Goodbye offseason, hello Sufferfest

Kathryn Bertine

Kick-starting her season, Kathryn Bertine finds inspiration and suffering in a new workout video featuring pro women bike racers.

For most of my life, December was synonymous with the end of the year. A time for holidays, rest and unwinding. As a cyclist, December brings the opposite: ramping up the start of training for a new season. It's time to put down the cookies and pick up the pace. Or at least move the cookies into little Ziploc baggies and take them with me on long rides. My beloved six-week offseason has ended.

The hardest part of coming out of the offseason is the first day. Flipping the switch of re-commitment is like standing on the edge of a chilly pool, pondering whether it's best to dip the big toe or dive in head first. In the past, I favored the toe-by-toe method. This year, David McQuillen pushed me in head first.

McQuillen, 41, a banker-cyclist living in Singapore, is the creator of "The Sufferfest," a series of 1-hour, 15-minute cycling videos designed to deliver a gut-busting workout to those stuck on indoor bikes and turbo trainers during the winter months. But for the fifth installment of "The Sufferfest" videos, "Hell Hath No Fury," McQuillen did something different: he featured female pro cyclists, as opposed all the male-cyclist videos on the market.

Normally, I don't use indoor workout videos. I live and train in Tucson, where we have sunshine and dry roads 350 days of the year. But on a rainy desert day in early December, I downloaded "Hell Hath No Fury," and waited to be disappointed. Surely, the video was going to focus on the hottie athletes, zoom in on shapely female posteriors, give an average workout and ultimately display women's pro cycling as something less than men's racing.

But McQuillen didn't fulfill my expectations. Not only did I get a killer workout set to the backdrop of a women's pro European stage race, but I got a very realistic glimpse of something even better. Change. In a male-dominated sport that leaves many female cyclists on the outskirts of equality, small steps like featuring the top professional women in a workout video go a long way.

"I've always found women's racing to be really exciting -- often more so than the men. It's just super aggressive, punchy and down to the wire," McQuillen said. "I wanted to do something to show people how great it could be."

And great it is. The main workout aspect requires Sufferfest participants to go all out for two, 20-minute segments replete with surges of strength and sprinting to simulate a race effort. But it's the details that make the Sufferfest a reality-fest of solid training steeped in creativity and humor. As McQuillen puts it, "I want you to suffer like a greased pig at a rodeo."

Footage for the video comes from some of the top races in Europe -- Tour of Flanders and GP Plouay -- where cutthroat competitors like world champions Emma Pooley and Marianne Vos and U.S. national champion Evelyn Stevens battle for the finish line over gritty cobblestones under European rainclouds. Aerial footage of a team time trial shows the ladies of HTC Highroad dominating the competition in form and function. Grimaces and game faces fill the screen. And yes, there are butt shots. But only of women working theirs off to kick others'.

Along with the accurate portrayal of a women's top-level UCI race, text pops up throughout the video, giving Sufferlandrians tips ("She's just a little thing -- don't draft off her!"), offering hard-core inspiration ("She leaving you behind … you're the shame of the village!") and donning creative rewards for winning (the leader's jersey is portrayed as a straight jacket). During a rest interval, there's a fake TV interview with the Sufferlandria team director -- for whom you ride -- who tells the world you will not only beat everyone into oblivion but you will "dance on their chamois." At the end of the workout, there's even a counseling session. The screen goes blank and a voice asks Sufferlandria participants to reflect on the emotional side of their workout journey. Why do you train this hard ... are you scared, courageous, confident?

Good questions. For my part, I'd have to go with D) encouraged. Not just encouraged by the great workout and McQuillen's quiet, yet direct, role in the advancement of women's cycling, but for a more personal reason. These women in "Hell Hath No Fury" are the very athletes I'll be racing in 2012 as I shoot for my Olympic-qualification goals. I can literally see the pain and suffering my competitors put into being the best, which elevates the workout video to the status of research documentary. Personally, I think "Hell Hath No Fury" should be renamed "Kathryn's Map to Glory," but either way, it's all I need to jump head first into my season. Greased pig, I'm comin' for ya.

Wanna download The Sufferfest? Get it here.

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