What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Review: The Sufferfest Training Videos

Video enhanced training sessions continue to evolve, and the guys behind the Sufferfest series of training videos take you one step closer to living your Walter Mitty ‘Pro Cyclist’ fantasy with 4 videos that use real race footage from the Classics, the Worlds, The Dauphine, and more races you’ve only dreamed about racing.

When it comes to training indoors – there’s not much separating you from the reality that you’re dripping buckets of sweat and going nowhere fast. This can quickly lead to both a physical and especially a mental meltdown as we get off the bike trainer in boredom and disgust. Luckily there’s the new range of videos from The Sufferfest to make our times on the trainer and on the road faster…

Living in the Great White North of Canada, the one thing that I am guaranteed to be familiar with is the necessity and the suffering involved with indoor training. To distract myself from the fact that I’m riding indoors, like most cyclists I’ve relied on a steady diet of cycling videos from the Tour and the Classics. The invention of personal music devices has also eased the drudgery by allowing us to blast some tunes and to customize our mood by mixing different music.

As a further aid for training and entertainment, a huge range of cycling workouts are available on DVDs. They do a great job of helping to performed structured workouts. However, the majority are sadly deficient in entertainment value, as most involve watching a whole bunch of other cyclists spinning and sweating away in a studio. This is often accompanied by a coach leading the class and offering encouragement. Personally, the last thing I want to be reminded of is that I’m riding indoors, so seeing others doing the same isn’t exactly inspiring. Really, having someone yell at me to go harder while everyone else in view is also riding in place doesn’t exactly motivate me to lay out the watts.

Those of you who have read my reviews of another system of computerized training workouts know that I’m a big fan of videos that really get me involved in the action. Ones that drop me right into the peloton or feel like I’m in the midst of a great group ride – that’s the essence of cycling I want to at least get a sense of when I’m training indoors. And frankly, that “first person” view makes me want to bust a lung to hang in the action.

Filling this void of “enterPAINment” comes “The Sufferfest” range of cycling videos. The concept is surprisingly simple in its elegance – create workouts incorporating a great mix of real professional race footage along with appropriate and motivating music. After much negotiation, Sufferfest creator David McQuillen officially licensed professional race footage from groups like ASO and the UCI – so you’re training against real pros in real races.

McQuillen is an ex-pat American now living and working in Singapore. Originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, USA, and having recently spent 9 years in Zurich, Switzerland, David knows a thing or two about riding trainers through cold winters. Being obsessed by music and cycling, the Sufferfest became a natural fit when he couldn’t find any video workouts that inspired him. In the best tradition of walking the walk rather than just talking the talk, McQuillen decided to put his passions together.

“I think I’m like most people: I HATED turbo training,” he says. “It was just awful. I’d have preferred to stare at paint dry than get on an indoor bike. But, when I was growing up in Erie there was no choice in the winter but to train indoors and in Zurich it was the same. I tried a bunch of indoor cycling DVDs, but found the music dreadful and the idea of cycling down an empty road (most cycling dvd’s try to create a ‘virtual’ cycling experience) just didn’t do it for me. I’d find myself getting bored after five minutes. I also thought they were far too expensive. As a kid, I used to watch old Tour de France VHS tapes while on the turbo and figured I could do that again. Of course, those always have ads in them and don’t really fit to structured workouts, so I started downloading and cutting up video clips of races. After sharing them with a few friends who loved them, I figured I’d try to do it for real. And, well, the response has been incredible. Now I feel like a healer: I’m healing the world from turbo trainer boredom.”

Those early attempts have become The Sufferfest and its growing library of downloadable videos. Four are currently available with more to come:

Downward Spiral
This one is pretty wicked in its editing and execution. The pain consists of two sets of descending intervals, from 2:00 downwards in 15 s increments. The first set is culled from Roubaix 2009, with the very first interval taking you right into the Arenberg Forest. From there, “you” get progressively closer to the famous velodrome on Boonen’s wheel with each interval. The second set comes from Fleche-Wallone 2009, and again takes you progressively closer to the final assault up the Mur de Huy each time. For me, getting closer and closer to the finish definitely worked to keep my motivation up. Combining Paris-Roubaix with downhilling and singletrack footage during the warmup and rest periods means that doing this workout on rollers is definitely not recommended with the subconscious bouncing!

The videos guide you towards each effort with suggested effort levels. Here, you’re working with Manuel Quinziato to get up to the leading break at Roubaix 2009.

Revolver is deceptively simple and basic and outright brutal. 15 repeats of 1 min all out with 1 min recovery. Footage is from a wide range of cycling, from road races full of teeth gritting attacks at the 2009 World Road Champs U23 and Elite Women’s, through to World Cup cyclocross racing and World Cup track racing. The name comes from the concept of a barrel-load of pain reloading itself over and over.

The U23 young guns go for glory while you go for a min or purgatory. Speeding around a velodrome or having Niels Albert chasing you down also tends to get you digging deep.

Fight Club
Starts off with a hilarious point of view warmup of riding along the Yarra River with a commuting bike, complete with basket on the front. The footage itself is all from the Mendrisio Worlds in 2009 with the pro men. One warning – by the end of the video, you’re sure to hate Damiano Cunego forever and will want to take a baseball bat to his legs, as the repeated attacks throughout the workout are looped footage of him attacking, in time with you having to respond by increasing your cadence +15 rpm without shifting down. The video revolves around five ‘laps’ of the race circuit, with each lap starting with 4:00 mins time trial footage and the final 2:30 min of each lap shows the road race, following Cadel and others as they solo off the front. One sneaky thing was having Fabian Cancellara as the TT rider you follow on the last lap, to make sure that there’s no slacking on the final effort.

The newest Sufferfest video is dedicated to climbing. It starts with a warmup segment of “over/under” intervals. This really highlights how good the choice of footage and the editing is with The Sufferfest. This segment alternates between two points of view of the same finale of Paris-Nice 2009, featuring, for the ‘overs’ an awesome solo attack to victory by Luis Leon Sanchez ahead of a chase group with leader Contador. These segments focus on tight footage of Sanchez in full flight, with efforts at 7.5 on a scale of 10 (7 being approximately TT effort). The ‘unders’ show footage of the chase group, visibly going just that little bit slower with a slightly wider focus on several riders in view, in conjunction with your own effort being just below TT pace at 6.5.

The big boys can throw down a whole lotta attacks in a few short km riding up Alpe d’Huez during the final stage of Dauphine 2010. Chapeau to Brajkovic (and hopefully you) for surviving them all!

The meat of the workout itself involves 3×8:00 min efforts. The first is from Andy Schleck’s solo win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2009. Again, the footage focuses on both the tight shots of Andy in full attack with a wider focus shot of the chase group for the non-attack efforts. That slight zooming in and out does an excellent job of subconsciously cueing you on different effort levels. The second effort focuses on sitting versus standing while racing Paris-Nice 2010. The third was just nasty, with constant attacks up Alpe d’Huez during the final stage of Dauphine 2010.

Production Values and Downloading
McQuillen’s professional background is in banking and customer experience, so obtaining The Sufferfest videos could not be much simpler. They are available as a simple download from www.thesufferfest.com. Priced at $10.99 each for an individual license and $16.99 for a group license (allowing a bit more versatility with music and instructions), you can also order a CD back-up copy or a one-year download license (in case of hard drive crashes and such) for a small additional fee. But really, $10.99 possibly qualifies as the least expensive thing we’ve ever reviewed here on Pez by several orders of magnitude! Plus there’s a no-questions asked money-back guarantee if you don’t find that The Sufferfest makes indoor training more entertaining. Compare this to the $20-30 cost for a typical cycling workout or race video, or the cost of a single race entry, and it’s really a no-brainer.

The Sufferfest videos do an excellent job in motivating you to ride hard, and the overall package is really solid. In addition to the footage, a good mix of written commentary appears throughout each video to tell you exactly what you should be doing (e.g. ratings of perceived exertion out of 10), cadence, and also just entertaining commentary to motivate you to keep suffering. The editing is really tight and appropriate. For example, the second climbing effort on Angels focuses on standing periodically while climbing. Lo and behold, when the standing segments arrive, the pros are doing exactly that too. All this creates a really natural flow to the videos.

It’s mean and childish, but does the trick at getting every watt out of you.

Now being of a certain age where both my high school and university days fell into the 1980s, I tend to have an irrational fixation on music from the 80s. Therefore, my natural instincts are not towards electronica or any music not involving big hair bands. However, the music choices are pretty much bang-on what’s needed to keep anybody highly motivated, regardless of personal musical preferences. The other versatility of the video is, of course, just to mute the music and play your own tunes.

There’s enough downtime built in for recovery, but of course the simple way would be to pause the video for extra recovery. One limitation is that, since the whole video is one single media track, there’s no direct way of fast-forwarding or looping back to a particular segment short of manually dragging the video.

Being a simple .mp4 video, The Sufferfest workouts can play across a wide variety of computer platforms rather than being specific to any one operating system or device. So pretty much any media player will be able to play the videos, and it can also be downloaded onto iPads, iPods, etc. While the screen size becomes rather small in these formats, they can remain useful for when you don’t feel like moving the computer around to your trainer dungeon, or else if you’re on the road and want a motivating workout in a hotel stationary bike.

The secret to The Sufferfest is really in the tight editing of the whole package, from footage through to music. Essentially, The Sufferfests are the videos and music that you would splice together if you had limitless access to race footage and music, not to mention endless time! Save yourself the time and effort and check out The Sufferfest instead. Your legs won’t thank you now, but then neither will your competitors come race day.

Check them out at www.thesufferfest.com

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