National Day of Suffering

Just like trains, after months of waiting for a blog on Sufferfest two come along in the space of a week, as although I could have tucked this in at the end last time, I thought this was something worth mentioning separately.

Having been around for nearly half a year, Sufferfest does not seem to have taken off quite as well as our gym bosses might have hoped, with many of the classes appearing fairly (if not totally) empty. Fortunately the company behind Sufferfest had a great initiative to help shake things up a bit, by introducing the Sufferlandrian National Day: The Day of Suffering. Obviously this was too good an idea to be missed.

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My gym (David Lloyd) is actually pretty good at putting on special events, often to coincide with the quarterly launches of new Les Mills classes, which tend to have a theme – the last one in early September was ‘Back to School’, which saw us battling our way through back-to-back Grit, Step, Attack & Combat Classes whilst dressed in our finest shirts and ties – whilst the next one due will be a Halloween themed version in October half-term.

This one was to follow a similar format (although sadly without the fancy dress – next year perhaps?!) in that we would complete 3 consecutive Sufferfest classes in 2 hours, although to add a bit of variety the Sports Manager Kevin would be joining us, and (sort of) leading the class with a few words of encouragement and motivation. To top it off, we could also do a regular RPM class with him afterwards, taking it up to a 3 hour ride. Oh yeah, and it all kicked off at 7.15 am on a Saturday (I time when I am normally trying to stay asleep) so I had to be up at the crack of dawn to get ready.

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The Starting Line (I am on the right in the blue t-shirt)

Sufferfest 1 – Igniter: Described as a 20 minute warm up, inspired by British Cycling (who obviously took most of the Golds at both the Olympics and Paralympics – just saying!) we were apparently the first people in the club to try this. Some nice scenery and gradually increasing difficulty, although to be honest it was a little bit vanilla, but a good intro for anyone who had not tried Sufferfest before, and more of a companion to another session than one you would do on its own. Still, it got the legs spinning and was probably a good idea given the circumstances and time of day.

Sufferfest 2 – The Wretched: This is where things kicked off properly with a session best described by their website as “like a a 35 minute fall from the tallest ugly tree and your legs hit every ugly branch on the way down. Except you’re falling up. Did we mention the ugly tree is on fire and your legs are on fire and everything’s on fire?”.  In fact the whole Sufferfest blog is awesome (I can only dream) and I highly recommend a read: https://thesufferfest.com/blogs/the-sufferfest-blog/111999110-taking-a-closer-look-at-the-wretched

Anyway, the set up is you are a washed up former hero Sufferlandrian, who has left your glory days behind, but managed to make it to the final stage of the Tour de France, and need to finish well to earn enough for your bus fare home. What follows is a 6 hour Tour leg crammed into 45 minutes, which includes 2 King of the Mountain sprints and a huge race for the finish line at the end (spoiler –  you win the race). Sounds simple enough, but it is a real killer, with huge climbs accompanied by stunning French mountains (I have a feeling you might end up in Paris, but geography is not important here).

There is plenty of humour along the way (one of my favourite features of Sufferfest) which is mainly at your expense, and you do actually find yourself getting into the storyline as you pass bystanders lining the race who express their surprise at how well ‘the Sufferlandrian’ is doing when they thought you were old news. Painful yes, but I am sure I will be doing this one again before too long.

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Sufferfest 3 – The Nine Hammers: The last of the video sessions was a climber’s paradise (which for most sane people means a nightmare). Again, this one had something of a back story, with you attempting to complete a legendary series of mountain climbs in Sufferlandria (banned by the United Nations!) 6 of which were VO2 max, and 3 threshold climbs. If that last sentence makes no sense apologies, but it is a bit much to explain here: suffice to say it was tough, especially after the two earlier runs. The hills seemed to go on forever, but by this time we had been joined by a few more riders, and we managed to get to the end with a great atmosphere.

In all around ten of us managed to complete all three sessions and earned a coveted Sufferfest T-shirt (both unexpected and surprisingly good quality!) At that point any normal person would leave the room to relax / vomit, but at that point Kevin announced he was about to run a normal RPM class, and full expected all of us to stay for it. Of course we could not say no, so the morning turned out to be a bit longer than planned…

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The hardy finishers

Les Mills RPM – To be honest I can’t remember any of the tracks we did in this class, as by now I was pretty gone. It was nice to get a bit of different variety for my legs, as whilst the Sufferfest element was almost entirely based on endurance, with average speeds from 80-100 RPM, this brought in some more top speed 140 RPM sprints mixed in with high gear hill climbs at closer to 60 RPM. Anyway, I made it through, and that was the main thing!

One thing that really interested me at the end was the data I managed to get from my TomTom Heart Rate Monitor, which if I am honest I don’t usually spend much time on. Having kept it going for the whole morning rather than each individual element, it actually creates a great visual representation of how the sessions panned out. As a starting point, my resting heart rate is around 50 BPM, and my max heart rate (220 minus age 34) is 186 BPM.

The first peak from 0-25 minutes is clearly Igniter, taking my pulse up to around 160 and then calming down as would be expected from a warm up, although note it does not drop below 100 BPM for the rest of the morning! The next hour or so to 1.20 is The Wretched, with another steadily increasing climb, with a couple of massive peaks at 187 BPM for the two hill climbs at the end. Up next to 1.20 is Nine Hammers, which perfectly displays the 9 peaks (you can actually count each of them) and shows what a textbook interval session this is, with peaks and troughs for maximum exertion and recovery. After a short recovery gap to get the RPM class started the last session from around 2.35-3.10 minutes has a slightly lower average heart rate, although by that time I was concentrating more on getting the pedals around than working too hard!

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Day of Suffering Heart Rate Chart

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Official Nine Hammers heart rate chart: pretty similar if I don’t say so myself!

I have to say, when I first saw my gym was going to be offering virtual training, my first concern was that it could ultimately see a reduction in instructor led classes (as part of a drive to reduce costs I guess), which would be a real shame given the loss of experience, adaptability, motivation and other factors this would mean. Fortunately six months on this does not seem to have happened too much (although our old Sunday evening class has been replaced by a video one), although time will tell.

So the aim of the day was obviously to kindle some more interest in Sufferfest, and did it work on me? Well I will definitely be going again, although as someone who loves spin classes and tends to have a bit of extra time in the week from working from home (my own virtual commute!) this would be ‘as well as’ rather than ‘instead of’ my usual times. It also firmly ingrained on my brain Sufferfest’s catchphrase ‘IWBMATTKYT’ which is translated below:

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Sadly all that extra mileage and sweat we put in over the weekend must have caused a few issues for the machinery, as the AV equipment has apparently gone on the blink and there have been no virtual classes for the last few weeks whilst it is being fixed. So I guess those real instructors are safe in their jobs and I will have to take a break from suffering… at least for now…

 

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Welcome to Sufferlandria

After months of promising and distraction by other events it is finally time to talk about Sufferfest!

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I will start off today with a bit of a Meet Cute, as I first came across Sufferfest a few years ago in a magazine (Men’s Fitness  I think), where one of the reviewers was talking about an insane new program, where people rode stationary bikes whilst watching a torturous video of cyclists riding Le Tour or something similar, and trying to keep up like some sort of computer game. At the time I was doing Olympic Triathlons and whilst I had a turbo trainer, I had never even done a spin class, but was looking to try to find ways to motivate myself to go longer, so looked into buying one of the DVDs. Sadly they were a bit out of my price range, so I thought better not to not take the risk and forgot all about it, and kept trundling along on my bike in the lounge, watching endless repeats of the training montage from Rocky IV to spur me on.

Fast forward a couple of years, and thanks to Les Mills RPM and some great instructors I have turned into a spin class addict, ensuring I do at least one session per week (preferably more),  even down to the part where I have special clipless cycling shoes especially for indoor spinning (in addition to my regular tri bike shoes) and do most of my solo bike training whilst listening to bike specific RPM tracks.

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So I was pretty excited when I got back from an Easter holiday to discover my gym’s spin studio was being refurbed, and a new AV system being put in place which would allow ‘virtual’ spin classes, and specifically they had purchased a licence to run Sufferfest sessions, so obviously I had to give it a go so booked myself onto one of the launch classes. But what it is all about?

It turns out that there is more to it than just watching Bradley Wiggins on a big screen and pedalling as furiously as possible to keep up (although there are plenty of famous riders in the films); there is a whole back story / history within Sufferfest. Originating in the fantastically named fictional Kingdom of Sufferlandria, where riding is religion, suffering is a must if you want to achieve mastery. Only those who work the hardest, ride the fastest and climb the steepest hills are considered worthy. This is all made clear to you during the introductory video, which explains how the on screen instructions work, and gives you a scale of how hard you need to work. Having done a few different classes now, these are always different, and usually raise a few laughs, involving phrases such as’Ride like you are being chased by angry Sufferlandrian wilderbeasts’.

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Those involved in the videos who support you in becoming a hero cyclist are classed as Minions, whilst non riders are given the ultimate insult of eating donuts in the rival region of Couchlandria, where hard work is shirked. There are a lot of nice little touches to add some humour to what could otherwise be a pretty painful and serious experience, such as at one point during one of the films where people might otherwise be slacking off, a door appears onscreen, and a large gentleman enters the room like a door to door salesman asking if you are from Couchlandria as you are not working hard enough!

The classes being with a fantastically overblown, James Bond style title / credits sequence, where details of what you are going to be down are interspaced with animated shapes morphing across the screen, accompanied by classical music to build up some atmosphere. Whilst this is totally irrelevant to the remainder of the class, as a massive Bond fan myself, I personally enjoy this bit, plus there is the bonus that it is the few minutes of the class where you are not in pain.

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The format it actually very straightforward, with one countdown bar to show you how long you have left until the next section, one to give your cadence (pedalling speed), and one to say how hard your gear should be. This also tends to be well mapped to what you see on-screen, so when the riders start going uphill you gear up and slow down, and when they come down you can open the gas and start pushing faster. And really that is the main thing you need to go. There are other elements, such as notices to get out of the saddle for hills, and warnings that an increase is coming up (by way of an engine revving sound) but otherwise they stick to the Keep it Simple Stupid formula.

The videos / classes range from shorter 20 minute blasts, to full hour and a half marathons, and have at least a dozen different varieties, each with its own theme depending on the workout target. Examples of ones I have tried include ‘Do As You’re Told’ which involves a race where you are followed by a support vehicle who tells you to speed up or slow down during certain parts of the event depending on team tactics to practice your endurance and sprint skills, ‘Climbing Angels’, where you complete sections of the Giro d’Italia, which unsurprisingly involves a lot of hill climbs, and others with names like ‘The Wretched’, ‘Long Scream’ and ‘A Very Dark Place’ which I will leave to your imagination.

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One moment I particularly enjoyed during Do As You’re Told was when the guys in the car following received a text (from Dr von Agony) saying it did not look like you were working hard enough (with a cat meme and everything !). It was also quite a nice moment when at one point you got a virtual puncture and a few minutes rest!

As you would expect, there is music throughout the films, which all seems to be either custom-made for the videos, or at least non-mainstream, as I have not recognised any of the bands or tracks so far. This is actually good, as it means the music does not distract you too much as the tracks change every couple of minutes, so you don’t find yourself singing along. The tunes tend to be on the heavy side, either hard rock or hip hop, and whilst they do not match the pace perfectly as they do in say an RPM class where you could track your speed even with your eyes closed, they do at least fit the mood of whatever you are following on-screen, such as sprinting or powerclimbing.

There are also some interesting and even unexpected extras in the classes. Th first one I did for example had a whole separate five minute docu-film at the end, as a warmdown of sorts, about a young lad in the Lake District who was trying to ride fast enough to set off a speed camera on a quiet country road. It showed various clips of him riding and making improvements to his bike, clothing, helmet and so on, each time getting slightly faster and more aerodynamic to try to beat the camera. Totally irrelevant to the 45 minutes that preceded it, but actually fascinating as a study of speed, which most cyclists find themselves interested in at some point.

So is it any good? Well as with everything there are positives and negatives. Because it is automated it makes great use of the cycle studio at my gym, taking the number of classes from around 20 per week, to nearly 100, meaning you can get in and do some extra training almost whenever you want. Because it is all pre-programmed in and automated, the classes will also always start and finish bang on time, which is even better if you are in a rush, although it has meant that on occasions the projection screen suddenly drops down during the cooldown in my regular spin class, much to our instructor’s annoyance.

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The videos on screen are really high quality, and make the most of he fantastic locations they feature, most notably the Tour, Giro and Vuelta (in France, Italy & Spain respectively), with stunning views of mountain tops, alpine forests and seaside cliffs to motivate you. This is countered by the fact that you lose the element of imagination you can get in a spin class when imagining climbing a volcano or riding through a desert landscape (or is that just me?!) Obviously there are those who are against all indoor cycling and say ‘why not just go ride outside’ but this really does make it feel like you are taking part in these glamorous and famous races, that in reality would never actually happen to most people. On that note, when you do it in a fairly full studio it feels even more like you are in a peloton as you hear others whirring around you, although it does still work well when you are on your own and want a bit of (virtual) company for your ride.

smash-climb

Although it is available to riders of all abilities, the fact it is not directly ‘coached’ does mean it is more suitable for experienced riders, who know what they are doing with gears and bike set ups, particularly as there is no stretching at the end. Also whilst the jokes and other motivation (or beating with a stick!) does encourage you along, it can’t compete with having an experienced instructor in the room who can offer advice, tailor the class to your targets, or even slow down if you are struggling (and of course speed up if you are slacking). For those who have not done any indoor riding before, I would recommend going to some normal spin classes before, to learn how to properly set up your bike to avoid injuries and ensure maximum effort, before going into something like this, but of course it is open to anyone.

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Having done most of these now, I would say if the opening few paragraphs of this piece sound like your idea of fun, you would love this kind of thing, but if Couchlandria sounds more your thing then that is understandable!

Next time, Sufferfest goes big, with the ‘National Day of Suffering’…

Virtual Insanity

I first started writing this blog two and a half years ago to document my progress whilst undertaking a 4000 km virtual triathlon across Chile. The idea was that I could record all my swim, bike & run training miles throughout the year to accumulate enough distance to cover the world’s longest country, without the time and cost expense of actually spending a year there (although I did manage 3 weeks which was great!).

Prior to the Chile Challenge I had completed a few triathlons, although I never really had a proper training strategy, but came across the concept of virtual racing the year before whilst on a fitness website called Fitocracy: a kind of social media game which involved logging your workouts and being  awarded ‘points’ which seemed to be based loosely on numbers of calories burned with which you could compete against others. For various reasons I ended up getting bored with the site, but one thing I did take away was the virtual races, where you could challenge other members to see who could cover the most distance in a week or month, which of course helped me get the idea for my own event.

It was also towards the end of the Chile Challenge that I tried my first spin class, which I quickly became addicted to and has probably been my main training method ever since. I mentioned on here a few weeks ago that the cycle studio in my gym has recently had an upgrade, and we now have a shiny new projector and speaker system, meaning they have been able to introduce a whole new range of classes based on video coaching and on-screen racing, the kind of thing futuristic thing that would not have seemed out-of-place in the 2017 of Back to the Future Part II. Obviously being a keen rider I have had to try a few classes to see what it was like.

les mills virtual

The first class I tried was Les Mills Virtual, which is quite simply a recorded RPM class, with a number of master instructors teaching a session that you can join in with. The tracks and choreography are by the book, exactly the same as you would get in a live class for say RPM 70. Being the top instructors they do look like they have just walked off the set of Zoolander, with white teeth, big arms, and the obligatory Kiwi accents (Les Mills is an NZ company). One of the guys looks like he could play Hugh Jackman’s double in the next Wolverine film. It was fun, in that of course I like any RPM class so I have no complaints about the video itself, but I did come out with mixed feelings.

virtual RPM

The most apparent benefit to both the club and members is we can have a lot more classes than ever before. We have been lucky enough to have a purpose-built cycle studio for a few years now, with a few different bike based classes including Les Mills RPM, Sprint and normal Group Cycling, but no more than around 20 sessions per week, with a fair few taking place during the daytime which those of us with jobs do not really count, and I know for example we had been asking for ages for the Sunday evening class to be reinstated, after it was taken off during the (traditionally quieter) summer period last year.

Cycle studip timetable

They have of course been able to sort this now, as well as significantly increasing the volume of classes so there is something on nearly every hour, pushing to well over 80 classes in the same timeframe (see above), meaning it is a lot easier to have some sort of coached session at just about any time of day. They are also going to rotate the timetable, so you don’t get stuck with the same class each time if you can only go at say 6pm on a Monday.

Talking of timings, it is a little strange as the system is fully pre-programmed, so with German railway-like timing, the projector screen will automatically start dropping down at 5.58pm for the class, the video will start and play through regardless of who is in the room (I assume some actually play to empty rooms) and it will then disappear at the end until the next time. This is useful as you know it will always be on time, but can be a bit disconcerting when you are having a conversation with an instructor at the end of a session and a screen starts plummeting from the ceiling towards your heads for the next class!

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Another problem with the ending is they seem to have dispensed with any sort of warm down. The last track ends and bang, the screen is immediately starting to retract. Now this is not a huge problem for experienced riders, as we can take care of ourselves, but for anyone new to the classes they could end up with an injury or slower recovery if they just get straight off the bike and walk out. Again, it may just be the classes I have been to, but having tried both the short 30 minute, and full 45 minute versions, neither has any kind of cool down or stretches after the last track, which is usually a big hill climb.

Clearly a big aspect of this is the significant cost saving for the club. I am not sure what our spin instructors charge – although in terms of the classes I frequent I am of the opinion that they earn every penny – but it means there is next to no additional cost to hold all these extra classes, other than the licenses they have to buy for the videos. I am sure they will say this will be passed onto us as members – not by reduced fees I would assume, but perhaps investment in new equipment and tech.

There is however a bit of a downside in having so many classes, in that it seems to spread people a bit more thinly. Because there is now so much choice, the 30 odd people who might have fancied a mid-week ride might now be split into up to half a dozen classes rather than just one, so instead of having a really full class with a lot of atmosphere (and sweat!) you end up with quite an empty room. Now it may just be coincidence, but the few virtual classes I have done have never had more than single figures present and in one I was absolutely on my Jack Jones. Now I am used to training solo so don’t actually mind this, but it could put others off. To make it worse though, they have squeezed an extra 7 bikes into the studio as part of the refit, making it a little cramped and seeming even more like a the Marie Celeste when it is not busy. It should help a lot next New Year, but I dread to think what it will be like in the summer.

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One final moan about the class is that on a couple of occasions during my sessions people actually wandered into the room mid-class to either set up their bikes for a subsequent session or even just have a gawk – possibly this is just the novelty as it is something they would not dare do if it was an instructor-led class, so hopefully will wear off before too long.

My main fear really is that this technology might end up replacing some of the existing instructor led classes and we will end up with something like the hologram tennis instructor Sharon Stone has in Total Recall, but for now at least we seem to be safe. As mentioned this is not because of the quality of the production, as ultimately the tracks are the same and the trainers are perfect, but it is down to the interaction. In a real class, a decent instructor will be able to tell when to talk, when to motivate the group, when to help struggling individuals or challenge you to the next level. They will be able to mix up the tracks and take requests, start and stop when needed, and generally be trained to hold the thing together. Basically, you can’t replace them with a pre-recorded video!

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So overall what do I think of the classes? Well if I gave the impression I did not enjoy them that was not my intention – I love RPM and an opportunity to do a few extra classes per week is a good thing – I just have a few concerns over how things could turn out in the longer term. But for now at least they are a great compliment to an existing training plan, giving extra variety and making excellent use of a studio that might otherwise have been empty. Those of you with eagle eyes may have noticed from the timetable earlier that the new range of classes does not end with Les Mills though. There is another big name on the scene which I am going to talk about next time… Sufferfest!

Deja Vu

I feel like I have done a lot of things in the last month or so that I could write about here, but the thing is, I have already blogged about much of it in my other 120 or so posts: Hotel based training – Check. Aqua Cycling – Check Check. Outdoor swimming… you get the picture. So I thought today I would focus on a few of my main events from April:

Football

The end of the most interesting UK football season in years and a team of underdogs from the Midlands pulling off a highly unlikely victory… I don’t think anyone would believe me if I tried to say our bi-annual work football tournament (in its stunning car park rooftop location) produced quite such a shocking result, but with teams from Birmingham, Manchester and for the first time ever Leicester, there was a reasonable chance it could have happened.

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In adding a third team to the format we were able to tear up the rule book somehow for our match, so rather than two teams of five gradually slowing down over the course of an hour, to the point (about 15 minutes in actually) where local kids would look over the fence in curiosity to see what was happening in our ‘veterans’ game as we laid on the floor exhausted / injured – the last match resulted in no less than two hospitalisations and a few other days off work the following day – we could pace ourselves a bit more.

A good thing too as we had not substitutes (in fact we only had 14 players in total), but we managed to have 3x 20 minute matches on a round robin basis, with a final match made up of those still left standing. In the end our own Red Devils from Manchester / Liverpool managed to claim overall victory having won both their matches, but all of the games were a lot closer than usual, averaging 5-4 scorelines.

As usual I had hoped I would have an element of superior fitness, given the fact I go to the gym 5 times a week and have a half-ironman coming up shortly, but there is something about the impact football places on your joints that meant I still ached for days after. Or perhaps it was more down to the body tackles seen from some of our senior management, who knows!

Cuba

As I mentioned, the theme this month is things I have done before, so I thought it was worth a few words to brag talk about the training I did out there, which included some sublime scuba diving in nice warm water (making a change from freezing UK quarries), slightly misguided attempts at tennis, relaxing yoga next to the beach and some aqua aerobics surrounded by Canadians in the sea. I won’t say any more here, just a few photos.

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Les Mills Launches

Ahh, a new quarter, a new set of Les Mills releases: Body Combat 67, Body Pump 97, Body Attack 92 & RPM 70. This time around we had a bit of a head start as these were tracks we had already tried out at the Live event in London a few months ago, and given we were hitting Launch weekend less than 24 hours after returning from Cuba it was probably for the best!

To be honest it is such a blur I can’t actually remember what order we did the launches in, nor much about them at the time, other than the theme (there is always a theme on launch weekends) was ‘Pink & Pigtails’, sadly neither of which I owned anything appropriate to wear. Having spent the last month doing these releases I feel I know them a bit better so am able to pass at least a brief judgement as follows:

Combat – Not a million miles away from the last few releases, with some of the more recent themes such as floor work and HIIT training featuring again. Whilst none of the music is quite as cheesy / awesome as the Black Pearl track last time, there is a pretty cool remix of ‘Fight for your Right’ , a proper 90’s classic in ‘Set You Free’ and following on from Firestarter a few years ago, we now have the Prodigy’s ‘Breathe’ as a Muay Thai track.

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Pump – After years of cardio training I am starting to like pump more and more, and it is easy to see how people get hooked on the endorphin rush you get from so much lifting. That said, this is a killer release, and I am fairly sure the ‘How Deep is your Love’ leg track has only been put in so instructors can yell ‘How Deep is your Squat’ as your thighs start to buckle after a seemingly never-ending set of reps.Our coach claims Les Mills always do this for Q2 to make sure you can get your ass in shape for the summer! Interestingly I managed to obtain the below chart which someone has agonisingly (metaphorically and probably literally) put together on how the number of reps seem to increase with each Body Pump release, now averaging well over 1000 per class. Ouch…

Body Pump Reps

Attack – Kicking off with the same ‘How Deep is your Love’ as Pump, and some more old school with ‘Rhythm of the Night’, this is another pretty decent release. As with Combat, I am not yet convinced I like the music quite as much as the last release, but still not one to complain about.

RPM – Arriving back I discovered a massive change in my gym’s cycle studio, with a brand new projection screen and sound system. It turns out they are going to be offering virtual cycling sessions in the future, as well as third party classes such as Sufferfest – but more on these in a future blog. As for the new release – taught (for now at least) by a human – things start well, with ‘I Don’t Like It, I Love It’ and finish strongly with a couple of great tracks in ‘Zero Gravity’ & ‘Sparks After the Sunset’ but I am not quite as keen on the middle few which are either a bit too heavy or too ‘jungle’ for me!

I think I could sum up my thoughts on all four releases with the same thing: some good tracks and great moves, but overall I am not quite as keen on the music as for the last set of releases, or maybe that is just early nostalgia.

So there you go, another month, another three activities to write about. For those of you who got the joke in the opening thanks for noticing, and until next time, hasta luego.

 

 

 

Something New

Fletch, Jack Parlabane, that bloke from the Dragon Tattoo book… Some of the best literary characters I can think of are investigative reporters, and this week I felt it was only right that I did some investigating of my own.

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Given that I spend most of my time either training, or thinking about training, I thought I had come across most types of exercise, but this week I found a brand new one at the ‘Healthclub’ in the hotel I had been sheltering in for the last few weeks.

After heading down to check out the gym, I notices some strange looking bikes by the pool: kind of like spin bikes but even more stripped down, just a steel frame, handlebars and some funny looking pedals which resembled giant flip flops. Next thing I knew some guy started throwing them in the pool with the sort of abandon rock stars reserve for hotel room TVs, and I realised they were special pool bikes. Forgetting my normal workout, I spent the next half hour transfixed as a small group proceeded to go through a spin class of sorts, whilst in the water. Now my gym does plenty of aqua aerobics, aqua Zumba, etc, and whilst none of that appeals to me, this seemed to combine two of my favourite things – spinning & swimming – so had to be worth a go.

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Aqua Bike

The next day, after a slight confusion trying to explain to the boss that I wanted to join the class (seemed a reasonable request to me) I was told it was £8, which seemed a bit steep, but as a true investigative reporter I still went ahead. It eventually transpired it I could go free as a hotel guest which was even better, and could have saved me a 15 minute conversation, but there you go. So shortly after I found myself in the water and on my bike, as part of a group of six. Our poolside based coach looked slightly Eastern European, and as it later turned out may well have been schooled in water torture by the KGB…

From the outside it looked really easy, but is was a bit like watching ducks, casual on the surface but pedalling like mad underneath. It was the strangest feeling, as the harder you pedalled, the more water resistance there was so the tougher it became. Definitely no free wheeling here. It turns out to be a fantastic work out, as within minutes your legs were burning from the resistance, but cooled down by the water. The reason for the massive pedals also became obvious as this too added to the resistance and made it harder to push through the water.

The hot French fitness fad, aqua fitness, gets an upgrade with the unveiling of the Water Rider 5 Aquabike

Underwater Bike

It did not take long to realise what I was wearing was not ideal for the class, and the blame lay with my swim shorts. Now I always wear shorts when pool training, firstly as they just look better on blokes of any age, and secondly as whilst they create some extra resistance, this helps me out in wetsuit swims as I can to glide through the water more smoothly – some people actually buy special ‘drag shorts’ or even underwater parachutes to increase this effect. On the bike though they were a nightmare, with the pockets filling with air bubbles and trying to lift me off the seat, the sides slowing down my legs whilst pedalling and even the drawstring getting in the way.

aqua cycle 4

These guys know their aqua cycling shorts

Later on, whilst scouring the web for some uncopyrighted pictures to show what the whole thing looked like, I found most of the Google images seemed to involve young ladies in skimpy bikinis riding the water bikes. Now I am sure the only reason for this is to help advise what sort of outfit to wear in the classes. I will leave you to make up your own mind…

aqua cycle 1

Honestly, this was the tamest picture I could find!

Anyway, the format was just like a normal spin class, right down to some of the tracks which may have been unofficially lifted from Les Mills: Warm up; Interval Training 30 sprint / 30 rest x 3 moving to 40/30 seconds and up to 50/30 by the end. Obviously I took this bit far too seriously, trying to ride at ridiculous speeds to outpace my co-riders, all but one of whom seemed to be first timers and looked like they had also vastly underestimated the difficulty of the class, much to the apparent delight of the coach.

In between sprints we did various other stretches and the water allowed for some things that would simply not be possible (for me anyway) on the surface. Switch lunges –  the bane of Bodyattack – were a favourite alongside a variation on dips, turning the bike sideways and pushing up on the bars with straight arms, then raising your knees out of the water (a move sometimes known as windscreen wipers), or holding them straight ahead of you whilst doing a scissor type movement. In both cases, the higher you came out of the water, the harder they were to do without the buoyancy of the water, but the better for you. The coach seemed to have no such problems doing these on the side of the pool though, and trying to keep up with him bouncing away like a tigger was pretty tough.

aqua cycle 2

The class looked a bit like this.

By the end of the 45 minute class I was pretty knackered, but being in the water things did not feel too bad, until I did my usual jump out of the pool and realised my jelly legs were not quite ready to support me and nearly ended up back on the bottom! It did feel like a really good workout, particularly for the quads and core, and whilst not something I would do all the time, seems a decent addition to a training plan. I will have to share my investigative reporting with my local gym to see about adding it to our timetable…

New Year New Launches

It has been a pretty busy start to this year with my Dryathlon (3rd year running), a new job (starting tomorrow) and of course plenty of training, which of course is not a resolution being that it is nothing new, and will not come to an end on 31st January!).

I have really gone in at the deep end this week with Monday Combat, a Run on Tuesday, Wednesday Attack, Thursday Combat and Friday Spin ‘n Swim. Then a bit like Craig David I chilled at the weekend. Well on Saturday anyway, so maybe more like Walter on the Big Lebowski.

Walter shabbos

But in reality this was all just a build up to the new Les Mills class launches today, some of which featured in the One Live event in Manchester last November, which feels like ages ago now.

First up was RPM on Friday evening, one of the ones I did manage to do in Manchester, although perhaps as it had been first up on the day my brain seemed to have forgotten / blocked out most of it. After 4 days in a row of fairly leg intensive workouts this was not an easy ride, but as mentioned there was a great line up of music got me through it, particularly the energetic Runaway (You & I) track by Galantis near the end, which seemed very suitable for a spin class.

The class was packed – obviously given it was January – and I always feel a bit guilty watching the pain on the faces of of those who have made it their resolution to try some new classes and have no idea what they are getting into! It can be a bit annoying though as I have found out the hard way, in as well as there being no spaces left in the car park, my regular spin class that I have barely missed for the last 18 months is already full next week so I can’t even go myself, although as our coach pointed out it will calm down pretty soon as people start dropping out.

New Year resolution

But the main event of the week was all about today, with back-to-back launches of Body Combat, Pump and Attack!

First up was Combat, which is basically a mixed martial arts workout to music, with everything from Karate to Kickboxing, and Capoeira to Kung Fu. This is the class I have done for longer than any other in the last few years so I can generally pick it up fairly easilly and the punches and kicks are the same, just in different orders and timings to match the music. As with RPM it was another one we had done in One Live, although again I seemed to have forgotten most of the choreography. Overall it was a good release, with particularly strong capoeira / esquiva / lunge tracks, and a genius Muay Thai track to the Pirates of the Caribbean song at the end: whoever designed that track is a hero! By this point I was starting to stagger around like Jack Sparrow anyway…

pirates

The meat in the morning sandwich was Body Pump, an equipment heavy, weights based class with barbells and other pieces of kit to mix things up. Now this is not a class I do as often, particularly given the focus I have had on Cardio rather than Lifting in the last half-decade or so, but it is good fun, and the soundtrack to this release was even better than Combat. The main problem with doing it less often though is knowing how much weight to use, and a few times during one or other of the tracks I found my biceps or shoulders screaming with pain as the reps just piled up – over 1000 in all across the session. At one point after around 50 barbell lunges during Galantis’ Peanut Butter Jelly track both my calves could not take it any more and literally turned to jelly, bringing back painful memories of trying (and failing miserably) to un-clip from my bike after the ride leg of Ironman Staffs. That’s going to hurt tomorrow…

training legs pain

So two hours in we launched straight into the third class, Body Attack, which was a blast, helped a lot by our fantastic trainer Short Shorts (I will leave that one to your imagination) who ensured it was both knackering and camper than a row of tents. Most of the tracks here are based on circuit training / plyometrics, and from the outside may look like a strange sort of line dancing, but taught well it can be one of the most fun of all LM classes as well as great all around fitness. There was even more great music here, with a welcome return of the Runaway track (they must have had some sort of bulk deal from Galantis to feature that often) which again worked really well in the ‘run around the room in circles’ track.

body attack

I forgot to mention earlier that as with all of our club launches we had a theme for the weekend, and this time around it was luminous – very appropriate at this time of year. This meant everyone had glow sticks, although I managed to take it one further with my luminescent yellow under armour top. I thought it looked great, although during attack they turned the main lights off and had the disco beams going, and the lasers suddenly made me glow like Ross’s teeth in that episode of Friends with the black light!

Ross Teeth Friends

All in all it was just under 3 hours training, and (according to my wife’s Fitbit) around 2000 calories. We were pretty much the only ones to make all three classes which was also a great personal achievement, and I think a decent enough excuse for a bacon & egg brunch and snooze on the sofa this afternoon to write up this blog!

2015 Round Up

Coming up to two years of writing this blog I have surprised myself a bit that I am still going. I initially started at the beginning of last year as a way of helping me track my progress and to motivate myself through the Chile Challenge and it served its purpose pretty well, giving me a way of sharing various training and race pictures, and somewhere to dump those random thoughts you accumulate during long sessions.

At the end of last year I thought about closing it down: after all the challenge was complete, the sponsorship money collected, and my body well and truly knackered! But then something else came up which would make 2015 even bigger than before – Ironman!

So at the end of the year I am still here, and have a few more achievements ticked off the list, and a few more medals on the shelf. First up was the Tewkesbury Sprint Triathlon (1.31.16), an indoor swim and beautiful bike course, slightly let down by a run around a commercial park, but still a decent way to start the season (and a nice mug at the end to celebrate!)

tewkesbury mug

My other big race was of course Ironman Staffs (7.17.12),  a fantastic event from start to finish, with the most amazing feeling crossing the finish line. It really was a great weekend, maybe even once in a lifetime, but one all triathletes should experience at some stage in their career.

Ironman Staffs Medal

It was not all swim-bike-run though, as this year also marked my first ever obstacle race – the Colour Obstacle Rush in Sheffield – wit my wife and various other family and friends. I have no idea what the time was as my old GPS died part way through, possibly asphyxiated by powered paint, but this was never about how quickly you could complete it; in fact at times we actually slowed down to make the experience last longer as we traversed bouncy castle mazes and half-heartedly dodged each others paint grenades!

COR10

Aside from racing, I managed to really ‘get into’ fitness classes, something I had actually been doing for a while, but this was different. Along with my wife, who became equally obsessed, we started going to 3, 4 and even 5 classes per week, including RPM, Body Attack, Combat, Pump to name but a few. The culmination was our trip to Manchester for the One Live event which involved 6 different classes in a 9 hour or so day, the closest I have got to triathlon endurance indoors!

One Live LogoOne Live Kit

After all that, what do we have to look forward to in 2016? Well the big race is already booked in the calendar, the Isoman. More on this to follow, but let’s start by saying it begins with a 3.5 mile swim which is really going to push those boundaries… The obstacle races will also continue, with the Colour Rush back in the diary, a new Rough Runner race to kick the season off, and on the indoor side there will be plenty of new classes to look forward to.

So I guess that returns me to my first question of whether to continue writing this blog, and with all this to look forward to the answer is going to have to be yes!