The 3rd annual Tour of Sufferlandria serendipitously kicked off a week after I finally bit the bullet and invested in a Wahoo Kickr bike trainer–after many many months of longing and envy. And my life hasn’t been the same since. Let’s first step back and address a few questions you may have.
What is this Sufferfest, you might ask. According to Urban Dictionary, a sufferfest is “an activity whereby all participants ache, agonize, ail, be at a disadvantage, be racked, deteriorate, endure, grieve, languish, and/or writhe.. but by co-misery, yet cohesiveness, will have experienced a grand time.” The Sufferfest videos achieve the above by providing high-intensity indoor cycling workouts paired with witty commentary and entertaining visuals.
What is a Wahoo Kickr? Self-proclaimed as “the best damn trainer” it connects with your smartphone to control power and syncs with tons of training workouts and videos—including the famed Sufferfest videos (and it does way more, but that’s a different post for a different day). Importantly, it pairs with programs like Trainerroad, which controls the power for you, so sandbaggers like myself can’t cheat.
What is Sufferlandria? Do the tour to find out. (Or for the weak, just click the link).
What is the Tour of Sufferlandria? Whereas one Sufferfest video is enough to send even the strongest of cyclists to the brink of tears, the Tour delights particular gluttons-for-punishment with nine consecutive days of such workouts. Proclaimed as “The Greatest Grand Tour of a Mythical Nation in the Whole Wide World” over 2,000 participants internationally grinded it out in the saddle (because sufferers love company), including a healthy representation from Atlanta’s Energy Lab cycling studio. Separately (but together) we journeyed through the sometimes pleasant and often wretched Sufferlandria from the relative discomfort of our bike trainers. We posted war stories, images of suffering as well as victory celebrations on the social medias, garnering a unique international camaraderie. Most importantly, the tour successfully raised over $100,000 for the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s, a devastating disease which took the life of my Grandfather.
Why choose to Suffer? Sufferlandrians ascribe to the mantra, IWBMATTKYT. In other words, I Will Bust My Ass Today To Kick Yours Tomorrow (so watch out 25-29 year old females!). I got the go-ahead from Coach (who is a fellow sufferer himself), invested in some chamois butter, and hit the trainer!
The tour conveniently started the morning after ATC’s race team social, which finally reignited my fire to train (which had been dormant since the post-Ironman euphoria wore off) and got me revved to go! Overall, I’m so glad I participated in this event (especially since I managed to survive to tell the tale). It’s a particularly great way to make big gains during the off season. The workouts were very specific to cycling and encouraged me to push myself in ways I wouldn’t have by doing traditional triathlon training. Plus I learned a tremendous amount throughout the tour, and here is a nugget or two from each stage:
Stage 1: Saturday, January 24 – Elements of Style + The Long Scream
- Form is crucial! Elements of Style takes riders through drills focused on an efficient and powerful pedal stroke (and, as an easy workout, lulls them into a false sense of confidence muwahaha). While I thought I had good form, turns out I had room to improve, and I found myself continuously working on form for the rest of the series. This will pay dividends in the long run, I’m sure. And I’ll certainly revisit this video regularly.
- FTP testing is never fun (some may even refer to it as F*uck This Place testing). The easy spin of Elements was followed by a 30-minute all-out time trial, which I used as an FTP test. I will say that while never fun, it was less miserable amongst friends in sufferlandria.
- Side note: I think my FTP tested 15 watts higher than then end of last year (even though I’m certainly less conditioned). Either the ambiance of suffering inspired a greater effort, or (more likely) the kickr reads artificially high (so people feel stronger on it and sing its praises–I see through your marketing ploy… More of that later).
Stage 2: Sunday, January 25 – Blender
- A chilly and hilly 15K “race” is an effective way to warm up for a sufferfest workout. Whether it would lead to my premature demise prior to the tour’s completion was yet to be determined at the time (spoiler alert: it didn’t).
- The Sufferfest videos are worth the investment. I completed this stage on my kickr at home with trainerroad controlling the power while rocking out to some sick beats rather than watch the videos at Energy Lab. Not only did I miss out on the wildly entertaining, sarcastically witty commentary, but also I didn’t know what cadence was intended for the intervals, so I just guessed. And continued to rock out. Before the next go-round, I’ll definitely throw down the cash.
Stage 3: Monday, January 26 – Fight club
- Endorphins can seriously turn around the mood. This stage fell after a pretty horrible day at work followed by an awful swim. Rather than be shamed by the sufferlandrians, I managed to hop on the trainer and had a surprisingly decent ride, with an instant lift in my mood. Endorphins are no joke! (Although this was the first workout I knocked down the intensity to 90%, as I started to get nervous if a brand-new first-timer like myself could hang with the big sufferboys…)
Stage 4: Tuesday, January 27 – Nine Hammers
- Don’t always trust the numbers! I completed this stage on one of Energy Lab’s computrainers rather than my Kickr. And oh boy did this one feel hard! While I could have been inhaling too many sufferfumes from the sufferlandrians around me, I think there was discrepancy between the power on the computrainer and the wahoo (with wahoo registering artificially higher watts). So I rolled with the punches (and again knocked it down to 90%). While power numbers and paces and heart rates certainly help guide training and racing, smart athletes don’t rely on them because technology is finicky and can fail.
Stage 5: Wednesday, January 28 – Angels
- My strength is endurance. Compared with the threshold/VO2 workouts of the two days prior, this force/tempo workout felt angelically easy. Full disclosure: I did use 90% of my FTP. In hindsight, I certainly could have gone harder and should have known that this type of workout would be my strength considering endurance is what I do. But it was a refreshing change of pace, regardless.
Stage 6: Thursday, January 29 – Local hero
- I am, in fact, insane (as if there were any doubt). I woke up at an ungodly 4:15am to complete the 90 minute workout so that I could socialize with friends after work. As I tweeted that morning: waking up this early is heroic. Doing the workout at 90% is not… Once again, I could probably have completed it at 100%.
Stage 7: Friday, January 30 – The Rookie
- Umm I guess I might have blacked out this stage. I don’t remember learning anything. But I must have survived it!
Stage 8: Saturday, January 31 – Revolver + Violator + Half Is Easy
- What suffering truly is. This stage truly tested my limits. Not only did it entail three videos back-to-back for nearly three hours of continuous high-intensity cycling, but each video consisted of very short, super intense intervals. Like, we’re talkin 150% FTP. Power numbers I’ve never even seen before. The type of power spikes that triathletes avoid like death to save the legs for running. Coming off a couple easier stages, I ambitiously started at 100% and subsequently dropped down to 95% and then 90% FTP. This was the stage that almost broke me, but with the support of Energy Lab and remote sufferers worldwide, we persevered together.
- The benefit of training for each sport independently (particularly in the off season). Many triathletes train for swimming, biking and running in the context of performing all three together. There is great value, though, in training for swimming like a swimmer (there’s a stroke other than freestyle?!), for cycling like a cyclist (what’s with these surges?! And drafting??), and running like a runner (uh those form drills look ridiculous). While it’s prudent to train for specificity as a target race approaches, this type of separate sport training will make you stronger when you put it all together later.
Stage 9: Sunday, February 1 – ISLAGIATT
- It Sounded Like (and was) A Good Idea At The Time. The final stage, appropriately named ISLAGIATT, returned to the relative comfort of tempo and climbing. And I returned to 100% FTP. The intervals at 110 and 120% seemed like nothing compared to Stage 8 (which tells me I should retest my FTP. But I definitely won’t [until coach makes me]–see lesson from stage 1). My compadres and I successfully completed the tour and celebrated appropriately after.
Now two days post-tour, my legs still feel heavy and a bit sore. I have a mild case of suffer withdrawal and will actually get back on my trainer in an hour. I gained not only strength and improved form as a cyclist, but also a bond with a cohort of both local and international sufferlandrians, analogous to what I imagine war veterans feel toward one another (although actually not at all, as my death was never actually threatened, and my relative suffering was entirely voluntary and self-inflicted. And for the benefit of myself and parkinson’s research and not things like freedom). I’ll certainly invest in the sufferfest videos to continue to Beat My Ass Today To Kick Yours Tomorrow (but maybe not consecutive days). And I’ll do my best to avoid the evil temptation of couchlandria. And we’ll see once race season starts off if my self-induced ass kicking really does kick yours!