The Sufferfest. If you’re into running, cycling or triathlon and haven’t heard of it, you soon will.
What started out as a way of improving his own indoor cycling has become something of a global phenomenon, with cyclists and triathletes at every end of the spectrum utilising what’s been put on offer by founder David McQuillen.
At home in Switzerland back in 2009, the banker was trying to get fit for a bike race and struggling for both time and motivation. A trip down memory lane produced a great idea, and the foundation for what The Sufferfest now stands for.
“Anyone who knows Switzerland knows it is cold in the winter, so I was spending a lot of time indoors when trying to train and get fit. The problem was that, on the exercise bike, I was bored out of my mind,” he tells GiveMeSport from Australia.
“It was a struggle finding the motivation to keep working hard and I remembered that back in the 80s I used to watch the Tour de France with my brother when we were preparing for junior races. We’d pretend we were riding with those guys so I thought, why not do it again. I found footage from the 80s on YouTube, put it on my laptop in-front of me and was racing with it.
"It made perfect sense, but I wanted something a little more structured and so started cutting videos and putting them together to make an initial training video.”
Six years on, and The Sufferfest has truly created a space for itself in the market. Having partnered with IMG, the UCI and the ASO among others, McQuillen now has the rights to use footage from events such as the Tour de France and Diamond League athletics.
"I taught myself how to do everything online, cutting videos and putting it all together. I showed some friends and they liked it, so I put it up on iTunes as a podcast for free. It suddenly started getting thousands of likes and I panicked,” he remembers with a laugh.
"I took it down because I didn’t have rights to use the footage! But then people started e-mailing me asking where they had gone and to put them back up. That really got me thinking that this might be something which would appeal to a lot of people."
McQuillen’s situation was not too dissimilar to the one experienced by millions around the world. Working a job, spending time with the wife and kids and trying to keep fit is always a tough balancing act, with the latter often falling behind.
Refining the process
Recognising that he wasn’t alone, the ‘Chief Suffering Officer’ started designing much more refined videos focusing on high intensity rather than long-winded sessions that are often found in traditional training regimes.
"I was looking at old training plans that required four or five hours doing this and then ten hours doing that. I certainly don’t have that kind of time so 'high-intensity, low-volume' really fitted in with what I needed,” adds McQuillen.
“You have to recognise that cycling or running or going to gym might not always be the main priority for people, so when they are there they need to get the absolute maximum out of every session. That’s what we tried to do with our cycling training videos, and we’ve had great success. Now, we’re looking to replicate that in running."
Running videos released
He’s referencing The Sufferfest’s foray into treadmill running, with its first three running videos to be released on Thursday, 31st July.
After success in cycling and triathlon, McQuillen is clearly hopeful that athletics will provide similar results with regards to both video purchases and general fan interest. The company boasts over 117,000 fans on Facebook - there are even Sufferfest spin-off pages started by fans of the company - and it’s an engaged audience that interacts and gets involved.
They also have cycling and casual clothing lines, National Flags and decals, a tourism website for their mythical country of ‘Sufferlandria’ and an annual 'tour' to go with it.
"You realise that if you can keep people on the bike, engaged and entertained, then they will be inclined to do even more. It’s more than just the videos - its an entire sub-culture. We call it enterPAINment and it just makes sense. We now want to save runners from treadmill boredom syndrome,” he adds.
"The cycling videos are used by complete newbies to Olympic champions. Sir Dave Brailsford is a Sufferlandrian; US and UK national champions also use them, so our approach really works for the whole spectrum. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, you can push yourself as hard as you can with these training videos.
“It’s the same with people who run. Whether it’s to keep fit, compete at a local or even national level, we offer something unique which can make a massive difference with the time you have. What better incentive is there than to run alongside the greatest athletes in the world?”
Top level coaches
There lies the true charm of these training videos. You’re not working out with a partner, but a professional athlete. And, you can do so with plans designed by the world’s leading coaches - including Neal Henderson from APEX Coaching in Colorado. Henderson has coached endurance athletes at every level from first-time finishers to world champions and Olympians.
So what’s next for The Sufferfest? Well, the 'high-intensity/low-volume' training approach may only be suited to a small number of sports, but McQuillen appears to have plenty more tricks up his sleeve moving forward.
"We’re geared to aerobic and high-energy sports, so you’d have to say that cycling, triathlon and running is our sweet spot,” he concludes.
“But, when you go to a gym, there are rowing machines sitting there and we might well be able to do something with those. That’s something to consider, but in the near future our focus is now on running alongside our other sports, and giving the Sufferlandrians the best product we can.”
It takes a brave man to quit a Swiss banking career for a personal project, but that just shows the faith that McQuillen has in The Sufferfest. It appears to be well founded.
To find out more about The Sufferfest and to purchase training videos or plans for running cycling and triathlon, visit their official website: http://www.thesufferfest.com/