On the surface, a simple four letter word. But like many four letter words in the English language, the entity conjured by the juxtaposition of these four letters is anything but simple.
For the past nine days, I have brought new meaning to the definition of pain. Many times in my life, there have been moments when I felt I have fully understood this word. The time I got my teeth drilled without anesthesia; I thought I knew it. Opening my first student loan bill; I thought I knew it. Watching Oprah last week; I was pretty sure I knew it.
But again, the open road of life has continued to redefine pain in its turns and switchbacks. This time, the dictionary was edited by the Tour of Sufferlandria.
Unless you have muted me on Facebook (which is quite possible as this whole triathlon-new baby thing has left little time for any other type of posts), you have heard of this thing called Sufferfest. If you don’t, you need to know about it. The Sufferfest is a collection of cycling training videos designed to break your legs off only so they can be used to flog your torso. Each of these videos, sporting legendary names such as “Hell Hath No Fury” and “There Is No Try”, is a test of strength and endurance.
Normally, each video alone is enough to increase your life insurance rates. (I am currently petitioning for the question “Do you Sufferfest” to become another vital signs for my patients.) Pairing up The Sufferfest with TrainerRoad is even worse: you can’t fake it with a power meter. However, not satisfied with intermittent bouts of pain, The Sufferfest crew decided to pull the coup de grace of tests by holding the Tour of Sufferlandria.
Nine Days. 12 videos. PAIN.
To spice up the tour, some hefty prizes are being raffled for those who complete each day and the tour overall. We are not talking about some generic Gatorade water bottles. Trainers, DVD’s, ipods, Sufferlandria goats…the good stuff is up for grabs.
Today, without the use of EPO, I managed to finish said Tour. It is while my legs are being surgically reattached that I write this account. Unfortunately, thanks to the logistics of life, I am unable to start the Tour with everyone else this upcoming Saturday. So, I had to get it done early. If you have nerves of steel, walk with me as I do a recap.
Things started off with a bang. While one could argue that such a hard stage up front sucks, I can’t imagine having to do it at the end. Felt great frankly, especially since my last 2X20 FTP test upped my FTP by 5 watts right before the start of the tour.
I knew careful pacing of the pain was going to be critical, so I set the intensity to 95%.
Thanks to a brief period of lunacy, I started “The Hunted” one only ten hours after HHNF and it hurt bad. Not something I recommend doing at all unless you’re a type A personality. Oh, look at you all go….I accidentally started the ride at 100%. Slowly but surely, I had to drift downward to 90%. It is really easy to go out too hard in the first section but beware; the last few minutes with those jumps are killers.
Unfortunately, I did the “Fight Club-Extra Shot” dyad backwards by mistake, but oh well. “Fight Club” went pretty smoothly. I found that focusing on increasing my cadence rather than my force during the attacks really helped, both physically and mentally. “The Extra Shot” was much more painful than I had anticipated. My cadence drifted downward in this ride and I have a feeling this is why it felt terrible.
“A Very Dark Place.” I don’t really need to say much. That hurt badly. Chamois were danced upon. My only advice here is tell yourself that the intervals are short.
Call it saving grace, but “Angels” was my best day of the Tour. For some reason, it just felt wonderful. Everything was pretty smooth until the last section when things got more challenging. If you have extra gas in the engine at the beginning, save it for the end of the ride.
“Wretched” came through without a problem. Felt decent and cadence stayed up. Unfortunately, the luck didn’t hold for The Long Scream. Without a doubt, this was the toughest leg of the series for me. BEWARE. In my case, a better name would have been “The Long Death.” It’s easy to brush this one off mentally because its an “add on” ride. In retrospect, I wished I had done wretched at 90% to save more for The Scream.
By this time, the legs were starting to Sam Jackson on me (You know what they call pain in France?!?!) Stairs seemed like mountains. With that feedback, I stayed at 90% for The Downward Spiral. At that level, I was able to concentrate on my breathing and keeping my cadence up. I also mentally focused on just getting through the 1:15 interval. If you can get there, you can finish strong.
Then it was time. Time for something so ridiculous I had to do a double take when I first saw it on the schedule. “There is No Try” AND “Revolver.” Seriously, the fellas at Sufferfest must have had lactic acid on the brain to pair these two workouts together so late in the tour. Like using a Porta Potty at mile 25 of an Ironman, this was definitely both a physical AND mental challenge.
My key tips are to control your breathing, keep the cadence up and smooth, and pace yourself. Everyone is going to be all fired up to take this down and the temptation will be over shoot the early intervals. Keep it steady and by the numbers. Just remember this day is like the movie Titanic: it’s long, it’s painful, it involves steaming windows, and in the end you don’t care about jack.
Local hero was today and it hurt more than I expected. You know how when you watch that last stage of the Tour De France and lots of people are smiling and Lance is washing down his dope with a glass of Champagne? Yeah, that doesn’t happen until the last 5 minutes. In any case, if you make it here, just keep smiling!
Tips for Survival
Okay, how did I survive this? First of all, despite being a triathlete, I focused only on the bike and cut out the running and swimming. Ok, I swam once but I had to as I was starting to smell like a human again. I guess I also went cross-country skiing once too. If you can keep running and swimming through this, then more power to you. As for me, it was a bike focus week.
I also ate some good food. No pizza and crap like that. I even cut out beer on all but one day. I took in plenty of carbs and fruit. As for supplements, I used one bottle of Recoverite from Hammer after every ride. Other than that, it was water and coffee.
Finally, I paced myself very carefully. It will be all too easy to go above and beyond during those early days. Just remember, every time you decide to overshoot the wattage, you may be making the next ride even more painful.
For a couple of weeks, I have been pretty unmotivated on the bike. This tour idea was a blessing as it rekindled that ever so powerful “X on the calendar” reflex of mine. Once an event was made, I just had to do it. Plus, it was a no brainer as I am practically married to Trainer Road. For better or for watts.
Maybe it’s the apple pie in my tummy. Or maybe it’s that gin martini keeping that pie company. In any case, I am actually somewhat sad the Tour is over. It was a blast and I can’t wait to give it a whirl again next year. Best of luck to everyone toeing the virtual line this weekend!