The Sufferfest – From the Beginning

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A few years ago when I was experimenting with helmet cams during road racing I was introduced to David McQuillen who was starting a series of videos called “The Sufferfest”. I used them during my winter training and since then I’ve witnessed David’s films explode with a massive cult following. I had the pleasure of going for a ride with David during the World Champs in Geelong and saw first hand how passionate he was about The Sufferfest.

If you train indoors you’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger motivator than The Sufferfest videos. Exciting race footage mixed with music and challenging workouts. The on-screen cues that David puts up make it feel like he’s toying with you and he knows the precise moment you’re getting soft.

The Sufferfest training videos have been a huge success and I can only see them getting even bigger. I always find the stories of regular people taking a punt very interesting, so I’ve asked David to share his with you.

The Sufferfest – From the Beginning

by David McQuillen

I’m not quite sure when I cracked. It might have been after a couple of hours. Maybe it was after a few minutes. I simply couldn’t take it anymore – I would rather shoot myself than go on. Like many who hit rock bottom, I finally realised that I had to take matters into my own hands if I was going to get better.

Of course, what could I do? Winters in Zurich, Switzerland, where I lived, didn’t lend themselves to much other than time on the turbo trainer – a torture device if ever there was one. I tried everything: writing down workouts, custom music playlists, online coaching, watching cycling training videos of other people riding turbo trainers and even spin classes. Nothing worked.

I couldn’t stand that damned machine and I couldn’t get on it any more and I couldn’t motivate myself to work hard when I was on it because I only wanted off and I wasn’t getting any freaking faster come spring. Ever feel like that?

So, I made my own workout video. I took old pro racing videos and, teaching myself how to edit video, I cut them up and arranged them into a sort of workout. I put it on my iPhone. I got on my bike. An hour passed. I got off. Shattered, excited, amazed!

This worked! I felt like I had cured….a critical illness of a sort: turbo trainer boredom. The mix of professional racing footage, great music, a structured workout with instructions on screen and a bit of humour made the time fly. The moments on the trainer were motivating, exciting and terribly painful.

It was crazy talk, but I wasn’t crazy. I felt that if I could make workout videos that were entertaining, and a solid workout, people would be more likely to actually do them – enterPAINment, as it were. I wanted to make the videos for others, but in order to do so, I had to properly license the racing footage and music, and figure out a way to produce and distribute them.

Having no idea how to do this or how difficult it would be, I dove right into it. Hey, ASO and UCI, can we talk? I taught myself how to edit video and sound, I worked with some coaches on proper workouts and mixed their advice with my 20 years of cycling and racing. I did it – and continue to do it – while working a full time job in banking. I love bikes and this was a labour of love, if ever there was one.

Today, about two years from the online launch of The Sufferfest, we’ve got nine workout videos, ranging in length from 45 to 85 minutes with intense intervals, climbs, time trials and sprints. Think you can outsprint Hushovd or hold onto Cancellara when he attacks? The videos feature races like Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice, the Dauphine, Tour de Suisse and others. We’ve even got one, Hell Hath No Fury, that features all women’s racing (it is terribly difficult).

Our videos are playing in bike torture chambers in more than 50 countries around the world. Our mantra, “I Will Beat My Ass Today To Kick Yours Tomorrow,” has become a rallying cry (and a popular Twitter hash tag #IWBMATTKYT) for those who want to push themselves beyond the ordinary. Nearly 100 reviews in blogs, magazines and cycling websites around the world have praised The Sufferfest as possibly the best cycling training videos in the world.

Why? Above all, I think that the ‘fest helps people feel proud of themselves. Nothing is better than putting yourself through a hard workout, perhaps bobbling a bit halfway through, doubting yourself, and still making it to the end. To help people do that we introduced humour and insults to motivate you. We even introduced storytelling: several of our videos place you as an actor in a story. For example, in Local Hero, you’re the sole representative from a country called Sufferlandria in the UCI Road World Championships in Geelong and you must win the race or face execution (or worse!) when you get back home.

That video caused the growing community of ‘fest customers to christen themselves Sufferlandrians – masochists and sadists who take great pleasure beating the hell out of themselves on their turbo trainers with the hope of kicking ass on the road come spring. The Sufferlandrians now tell me what they want – a full line of Sufferfest National Team jerseys, shorts, windvest, stickers and even a National Flag have followed.

Running the ‘fest is incredible fun. But it’s got a serious side, too: I’m obsessed with delivering great customer service. I answer all emails myself and do my best to help anyone who might be having trouble with a video. I listen to feedback and do my best to act on it. And it may well be that I’m the only owner of a company who loves hate mail. On any given day, my inbox will have message that start with “You ba&t$rd! You nearly made me throw up. It was great. I’ll still hit you if I ever meet you” or “I hate you and your videos. Please make more.” They tweet and post with abandon on our Facebook page about just how much punishment they inflicted on themselves – and will on others out on the road. I love them all. Tough love, that is.

Links to all the videos:

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