Do you want to explore the Pain Cave? Be warned; it’s A Very Dark Place.

This is a review of a Sufferfest cycling video, from one of our newest contributors, Alex.  Hope you enjoy it, and keep an eye out for future cycling articles from him.

– Brian

Recently, I was given the honor of being allowed to do an early ride and review of the newest cycling indoor training video from The Sufferfest.  I have been a fan of these videos since I tried one back in early 2010, and first raced over the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix in The Downward Spiral.  I knew right away when the interval began and the video transitioned from the smooth asphalt to the rough, dusty cobbles with a kicking song playing that I had found something special.  I also can personally attest to having some of my best springs on the bike due to whipping myself with these videos over the winter.

So, I was quite happy when @TheSufferfest first revealed to the Twitter world that he was working on a new video.  When the Tweet first told the title of the new work-in-progress, I was at once both excited and scared.  Being used to previous titles such as Angels, Revolver, and Local Hero, and knowing just how difficult those are, hearing that Mr. Sufferfest has named this one A Very Dark Place sent chills down my spine.  Even then, I still thought, “I can’t wait.”

Now I’ve ridden lots of other “hard” training videos in the past.  It was quickly obvious that several of them only had one goal: to break you.  There was no structure, no real attention to cycling specific training, and worst of all, no fun.  Apparently they were going after your mental well-being.  It was the norm for them to be beyond boring with horrible music and the wonderful (read sarcastically) idea that all the scenery you need is to stare at a “coach” yelling at you or at other people sweating on their stationary trainers.  I can think of at least 3 videos that I have paid for, each of which cost about 2 to 3 times what a Sufferfest video does, that have only gotten one use from me.  I can also think of at least one that I didn’t even finish.  The sheer boredom was just too much.  This is coming from a person who has ridden 100 miles on his rollers.  So for me to quit something because it’s boring is a big statement.

Bikerumor.com has done excellent reviews of the other Sufferfest offerings.  In fact, it was a posting from Bike Rumor in late 2009 previewing The Downward Spiral that first piqued my interest in these videos.  If you’re new to Sufferlandria, check Bike Rumor’s reviews or check out the reviews I have posted at Twospoke.com.

Well, that seems like enough small-talk.  Let’s enter the darkness.

As usual with Sufferfest videos, you will not need any fancy power-meters and won’t have to perform any calculations to know how hard to go during the work-out.  The efforts are based on a perceived exertion scale of 1 to 10.

I’ll admit I was nervous starting this video.  I knew the basic structure was a warm-up period, followed by five, four-minute “sprint” intervals, with a warm-down at the end.  I’m the type of person that prefers longer intervals at about 70% max effort.  Four-minutes of all out is not my thing.  The thought of doing that five times with only a three-minute break between each scared the hell out of me.  The introductions didn’t help eliminate my feeling of dread.  It was clear this video is supposed to scare you.  It even promises through a brief glimpse of Cancellara that you will feel like him at the end.  Unfortunately, it’s not the Spartacus we’re used to seeing easily and, what appears to be effortlessly, powering away from anyone that tries to hold his wheel.  It was Cancellara after Paris-Roubaix 2011 looking like he has just competed in the World Sauna Championship.

As I began the warm-up, I was approaching the Pain Cave.  I was somewhat intimidated by the darkness inside, but I felt well-prepared.  My legs felt strong, so I knew I had two good lights to illuminate my path through the darkness.  “It’s always good to have two, in case one burns out,” I said to myself.  A few minutes into the warm-up, my legs were feeling tight.  “Not good,” I thought.  After the initial warm-up came two 30 second 10/10 efforts.  Though it seems somewhat strange to be doing max efforts before the real intervals even start, these are quite effective at opening up and clearing out the legs.  After the max efforts, it felt like I had installed a new pair of legs.  I was ready to suffer.

Interval 1 was a solo breakaway.  It consisted of a mostly steady effort of 8/10 as you drive toward the finish line.  Difficult, but not insane, since the legs and lungs are pretty fresh at this time.

Interval 2 had me going much deeper into the Pain Cave as I rode along with a small group breakaway.  The breakaway has enough riders to keep the pace high, but not enough where you can get away with not working.  The effort steadily increased throughout the interval.  During my review, I used a Dictaphone to record voice-notes, and I really wish you could hear the notes during this interval.  It is truly hilarious.  I’ve listened to it numerous times, and I really have no clue what I am saying.  All I can determine from the recording is I am totally out-of-breath and in pain.  I guess I’m speaking Sufferlandrian.  During Interval 2, as the legs really began to hurt, one of my lights was beginning to flicker and the Pain Cave was getting darker.

Interval 3 was the hardest, in my opinion.  The interval starts with a 9/10 effort as you try to hang with Gilbert and the Schlecks.  Knowing those monsters, it should be obvious that you will be sprinting the hills.  No steady-state here.  This interval required a lot of out-of-the-saddle efforts which really set the legs to screaming.  By this point, I’m having to switch to my back-up light, and I’m beginning to think it’s not going to last until I get out of this cave.

Interval 4 allows you to try to hang with Cancellara at Paris-Roubaix.  Are you ready for that?  You better be.  Sufferlandria has a no-drop policy.  But that doesn’t mean the competition eases up, that means you have to push.  At this point, there are only rumors and speculation as to what happens if you don’t, but it’s sure to not be pleasant in a Sufferlandrian prison.

Interval 5 stresses big mountain climbing with high-resistance and low-cadence just in case you haven’t totally destroyed your legs yet.  That’s it, my lights are totally out by the end of this one.  I’m trying to feel my way through the darkness and get out of the cave.  Can I make it?

Now true Sufferlandrians know Mr. Sufferfest is fond of “surprise” intervals requiring extra effort when you think you are finished.  Well, let me tell you….  Nah, I think I’ll just keep you guessing about it.

As the warm-down began, I noticed a faint glimmer of light in the distance.  I picked up my pride, which I dropped during the third interval, and began to crawl towards it.  As I continued my ascent out of the darkness of the pain-cave, I couldn’t help but grin as the words signified to all Sufferlandrians by the following 10 letters crept into my head: IWBMATTKYT.

As usual, the video work and soundtrack are phenomenal.  Honestly, in the past I’ve discovered some new music gems thanks to these videos.  This one is no exception.  If you’re a fan of indie rock, you’ll most likely find yourself expanding your collection with some of the songs on here.  In my experience, there is not another set of training videos that come remotely close to making you feel like you are really part of the action as well as The Sufferfest.  Simple words on the screen and footage of riders trying to drop you or close the gap you worked so hard for are more than enough motivation to make you push through the pain.  The total video is just over 53 minutes including the introduction and credits.

David, the creator of this and all the other Sufferfest videos, said he has been wanting to include 4 minute max intervals for a while, but was holding off while he decided the best way to “make them interesting.”  Interesting is one way to put it.  And it’s probably the cleanest for a wide-ranging internet audience.  I will say, after experiencing the misery that came from these intervals, I hope he doesn’t think 5 minutes would be interesting.

If you ever find yourself thinking that a Sufferest video is boring; it can only mean one of two things.  1) You’re not paying attention and not working hard enough.  2)  You’re the baddest cyclist on the planet.  If it is the second one, the King of Sufferlandria is ready to abdicate his throne to you.

Have no doubt, you will hurt.  You will pour sweat.  You will suffer.  You will not want your spouse or children to see you in such a state.  But you will come back stronger.  And you will never want to do any other training videos again.

The video just became available.  The Sufferfest videos are, in general, the biggest bang for the buck out of all the training video options.  A Very Dark Place is no exception.  It’s $11.99 for access to the download.  The file size is rather large at 3 GB, but the crystal-clear footage makes it worth the download time.  More information, including the link to order A Very Dark Place is here: http://www.thesufferfest.com/video-sufferfests/a-very-dark-place/  For general information and all other videos, navigate to the main-page at www.thesufferfest.com

Enjoy the suffering.

– Alex