Tag Archives: training

Review: “A Very Dark Place” Training Video by The Sufferfest

30 Sep

Sure, we’d all prefer to ride outside all the time, but life doesn’t work that way. Whether for time, child care, or rained-out practices due to venue preservation concerns, I find myself on the indoor trainer during the fall cyclocross season almost as much as in the winter, if not more.

The key becomes finding ways to stay motivated and interested. Last year, I came across workout videos by The Sufferfest, which combine footage from pro and elite amateur races, on-screen interval prompts (and taunts), and great soundtracks. I actually found them a bit too intense for early-season base training, but for the top-end work you need to replace a rained-out ‘cross practice, they were ideal.

The kind (?) folks at The Sufferfest were kind enough to send a copy of their latest video for review. “A Very Dark Place”fits neatly within an hour, so you get your quality work in a small amount of time.  The focus is on VO2 max-style intervals, going nearly all-out for 4:00 each.  But these aren’t just put-your-head-down-and-gut-it-out efforts, as the workout combines on-screen prompts and carefully chosen race footage to throw in surges and simulations of attacks and steep, grinding climbs.

Sufferfest videos mix race footage and on-screen workout prompts.

In fact, if I have a significant quibble with this workout over my other Sufferfest favorites (I’m a huge fan of “Fight Club” and “Revolver”) it’s that the intervals are complicated enough that it’s hard at times to follow the prompts.  By the third interval, you’re gasping for air as you try to follow Gilbert and the Schlecks in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and squinting through sweat, tears and snot to read a new prompt on sitting/standing/cadence every 10 seconds is a bit much.  It’s a sequence that seems more suited to a spin class or group workout, where an instructor can call out directions.

Some of the prompts get a bit complicated.

My other whine is really just the fact that I’m getting old and don’t warm up as quickly as I used to.  Five minutes (ok, seven with the intro screens at the beginning) plus a couple of :30 sprints just doesn’t do it for me.  The sprints are good and help get things started, but for me, at least, I need closer to 15 minutes of warmup before I can get the most out of the first interval.  That’s easily remedied, however, with a few minutes more spinning before I hit “play.”

On-screen prompts tell you what's coming.

The rest of the workout is quality — good balance of work and rest intervals, with a mix of high- and low-cadence efforts.  The final, climbing-focused interval feels like a bit of a slog, but there’s a fair chance that my lack of sleep and poor training lately are as much to blame there.

The race footage is gorgeous and well-chosen (segments with a great solo win in Paris-Nice and following Cancellara in Paris-Roubaix show a particularly good editing touch) and the soundtrack is appropriately intense.  Some great indie rock bands on the playlist, and although I’m coming to prefer electronica more for workouts (I blame VeloBeats), these are definitely some bands I want to check out now.

Sufferfest videos have a great flair for motivational taunts on screen, and “A Very Dark Place” is no different, with no less than Philippe Gilbert calling you out.  That’ll get you going, if it doesn’t make you just curl up in the corner and weep.

This isn’t my favorite Sufferfest video, but it’s very good.  If you need a hard workout that fits into an hour — I’m reminded of my team’s weekly hill ride — this will do the trick, and entertain you a bit at the same time.


Annoying the local fauna

22 Aug

A story from Sunday’s ride near my mother-in-law’s place:

I should have known I’d done something to incite nature’s ire after the fourth dime-size-or-larger bug smacked into my cheekbone.  I had gone out to do climbing repeats to squeeze in a quality workout around a family visit.  Fortunately, my wife’s mother lives about two miles from a 1.5-mile, 1000-ft climb.  Proof of how perception doesn’t match reality:  I felt awful, couldn’t remember whether the times I was seeing were any good, and bagged it after two repeats, thinking I was crawling up the hill.  Looked it up on Strava afterwards, and I’d actually set a p.r. and third-best time.  Shows what I know.  (I’ll write later about my love affair with Strava.  The  KOM comparison is a fun toy, but the feature of seeing within seconds how I’m doing vs. myself is far, far easier and more useful than any other training log program I’ve used.)

I turned for home, planning an easy tempo for the rest of the way back.  I was about to ride across a freeway overpass, thinking profound things about the waffle cookie with peanut butter I’d just eaten, when I picked up a flash of beige movement in the bushes to the right.  In an instant, there was a deer directly in front of me, with a second following it across the road.  They were both fairly small, no antlers, so probably just born this past spring.

My hands were back on the shoulders of the bar, too far to reach the brakes, so I tried to head to the right.  The first deer made it fine, but I clipped the back leg of the second one with my front wheel and bounced off to the right as I heard the deer grunt and its hooves skitter on the pavement.  My right foot came out of the pedal, and as I’d already been shifting my weight back, I wound up with my stomach on the saddle, hands on the tops, left foot in the pedal, right leg unclipped and thigh dragging on the rear tire.

I was wobbling quite a bit now and was 100% convinced I was going down, so I aimed for the grassy shoulder.  With a jolt and a bounce, somehow I stayed upright over the blessedly low curb and went up into the grass, and was able drag my foot to stop. By the time I turned around to look at the deer they were both gone.

The damage was inconsequential.  Something (the curb, I imagine) knocked the front wheel a bit out of true, the bars were slightly twisted, and there is now a gouge in the toe of my right shoe, but apart from a light tire burn on my thigh and a bath of adrenaline, I was unscathed.  With the fight-or-flight supercharge, I actually debated going back for another hill repeat once I got going again.  Common sense (laziness?) prevailed, though, and I rolled on through a headwind, with one last bug smacking me in the ear about a quarter-mile before the last turn down the street to my wife’s childhood home.

Rapha Festive 500: Rediscovering Winter Training

1 Feb

I mulled over what to post too long and Rapha has already announced their choices for best postings from the Festive 500.  (Though to be honest, their interim update post had a better texture to it.) I have well and truly missed the boat.  But this is something I want to write, so here it is.

Winter training for the road rider can be as much a psychological challenge as a physical one.  Rousting yourself to get out the door and into the cold becomes a barrier built up one excuse and one hesitation at a time. Too cold, too dark, too windy, too lonely, too boring. Except it’s not, and it’s never as hard as one imagines once you actually get dressed and swing a leg over the saddle.

So the challenge tossed out by the folks at Rapha — 500 km in the last eight days of the year — was a welcome excuse of a different sort.  A good reason to end the post-cyclocross layoff and head into a heavier winter base than I’ve done in my last few seasons. A good reason to kickstart the winter and fall in love with neoprene again.

I fell woefully short of 500km.  A day lost in the car either way en route to Christmas at grandma’s and the blizzard that set in moments after I rolled up the driveway one day just as snow started to stick guaranteed that I wouldn’t make up for my slow start.  In the end, that didn’t matter.  The Festive 500 worked. I got a rolling start on the season, leading to my best January training totals in years.  Better, I got a reminder that it’s fun to ride.  Putting in hours in the saddle on quiet winter roads is a joy to be treasured, not a penance to be endured.

Chapeau, Rapha.  I still can’t afford your clothes but I am in your debt for this one.

Right now.

15 Jan


Teeth brushing.

Cool tingle of chamois balm.

Layering clothes on.  Embro starts to warm.

Buzz of the coffee grinder.  Trying to pull a decent shot while still groggy.

Jamming more oatmeal down than I truly want to eat.

Last sip of coffee as the embrocation blossoms into a full burn.  Time to saddle up.

Check tire pressure, brace for the first rush of cold air as I step out the door.

Breathe deep as legs move from turning clunky squares to spinning circles and icy wind squeezes water from my eyes.  Peculiar sort of freedom on a winter morning.

Wednesday Rituals, redux

10 Nov

Looks like they do it up right in Boulder.

[Vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/16534876%5D

(Hat tip to Joe Lindsey)


27 Oct

I’ve not been everywhere.  But as far as I can tell, every local cycling scene has its own version of it — Wednesday Night Worlds, the Mid-Week Training Crit, the Hump Day Hammerfest.  Or in fall, Wednesday cyclocross practices.  In my old corner of Boston, summer was for the Concord Hill Ride, with the midway sprint up Strawberry Hill.  Fall was for bandit cx practice on Wednesday night, followed by burritos in Davis Square.  Around here, it’s the Hills of the North ride on spring and summer mornings, super-secret ‘cross practice in the fall.

Wednesday is both far enough from last weekend that you’ve recovered from the race or the all-day adventure but close enough that the sense of achievement (or disappointment) can motivate you.  Close enough to be fired up about the upcoming weekend but not worried about irrecoverably burying yourself.

Racers take it up a notch on Wednesday.  Tuesdays may be for the detailed, power meter-governed workout your coach prescribed.  Thursdays are a calculated risk to put in just that little bit more before pre-race recovery.  But Wednesday?  That’s when you take out the stops, gather up some of your fellow lunatics, and beat on each other.  Preferably with some sort of imbibing of food or beverages afterward.  As that coffee chain is telling us lately, “Take Comfort in Rituals.”

Hell, even after this morning’s cx practice got rained out (concerns about preserving site access weigh heavily on the mind of the semi-urban crosser) but I was still psyched even though it meant a day in the basement on the trainer.  The carryover euphoria (Wednesday!  Wednesday!) was enough.

I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of bike racers who suffer from the Hump Day blues.