Ever wondered what it would be like to take on PhilGil in an Ardennes Classic, ride up Alpe d’Huez with Cadel Evans or chase Fabian Cancellara across the cobbles on the way to the Roubaix velodrome? Do you love to suffer on a bike, shouting “Shut up, legs!” like Jens? Then The Sufferfest is for you! These hour-long films set pro cycling race footage to music and deliver a workout that will make you sweat, swear and suffer – and come back for more! As a devoted Sufferlandrian, I was thrilled to be able to speak to the evil mastermind himself, David McQuillen, but to be honest, I didn’t know if I should kiss him or punch him for his outstanding work!
Kitty: First of all, thanks for talking to us, David! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
David: I grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania and started racing bikes in 1986. I was 16 and have been obsessed with cycling ever since. I moved to England in 1997 to do my MBA. I started a career in banking, living in England, Switzerland and Singapore before settling in Melbourne, Australia. I’m married to an Aussie and have three children, who are each one-third American, Australian and Sufferlandrian. I chucked the bank job last month to devote my life to the full-time delivery of pain and suffering around the world. It’s a very satisfying mission!
Kitty: Wow, that’s brave! Do you have anyone working with you?
David: There are a few minions here from time to time, but The Sufferfest is pretty much a one-man show. I do everything from the videos to marketing, social media, partnerships, customer service and volunteer missionary work for the Nation of Sufferlandria. It’s just me spreading pain, agony and misery around the world!
Kitty: I am a huge fan of Sufferfest – I can’t think of a better way to start the morning than fearing my contact lenses will pop out from the intensity of the hour! What was the catalyst for inventing all this suffering?
David: It started when I was living in Zurich a few years ago. It was winter and I was on the turbo trainer trying to prepare for spring. I dreaded it and did everything I could to avoid it. I tried every video, podcast, trick, training programme – anything to get me through it and I was so bored I thought I would rather shoot myself in the legs than get on that damned turbo trainer again. I love music, art and the creative process of creating things, so one day I just downloaded a few clips of bike races, strung them together and put some music to it. I started doing those, showed them to a few friends and one thing led to another and I found myself standing in a meeting room at the UCI asking if I could license footage to try to sell these videos. I never, ever thought the ‘fest would become what it has today.
Kitty: How do you put a film together? How long does it take you to put one together from start to finish? Do you see a particularly great stage and think “ah, that’d make some sweat pour off people!” or do you have your fitness objectives first and then go through and find footage to accomplish those?
David: It takes a couple of months to go from idea to finished product. I start with designing the workout. From there, I start going through the footage I’ve licensed and edit it into a format that fits the workout. Once that’s done, I start laying down the instructions and the, ahem, ‘motivational taunts’. It’s about this time that the video takes on its own sort of character and the original ideas I had about how things would go start to change – it’s almost as if the personality of the video starts to take over and I’m just a sort of passenger. It must be the Spirit of Sufferlandria channeling through me! Finally, I lay down the music and sound effects and get the prototype out to a few minions for feedback.
Kitty: How do you decide what music you’re going to use?
David: Music is probably the hardest part of the whole thing: I usually have an idea of whether I want a rock, electronic, indie or mix-of-all-three soundtrack. I can’t afford mainstream commercial stuff, so I have to go digging for bands that nobody has heard of. I listen to countless hours of bad music to find the gems that eventually make their way onto our videos.
Kitty: Do you have an audience profile in mind when you put your films together – is there one ‘person’ you think of so that you hit the right intensity every time?
David: Ah, you know, the Sufferlandrian people are diverse – from first time exercisers to professional athletes. But if I had to say exactly who I’m designing for, it’s for the time-crunched, part-time athlete who is raising a family, working a full-time job, paying bills and trying to become a better cyclist or triathlete. That’s me, really. I want to get that person excited (yes, excited) about getting on that turbo trainer, focused on the hard work at hand and, in the end, entertain them for an hour. I also get quite a bit of pleasure out of trying to make you laugh just when you are at your most miserable. You can think of it as enterPAINment. That’s what we do.
Kitty: What’s the greatest thing a Sufferlandrian has ever said to you about your work?
David: “I hate you and all your videos. What is wrong with you? Are you evil or something? P.S. Can’t wait to do them again,” is the kind of email we get often and are quite fond of. But the ones that really get us are the ones about how someone did something incredible thanks to the ‘fest. For example: there is a Sufferlandrian who did a 13-hour ride over some big climbs to prove to his wife, who has cancer, that the spirit can overcome anything. He trained almost exclusively with our videos. There was a photo that a Sufferlandrian sent us from his hospital room. He was getting a bone marrow transplant and had brought his turbo trainer and ‘fest videos into the hospital so he could still feel strong. In the end, deep beneath all the spit and fury of The Sufferfest, our real mission is to make people proud of themselves. And when we hear stories about that, it just blows us away.
Kitty: My favourite Sufferfest is A Very Dark Place – there’s nothing as exciting as trying to chase Cancellara across the cobbles. For some reason, no matter how hard I try, I can’t catch him!!!! I also love The Wretched – I do like a bit of hardcore climbing! What is your favourite of your films?
David: Hmm. I hate them all. I was doing Local Hero the other day and thinking “Who the hell designed this! It’s killing me! F**k you stupid video and your stupid bonus sprints!” In the end, I probably don’t have a favourite video, but have sections that I’m really proud of. Those would be, in no particular order: The third interval of A Very Dark Place, the last five minutes of The Hunted, the last climb in Angels, the last four intervals of There is No Try and the first interval in Hell Hath No Fury. I’m particularly proud of Hell Hath No Fury as it features all women’s pro racing and a lot of folks didn’t think it would sell. But it’s one of our most popular videos and has got a lot of support from the women’s pro community.
Kitty: Anything else we should know about the Sufferfest?
David: Here are some things that folks might find interesting:
- There are several pro cyclists who use the ‘fest videos for their turbo training.
- The director of one WorldTour Team is also a Sufferlandrian and so is the guitarist for the rock band Pendulum.
- It took us two years (and a lot of money!) to convince ASO to allow us to license the Tour de France footage for The Wretched and There is No Try.
- I don’t name the videos until I’m almost done with them – only then do I really understand the personality of the video and can fit a title to that personality.
- There are 12 Knights of Sufferlandria – those who have done 10 Sufferfest videos back-to-back.
- The workout for the next ‘fest video will be designed by the coach of one of pro cycling’s most exciting young talents. It’s evil. And it’ll feature footage from the 2012 World Championships.
- We are still lobbying the IOC to recognize Sufferlandria as an official country so we can participate in the Olympics. We shall not rest.
- Sufferlandrians in more than 40 different countries bought videos last month.
Kitty: Thanks so much for talking to us, David! And long may you bring suffering and pain to the turbo warriors of the world!
David has generously given all VeloVoices fans a 10% discount off any and all Sufferfest videos. To claim your discounted pain, just go to thesufferfest.com and put in the code VVSUFFERS at checkout (offer is valid until 31 March 2013). And make sure you let us know how you get on! Remember, when you hear the gunshot, ATTACK!