Peloton vs. Sufferfest, Optimism vs. Reality

We are Weak, but He is Strong

Drake / 11.20.20

Peloton and COVID-19 have combined to lead an explosion in your in-home fitness experience. Yuppies around America now know the terms “FTP,” “Power-to-Weight ratio,” and “VO2 max,” schooled by the greatest fitness instructors in the country.

It used to be that getting on a bike trainer was the equivalent of torture. You were only supposed to get on the trainer when the weather was so bad that you couldn’t go outside. It was a miserable experience to mash pedals in a basement; however, the advent of Peloton means fitness salvation is at hand!

The combination of catchy music, beautiful instructors, and relentless positivity creates an endorphin loop feeding “even the least of these” in the fitness community. One of our favorite family friends, a 60-year-old who lives in Manhattan, proudly beams about her Peloton routine: “Oh, I only do Olivia Amato.” Turns out the Richey family also knows and loves Olivia, the 98-pound former model who seems to say in every workout, “I know this is tough, but you are tougher!” to the community of 10,000 people on her Peloton team. It is hard not to leave a workout and feel more than adequate, no matter the result.

Which brings me to Sufferfest — the anti-Peloton.

Sufferfest started in the early 2000s with customized indoor cycling workouts set to bootlegged videos that came via DVD. You attached your road bike to an indoor trainer and masochistically endured a 1- to 2-hour workout. Interspersed throughout the workout videos are quotes about how suffering leads to understanding, “minions” telling you that you aren’t working hard enough. You are constantly reminded that “donuts come later” and are for people from Couchlandria, not Sufferlandria — a country that flies a flag with a face that has tears rolling down its cheeks.

Fast forward to today, Sufferfest still has no fancy stationary bike. You ride on your own bike to a workout that is personalized to ensure maximum abuse and almost inevitable failure. There are no ranking board, call-outs for your 100th workout, or relentless positivity. It’s almost as if literally, no one cares (least of all your spouse who will wonder why you aren’t doing more around the house). In contrast to Peloton, in Sufferlandria it always feels like you finish last and you are all alone in your basement crying tears of blood, which, it turns out, is much closer to the way life actually is. It is hard not to leave a Sufferfest workout convicted that Olivia has it wrong — “This is tough, and I am not tougher.”

So why do I insist on tormenting myself?

I was struck earlier this month by a quote from Tim Keller: “Suffering dispels the illusion that we have the strength and competence to rule our own lives.” I am convinced that it is helpful to be laid bare on the little things in life so that you know that you are actually laid bare on the bigger things in your life. We are weaker than we think we are. Also, when we are in the midst of these small sufferings, maybe it is better to remember that we will stand all alone before our Maker, not surrounded by our Peloton community saying that they love us and that we can do it.

In the midst of a long and out-of-control 2020, my effort has concentrated on controlling small things in my life. I would like to control my children’s homework performance, my mask-wearing, and of course my FTP. I think the longing for control is being driven by the absolute lack of strength or competence to control anything else. Given that it is hard to control even the little and pointless things in life, let it be known that it is good to be a citizen of Sufferlandria, and to be in touch with your weakness and lack of control over all things.

We are weak, but He is strong. In the midst of feeling like you cannot pedal one more stroke, on the bike or otherwise, we have good company in a Savior who actually bled and died for us.