Archive for the 'Training and Nutrition' Category


Review – The Sufferfest’s “Downward Spiral” and “Fight Club” training videos

Winters in the northern plains can be a harsh mistress.  While I’ve never had a harsh mistress, I imagine if I did, she would be a succubus that would siphon energy and motivation away while slowly gnawing away at the bloody stumps that represent your ego and self-worth, leaving you feeling like your recliner and a lot of beer is the best option to escape reality.  At least that’s what the early part of this winter has done for many.  Visions of a mild winter with rides enjoying the winter wonderland quickly got buried under a few feet of snow and -50 wind chills.

Those wanting to make progress on their 2010 cycling goals and fitness found themselves locking into their trainers earlier with the knowledge there is a lot of winter left.  After spinning away to a cavalcade of online TV re-runs, a few movies and plenty of training DVD’s, boredom easily sets in.

Enter The Sufferfest.  The Sufferfest  ( currently offers two videos – “Downward Spiral” and “Fight Club”.  Both are approximately an hour of effort and feature brief warm up and cool downs.  Both do an excellent job of providing driving, beat-intensive alt-rock music that helps push the tempo and video that puts you “in the race” and matches the required pace and effort.  Each video offers clear cue sounds informing you when to ramp up and wind down your efforts.  But that’s where the similarity ends.

“Downward Spiral” starts you off on a fun 10-minute warm-up with downhill MTB video bouncing by followed by some criterium action that starts to ramp up the efforts a little bit by prodding you to bridge the gap.  After that, the fun (and the work) begins with two sets of eight descending intervals.  What makes this different is the video footage – Paris-Roubaix and Fleche-Wallone.  The video footage matches the intensity level you need to put out, encouraging you to put a better effort forward as you try to make the selections in the Arenburg or close the gap after watching Hushovd go down.  After a brief recovery riding through some Oregon forest, the second set puts you through the same paces (with a little bonus work) through Fleche-Wallone.  After an urban bike cool-down, you’ve put in a good, but manageable effort.

“Fight Club” is an entirely different beast.  It’s sadistic, it’s cruel, but it’s the kind of effort needed to become a better bike racer.  The scene for “Fight Club” is all based around the 2009 World Championships.  After a brief warm-up (depicting you on a bicycle with a basket)…it’s off to the races.  It’s a 5-lap “race” with the first lap breaking you in slowly with tempo work and a brief recovery.  By slowly, I mean a tempo effort that is intermittently broken with +15 rpm 10/10 effort to chase down attacks by those damn Italians.  That’s where the pain of Fight Club comes in; where most videos take you from sprint intervals down to a recovery, with Fight Club, you return to your previous intensity level.  That level, for the next 4 laps, is TT effort and Climbing effort (7-8 out of 10 levels).  23 of these attacks come at you randomly, some in pretty quick succession throughout the hour.  The Sufferfest folks aren’t completely sadistic – they do let you have 3:00 minutes of solid recovery after each lap.  My first effort riding “Fight Club” resulted in a tire meltdown during lap 3.  My second effort made me realize this is one tough, but rewarding workout.

While I don’t have a point or star-rating system, I will say that both current videos from The Sufferfest are must buy products and possibly the best training videos available for anybody looking to stay motivated and increase their fitness on the trainer.  The only downsides would be for those watching on larger computer monitors or have their computers plugged into larger TV’s, the video isn’t HD.  I have to limit to size to about 2/3 of my 22” screen for the video to be good quality.  Additionally, if you’re downloading, you need either patience or a decent internet connection – the downloads are over 700MB each and the exchange rate of the dollar makes you think the Euros are getting a better deal.  Seriously, the $9.49 USD per video price is a bargain, although a $16.99 combo pack might not be a bad idea. Other options include backup CD’s, backup download and group/class options with additional features.


2009 – the year of training stupid

Sometime in December 2008, I felt inspired.  I dropped almost 40 pounds from cycling during that year; I wanted to recapture my youth and do a lot of racing in 2009.  I knew I needed to still drop ‘that last 20’ and add endurance.  So, I did what worked for me in my 20’s.  I rode inside through the harsh Minnesota winter.  I rode longer and more often.  I learned the ‘political insights’ of rural America by talking those spinning around me.  If anybody really needs to know the heartbeat of America, just ask.

Once the snow and ice cleared and the temp climbed up close to freezing, I got outside and rode.  I had delusions of being semi Belgian-tough for riding in late winter days in the biting cold and miserable drizzle in the early spring. I got a new computer for heart rate and cadence that reported back crucial data that had to make me faster. I got really good at riding the really nice, really flat roads of southwest Minnesota for a really long time keeping my heart rate between a pretty tight range of 145-165.  If I dropped down to the 120-130 range, I felt I was going too slow and the brief, rolling hills weren’t enough to get me to blow up.

For all my efforts through the winter and spring, I weighed roughly the same and was marginally faster, with the only real tangible result being some semblance of endurance.   Apparently the Merckx mantra of “ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike” doesn’t work as well for semi-old, semi-fat guys looking to act 20-something again.  And it was fairly obvious that I wasn’t 21 anymore.  Despite the lack of results, I enjoyed myself immensely and couldn’t wait to get out and ride more.  Looking back, that was precisely the problem.  I was enjoying riding so much I didn’t think about how I was riding.  Others may say that the problem with training is that it takes the joy out of a recreational activity.  However, I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself any less if I had introduced some performance plan to structure how I was riding.  I would have weighed less if I had taken it slower occasionally and paid attention to nutrition.  The proverbial win-win could have happened.

My lack of structure came shining through in my 2009 race campaign.  The results can be summarized as “I got dropped.”  The breakthrough finally came later in the summer when I climbed back onto a mountain bike for the first time and both saw results and enjoyed suffering through climbs, grinding, spinning, recovering.  But, after a few rides, I observed actual, tangible improvement. An epiphany in mud, if you will.

Despite my educated ways, I spent last year training stupid.  The lesson here is a series of coaching clichés: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail; If you’re not training with power, you’re not training; et al.   Unfortunately for me, the clichés are true, but this winter is on a different, much better planned path.   2010 will be a different story.  Not saying it will be Pulitzer, Nobel or even local free newspaper-worthy, but it will be different.


Review:53×11 Coffee’s “The Chain Breaker”

I admit to being a snob in a few areas – I am a Mac snob, a wine snob and a coffee snob.  Despite those criteria and my unexplainable attraction to all things Rapha, I have no resemblance to a fashion, society or other type of snob.  The list of different beans that have found their way into my grinder is lengthy.  While some have been more memorable than others, I’ve never stopped my search for a better bean.

A couple weeks ago while ordering some other cycling items, I decided to randomly add 53×11 Coffee’s “The Chain Breaker” to my cart.  I thought if nothing else, the label was cool and the brand was cycle-centric.

Upon receiving my order and opening the bag, my first reaction was a head-snapping astonishment.  The aroma was strong and acidic.  Disappointing thoughts that I had found where Folgers came from before they added the enigmatic flavor crystals entered my head.  When I put them through the burr grinder, the people down the hall that usually comment on the pleasant aroma that wafts through the halls wondered if I had burned something.

I went through the ritual of scoop, tamp, clean the edges and twist the portafilter in place.  As the elixir slowly filled the cup, I noticed a new character emerging from the steam.  It was bold and pleasant.  As I finished the preparation, I began to wonder how the first taste would placate my palate.

Immediately, I was surprised.  It had a full body but very balanced flavor.  My fears of heavy acidity quickly dissipated.  It was wonderful.  About halfway through the cup, I proclaimed to nobody in particular “this is the best coffee I’ve ever had.”  Throughout the rest of the week, I introduced the coffee to those who stopped by my office coffee bar and the positive reaction had been unanimous.  The week was capped off when my cycling buddy and I met to compare off-season training progress and discuss 2010 plans, his unsolicited proclamation summarized the same thought – “this is the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.”

My random purchase had provided an unexpected gift.  My mood-enhancing morning coffee ritual will be further enhanced.   Since my office has no windows, I can’t make any claims of rainbows appearing, birds chirping or other Disney happy scenery myths happening outside, but who knows.  The only recommendation I can give is for you to visit 53 x 11 online at, other online retailers or hopefully you can encourage your local LBS to make this a part of the coffee ride.

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