Sufferfest:“An activity whereby all participants ache, agonize, ail, be at a disadvantage, be racked, deteriorate, endure, grieve, languish, and/or writhe.. but by co-misery, yet cohesiveness, will have experienced a grand time.” ~ Urban Dictionary
I spent a good 3 minutes online looking for the definition of “sufferface” but came up empty handed. I would define it as the expression given by the participants of the above mentioned sufferfest during the peak of the “grand time.” As a photographer I tend to seek the sufferface in the events I cover but that joyous expression alludes me more often than not…until this past weekend.
The Old Post Cyclocross Race in Russellville brought the pain. At first glance the course looked tame enough. Big field racing with what at first glance looked like some long easy straightaways and event the steepest long climb was paved. Even the weather seemed that it would take it easy on the riders. Sometimes, first impressions suck. This was one of those times.
The course started on a relatively short, straight, slightly downhill section that took riders to the first barriers. Two short wooden walls with a small but deep creek dividing them. Only once did I see someone attempt to hop the first barrier, they then proceeded to bury the front tire in the creek. I think they were just tired of getting off the bike. Once across the creek and over the barrier, racers remounted to head across an insanely tough field. Tire sucking grass along with a slight incline took the riders out of the saddle to make any attempt at momentum before they hit the big hill. I only saw a few successful attempts at climbing the hill on the bike.
Once at the top they remounted and headed down some off-camber downhill and then paved road for the long climb. Due to a sharp turn and ditch as they hit the road there was no momentum to carry for the hill, they started from almost a dead stop slowing building up speed until they turned back into the grass and the fastest section of the course dropping down over a few humps before reaching the creek again. A few cyclists crossed the creek before dismounting for two barriers at the top of the rise out of the creek but most dismounted and ran up. Racers with a strong dismount and a good running game did best to carry the bike for this section.
Riders then went to the top of the field and followed the treeline across and back down to the start. It was less than a mile long course, how tough could it be?
It kept getting hotter throughout the day, unseasonably hot and humid. The short course made for a lot of laps for each race and with three dismounts per lap, the soft ground and damp grass this race earned recognition as one of the toughest races so far in the 2013 Arkansas Super Prestige Cyclocross Series. A true sufferfest.
I figured out quickly that the crashes would be happening at the barriers near the creek but the greatest suffering would be had at the run up the big hill. Usually racers see the camera and do one of two things, they go with a full on game face, looking forward, concentrating or hide behind a big goofy smile or mugshot. Not this day, at the top of the hill there were no silly faces, most attempted the game face but the results were almost always the same. Sufferface.
You might ask yourself why people allow themselves to suffer like this both physically and mentally. Is there something wrong with them? Is it about hitting yourself in the head with a hammer because of how good it feels when you stop? I don’t think so. I like to think that it’s because they want to experience all life offers. If you’ve never pushed yourself to the edge, you’ve never known how far you can go and what you’re capable of doing. It’s not a daily thing, living on the edge, it’s the knowledge of knowing where the edge is and maybe next week finding that edge a little farther out.
This coming Saturday those that use cyclocross as a way to visit the edge can test their limits again on a new course at Cedarglades Park in Hot Springs. I’ll be there, taking your photo to prove you visited that distant place. Suffer well.
Full results are available at USA Cycling. We’ll have a lot of other photos from the races on our Facebook Page later this morning.