Sunday, 13 December 2015

More suffer, less fest. But have my towel.

It was the perfect plan. 

Last year, after the completion of the Tour of Sufferlandria, 2015, I made the commitment to attempt (and successfully) complete a Knighthood. I even made a video about it. Read the blog here to find out all about it and more about The Sufferfest. 

Then I got busy. And I got lazy. And I got fat. And I got really good at making excuses. In fact I made a science out of it. Not real science, mind you, more like the kind of science that climate deniers, conspiracy theory proponents and American Republican congressmen and presidential candidates use.

 But I digress.

I did lots of riding over the summer and really enjoyed it. I even started running again in the fall.

Then, a couple of virtual friends, Knights and Dames of Sufferlandria, and in fact, even the owner of The Sufferfest, reminded me, that it was time to get off my ass and live up to that promise I made at the beginning of the year. So, I thought to myself, "I could do this, and I have a totally artificial deadline to meet."

Artificial deadline? Yes. When I made the decision to do my first Ironman, I decided that I wanted to get it done before I reached the age of 42. Why? Because 42, why else?

That was eight years ago, and I needed another totally arbitrary deadline. So I thought to myself again (we know thinking to myself always gets me into some kind of mayhem), I thought: "I'm middle aged, I don't think I'll be having a midlife crisis - nor do I think I'll have to live to 100, so why don't I get this thing done before I hit the age of 50?"

So there you have it. I decided that I wanted to attempt the Knighthood before I reached the golden age of 50, which would be some time in February. I further refined this random timeline by scheduling the attempt before the end of the year and the Christmas holidays; Saturday December 19th, to be exact.

So I made this date public and then got work planning the video list and all the details.
That's 10 videos, one after another, with only 10 minutes break between each one. That is what a Knighthood is. Mine will work out to just over 11 hours on the bike, in the basement. For a more precise description have a read here. 

Part of an authentic Knighthood is a pledge to raise money for charity. Some Knights I truly respect did just that. This one is in Dutch. And this one in American. I am nowhere nearly as organized as Robert or Buzz, or Anne or Donald or Greg or Brandy or Ashley or countless other Dames and Knights. But, true to the pledge of Knighthood, I picked the exceptional charity, World Bicycle Relief, and set a modest goal of $500. Have a look, contribute if you would like. Thanks to those, like Kevin and Anne and Cheryl and Kelly who have already been very generous.

I should, at this point, back up a bit

The Sufferfest is hard work. Every single video, if done correctly, will leave you a in a quivering puddle of exhaustion. Doing 10 in a row is no lounge on the couch. And prepping for it takes some serious training. And train I did. A little over 10 weeks ago, I started the training indoors using the Sufferfest Intermediate Plan; 10 weeks of indoor and outdoor riding hell.   And boy did I commit to it! I had been running at this time, too, but that fell away as I focused on four to five days of riding. I cycled outdoors in December and I was also doing Knighthood test rides, the longest one being five hours in duration.
I was getting ready. I was getting confident, I was getting sweaty...I crushed the training.

Then came Week Nine 

Maybe it was I was getting too confident and fit. Maybe it was because I haven't been sick for over a year, maybe it was because First Wife caught something vile and wouldn't let it go, for weeks. So, at the start of Week Nine of Training. With a little more than a week to go to the Knighthood attempt. I got sick. But not the boring sick, you know, the kind with fever that's in and out in a day or two.

No. Something moved into my lungs and sinuses; something so gross and vile that it sapped me of all energy and made my lung capacity shrivel up and my breathing crackle every time I inhaled. And then there was the coughing and sneezing all night long. At one point, I coughed something out that I'm sure had teeth, hair and a spine!

But wait, it gets better. When I finally got the strength to go back to work, I thought that things were looking up. I went home for lunch, ostensibly to check in on still ailing First Wife. I decided to have a cookie after lunch. And on the first bite, of the cookie, not First Wife...

Yup. Broke my molar. And since it is so close to the festive season, I couldn't get in to see the dentist. And won't be able to until two day from the writing of this - five days before the Knighthood attempt on the 19th.

So, still congested, still not sleeping well and now not able to eat anything more solid than blended soup, but
always the optimist, I thought to myself (again): "What a great way to drop some weight before the Knighthood attempt!"

So that is where I am now. It is the Sunday before the Saturday attempt. I'm still drugged up. I'm still congested and I'm still coughing up oddly familiar mucozoid vertebrates. And I'm still not really eating. I keep using my finger to push my broken molar back together, always anticipating the lightning bolt of pain to shoot up to the eye that it is right below.

Where to now? 

The thing about sufferfest is that it is more about suffering and less about festing. So. Over the next few days; I hope to cough and blow this nonsense out of my system; wean myself of the cold medication, get my molar fixed, at least temporarily, as I fear I will need a crown; and get my sorry ass back into my basement.

I have a couple more rides to do. My racing friends will know how terrible tapering can make you feel. I feel that way times ten and hungry too.

So, and there really "is no try", as Yoda opined. I will spend the week sorting  my change of clothing; setting up my paincave; oiling my chain and prepping my backup bike; changing sensor batteries and checking technology, getting my nutrition and hydration organized and prepping the many towels to have. And, as any true hitchhiker knows, never, ever go anywhere without your towel.

Forty-Two may have been the answer to the Universe and all that, but 50 will be my gateway to more great adventures. I won't panic, I will see you on the other side!

Hail Sufferlandria!

Monday, 2 February 2015

After the spinning stops

The whirring of my fluid trainer has come to a stop as I pause and reflect on the successful completion of The Sufferfest Tour of Sufferlandria. Nine days of indoor trainer cycling that is more intense than most outdoor rides. In my previous blog I wrote about many of the individuals and organizations that helped me appreciate and be my best.

Initially, I was thinking about writing about Stages 7, 8 and 9. But to do so would not do them justice. Where would I begin?

  • Stage 7. The Rookie One hour:  a race simulation so intense, so real, that I actually leaned into turns.
  • Stage 8: Revolver + Violator + Half Is Easy: Two hours and 25 minutes of intervals that were so intense, so quick and so demanding that I was worried I would snap my chain or break my derailleur. This was the Dame Alissa Memorial Stage.  Dame Alissa Schubert, was killed earlier this year when she was hit by a truck while out cycling. Revolver was her favourite video. This stage, the hardest and longest ever in the ToS was dedicated to her and her parents who also became Knights of Sufferlandria with Alissa. This stage was an emotional, draining effort, not just because of the difficulty of the riding, but because of who it was dedicated for and because of the understanding of how vulnerable all cyclists are the moment they get on their pedals. 
  • Stage 9: ISLAGIATT: Two hours (ish).  It sounds like a viking saga, doesn't it? "It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time." This stage was my triumph. It was hard. It was long. It demanded unceasing efforts and concentration. Still, I finished it stronger than when I started the whole ToS and I even got three personal best power records, one for 30 seconds, one for 60 minutes and another for 90 minutes. Here is the file, if you like numbers and pretty graphs. 
I got a fancy new badge on my Trainer Road page and a nice email from them. If you want to see all my results and the fancy graphs, please visit this page.

Trainer Road did a remarkable job  keeping the 2,823 riders that started on the app. A total of 1,742 completed on Trainer Road. That is pretty remarkable considering that this was the most difficult Tour of the three I've done. There were also riders who didn't use Trainer Road, but participated. Many, many riders donated to the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's. As of February 2, 2015, more than $US101,000 was raised by riders. $5,001 was donated by The Sufferfest directly. What an amazing group of fundraisers! 

The most remarkable part of this Journey through indoor training hell, were the people. Ironic as it is, I never felt alone - even though I was alone in my basement. And while Facebook has become very much a source of negativity and ridicule, the Sufferlandrians created a special place on Facebook, on Strava and on Trainer Road where they talked, shared challenges and triumphs, and laughed at each other and the absurdity of a nine-day indoor stage rage.

I was never alone. I was always one click away from Knights and Dames of Sufferlandria. This included Sir David Mcquillan and his minions at The Sufferfest. The amazing Connie Carpenter, and the Davis Phynney foundation peeps were there too. So was Kathryn Bertine, professional racer and creator of Half the Road who entertained everyone with "pop-up stages" and her participation in the most obscure of message threads.

I was never alone because, while spinning, while drenching the floor, my kit and my bike, I  knew that there were thousands of strangers and new friends all over the world doing exactly the same thing. Some I got to know, although briefly, online. Others, I have forged strong bonds of friendship with, both from previous Tours and from this one.

During the tour, like many others, I posted pictures of my suffering and my triumphs.
These selfies, were the virtual personification of the creation of a community. They showed everyone earning the badge of honour - the suffering and the dripping of "holy water" - that was the hallmark of participation in the ToS.

Ultimately I triumphed too,

After nine grueling sweat-filled days. Like many others, as well, I could not contain my pleasure, my relief and my joy for having, not only finished, but having absolutely trounced the last stage!

One of the most fascinating observations of this whole experience, speaking of Facebook, was what happened on Facebook itself.  My regular, somewhat active timeline was absolutely taken over by ToS posts. Out of every 20 posts, only one was non-ToS related. even during the Superbowl!  It will be difficult to return to regularly scheduled trolling now.
This was truly a Tour of Sufferlandria to remember. It was an experience that I will never forget. The last words, I think are literally my last words, as I completed ISLAGIATT. Here I am, out of breath and slightly hypoxic. Confusing Stage 8 for Stage 9. But this really captures the spirit of IWBMATTKYT!

Till we race again!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Six down, now the suffering starts.

It has been six straight days of racing the Tour of Sufferlandria. While the individual stages of the Tour have been tough, as are all Sufferfest videos, the day after day riding without a break has started to create fatigue. Much like a multi-day stage race, which is exactly what it is.

My race numbers have not been exceptional, but they have not been any worse than previous years. In other words, I'm more or less at, or just below the fitness level that I was at last year at this time. Here are some of the numbers on the Trainer Road page.

There is quite an active Facebook page for the Tour and I have spent a lot of time there this week, learning, commiserating and listening. I posted an observation about the perceived difference in my power levels after Stage 5, Angels.

I wrote: I'm not really a numbers guy (actually a word guy). But, as an occasional Ironman, I like to know how I deal with exercise/exertion stress. Today's stage gave me a great opportunity to compare. I did angels a few weeks ago and I thought I did it pretty strongly. Today I did it almost identically. So I'm either staying strong, or sandbagging.

What I find most interesting is looking at the differences. Today's ride I pushed 5 fewer watts compared to January 15th's. From the graph, I see that I'm a little sloppier (lazier) on the attacks - although I kept the power high -when I finally got there. Similarly, today, my average cadence was down - as I opted for a bigger gear to try to find power. 

My average heart rate too was down today, which I think is more of a sign of pushing the over-training envelope. Finally, I didn't have the burst of speed this morning at the end, that I did in the earlier attempt. 

Personally, After 5 stages, I still feel powerful...but my endurance is starting to wane. The next two days leading up to Stage 8 will truly be a journey; I have a different choice word for Stage 8. 

I also posted the picture below to illustrate.

As in previous years, I've also started to feel stronger as the days passed, but my "high end" power has been harder and harder to tap. Similarly the "easy coasting" at low power at the beginning over every stage has also been hard to initiate and sustain.

One thing this third attempt at the Tour has reminded me of is how I can adapt very quickly when I have to do something. When I commit to do an event (or a chore), there is no backing out. Was there ever any question of doing a stage? No. Just get on the bike and do it. The one advantage is that so far, I have been able to choose when I rode - either morning or night - and thus was able to maximize the rest in between stages.

Stage 6, Local Hero, however challenged me to my very core. I chose to do the 1:25 hour stage after work. Work turned out to be quite busy and I didn't get home until much later than I expected. I also chose to make supper and give something back to my very patient family. Then I got on the bike. Almost immediately, I had "power" issues. My Garmin Sensor - the device that tells both me and the Trainer Road app how hard and fast I'm going and what my heart rate is doing, was cutting out.

This has happened before. I tried to ride through it. But it got worse. I got off the bike and changed the battery on the sensor. That didn't help. I then changed bikes. That didn't help either. I changed bikes one more time to no avail. Now imagine that I was dripping with sweat, tired, hungry (I didn't eat yet) and on the verge of giving up.

The reason why I didn't give up was because I am still infused with the spirit of #DFQ (Don't Fucking Quit) that got me through Ironman Boulder  . Also, if I had quit, I would have to start over, and there was no guarantee that the bike electronics would work. I had to figure this out, finish it, and get ready for the next three stages.

It wasn't pretty. This is what the graph looked like after I had finished and was cooling down. Every vertical yellow line is a drop in power.
It took me 2.5 hours or so to do this 1:25 hr workout! My Garmin 910XT watch did even worse. It would lose signal and then take several minutes to regain it. So my Garmin workout is even shorter.
It is 23kms, when it should be 39(ish)kms as it was several weeks earlier when I did this same video without power issues.

The big deal with Trainer Road workouts is that they need to save. Occasionally, something goes wrong, and they don't save. Although the folks at Trainer Road are excellent at finding lost data, sometimes you are just screwed. So. I finished. And then I waited for it to save. This was my face; a mixture of relief, WTF and what next! I just could not believe that I manged to finish. But I was quite worried; how the hell will I do the next three stages, including the three video penultimate Stage 8 with sensor problems.

But, demonstrating both Ironman and Sufferlandrian calm that I have developed after dealing with race (and life) crisis in the past,  I got off the bike, had a shower and ate dinner.

My frustration with the ride, found a crescendo as I pedaled like a madman in the final sprint. After checking my data, I was pleased to find, that this effort had earned me a power award, or "bling". Basically I managed to hold 405 Watts for 1 minute, a new record for me. Look at the spike at the very end of this graph...that's it!
You can also see clearly on the third pyramid where everything started to go really wrong - look at the yellow line that is power. The "bling" that I referred to is just above the graph on the left hand side. It looks like a little red and yellow medal.
To get one or more of these during the ToS is great. Many who have honestly done the videos, however, will not, because they have earned them during individual video use, when they have been stronger. Still, to get one now, six stages in, demonstrates and proves my assertion that I am getting stronger as the Tour progresses. 

So what caused my tech issues? After finishing dinner, I got onto Facebook and started talking with some Knights of Sufferlandria. ; the inspirational Sir Donald Sorah, who was featured, with his equally amazing partner in Racing Weight,  and Bicycling magazine, amongst other places  and my goto resource, constant conscience and swimming kickset instigator, Sir Buzz Vickery, interviewed here on the Packfiller podcast; talking about Stage 5, Angels, the stage I referred to at the onset.  He's also seen here talking about his Knighthood attempt and raising money for GMNW - NICU.

After some discussion, it became apparent that this was a wifi issue. It wasn't batteries, it wasn't sensors, it was Netflix! There were two people watching Netflix on two different devices. That created so much interference that it stopped the signal on my bike.

What ironic about that is that Sufferlandrian's most reviled enemies are Couchlandrians! Everything a Sufferlandrian does is to avoid and repel the siren song of Couchlandrian sloth...such as donuts, Netflix, pumpkin spice lattes. Here's a video of some Couchlandrian training. Tour was almost thwarted by the forces of Couchlandria.

Within a few hours, I will attempt Stage 7, The Rookie. This is a new video that I have only attempted once. It should challenge me and hopefully get me ready for the three video, memorial Stage 8.

If you don't hear from me again, things either went horribly wrong, or really really well and I got called up to race for Team Giant-Shimano!

Suffer well, IWBMATTKYT!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Tour of Sufferlandria 2015

And so it begins. The "World's Toughest Indoor Cycling Tour" race countdown clock has started. There are 50 hours in this strange, time-travelling,  race in which to complete every stage. I will be starting Elements of Style and The Long Scream this evening.

I would be lying if I said I was not apprehensive and a little scared. I've been training steadily for the past five weeks, as part of a 10-week training plan. The Tour of Sufferlandria falls right in the middle of the plan.

Why apprehensive? It's just riding a bike! Well. Sufferlandrians are a strange breed. There are no half measures. The point of doing the work on the bike is doing the work on the bike. To just feather the pedals is never an option. The previous two Tours were done at 100 per cent FTP, which means, essentially, full power, as measured by the virtual power meter.

This Tour hurts, but it is also a clarion call to a lazy, sleeping body that has been lounging for far too long. I am itching to ride. To see what these old legs and heart have left in them. The Tour of Sufferlandria is a personal journey through one's own personal hell where demons, angels and volcanos make up the scenery.

As in previous years, I hope to make it through the other side, tired but not defeated. Holding my head aloft and smiling at all that I have accomplished, albeit virtually. This year, I have made many friends on the way to the Tour. I will be eagerly watching for them as they complete stages in more time zones than I have fingers. Here is a video from the end of  last year's tour 
And here are the Trainer Road results from last year.

Also, as in previous years, this tour is about raising money for a great cause, the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's. I saw how Parkinson's Disease took my active, vital father, and turned him into a trembling, dependent man. This is charity does important work. And this work gives me pause to not pause, but to pedal harder.

In a few hours, I'll be getting on my bike and speeding into the tour. If you don't see a next installment to this blog, things have gone horribly wrong. Chances are though, my excitement and my fervour will only increase in direct contrast to the throbbing pain in my quads and calves.

Allez Allez! Let's get this started! 

Benefiting the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's - See more at:
Benefiting the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's - See more at: