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Suffering For A Cause

(OR Don’t Try This At Home!)

I did a crazy little challenge back in January. Because I recently blogged about the Tour of Sufferlandria, I wasn't going to post this. But I was recently reminded that it truly was an amazing feat of physical and mental ability, as well as how a simple thing can make the world a better place. And so, thought I should share it with you after all.

(Note, most of what is written was for the sole purpose of writing about my experience to submit to The Sufferfest in my application for Knighthood Status. This will make sense as you read on.)

I might just be a little off my rocker. Just slightly. I did something about a couple of months ago that sounded crazy even just reading about it. In fact, the first line in the rules about taking on the challenge I chose to do is “See a doctor. You’re not right and are in desperate need of help.”

And still, I went ahead with it.

If you don’t know by now, I’m rather sporty. Starting with running since forever, then in 2014 taking on my first Triathlon, and continuing on with it since then, it’s safe to say I’m more active than most.

It’s hard to remember that, though, when I surround myself with like-minded individuals just as crazy as I am. Crazy things start to sound normal.

I’m taking a break this year to focus more on improving my cycling skills, so it seemed a perfect time to take on a challenge I’ve known about for a little over a year now. . . a quest to become a Knight of Sufferlandria.

For the uninitiated, Sufferlandria is a mythical land in the world of cycling. The Sufferfest offers videos and training plans for the cycling enthusiast, some of the toughest, most grueling workouts you’ll find. To become a Knight is not easy. Not even close. There is nothing comfortable about any one video they offer, nevermind the challenge to take on 10 videos, back-to-back with no more than 10 minutes in between.

Yet, that’s just what we set out to do. “We?”, you ask?

Thankfully, I was not alone in my quest. I have enablers. . . . and minions.

Sometime last summer, I mentioned this idea to a fellow cyclist, Brittany Abuhoff. She said she’d also read about it and wanted to give it a try. And so, secure in the knowledge that we had each other, we set a date.

Of course that date was a week after the holidays ended, so training was a bit dodgy at best. Still we pressed on.

It is highly recommended that taking on such a quest is for more than just personal gain. So after a few discussions, Brittany and I finally settled on World Bicycle Relief. WBR is an amazing organization that not only gives those in need in African nations a bike so that they can get to school, or work, or to go get water, but they also employ the local population to build the bikes they deliver.

But I digress. . . .

I met Brittany Abuhoff through our local bike shop (LBS), The Montclair Bikery, Montclair NJ. At the age of 20, she's an amazing cyclist who had been leading some of our shop rides for two seasons. After one season of riding together, Brittany applied to be a brand ambassador for Betty Designs; a team I had been on since 2014. Fortunately, I made it back onto the team for 2017 and she was accepted as well.

Brittany and I been discussing the Knighthood of Sufferlandria (KoS) Attempt since last summer. I think we were both kind of shocked to find someone else crazy enough to take it on. Without hesitation she was all in! And I was happy to have a partner in crime. Not just a good friend, but a teammate as well.

We decided it would be while Brittany was home for Winter Break, and having recently been moved by seeing Global Cycling Network's connection with World Bicycle Relief, we had our charity. It just seemed appropriate that if we were going to be cycling, we should be raising money for others to be able to have a bike as well.

Now time to plan it. In choosing the videos, I was not going to take the easy way out and do the ten shortest videos on the list. This challenge was going to be tough. And so with the following list, it did not disappoint:

Okay, so ending with climbs may have been a mistake. This, btw, is how the videos were planned. But NOT how they played out.

Next to plan, everything else. Like HOW does one do this? How do you fuel for this? How do you handle the logistics of it all??

I did exactly ONE search and it lead me to all I needed to know. Because I came across not just a blog on how to host a Quest for Knighthood, but that blog included someone I knew! Another Betty Designs teammate (Alex Carleton) had become a Knight and was an amazing resource for us.

In about a week's time, I was able to gather some minions, a.k.a. friends, to come by and cheer, hand us fuel, be technical support, and just sources of energy for us to suck the life out of as we got later into our quest.

We also were able to gain another rider to join us. He wouldn't be able to complete the quest as he had plans too early in the evening, but it's kinda nice knowing someone else was suffering just to, well, suffer. That's true friendship! (Thanks, Andy!!!)

Something wonderful happened, though, in the planning. We soon realized that the motivation moved from completing the challenge to raising money. By the time the big day came, we had already raised almost $1000 (equivalent to almost 7 bikes for WBR), and we hadn't even done one video, not one RPM, not a single watt!

We started our quest at 8:00 am with Revolver. A great way to warm up for the remaining 9 videos. Next up, some idiot (okay, maybe it was me) decided It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time (ISLAGIATT) was indeed a good idea. The thought was to get the longest video out of the way early. The plan was ALSO to set the intensity lower, except some idiot (okay, possibly me again) forgot to do that, and then didn't even realize it until starting the next video. Thank goodness it was early!

ISLAGIATT was, well, okay . . . it sucked. But a quick change of kits and we were ready for round 3, Thin Air. Except, I apparently didn't download it. And the internet wouldn't connect. ARRRGGGHH!!! Okay, no problem. Deep breath, move on. To Violator.

And our first volunteer Minion showed up! My family doesn't count as volunteer. They had no choice! :-D But when friends started showing up, that was SO amazing! Minions are completely necessary, even if all they do is talk to you. Even if it's about their Christmas tree. Even if it's about how they have to saw the bottom third of the branches off of the tree to get it out of the house. Any kind of talking will do.

The fundraising was going strong. With each new Sufferfest video came another video we were posting to instagram and more shout-outs being given to those that donated. It was immensely gratifying!

On advice from Alex Carleton, I put out the request that, for those of my friends bringing their young children, fairy wings and tutus were extremely helpful. But they wouldn't be coming for a few hours yet.

So in the meantime, I had to glean energy by other means. Tiaras. Hell, I'm already a Lady of Glencoe in Scotland, I should be wearing a tiara all of the time. It was time to start wearing a tiara.

After Violator came Local Hero, another kit change, then Power Station. Our mascot, Paisley (my faithful Golden Retriever), kept coming by with a toy for us to throw for her and keep her entertained. While normal day-to-day life would find this annoying, for us, it was a welcome distraction.

And somewhere during Power Station, she even tried to ride Brittany's bike for her. But we explained the rules, and she took her front paws off the top tube. Though, I think she was disappointed.

Now, I was thinking at this halfway point, I would be starting to question my existence. But somehow that didn't happen. I think it was down to the chocolate chip cookies the minions were feeding me.

Minions kept showing up just at the right times. As some would have to leave, others would walk in. A cookie here, a sandwich there, please move that fan half an inch to the left, etc. The most simple act became infinitely important in the moment.

Power Station moved into Hell Hath No Fury, and a new challenge is set. (I think this is where it happened. It all starts to blur!) For World Bicycle Relief, we had set a goal of $1500, or just over enough to fund 10 bikes. But as I see the generosity of our friends get closer to that goal, I decide if we hit $2000, I will post a video where I sing. What will I sing? I don't know just yet. Highest donation gets to make the call. But it's out there.

With HHNF over and done with, yet another kit change, AND a new tiara. Bigger than the last one of course.

With only 4 videos left, it's onto The Omnium and a little racing. The one thing I did do right in the planning was for the videos to get shorter as the day went on. Another video, another PB&J, and some chicken, because, why not.

The Omnium I could handle. But now we had to back up to Thin Air. And an hour of climbing after 7 other videos, and hours and hours of already riding, this is where the digging in and the questioning of life begins.

Not going to lie. I was really was thinking of stopping. My ITBs were screaming at me. My knees were ready to fall off. But my tiara game was strong. I had a new kit waiting for me after this video. We had a great playlist going thanks to Brittany. AND fairy wings and tutus had arrived! Things were looking up!

We were regaled with stories of Christmas and Santa and dolls and dolls and more dolls and presents and candy. And it was all amazing!

Time for one more kit change, and of course, on to the biggest tiara of the day. And our LAST TWO VIDEOS!

Do As You're Told proved to give us some hope. A sense that it was all ending soon. Sure the "ons" were tough, but the "offs" were glorious, and those 44 minutes didn't actually feel like the 90 I was expecting.

During this time, my massage therapist showed up with gifts of muscle relaxing bath salts for later, and our LBS Service Manager showed up with beer. For himself. Hmph. Thanks Kenny.

Still, to have new energy in the room was amazing. Plus also, the mini massage on my lower back during the next break was profound relief.

And then it all happened. Well, two things, really. We were about to do The Wretched, our last video in our quest. But more importantly, we hit over $2000 for WBR! And THAT made it all worth it. I still don't know which song I'm going to sing. Still leaving it to the big donor to decide. But as that’s my husband, he will either defer, or request I don’t sing at all!

But as The Wretched played out, these 49 minutes felt like eternity. Like seriously! No one should ever ask me to put a workout like this together ever ever ever again. Climbing? For the last video? Even if it's only 49 minutes? And one that has, like, hardly ANY recovery? Shoot me.

On the other hand, we didn't play it easy. We truly suffered to earn our Knighthood.

As we finished our last big effort, our minions were ready with noisemakers to cheer on our effort and congratulate us for a hard won day.

Before packing it in for the day, Brittany and I made our way outside, to make good use of the 5 inches of snow that fell two days before. It was bitterly cold outside, but the snow felt AMAZING on our legs. Rolling around in snow after this is an absolute must!

With our quest in the books, it was time to sit and bask in the glory of our accomplishment of completing ten of the world's toughest cycling videos, AND having raised over $2300 (that’s 16 bikes) for World Bicycle Relief. And also, to have a burger.

I hope this blog didn’t feel like boasting. It’s not how it was intended. Again, it’s original intent was for being accepted as a Knight of Sufferlandria, which Brittany and I were thrilled to receive very late on January 14th.

Brittany and I were amazed at the outpouring of support, both physical and financial. I don’t necessarily recommend doing something this crazy. Case in point, to date there are only 966 Knights of Sufferlandria. In a world of over 7 billion people, that’s pretty astounding, and something I’m incredibly proud of.

Because Brittany and I made the decision to push ourselves to our limits one cold day in January, 16 bikes were made, changing at least 16 people’s lives for the better. And that’s pretty amazing.

This kind of “fitness” isn’t for everyone, but everyone can do something to challenge and push themselves. What can you do not just for your own fitness, but the fitness of our beautiful world?