Like most of us, American businessman David McQuillen hates riding the turbo-trainer, though for him adversity was the mother of invention.
Bored with interminable, painful and sweaty hours staring at a blank wall, he came up with The Sufferfest, an online library of training videos. Each download comprises specific workouts based on footage of top-level pro racing, all set to motivational music.
The mythical land of Sufferlandria has grown around the videos, giving participants someone to represent when chasing down Fabian Cancellara on the cobbles or Alberto Contador up some vertiginous climb.
Having given up a successful career in international banking, McQuillen now runs The Sufferfest from his Melbourne home. He recently raised its profile significantly by announcing The Sufferfest as the first major sponsor of the Women’s Road World Cup. We spoke to McQuillen, the Chief Sufferlandrian, about The Sufferfest concept of ‘enterpainment’ and sponsoring the little guys of cycling.
DM: I started riding at about 17 and raced as a junior all the way through university. When I started working I stopped for a while, but started again when I went to business school in the UK. I started to do triathlons, and started riding again and haven’t stopped.
Where did the idea for The Sufferfest come from?
DM: I was living in Zurich training for some sportives on the turbo-trainer and within minutes I’d be thinking about getting off. I tried everything out there, including other cycling training videos. I remembered when I was a junior in Pennsylvania, which gets a lot of snow, my brother and I used to watch [Bernard] Hinault, [Greg] LeMond, Stephen Roche over and over, and thought if that kept me on the trainer then, maybe it could again.
I ripped those videos from YouTube but thought, ‘that’s good, but it’s not really a workout’. Creatively I got interested in cutting video to workouts and laying down music. That’s how it began.
How many videos are there?
DM: There’s 17; 16 cycling, one triathlon and two more cycling ones will be out at the end of July. We use footage from ASO, RCS and the UCI. There’s everything from climbing, sprinting, high-intensity effort type videos, down to 20-minute race simulations and a two-hour endurance workout.
Also, you’ll see there’s a really big difference in graphic design quality and video footage between the oldest and newest ones, so I’ve got people on board who are good at this stuff and we’ll be re-mastering the oldest ones later this year.
Who are the videos aimed at?
DM: They’re really aimed at people who have got families or jobs and not enough time to train; they can’t fit in a four-hour ride on a weekend.
Who designs the workouts?
DM: We work with professional coaches like Neal Henderson of Apex Coaching in the US, and Dan Fleeman, Steven Gallagher and Ian Field in the UK. They design the workout and I build the video around that.
Also, if you take a high-intensity approach to training, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got adequate recovery, so we worked with the guys at Dig Deep Coaching to design some 10-week training plans which really help people step up that intensity properly.
What is Sufferlandria?
DM: I needed this story to flow through a video called ‘Local Hero’, where you’re the first person from your country to ride the Worlds [Road Race Championship]. I asked my customers where someone who does The Sufferfest comes from, and we came up with Sufferlandria. So you’re the first Sufferlandrian to ride the World Championships. Now everyone knows Grunter von Agony, our DS, and the struggle against the IOC for recognition.
It gives a sense of belonging you don’t get from other training platforms. You feel that people are depending on you and that you have a responsibility to uphold the Sufferlandrian values of pain, agony, misery, honour, glory and victory.
Is that when training becomes entertainment?
DM: It’s called ‘enterpainment’. I figured if I could stop you thinking, “Oh my God I’ve still got 45 minutes to go,” you’re going to give more of yourself. If you’re engaged because you don’t want Cancellara to drop you on the cobbles, it’s easier to wring every last bit out of yourself.
That’s the kind of effort I think being entertained can bring out and why you see storylines running through the videos. I want customers immersed in that.
Tell us about
DM: It sounds trite but I never thought I’d be in a position to give back to the sport. I like supporting the underdog, someone who’s been told they’re not going to be able do it, or get very far. So the Lesotho MTB team, the BikePure Women’s Development team in the UK, or just quirky teams like MuleBar Girls or Scott Pro MTB team, it’s fun.
With the Lesotho team, last year a guy named Mark West, a Welshman who lives down there, was helping them get into some races, so we gave them some videos, but I liked their spirit, they were fighting and trying. So this year, when Mark came up with the idea of the first all-black pro MTB team, we put a lot of money in and they’ve got to a World Cup event and won their first stage of the Lesotho Sky MTB stage race.
What about sponsoring the Women’s Road World Cup?
DM: It’s just for this year at the moment; we’ll see how it goes. I was kind of nervous because it was a lot of money for us, but the UCI is a wonderful partner. As soon as it was announced I was up until two or three in the morning trying to respond to the Twitter feedback we were getting and I was amazed, the support was incredible.
That alone made the sponsorship worthwhile. I talk with the UCI often, so later this year we’ll see what their plans are. I’m afraid that it might get too expensive when more people realise how good the sport is, but hopefully we’ll keep up.