The Sufferfest: Origins

Cycling is a love-hate affair. We all love riding, but when it comes to hurting, it just sucks. Nevertheless, it is always satisfying to complete a hard ride or an agonizing workout because you are guaranteed to be faster the next time around.  A wise man once said “You will never ride at 50kph if you never train at 50kph” and this sums up the most basic premise of training on the bike. Ride fast, get fast!

And as everyone knows, the quickest way to build speed is through intervals. Anyone who has done them knows they are probably the hardest workouts in the world. They absolutely hurt, and make you look like an emotional wreck. But how does one complete an interval workout in traffic light-filled Singapore? Enter The Sufferfest, a series of training videos that use real race footage, upbeat music, and a huge dose of dark humor to help you do your intervals on a turbo trainer at home. No weather worries, no buses blocking your lane while at lactate threshold, and no traffic lights to interrupt your session.

The Sufferfest videos are a good mix of race simulations with a story and structured workouts. The race sims are especially nice. Like real races, they are full of hard efforts, irritating attacks, and riders who do not know the concept of ‘easy’ , who always seem intent on dropping you.  One thing is for sure, the ‘Fest will have get you riding outside of yourself.

The company was started a few years ago by David McQuillen who currently resides right here in Singapore. Everything from the ground up was built and is run by one man.  All components of the videos are reviewed, picked, and edited by David. So if you end up with your face in a barf bag, you know who to blame.

We had a brief chat with David last month to tell us more about The Sufferfest.

TGP: Can you tell us more about how you came up with the idea of Sufferfest?

David McQuillen: It really started when I was about 17 years old? I grew up in the northern part of Pennsylvania up near Canada. And when I was racing as a junior, in winter, well for about 5 months in a year I can’t ride outside. Just cold, snow, you know. My rule for riding outside, was if it was,  -4 or above, I could ride outside. And so we would train indoors all the time, with turbo trainers, and of course it’s boring.

My brother and I, who was also racing, we used to watch tapes of the 1986 Tour de France with Greg Le Mond and Bernard Hinault and they were climbing up Alp d’Huez. And we used to watch that, and you know, just imagine we were in the race, just like everybody did right? So there, fast forward to 13 years ago I was living in Switzerland, and I’m training for triathlons and the cyclosportives in Europe and again, the weather conditions in winter were… you can’t really ride outside and I’m riding indoors.

Bored out of my brains again, I got a couple of cycling videos and I’m thinking these are going to help me right? And I found that all these videos were of people doing exactly what I was doing – sitting on their turbo trainer being bored. And I was like, oh my god, it’s like looking at myself in the mirror. Why would I want to watch other people on turbo trainers being bored?

I remember watching these Tour videos in 1987, and thinking, I wonder if I can find that clip on YouTube. So I found the clip of Greg Le Mond climbing Alp d’Huez  on YouTube and I was watching that on my trainer and it’s cool. It comes to this point that I also started feeling kind of steamed by it, and I like they give structure…how they can structure…give you a structured workout.

And having cycled for you know, 15-20 years myself, I know the value of a structured workout and it lead me to design a workout. And then I started taking not just that Alp d’Huez but other videos because I like creative arts and kind of come from a creative background and then just having fun doing video editing, pulling it all together and I made my first video. And I organized the clips to workout, put in my user comments, and that was kind of the original Sufferfest.

The video I made for myself so I wouldn’t be bored on the trainer.

TGP: So up to this day, do you still take care of the editing?

Dave McQ: Everything. Sufferfest is a one man show. Up until this point, I’ve uhm, I built the website, I did the customer service, I make the videos, I draw the rights management, I do the marketing, I do the legal stuff. But however, Sufferfest is up against talent level, and which exceeds my talent I really want to do better, so I brought on board a professional videographer to really , really improve the quality of the video. I still do the customer service myself, all the social media engagement, it’s a hobby. (laughs)

TGP: Well yeah, if you enjoy what you do, it’s not really work right? Speaking of social media, a lot of established companies I’m sure are…would be jealous of the following you’ve developed on social media. Everything right now has built some kind of Facebook or Twitter, you know, online buzz for their brands. And your buzz spans around the globe, uhm. Was that planned at all or, how did you develop it?

Dave McQ: Nothing with the Sufferfest isn’t planned…

I would like to say that when it started there was this big, grand 5 year vision and everything…how we’re going to do it. Sufferfest basically started out on no money, no time, no real vision other than creating something that I thought people like me would love.

When I launched the videos at first, I remember meeting with the UCI and they were saying, “Well, what’s your business plan?” I don’t have one.

“How many videos are you going to sell?” I don’t know, maybe, maybe a thousand? You know, I’d be happy with that. I didn’t really realize what could be possible. And…because… at that time it was just about making a video that would keep people occupied…I think where it started to change was when they realized that, there’s something bigger here right? The idea of Sufferlandria. And having them to, helping people feel proud, about working hard, and pushing themselves.

Speaking of pushing, our writer is suffering in his DIY torture chamber. All you need is a trainer and an Ipad.

The idea of kicking my ass today to beat yours tomorrow really resonated, people started talking about that on Twitter. The idea of Sufferlandria, Sufferlandrian, being bigger than the videos. It’s a common shared place with all of them. We all say, hey, we’re Sufferlandrians. I know what you’ve been through. I know what it takes to suffer like that. We share stories, the flag, the identity. So think this is why people get interested because they can contribute. Sufferlandria wouldn’t exist without people telling their stories.

Told You! Attack! (A screen shot from Hell Hath No Fury)

The Sufferfest: Music and Developments

TGP: Speaking of music, how do you find these tracks? Most of them are unknown, or probably indie?

Dave McQ: Yeah, music is absolutely the hard part of the process. It’s the part that I love the most, and hate the most. I love working out to music, I’m not going to work out to bad music, it will kill me, I will give up. I have to have music I care deeply about. I also… I believe that the Sufferfest is more than the workout, the Sufferfest is about entertaining you in the course of an hour. Let us entertain you in that hour, not just give you a good workout. That hour’s gonna pass a lot faster than you think. Oh my god, this is drudgery. So music plays an important role.

I can’t use big names. Rights for big names are too much. I have to go out and find bands or brands from small labels who are looking for exposure and for a very small fee, I will download their song and I’ll give them credit in the video and I’ll given them credit in my website.I have to listen through phenomenal amount of bad music. I’ll reach a hundred of those songs to find one I like. Really, 1 video has about 15 songs on it. And I’ll do it for 15, not the whole song per se, I’ve gotten so good at it, there’s so much music now I can tell in 5 secondss if I want to listen more.

And there are different websites out there that I like, for music. I can find, the trick is am I going electronic, am I going rock, am I going electro-rock, more dance, soul? I try and create soundtracks that will appeal to a lot of folks. But I’m aware that I go with the electronic one the. Indie ones are not going to be happy. If I go for the rock one, the electronic ones are not going to be happy. There’s something for everyone in the Sufferfest land. If you like rock, there’s a couple of videos for you. If you like pure electro, there’s a couple, you like mix, there’s a couple. So yeah there’s everything. But usually the artists are really happy to work with us, they like the credits, Some guy…I spoke to actually yesterday, happens to be a cyclist and he was super excited  and all for the videos and that’s great. I really like that. I like it when Sufferlandrians go out and buy tracks, that helps.

I think I told you I’m moving to Australia?

TGP: No?

Dave McQ: actually in there December, my family and I are moving to Melbourne. We will concentrate on the Sufferfest videos, and yeah, nobody else knows that. But yeah I have so many ideas about working more with artists, on doing an audio only version of the Sufferfest videos. There’s also one Sufferfest video moving into triathlon one next year, so working on that now. Because the Sufferfest is a hobby, I already have a real job, I’m looking forward to pushing out some of these ideas.

TGP:  That’s linked to my last question. So I saw some of the clips for the new videos you posted online and you have new ways of displaying cadence, effort, and time. Other than that, do you have other innovations in mind for future videos, you plan to incorporate? Especially now that you have more time to work on those?

Dave McQ: We’ll have an iPad and iPhone resolution versions, all of which will be under gig. iPhone will be around 500 MB so we’re just trying to get the balance right. The app will be out November. For now we are just trying to figure out how to make things work (Laughs). The other thing is that I am entirely self-taught on all of these, video editing, rights management distribution. I am still trying to figure all these out. Like right now, how do you put video files in an app because the app does not allow you to do that. It’s got to work out, the guys I’m working with on these, we’re trying to figure it out. So that’s coming, stronger partnerships with TrainerRoad. You know TrainerRoad?

TGP: We’ve heard of it.

Dave McQ: Check out TrainerRoad, they’re made in the US. Basically an online software hooks your ANT+ plus device to your trainer so you can kind of control resistance and virtual power. They’ve got hundreds to work out, they are compatible with my videos, so it’s really interesting stuff. Look it up on Twitter you’ll see a lot of people talking about Sufferfest and TrainerRoad, it’s a partnership made in hell.

We thank David for taking the time to speak to us regarding the origins and developments of the Sufferfest. 

Stay tuned for some video reviews, and a feature on the world premiere of “There is No Try” in Part II of the Sufferfest feature in the coming weeks!

If you haven’t already, check out the Sufferfest now!


Our writer is suffering so much,we can’t even see his eyes!