SufferFest 2018

All photos in this post are credited to Daniel Godson (@dan_godson_)

Picture this. It’s 7am on a Saturday morning, music is pumping, you haven’t slept in 24hrs and you are climbing like a man possessed at your local climbing gym. Yet you are not alone. Almost ninety other people are in your position pushing through the fatigue and cramping muscles to add another ten vertical meters to their team’s tally. Not a single person is resting with those not climbing cheering their mates on. The atmosphere is electric and you are not sure if it’s the dozen coffees you have downed or if you are delusional; but you are loving it. This was the scene during the last hour of Vertical Year’s SufferFest at Urban Climb’s West End gym.

The concept was simple. A climbing relay where teams of between two and six people climb for twelve hours in an effort to cover as many vertical meters as possible. In reality the meters didn’t matter, it was more about creating an environment where people felt comfortable to push themselves harder than they normally would. To make it more interesting the event would be held on a Friday night after a full week of work and completed through the night finishing at 8am the next day.

These few elements can put people off wanting to partake in the event. They represent barriers that people can make out as insurmountable or at the very least, much more difficult than they actually are. Like a lot of things associated with the Vertical Year, SufferFest was deliberately set up to challenge exactly that; people’s perspectives and the barriers we all put in front of ourselves.

Thankfully the gamble paid off and fifteen teams were willing to take up the challenge. The night exceeded all my expectations and raised just over $3200 for the Vertical Year’s charity partners, ReachOut Australia and the Australian Climate Council. A fantastic result that I am absolutely stoked with.

There were teams who included people who had never climbed before. The team from Ellaspede had four climbing newbies and managed to smash out more than 2,200m! A team of only two people crushed just over 3,000m! A monumental effort! One team of particularly strong climbers managed to climb over 4,500m with 75% of their routes graded hard (most people climbed beginner routes with a sprinkling of moderate difficulty). Absolutely insane! The winning team comprising of members from Brisbane's own climbing family, Pinnacle Sports (which happened to be the team I was part of) topped out at just over 9,450m! That is more than six hundred vertical meters higher than the elevation of Mt Everest.

 The winning team, "Pinnacle Conquistadors of Vertical Zen" looking casual at the beginning of SufferFest. We managed to climb a combined total of 9,450m in 12 hours. 

The winning team, "Pinnacle Conquistadors of Vertical Zen" looking casual at the beginning of SufferFest. We managed to climb a combined total of 9,450m in 12 hours. 

The wide variety of distances covered by each team didn’t appear to diminish anyone’s enthusiasm. The people that climbed 3,000m were just as stoked as those that covered double that distance. Why? Because this was a personal challenge. People were competing with themselves, pushing their own limits and proving that they were more capable than they first believed. No-one was bummed about what they achieved during the night and that is one aspect I am incredibly proud of.

Just as important as the money raised, people really got into the spirit of the event. When we said, ‘create your base camp for the night’ I never expected people to bring fairy lights or mock camp fires.  I never expected a team to set up a coffee stand to keep everyone caffeinated and then donate the funds to the campaign.

I don’t believe a single person was not either dancing or singing during the Disney music hour which was no doubt the favourite music theme for the night and even when the lights were turned out at 3am and people had to climb with their head torches, a time when I expected people to be fading, the energy levels were still high.

 People set up some elaborate 'base camps' to help endure the suffering. 

People set up some elaborate 'base camps' to help endure the suffering. 

These were all highlights for me personally and that final hour really was something else. Yet as successful as SufferFest was, it highlighted to me one of the many problems I will continue to face. “How do you get people to take that first step?”

Whether that’s towards joining an event like SufferFest, applying for that job they want, asking that cute guy or girl out on a date, or donating to a charity. It’s a universal problem we all contend with and one that great business minds and philosophers alike have grappled with since the dawn of humanity. It is a difficult, complex problem and one that I am incredibly intrigued by.

I hope through better understanding this problem I will be more capable of helping others achieve their dreams. Developing this capability is a large part of why I wanted to do the Vertical Year in the way that I am. This project presents an opportunity for me to learn about why people stop themselves from taking that first step and what can be done to support them. By no means do I believe the next twelve months will provide me the answer; I just hope to be a little more knowledgeable and wise on the subject.

So I am not raising this in relation to Sufferfest in a negative light. Rather SufferFest was another opportunity for me to delve into this problem, observe it and learn more about it. A week out from the event we had nine teams registered, six short of our target. I was becoming a little nervous about the event flopping, that it wasn't creating the fun and safe atmosphere I had envisaged. I was nervous about failing to support people in taking that first step.

One of the barriers for people to take the first step of signing up for SufferFest was the knowledge that it was going to be hard. Physically hard, mentally hard, logistically hard. They had to convince friends to form a team, organise gear, food, logistics around work and other commitments in their lives; and that's all before they even start the climbing! It can be overwhelming.

I have made a habit of putting myself in challenging situations and in doing so, have experienced the benefits making it easier to take that first step next time around. Though I am far from understanding what holds people back from taking that first step, I hope everyone that participated in SufferFest now understands the benefits a little bit better than they may have a week ago. I hope that this experience will make it a little easier for them to take that first step towards completing their next chosen objective.

 One of my favourite themes was 'lights out' hour where the gym lights were turned out and climbers were forced to use their head torches to navigate their chosen route. At 3am in the morning!

One of my favourite themes was 'lights out' hour where the gym lights were turned out and climbers were forced to use their head torches to navigate their chosen route. At 3am in the morning!

I cannot thank everyone that was involved with this event enough. To the team at Urban who not only believed this event could be successful, but contribute something positive to the community. They also provided a team of legends who helped turn my crazy ideas into the awesome reality that the night was and for that I am indebted.

Most importantly though, I am thankful to every individual who participated in SufferFest. To take on any event whole heartedly is a conscious decision and their efforts to create a unique environment and electric atmosphere was incredible. No event can be successful without willing and engaged participants and this was no exception.

I am sure I will look back on this event in the months and years to come as a highlight of the Vertical Year adventure. Not only for the fun times and incredible people; but for the lessons it taught me which I am sure I can’t quite comprehend at this point in time.

Josh Worley

January 2018