Here’s a multiple-choice question. On Saturday I…

  1. Did something very silly;
  2. Went on a quest;
  3. Kept a friend company during a fundraiser;
  4. Watched TV all day;
  5. Ate food every half hour;
  6. Rode my longest/farthest indoors;
  7. Rode my farthest on a bike (indoors or outdoors) in 25 years;
  8. Kickstarted my Ironman bike training; or
  9. All of the above.

The correct answer is, of course, “All of the above.”

Inside the studio

About six weeks ago—just a short time after we hopped in the lake together on Christmas Eve—my friend Alex wrote about her quest to become a “Knight of Sufferlandria.” Sufferlandria is a mythical place invented by the creators of the Sufferfest video series. While the place may be mythical, the suffering induced by these top-quality videos certainly is not. To do one as prescribed is to get a very intense workout. To become a knight requires doing ten . . . in one day! Surely an insane undertaking.

Naturally, this was my reaction:

Okay. Tell me more about this Sufferlandria thing and whether there’s room for one more person… if it isn’t too insane… even by my standards.

As if you didn’t already know how my mind works. :-)

Artsy set-up shot

When Alex and I talked about how to approach the event (which was a fundraiser for Children’s Hospital of Boston) we agreed the right way to approach it was to scale the power way back for most of the day. After all, we were looking at 10 hour-long videos done with a maximum of a 10-minute break between them. That’s a long time to be in the saddle at full throttle. Thanks to TrainerRoad, I had just recently started training with power. I figured if I did most of the videos at 75% of the recommended power targets and one or two at 100%, I wouldn’t have a problem. Plus, it would be an opportunity to work on my Ironman pacing and nutrition.

I knew the undertaking was legit when I started having stress dreams about it. On Tuesday night I dreamt that I forgot all of my food . . . and shoes . . . and changes of clothes at home and had to drive back on the morning of the event to get them. Of course it was a dream, so the event was in Wyoming and my stuff was just down the road at Grandma’s old house in Iowa. Oh, dreams!

Early. Feeling good.

On the day of the event, I woke with high blood sugar. The cupcake I ate while “carb-loading” the night before probably had a bit to do with that, but the main culprit was the adrenaline from the anticipation. It was just like before a triathlon. “This is perfect,” I thought. “Just like race day! Something to anticipate for Ironman Wisconsin.” I gave some insulin and then we settled in for a bit of riding.

Here’s the set list for the day:

The set list

  • A Very Dark Place (51 minutes – 5 x 4 minute high-intensity intervals)
  • Downward Spiral (60 minutes – 2 sets of 8 intervals from 2 mins to :15 seconds)
  • Revolver (45 minutes – 15 x 1:00 maximum intensity intervals)
  • Fight Club (58 minutes – 5 x 6:30 intervals with 22 (!) attacks)
  • Angels (56 minutes – 3 x 8:00 climbs with lots of attacks)
  • There Is No Try (60 minutes – Accelerating intervals)
  • The Rookie (55 minutes – 3 x 10:00 race simulation)
  • Rubber Glove (60 minutes – A 20 minute FTP test)
  • The Wretched (48 minutes – A pure, attacking, climbing, fighting TdF stage)
  • Nine Hammers (55 minutes – Nine VO2 and Threshold Intervals)

Sounds like fun, non?


We were at Steve The Bike Guy‘s bike shop and velo studio, which has almost daily Sufferfest sessions. It was a perfect setting. They put on a fantastic event, attending to so many details that Alex, Nancy, and I had it (relatively) easy. All we had to do was ride. Video and audio? Check! Food and water? Check! WiFi for social media? Check! Sharing our exploits with the Twitter and the Facebook? Check! Steve and Kristen (the eponymous bike guy’s wife) even rode a bit with us.

The first few videos were relatively “easy,” especially at 75% of the recommended intensity. We talked and joked. One of our minions even went out for an hour-long run on the snowy backroads of Sherborn, Mass. It was nice to be distracted. About 3-1/2 hours in, my iPod’s battery died, and I couldn’t use TrainerRoad to see my power targets. For the next couple hours while my iPod charged, I just went based on feel and speed. “Take whatever effort it says, multiply by 2, and that’s my target speed,” I reasoned. An effort of 8.5 out of 10 became 17 mph.

The last few videos were when it got real. Fortunately, by then I had my power data back.


Video #8 was similar to the test I did a couple weeks ago to find my training rates. There was no way I was going to do that level of effort given that I was already starting to feel the all-out sprint I did during the previous video. (You might recall that the previous FTP test had me crying in a fetal position by the end. At least, that’s how I felt on the inside.) Despite not going hard hard, I was definitely ready for the 20-minute long interval at just below threshold pace to be over. Then on video #9 (“The Wretched”) I upped my target goal even more. I was looking forward to being done with the day.

And then came “Nine Hammers,” the last video. What can I say about it? As jovial and carefree as we were at the beginning, we were equally quiet and resolute when the video got underway. One of the minions said we looked as if we were trying to melt into our bikes, we were so aero. Or tired. Take your pick. We all tried our best to make this one count. As you can see, it was intense:

Nine Hammers

About halfway through I said, “I think my butt is starting to hurt.” Alex shot me a look of death. Meanwhile, Nancy seemed like a woman about to murder someone, so (at her request and everyone’s approval) the minions set Pandora to play the Indigo Girls, Tracy Chapman, and friends. That was just what we needed to finish the last video. But we weren’t done! Oh no. No no no no no. The suffering wouldn’t be complete until Nancy reached 150 miles. “Are we there yet?” became a common question for those last three miles until she told us all just to shut the fuck up.

And then we were done!

All done!

We chatted. We ate food. Alex and I cooled our taints in the snowbank outside the shop. We changed clothes for the third or fourth time of the day. It was jovial once again.

Cooling off

Clearly I didn’t work as hard as I expected because, even though I rode 130 miles over 11+ hours, I didn’t feel completely destroyed. (Sorry, Sufferlandrians!) Don’t get me wrong; I was really tired, and my legs were pretty sore. Nevertheless, I feel like I could have run a bit afterward. Maybe not a full marathon yet, but probably a half. It probably wouldn’t have been pretty, though. That’s what the next seven months of training are for, eh?

I’m happy to have done this silly thing. It was fun . . . fun in that “I’m a triathlete and can flip a switch in my brain to compartmentalize pain/boredom/effort/etc.” kinda way. Thanks for inviting me along, Nancy and Alex!

p.s. — Many thanks to Kristin at Steve the Bike Guy for all of the fantastic photos (and everything else!) yesterday.

This entry was posted in 101 in 1001, Cycling, Diabetes, Reluctant Triathlete. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Knighthood

  1. Alex says:

    Fantastic write up, Jeff.
    You captured it all so well. (although I thought I did a way better job masking my disdain during 9 Hammers)
    Based on your ability to dig in and not waste much energy on death looks and murderous intentions, I think you are ready for your IronMan.

  2. Victoria says:

    I hate you. And Mike. And Scott. And everyone else because you know I’m doing this now.

  3. Jeff Mather says:

    When you decide to do your quest, Victoria, you can probably talk me into joining you for moral support. :-)

  4. Cherise says:

    Wow! I am inspired-I am not a cyclist, but I love to run. As soon as the weather warms up-I am going to accomplish a few of my own personal goals. I’m cheering for you.

  5. Jeff Mather says:

    That’s excellent, Cherise! I’m cheering for you, too.

  6. Awesome write-up, thanks for sharing! Not sure I’ve ever heard of someone saying “I could go for a run” after doing this. Well done, sir :)

    -Trevor from TrainerRoad

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