the 5th lap felt shorter and shallower on this lap. I was smiling ear to ear!
In the end, the day turned into 8 hours of Smilin’ in Haliburton. And for the curious, here is a link to my Strava file from the race.
The solo male winner, Adam Hill, completed 8 laps. He lapped me twice and each time he zoomed by, he said “Hello”, and thanks to social media recognized me and briefly spoke to me with words of encouragement. He was on fire that day!
The solo female winner was Julie Toole. Julie completed 7 laps.
You can see all the results on the event website.
Also, thanks to Marc Sinclair and Matt Cassell for these fun photos.