SUFFERFESTIVUS TIME

In August 2009 I layered up for a chilly winter’s ride in Melbourne, Australia. After fueling up on coffee, I trudged downstairs to the garage to inspect my friend’s loaner bike. Amelia’s bike was what a second-hand store would call Vintage with a capital V. If they’d ever ridden it, they would perhaps consider changing it to “death trap” and like me, yearn to throw it in the river with a mighty heave-ho. But I’m skipping ahead.

At that moment standing there in that cold garage, it was perfect. The only thing that really stood out to me was the basket on the front. I’m not proud. I’m not a bike snob. But a basket? How very… baguette-y. Would I be ok noodling along with a basket on front of the bike? Good for style points, or a giant minus to my street cred? Who are we kidding? I have no street cred.

I tamped down my doubts and wheeled out the chariot of vintage fire. A bike is a bike is a bike and I love to ride, so I appreciated the loan and the chance to ride part of the Yarra Trail. The only thing I knew about the direction I was headed that day, was that once I crossed the river that first time I was to turn right. Simple enough. I set out on what is now, to me, the wrong side of the road and went hunting for the bridge. For some reason, I took my GoPro and Chesty harness and recorded great chunks of the ride.

It was truly a stunning day. Coldish, but sun out the wazoo. Birds singing, magpies swooping – ok, the magpie thing was kinda irritating – and the calm and muddy presence of the Yarra. I took my time, stopped to snap pictures of black swans and graffiti, and reminisced to myself about riding along this path about 9 years ago when I lived in this fine city. Looking down at the basket, I kind of wished I had a puppy or some flowers to stick in it. It was THAT kind of dreamy, ethereal day.

The footage I took that day features long stretches of the trail next to the river, plus some loveliness in the city center. It does not feature my many surprise gear jumps and the onslaught of swearing that went along with it. Amelia’s vintage bike liked one gear in particular, and whenever I dared try another it would show me the error of my ways. I cursed this thing, marveled at how Amelia ever had the courage to ride it, and stuck it back in the garage when I was done.

“You look classic,” I said to it as I was leaving. “But there’s a point past classic and it’s called crapsic and you’re nearly there, my friend.”*

I could tell by the look it gave me that it was thinking ‘you ungrateful little shit’, but I closed the door on it. Out of sight, out of gear jumping range. A few weeks later, I made a video from the ride called “Sympathy for the Basket“, posted it online, and promptly forgot all about it.

But then I got an email via Dailymile from David M aka @thesufferfest. For some reason he found the basket to be utterly charming and asked if I’d consider letting him use it in a little cycling video he was making. My payment for this would be extreme honor and warm fuzzy feelings, a copy of “The Downward Spiral“, and a t-shirt. He really didn’t need to tart up the offer that much, though I’m only letting him know that now. After dropping the basket footage off via the interwebs, I downloaded this mystery that was the Downward Spiral. Up until that point, the only thing I’d seen was trailer, which I include here for your viewing pleasure.

‘Eh,’ thought arrogant I. ‘How hard could it be?’

It was fantastic timing actually. I’d told myself that I needed to do one interval session a week during the winter and had been inventing my own up until that point. Having something to follow along with would give me a nice structured ride and stop me ending sessions too early due to extreme roller boredom. Like a lemming, I reasoned, I could follow this thing off a cliff. (Which, incidentally, pretty much sums up my first attempt because it left my lungs dashed on the rocks below and my legs washed out to sea.)

I set up my laptop in front of my rollers, cranked up the volume, and cruised off toward 60 minutes of pure, unmolested suffering.

This is what it the workout looks like on paper:

The Downward Spiral workout was designed to work you at your maximum level, in sustainable, decreasing time periods. And to make you beg for mercy. But that’s a side effect of The Sufferfest, you know. Here’s what you’ll get over the 60 minutes:

* Approx 10mins warm-up featuring two 30 second jumps. Video footage is from Downhill MTB Championships in Australia, and from Cyclingtipsblog.com criterium racing.
* First descending-interval set (with Paris-Roubaix footage)
o 2:00 min interval / 2:00 recovery
o 1:45 min interval / 1:45 recovery
o 1:30 min interval / 1:30 recovery
o 1:15 min interval / 1:15 recovery
o 1:00 min interval / 1:00 recovery
o :45 sec interval / :45 recovery
o :30 sec interval / :30 recovery
o :15 sec interval
* 5:00 recovery featuring trail riding in Oregon by The Rooster Blocker.
* Second descending-interval set (Same structure as first set, but this time with Fleche-Wallone footage – and with a small surprise ‘bonus’ at the end).
* 4:00 warm-down, featuring the 2009 Zurich Bicycle Film Festival entry by Gorilla Bicycles.

Wow, it looks quite easy on paper. Just some numbers and stuff. But when you’re a beginner like me, reality is far harder to swallow. How did it go? Well, my post at Dailymile about this workout starts with the words “Kicked in the lady balls by The Downward Spiral.”

I really was. It hurt. Lots. Wheezing and gritting my teeth and even swearing at one point about how it had to be kidding. I have difficulty with perceived effort. If I’m told to ride a 9/10 effort, chances are I will think I’m slacking and only doing an 8, causing me to increase the effort only to realize later that I was probably doing a 10/10 all along. It’s ok to screw up like that in the first half hour, but on the second set of intervals it’s not so hot. And then there are a couple of surprises in the workout. Surprises that made me think David should really call this Yakfest not sufferfest. Not that I did yak, but there were tastes. Oh, yes. TMI?

Despite of/because of the pain, I’m giving Downward Spiral a big thumbs up. It’ll help stave off the winter indoor trainer/roller blues, and when it’s stupid cold outside it’s a really nice go-to.

As a side-note, I tried it out on the bigscreen tv yesterday (in the video above). It’s not in any way designed to be on there – it’s optimized for ipods and iphones – but looks perfectly acceptable on a screen that size. The only issue is that it’s not in front of me anymore, and when you’re on rollers the looking to one side all the time can make you drift a bit. And by you, I mean me. Also, that music is not from the Sufferfest. David’s chosen a broad range of royalty free (I’m guessing?) music to get the heart pumping, but it didn’t come out well on my vid and you don’t want to hear me gasping for air anyway. :)

Now back to the basket. Whatever happened to it? Welcome to Fight Club.

Of the two Sufferfests out there right now, this is the one I adore. Not just because the basket is the warm up video to the whole thing, but because there’s something about attacking that just gets my blood up. The footage in this one is excellent. I love doing a time trail with Cancellara. And I dig the surprise attacks. Fire the gun and away you go. It hard but oh so fun.

From the site:

The Fight Club workout was designed to build power over longer durations than The Downward Spiral, while increasing leg-speed through 23 (!) unannounced ‘attacks’ that will challenge you to accelerate and then recover while still making a massive effort. And to make you wish you never heard of The Sufferfest. But we won’t take that personally. Here’s what you’ll get over the roughly 60 minutes:

* 5 minutes warm-up featuring video footage from a ride along the Yarra river in Melbourne, Australia from Ride By Shooting.
* Five ‘laps’ of racing, featuring footage from the UCI 2009 World Championship Time Trial and Road Race:
o 1st lap:
+ 6:00 of tempo riding, with a few attacks to break up the field
+ 1:00 recovery
o 2nd – 5th lap:
+ 4:00 time trial effort (with more attacks!)
+ 2:30 climbing (with even more surprise attacks!)
+ 3:00 recovery (no attacks – we’re cruel, but not that cruel), featuring footage from Cyclefilm’s descent of the Col du Glandon
* 5 minute warm-down featuring some bicycle safety tips from, uh, the 1950s that you really should know when out in the modern world.

This post isn’t supposed to be a review (there are plenty here), more like a brief view into my experience with these two workouts. I’ve only done each one a couple of times as I’m trying to ride outside most of this winter, but on the days when I’ve been stuck inside they’ve been very motivational. Not so much in making me get on the rollers (I have issues after once riding 100 miles in a day on them), but once I’ve started pedaling I find it very easy to commit to putting in some big effort. I’ve also learned to mix in days where I watch a lot of my own raw footage that I’ve taken over the last season and listen to my own music. That’s helping me not burn out on these two Sufferfest vids. But David, you gotta hurry up with the next one. :)

* At this point, I would like to apologize to Amelia for sounding ungrateful. I truly love that I have friends who lend me their bikes while knowing my track record of getting hit by cars. Thanks Amelia. Love you! But please don’t ride that bike. It’s kind of unsafe. :)

FULL DISCLOSURE: I got both these videos free for donating my footage. But if they had sucked, I would have said so. Believe me.

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