Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Tour of Sufferlandria 2016

This past weekend, I finished the Tour of Sufferlandria. It is the Greatest Grand Tour of a mythical nation. But it is only mythical in name. There are nine very real stages, participants, most of whom I only know virtually are also very real. There is a very real charity, The Davis Phinney Foundation, that benefits from the efforts of riders. This is my personal donation page. As of February 16, 2016, US$111,671 was raised for the charity that benefits those with Parkinson's.

Here is a link to the event. So much has been said by others and said so much better than I can, that I couldn't do it justice. Besides. I have talked about the Tour many times before.

What else made this a "real" tour? The suffering. Participants worked harder than they thought they could - some for the first time - to achieve the goals of the Tour. Sufferlandrians call this "suffering". There is as tradition of thought that crosses all cultural divides and ages that believes that true gains, true benefit and true enlightenment can only come through suffering.

  • Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Helen Keller 
  • To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering. Friedrich Nietzsche

So all the participants suffered. Not only physically through the intense efforts needed to do the rides, but also in terms of scheduling, in terms of personal and social sacrifice. Some had to give up activities and plans that they had to complete the rides. Some had to not spend as much time as they normally do with their families. Some actually hurt themselves, or pushed themselves to the limits of pain and endurance. Many went way beyond their comfort zones, physically, socially and in their fund raising efforts.

A big part of this year's Tour, as in previous years, was a Facebook Group. The Tour of Sufferlandria 2016.   This was possibly one of the most sociable, connected, friendly online groups I have ever encountered.  It was not unusual to look at my Facebook feed to find 30 or 40 new notifications every morning - and these were not just comments to the group, these were actual conversations, some frivolous, some completely earnest.

One of the non cycling activities that many engaged in was posting of pictures and video of personal suffering. This was not a display of  "I'm suffering more than you". Rather, it was a proud display, in a safe environment of a shared experience. Individuals posted pictures of total physical exhaustion, or comments from confused or disapproving co-workers or family.

The group understood. The group never judged. To be completely honest, some did judge, but were very quickly shut down by others. this was not a place for trolls or jerks.

It was a place of making friends, albeit sometimes temporary ones. I know that I have made many real friends on this page. Ones that I can trust as much as the flesh and blood ones that I grew up with.

But this wasn't all making friends and singing of kumbaya. This was hard work. This was descending into my, albeit comfortable, pain cave for nine days straight. Descending down there, even when my legs were tired, when my hips were sore, when I had strange and painful abrasions on my nether regions that I haven't had since I was in diapers. It can be noted that a wet chamois on bike shorts may be likened to wet diapers.

Doing this, like I've done it before, required significant mental toughness - as I have written about in earlier blogs.   (note there is a problem with some early blogs and the pictures are not loading). I needed to keep focused on the required task. Unlike in previous tours, in this one, there was no way of proving that you actually did the workouts. Previously, they were measured on Trainer Road.  This link is my rides from last year's Tour.

This year's Tour was based on the honour system - you only had yourself and the virtual group of Sufferlandrians to keep you honest and accountable.

That is only partially true, though. As a Knight of Sufferlandria,  I had the honour of competing in a challenge of power and strength against other knights. This was measured and calculated daily. I'm pleased to say that I cracked the top ten. First time I've ever done that in a sporting event in my life.

So, how did I do? What are my stats? I don't really care for evaluating numbers. Maybe that is why I don't really get that competitive. But it is interesting to see what I achieved.

  • 9 Stages
  • 12 Videos 
  • 12.5 Hours  
  • 324 Kilometres
  • 11 Changes of clothing
  • 20 Towels
  • $140 raised personally for Davis Phinney Foundation  
Along the way, I pushed my limits further than I ever have. Made some personal discoveries that I am only now starting to disentangle from my psyche and, as I said, also made many many friends.

I also took lots of selfies of me suffering and learned how to do selfie videos. I've added some of them below. Each is self explanatory. One of my goals was to try to make others smile during a time of very hard work. I posted much of this on the Tour page. I hope that they were liked. I did get some good feedback and considerable laughing - and thankfully not the pointing at me and laughing variety.

In this one, a video, I didn't have time to change, and I had a meeting right afterwards, so I did just what any Sufferlandrian would do; not bother changing.

In this one, I think I really really wanted to call my Mommy. But sadly, she was out of country and not near a phone.
In this one, just after I finally finished, I was attached by Wilbur, the dreaded basement-dwelling bear. It was okay though, because Wilbur is very plush.  

This video was in honour of Spoke 'n Hot Women's Cycling.

 This one was in honour of World Bicycle Relief, for whom I had the privilege of raising money during my knighthood attempt. Here is the blog of my attempt that they posted. 


And finally. finally! My final video. It includes some fancy, low tech camera techniques.

Thank you all for participating in the Tour and for making this, yet again, another great experience and a key part of my training, not just for sport, but for living!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

My musings just before the Tour of Sufferlandria 2016

In less than 24 hours, the Tour of Sufferlandria begins. I've written about the Tour before. You can read some of it here.

Up until now I've been soft peddling, more or less. Even riding outside in this strangely warm weather. 

But now it is time to do some serious basement cycling!

This year, the Tour is a different animal. There is a lot of reasons for that. The first one may be personal. Just over a month ago, I became a Knight of Sufferlandria. I feel different. My perspective is not what it was last year, it is perhaps broader, but also, maybe, a little less idealistic.

One of the other reasons is the new Sufferfest App.  For a variety of reasons, most very valid and reasonable,  the ownership of the Sufferfest decided to launch the new app just before the Tour and to encourage participants to use it for the Tour. In previous years, The Trainer Road App was used.

There was considerable outrage -- yes outrage -- over what some perceived as an abandonment of Trainer Road. So much so that the owner of Sufferfest had to make several public announcements to the online community about the rationale and the realities of moving to the app.

I am not going to argue or choose sides either way. I still use Trainer Road. In fact I'm looking forward to try the Beta version of it for the Tour.

I now also have and use the Sufferfest App too, although I've had issues with it initially because of my low tech (old tech) equipment. It now works better than expected.

Many Sufferlandrian's may forget that in its infancy, Trainer Road also had issues. In any case I'm sticking with both. Both have elements that I need in my training now and in the future.

I think it is going to be an incredible training and gamification exercise tool. And I look forward to its portability. For instance, training in hotel rooms, while on vacation.

I'm not the best training app reviewer, and, well, I can't do math all that well.
So numbers are not my forte. Others can give far better analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of both. I like them both for different reasons.  I will probably use them both in tandem.

I'm supposing this is what knighthood does; new perspective.

Another issue relating to the Tour has come up, that isn't really being talked about but I have noticed.

With Trainer Road in previous years. one could not start the Tour early and still get (graphical) credit for it - or Trainer Road prizes. There were prizes for donating money to the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's and for participating on Trainer Road.

This time around one only needs to donate to be eligible for prizes. 
This is my current donation page. I donated earlier, and it isn't showing up here. Feel free to donate it is a great cause. Read more details here. 

But seriously? The prizes are amazing, as they have been in previous years, but true Sufferlandrians don't do this for the prizes. They do it for the challenge, the training and the camaraderie. Prizes are nice, but so is the lottery. Many dream, few win. 

Now, there continues to be a huge incentive to donate to the Davis Phinney Foundation - and some incredible prizes for donating. But there is no disincentive or technical way to stop people from starting the Tour early. Of course it is understandable. People are busy. To schedule nine days in a row of at least 50 minutes of intense exercise is challenging.

But that was the beauty of the Tour in previous years. Everyone started at the same time. While all are encouraged to start within the 50-hour start period, a surprisingly large number of people have already started days before the group start.  This isn't really a big deal. But it will be a little disconcerting and annoying when people start finishing two or three days before the peloton. Also, as any event planner knows, once the hard boundaries of the event start sliding, other things may fall away too. But maybe I'm just old fashioned. I started my triathlon racing career believing a start time is unchangeable.

Again. This isn't a terrible thing. But it has changed the essence of this wonderful Tour that has, for me, created some great experiences and made several exceptional friendships.

Still, they say nostalgia isn't what is used to be. Things change.

This is still going to be a wonderful tour. Once the legs start turning and the holy water starts saturating the floor and the bike and the air, all will be as it was, a hot, sweaty mess!

Bring on the Tour! Allez Allez!

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Testing a New Sufferfest Standard.

In December, 2015, I completed a Sufferfest Knighthood. It was a big deal for me. You probably heard about it, it was in all the news. No? Well I wrote about it here, if you missed it.

One of the privileges, some say duties, of being a Knight is the rare opportunity to test pre-release versions of new videos. I was one of five knights who had this honour this week.

The yet to be released cycling video is called Power Station. It runs at just over 50 minutes duration and it will be released in time for the upcoming Tour of Sufferlandria. 

Here is part of the review I wrote and shared with other Sufferlandrians about the video. I wanted to capture it somewhere other than on Facebook.

Today I had the privilege of testing a pre-release copy of The Sufferfest Power Station. Throughout the day I posted many of my observations and comments of the video, as observed by going through it, second-by-second on the computer. I also shared with David McQuillen, Founder and Chief Suffering Officer of The Sufferfest, some of my critical observations of the video, as was my responsibility and assigned task. 

This evening, I had the honour of riding the video. I rode it pure RPE, (Rated Perceived Exertion) with no indication of virtual power or real power. It was just me VS. the riders on the screen.

These are some of my observations:

  1. This is a video of honesty. It will be as easy or as hard as you make it. You can go into it thinking that you don't have to commit too much effort, but it entices you to try harder, to show your true Sufferlandrian, to pick a harder gear and to grind out power that you didn't know you had. By the end of the video, I was doing efforts that I never expected to be doing indoors. 
  2. This is a beautiful video. It is a feast on the eyes, the ears and the spirit. The music may not be to the liking of heavy metal or thrash lovers, but it has a driving, fresh rhythm, punctuated by a chill sound that keeps you accelerating. Keeps you climbing; and lets you recover, just enough to do it all over again. 
  3. Footage in this video is new. You will recognize the riders, from recent races and seasons. You will feel that you are part of those races. You will be one of those racers. You will also spend far too much time (in my opinion) looking at Contador's backside.This is not a bad thing. You will find yourself trying to dance in the pedals like he does.  
  4. This is the only Sufferfest video, that successfully incorporates The Elements of Style, or correct riding practices into every instruction. While I was struggling to climb, I was constantly reminded of posture, of core and effort. It is like having, beside you, a friendly coach, gently reminding you to ride well, while, having, behind you, a nasty minion, poking and prodding you onward with a pointy stick. 
  5. Unlike most Sufferfest videos, this one will work more on your low cadence strength, than your explosive attacks. When you finish this, you will not feel like you want to crawl into your bucket. Rather, you will have, as I did, a radiating glow of exhaustion, highlighted with endorphin rushes of inexplicable joy that will make you, for no reason, wish to do kind things to others and to small woodland creatures.

    Final analysis. This is probably going to be one of your go-to videos once you try it. It will grow on you. It will entertain you. It will challenge you. It will make you want to be a better Sufferlandrian.
    I also posted some screen shots of Power Station.  


    These screen shots and other musings generated lots of conversation on social media, and I found my Facebook inbox overwhelmed with notifications. 

    Was this a good experience? Absolutely. Would I do it again? At the drop of a chamois! 
    How was the actual ride, after I did it? This picture is worth a thousand words. See you at the Tour of Sufferlandria 2016. 

    See you at the Tour of Sufferlandria 2016.


Sunday, 3 January 2016

Not that Knight's Tale

You know when you go to the movies, you sit down with your popcorn and candy that you would normally never spend that much for. And then you eat most of the damned popcorn during the commercials that you actually paid to watch and you look into the popcorn bag and try to desperately start to ration, but it is useless; you've set a cadence and there is no stopping of that backhoe of an arm and insatiable gob of a mouth.

Then the previews start and some are, like, "okay, that could be worth seeing on Netflix," or "what the hell were they thinking? That's a remake of a remake...they've just changed the gender of the characters and made them chipmunks..."

Finally the movie starts and it starts with the ending. And you see what has happened and who is dead and you are already out of popcorn and have some solid gold-valued candy stuck to your dental work and you are wondering if you should just leave before it is too late when some title comes up: "Two weeks earlier".

This is a blog is a bit like that.

Two weeks ago, after very much preparation and lots of mishaps that would have normally caused me to throw up my hands, gnash my teeth and sound a lot like Job, I attempted The Sufferfest Knighthood starting at 6 am, Sunday, December 20th. You can read all about the work that went into it here. 

You can also read how my chosen charity, World Bicycle Relief was so generously supported by Mike, James, Rodney, Brandy, Leslie, Ivan, Buzz, John, Pat, Rick, Anne, Kevin, Cheryl, Kelly, and a generous anonymous friend. Together, we surpassed my goal of US$500 and you contributed $1,294. That's enough for eight bikes for those that really need them. This work even caught the attention of World Bicycle Relief and they sent me a personalized note of thanks. Thanks to all you contributed and to those who supported in spirit. I felt your energy!

UPDATE: World Bicycle Relief posted this blog about my efforts.
Apparently, this link has gone offline. I will see if I can find it elsewhere. 

So, two weeks ago, how did it go after I walked into the pain cave at 6 a.m. with almost 11 hours of riding ahead of me?

Well, I started with a lot of preparation. If you read the earlier blog (same link as above) , you will know that I had not only broken a molar, but also had a bacterial infection in my lungs that forced me to seriously think whether or not I could do this. I never really talked about it, but I also broke another molar the night before I did the attempt. They were both old filings and a coincidence, but I did feel my body was letting me down. But I didn't let that stop me, I'd be biking, not chewing. I did decide to make the attempt one day after schedule. My lungs were working again and for that I was glad.

I'm not one for lists, but I made one. I had set up the entire duration of the ride on Trainer Road so I could track all my virtual power and make sure that I did not cook myself too early in the process. I watched the videos on a separate laptop.

I also made a set list that I could cross off as I went along and photos of the videos that I could use as "inspiration". You'll note, if you can see in the picture, that the pictures of the videos also included the "elevation" or interval power requirements on the bottom.
New Star Wars movie was about to be released, thus the references.
Before I made the attempt I did several trial rides of two, three, four and five hours. During those tests, I realized that my two biggest problems would be ass pain and boredom. More about the ass pain in a moment.

With respect to the boredom (ass pain deserves respect too, by the way), I realized that after a few hours, no matter how hard one is spinning, it gets dull, it gets boring. The Sufferfest videos are entertaining and compelling and all that, but I know them like the back Kevin's ass, that I once drafted behind from Lake Huron all the way to Kitchener, Ontario - thanks Kev!

No, I needed something to distract me. These lists, the crossing them out, the taking pictures, the looking at Facebook and Twitter during the breaks all helped to keep my mind from snapping. It should be noted that, as I had contact lenses in, lenses that don't let me read my mobile phone all that well, I could not really decipher what people were posting on my Facebook wall, or what I was typing. That too was distracting.

Clothes make the man.

I had planned out seven changes of kit. Two pairs of socks, five different sweat absorbers for my head, 15 towels and various other sundry bits of textile.
I ended up only using six changes of kit. I stopped sweating in the back half of the ride and I just didn't need to change. I did, however, apply and reapply chamois cream liberally after every 10 minute break.
And yes, some did notice that I did indeed do my two first videos in my underwear. Why? Well, my commuting underwear has a chamois in it and it is super cozy and I was in my basement and, that's just how I roll!

This was one of my strategies of dealing with the ass pain. The chamois on these shorts is very simple and not too spongy. It allowed me to gradually get used to the thicker chamois of the bike and bib shorts that I eventually moved my junk into. It worked well. I really did not feel significant discomfort until maybe six or seven hours.

Another thing that really helped was the stretching. I stretched, not only legs but hips, groin and back after every video. I am sure that that helped take a lot of the tightness away. And as many indoor trainer warriors probably know, standing often is a good strategy. I did just that. In fact, I used standing as one strategy. I would stand for one or two or even three minutes. I also went into an aero tuck (without bars) to rest some of my leg muscles and challenge me - and to beat the boredom.

Nutrition and hydration

I've competed in many triathlons, including six Ironmans. I know that nutrition and hydration is the fourth discipline. I also know that, after a while, no matter how well you have planned and how much you like your food and drink choices, you will begin to hate them. After that point, nothing with slake your thirst or sate your hunger.

With that in mind, I started with a good breakfast of hard boiled eggs, whole wheat toast, coffee, avocado and cheese and a banana. 

The night before I had prepped seven bottles with Hammer Heed. I  put these in the bar fridge in the pain cave annex. Sadly I do not have a bar in the pain cave. I also prepped tiny cans of coke, a large can of coconut water and had First Wife on Standby with pickle juice, which I needed twice in the tail end of the ride, where first my calf and then my quad started to cramp. It worked!  Here's the transcript of the request of the STAT request.

A word about Hammer. I trust Hammer products, I have used them for many of my races. I like Skratch, but I have never used it for such a long ride. Some of you asked why did I not use Perpetuem. I love the product, have used it in Ironman very successfully and it is great. But I was also in my basement. I had access to real food. Why would I use liquid food, when I could more easily have the real thing? I also had two cups of mocha coffee - lots of sugar, caffeine, protein and fats. Yum.

As for nutrition I had a combination of stuff I have used successfully indoors and out. Last year I won a contest that included my getting a six month supply of Clif bars. I love Clif Bars, so that was an obvious choice. I had about Six of them lined up, but only had three. I also had two sesame snaps, a croissant - with mocha coffee - duh, no one said suffering couldn't be dignified!

I had also prepped one peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the night before and First Wife made me one during the ride.

By far, however,  the best thing I had to eat, and that was completely unplanned was chicken noodle soup. I had a craving for salts. We had some packaged stuff, but First Wife made some from scratch and brought it down to the pain cave. Remember, that soup broth is a staple at Ironman.
This, however, was the best cup of soup I've had. It was like magic and got me going again during a dark time. You can see the joy in my face.

For the most part, as per my "To Do 10 minutes" list pictured above, I ate after I got everything else done and got back on the bike and started next video.

You may not realize this, but 10 minutes is an incredibly long time if you are organized. But I had lots to do, including change, prep next video, take pictures, post on Facebook, pace like a crazy man, go to the bathroom - twice, stretch, feel sorry for myself, etc.

Eating on the bike was advice a trusted Knight, Sir Buzz, once shared with me, that served me well. Chicken soup, however could not be enjoyed while pedaling. I took some valuable minutes of my 10 minute break to enjoy it.

Documenting the journey.

One of the requirements of knighthood is documenting the attempt and then sharing it with the Sufferlandrian authorities to validate the attempt. This is like calling the folks at Guinness to come see you juggling the flaming hula hoops and chainsaws.

Documenting could be a Garmin or other electronic file of the ride, or pictures posted on social media or other proof. Me being the paranoid sort, I decided to build in a number of redundancies to ensure I didn't mess this up. Once I did it, I really had no desire to do it again, unless, one day, I decide to go for a double knighhood...

For those interested in data. I have a Garmin File. I recorded it on my Garmin 910 XT. That generated a Strava File. I also, as I noted, had set up a Trainer Road ride, so there is a file for that.
You can check them all out by clicking on the links. If you are into numbers and that sort of thing.

I also created a paper trail both with crossing out on the set list, but also on the pictures of the video graphics and then sharing on social media, both Twitter and Facebook. How's that for redundancy?
I am including some of my favourite pictures from those postings. They show some of what I went through, as I'm sure other knights have. Oh, and I took all of these.

 Starting with The Wretched
                                                                                                               A Revolver to the head for #8

Starting #10, I was hoping for Angels, but I got devils!
I got through the Devils, AKA "Angels".
This ride was not hard. Not in the sense that I was constantly on the edge of bonking or hurting. I did come close to bonking once, that is when I pulled out the coke and guzzled that. I did cramp, I did get sore, but not in the same way as I would in a race. This knighthood was more about enduring, putting up and knowing that there was more than 10.5 hours of it.

This ride was about reaching in to the depths of my resolve, my mental toughness and all the training I have done for Sufferfest, for Ironman, and for everything before that.

My Garmin data automatically saves to the fitness app, My Fitness Pal. According to that app, I "burned 4,129 calories doing 625 minutes of bicycling - light cycling".

This was not "light" bicycling. But it cannot be compared to an Ironman, where, if I remember correctly, I burned over 7,500 calories. This was a pain and suffering exercise of a whole other breed.

Many times I thought about quitting. Many times I thought about how much of a loser I am spending my first day of health after a long illness in the pain cave.
This is mental toughness; getting through the demons and the roadblocks that your psyche sets up to try to make your road easier and more "Couchlandrian".

At the start of Angels, the last video. I knew I would finish. I was sore, I knew I had an hour of riding ahead of me. But I proudly put on the Sufferfest kit. I was doing this for something bigger than me. I thought about when I was the fat little kid in elementary school who was picked on for having a funny last name and for being different and for being hefty, stout, husky and fat.

I pedaled through that. I thought about my family, friends and acquaintances questioning all the time I spend exercising. I thought about my mother dissuading me and stressing that I would hurt myself.

I thought about the other Sufferlandrians, Knights, Dames and others who have gone before me who have inspired me.

I thought about my children and First Wife, who never faltered in their support.

I thought about the bikes going to World Bicycle Relief and those that donated.

I did a lot of thinking. And when I was done thinking, the ride was over. I was all done. I finished before Six p.m.

First Wife stopped screaming "go go go" and smiled that smile that lets me know I'm home.

I had some pizza. I had some chocolate milk, I had some Guinness.

And like the movie I referenced at the beginning of this blog, the credits started to roll on this knighthood attempt. It was never a surprise to me that I would finish it, just like it probably wasn't a surprise to any of my friends.

Two weeks earlier, you knew that I would do it. All the sickness and the broken teeth and the issues that I ran into were the dramatic tension that is written into any story.

And this was my story.

Now I have to write the sequel.
 Here is the last video from the knighthood. It is a Facebook video link.  Thanks for reading and thanks to all who helped me get here.