Winter training with the Sufferfest

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After starting to ride again, I set myself the goal of doing the NE Randonneurs 100k ride in April 2014.  Unfortunately, winter came along too soon, and between short days and long hours at work (not to mention freezing temps) there wasn’t much time for training outside.  So, I found a sale on a relatively cheap fluid trainer, and set about riding inside.

And then I immediately got bored out of my mind.

Sure, Netflix helps, but I found I would just pedal along at a slow pace and wait for my butt to get numb, then I’d stop.  Personally, I need a bit more variety and motivation to keep with things.  I had a friend who used to watch cycling DVDs while on the trainer, so I went looking for something online and found the Sufferest.

These are a set of workout videos featuring footage from actual bike races with a number of different workout types (racing, climbing, intervals, etc).  Most videos start with a short warm up, then provide guidance suggestions about the level of effort and cadence you should be using in each section.  They are designed so you can use a HR monitor or power meter to really determine your exertion level, but they also give a “perceived effort” scale for those of use that approach this a bit more casually.  In addition, there are various forms of motivation along the way, mostly in the form of ridiculous commentary from a fictional directeur sportif (Grunter von Agony) and opponents for you to race including a rickshaw driver, hamster in a ball, and animated T. rex.

I started by trying out the “Extra Shot” video, which features 20 minutes of a spring classics race with short climbs and accelerations.  This one doesn’t come with any warm up or cool down, so you are on your own for that.  Overall, I enjoyed the ridiculousness of the commentary, and the music tracks and varied effort levels keep things interesting.

Being someone motivated by checking boxes, I then downloaded one of the training plans – the Novice (Road) Plan.  This gives you a 10 week schedule of riding 4 days a week.  Two are prescribed Sufferfest videos, while two are outdoor rides, usually one long ride a week.  I was pretty good about sticking to the videos, and would try to get in outdoor rides weather permitting.  If it was disastrous outside, I’d sometimes substitute a long trainer ride while watching a movie or something.  I’m sure you’d see bigger gains by strictly following the schedule, but I’m not out to win any races and given where my fitness was starting (i.e. nowhere), I definitely felt stronger by the end even without doing everything.

The types of info display on Sufferfest videos from oldest on the top showing only exertion, to newer with cadence and exertion, and newest with time in current segment and time to change in pace added.

The types of info display on Sufferfest videos from oldest on the top showing only exertion, to newer with cadence and exertion, and newest with time in current segment and time to change in pace added.

The videos themselves vary in terms of quality of both the race footage and the graphics based on when they were released.  Early videos have standard def video along with a simple number to show you cadence and relative exertion on a 1-10 scale.  Newer ones are in HD and have a timer showing you how much is left in the current interval and whether you are stepping up or slowing down for the next.  The newer ones are prettier for sure, but the workout is good regardless.

There are now >20 videos to choose from, and each is about $12.  You can also subscribe for a monthy fee via an iPad app to have access to all the available videos.  With all that choice, it can be hard to decide where to start.  In my experience they’ve all been worthwhile, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • Extra Shot: 20 minutes of a race with a few bergs thrown in for fun; no warm-up or cool-down, but good when you don’t have much time and want a quick ride
  • The Hunted: Warm up, then a big climb, then a race at the end.  Overall a nice mix of tempos.
  • ISLAGIATT (ISeemed Like A Good Idea AThe Time): Two hours of riding with 4 climbs and footage from the Giro.
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