Earlier this week, I came home to a serious situation. My wife, who is normally bubblier than champagne in a paint shaker, had eyes full of fear and skin the color of pale when I walked in the door. Before I had a chance to ask her what was wrong, she showed me the cause of her concern.
In her hands, there was a small package, wrapped in dried chamois and adorned with a bow made from French barbwire. Our eyes met, and she whispered but one word:
Thanks to my clinical trainer riding addiction, I have received the honor, or punishment, of reviewing the next installment of pain by The Sufferfest, appropriately titled Blender.
For the un-indoctrinated, let me quickly introduce you to that which is Sufferfest. Sufferfest videos are cycling videos with built in workouts that are designed to inflict as much pain as possible on your legs. Many of their previous videos, with names like “Revolver” and Fight Club”, have already achieved infamy status. It is rumored that the movie from the film The Ring was an early version of The Sufferfest.
So how does the latest from the stewards of cycling suffering compare? Let’s just say, the best, or worst depending on how you look at it, is here.
This review is based on a pre-release copy of Blender. It did not include the recovery section at the end. I did not pay for it.
Thanks to action cameras and the world of high definition, long gone are the days of fuzzy cycling videos. The video segments in Blender look great as always and provide plenty of clarity to the suffering. Never has pain looked so good.
And the variety has been kicked up a notch. After all, you can’t have a video called Blender without a good mix. Of course, we have the typical heart pounding road racing and time trialing footage. There is also some of the infamous cyclocross footage throw in during the Revolver-esque intervals. (Yeah, you heard me right). But wait, there’s more! On top of that we also get a helpful serving of mountain biking, fat tire snow goodness (not the beer unfortunately), and track work. And yes, of course, the ladies make it in to spice things up. Blender is quite a yummy mix.
As The Sufferfest has led to the world wide expansion of riding playlists beyond Bette Midler and Bieber, (what….wait, what do you listen to then?!) we have to discuss the music. Despite being the longest video yet, a fresh set of tunes keeps things going. Personally, I find that music can be a serious stimulant during exercise, and the selections in Blender were able to keep my energy going better than a can of concentrated Contador sweat.
Finally, there is new bling. The pain interface has been ramped up significantly. Just in case you forget your prescription for intensity, there is a shiny new intensity indicator at the top right of screen. In addition, a handy countdown timer appears regularly to let you know when the suffering can stop briefly.
Finally, even the comments look better, now that they have been graphically enabled to allow for hilarious conversations among riders.
Okay, I ran a six-mile tempo less than 7 hours before this ride, so I had to dial it down some. There is no accompanying TrainerRoad workout as of yet, but the guys at TR say one should be out very soon. Fortunately, thanks to my 6.7 days of recorded time on TrainerRoad, I am good at knowing what my watts should be based on the intensity scale used in The Sufferfest videos. For my first jaunt with Blender, I dialed it down to what I think would have been a 90% IF. Here is what the damage looked like.
At 90%, this was a challenging, but not deadly workout. I didn’t feel the pain like I do during Hell Hath No Fury or Revolver, but it wasn’t easy. If you do this at 100%, I would get another bucket and two more towels. Life insurance is also recommended.
The beauty of the workout is that it encompasses many different types of training. You start of with some good steady intervals right around FTP. There are some painful attacks mingled in, but overall, the first section felt pretty much like a solid time trial. Of course, I am a triathlete, so I would say that about most of my rides.
Just when your legs get used to that though, you open them up with some quick intervals similar to Revolver. One interesting part about this section of the ride is the dichotomy of slow and fast music. It was kind of eerily creepy in a Stanley Kubrick/Stephen King way. I kind of expected to turn around and see a clown or two twin girls standing behind me.
After that, its steady repeats at FTP for a total of 12 minutes to seal the deal.
The latest video by The Sufferfest continues to deliver the same entertaining challenges we have come to expect. In addition, Blender takes the rider on a longer adventure while also bumping the visuals/interface up a notch. It’s a great new addition to the series. Or in other words, it’s really going to hurt. Drop by The Sufferfest to pick up your copy soon!
One year ago, I embarked on an online journey that would result in a new of era of solitary suffering and groin pain. No, I didn’t join e-harmony. I’m talking about TrainerRoad.
As a power meter user and a clinically addicted trainer rider, I was excited when I first heard about TrainerRoad from one my tri-buddies. Virtual power meter rides on my laptop with Sufferfest integration? It sounded to good be true. As I could barely get my Garmin 310XT to pair with my computer reliably, I certainly had my doubts when I signed on in early January 2012. My initial dabbling with TR proved to be exciting. How has this experience panned out over the last year? I am happy to say that TrainerRoad has proved to be one hell of a ride.
I got nothing for this review. I pay ten bucks a month for the service, and heck, I may even owe some payments thanks to expiring credit cards. Sorry guys.
INPUT: The Software
Despite my apprehensions about getting the software to reliably work, Trainer Road has been a stable program. As I described last year, setting up the software was a cinch. It recognized my Powertap hub on the first attempt and it has never faulted. I haven’t used a HR monitor because mine is broken (i.e. out of batteries) so I can’t speak about that.
It hasn’t been all smooth asphalt. About one month ago, I experienced a glitch in which the program would not download any workouts or my career. It continued to recognize my power meter and so I was able to ride with power on my laptop, just not in an actual workout. During this time, it took Nate and Reid about three days to get back about the problem and present a solution. After some minor fiddling with my laptop and their instructions, I was able to bring the system back online in the last two weeks. All without having to call India.
That being aside, it has been a real pleasure to watch the program develop. If variety is the spice of life, then TrainerRoad is like a Sriracha covered wasabi burrito special from Taco Hell. Initially, there was already plenty of workouts to choose from, each with a different focus. This selection has grown tremendously over the past year. The Sufferfest video integration has always been a part of TrainerRoad, and there are even more supported videos currently, including Spinervals. At the beginning, there was a problem with “lag” when trying to watch the videos and run TR at the same. This could get miserable as the interval cues would be substantially off by the end of the video. However, after listening to feedback, the program was tweaked and it works very well on my 2009 Macbook Pro.
A feature that I enjoy the most is the workouts with instructions. Some of the programs have a virtual coach that educates you on form and then provides you drills to develop techniques and skills. For example, there is a workout focusing on power through changes in cadence. Another workout targets transitions and sustained power when standing.
Another great aspect about TrainerRoad is the included training plans. Right now, I am about to finish the Intermediate Base plan. It’s great to have a written plan given to you for no extra charge. I think I would honestly go bonkers trying to figure out which ride to do with such a huge selection. Last year, I ended up doing both the base and build plans with excellent results. Like their individual workout selections, they have added other plans over the year, such as one for centuries and the time crunched competitor.
If you’re like me and need constant refreshing of your Facebook page, the program also includes built in buttons for sharing your suffering on Twitter and Facebook. LIKE IT.
OUTPUT: The Results
So, the program works, but does it actually work when it comes to performance? In my case, the answer is yes. When I started Trainer Road, I was very weak cyclist. Okay, I was a very weak triathlete overall. I had the desire, but it was really hard to motivate myself on the trainer to really crunch hard. For some reason, changing from the tiny screen of my Garmin 310xt to the bars on TrainerRoad made all the difference. Perhaps it’s my ingrained geek. Maybe it’s my love for video games. Maybe it’s because I like bars. Whatever it is, I can’t get enough of trying to draw the prescribed workout lines as closely as possible. TrainerRoad has given my motivation for hard riding a HTFU kick in the pants. Thanks to the aforementioned instructed workouts and variety, I also have become a more rounded cyclist. I am spending time in a variety of zones and positions.
With TrainerRoad, and a healthy dose of motivation from my colleagues, my FTP increased from 211w to 230w. I am about to raise that as well, with another four months to go before the next racing season starts.
One thing I can’t quite comment on is how this is going to pan out when training for an Ironman. As far as I know, there are no 5-6 hour rides on TrainerRoad. What, don’t look at me that way. I live in Montana, where it can snow in June. However that is where one of the newest features of the program will come into play: the workout creator. While there are some kinks to be “worked out”, users can now make whatever sessions their devious minds could desire. Expect to see an Ironvan 6 hour ride sometime next year. You’ve been warned.
For ten bucks a month, TrainerRoad has been a great investment. It works reliably and has helped me become a stronger cyclist overall. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to increase their pain cave enjoyment over the winter. In other words, it’s for everyone.
Plethora of workouts
Training plans available at no extra cost
Social media friendly
May not be very applicable for long distance Ironman training.