Cycling saved my life. When I was diagnosed with gallstones but had no insurance for surgery, I cut out fat and became a cycling fiend, and dropped 60 pounds, to the best condition of my adult life. To this day, cycling is unequivocally my sport of choice. If I miss too many days (or months), I get very, very unhappy.
My point is, I’m no slouch on a bike. Until my first spin class taught me I’d been doing it all wrong.
The weather in Colorado is mercurial, and that’s the nicest word I can think of. This year spring lasted three days, followed by another week of 50 degrees and hailstorms, followed by a few days of summer, followed by daily tornado warnings (for the most part coming to nothing; but I imagine the only thing worse than staying home for nothing would be risking it on the wrong day). Every day without fail, it will be a lovely sunny 70-something…until about 3 pm, when the skies darken and rumble threateningly, and there’s another biking opportunity lost.
When I first started I was made of sterner stuff; nothing short of ice on the path stopped me. Nowadays I can’t even work in the dead of summer without socks because my feet grow intolerably chilly, and anything less than 65 degrees and a perfectly blue sky is ample excuse to stay home.
So it’s been quite a few months since I’ve been in prime bike condition. I didn’t realize how much exactly until Tery took it into her head to give the spin class at the gym a whirl (haha). She returned sweaty and exuberant, insisting I would love it. When I pointed out my deplorable shape, she said it was low key, no pressure, there were even a couple of “fatties” that never left the saddle (not the PC term, but Tery and I aren’t so far outside this category ourselves).
Despite massive nervousness, I resolved to attend a class myself, at Tery’s urging but without her company as she was working late. I thought it wouldn’t be so bad. I was a fool.
When I arrived the room was empty except for a fleet of spin bikes with towels draped over the handlebars. Tery had said her class wasn’t very full and my hopes rose. I headed for one at the back, wanting to stay as low profile as possible (I realized, entirely too late, that the best place is directly in front of the door, to escape the most easily). I barely got my water bottle in the holder when a guy walked up and said I was on his bike. This struck me as odd when there was an entire room to choose from, but I wasn’t looking for a fight.
I moved farther down, and this time got as far as adjusting the seat before being similarly evicted. This girl was kind enough to explain that towels meant the bike was claimed. OH. Good to know.
So that left very few choices indeed, and I ended up in the second row, practically face to face with the leader’s bike. I adjusted my seat and handlebars and started slowly pedaling to warm up.
The instructor arrived and the class filled quickly. A full house. Fantastic. He started roll call, and I had the sinking feeling I was supposed to make a reservation (there was a sign out front suggesting it would be a good idea). Three people, obviously veterans, didn’t have bikes, and for a few breathless minutes I waited for my final eviction, but no such luck.
As the first song played and we all started pedaling in earnest, I noticed the second girl to kick me off a bike come trotting in late (what WAS everyone doing after putting their towel down, I wondered? Was there a meet-and-greet I was missing?) I silently sneered at her lack of dedication.
I didn’t do too badly for the first ten minutes. The music was great, a loud throbbing nightclub-like beat that I could pedal in time with. The leader would occasionally bark something but I couldn’t hear over the music. I gradually realized that we were gearing up to get out of the saddle. I’m not really an out-of-the-saddle kind of biker. When I hit a big hill outside I just power up it as best I can no matter how slowly. I don’t even like to downshift. This habit did me no favors in this situation. Two pedal strokes standing up and I was painfully aware of how lacking in those muscles I was. I resignedly sank back to the seat and snuck a look around, hoping for a fellow fatty. No such luck.
I swallowed my pride and kept pedaling, at least. Every workout video I’ve ever seen tells you if you can’t keep up, just keep moving. Low intensity is better than no intensity.
It’s not that I care what other people think. But it was a little creepy being the only one different, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or something.
Eventually the standing part ended (temporarily) and we were all sitting again. Thank god. The leader told us to increase resistance but keep x-number of RPMs. I tried, but a quarter of the way in and I was focused singlemindedly on lasting the whole class, even if that meant not following every instruction. I realized I excelled at low resistance and fast cadence, so I stuck with that, ignoring the way my legs pumped furiously while everyone else’s dutifully plodded “uphill.” I focused on the music and tried to count down to freedom.
Inevitably, the time to stand came again. I was ready this time and lowered my resistance all the way. Easier and I lasted longer, though not close to long enough. The instructor kept calling out seconds left before we got to sit again, but they seemed to be extended gym seconds, lasting three times as long as conventional ones. And….I was down again.
I was hurting. I was hurting and I was sweating. I’m not afraid of sweat. Panting for air, burning lungs and feeling my muscles getting noodly I’m not a fan of.
Speaking of fans, there were four massive ones in the ceiling, each easily ten foot across; and from what I could tell purely decorative, as I couldn’t feel a whiff. The only breeze I felt the whole time was from the water servers passing around me (halfway through, gym employees come around to refill bottles. It’s a really nice touch).
By now, I was fighting for my life. The call to stand came and I tried halfheartedly, but I had decided I needed to start making oxygen choices. The leader dismounted and made his way around, fist bumping all his favorites. I got a concerned look and a “Doing okay, babe?” I smiled bravely, hopefully reassuringly, but that damned mirror facing us didn’t lie and I was a hot, sloppy puddle of mess.
I listened to the music and kept my legs moving, always moving. Regardless of what we were supposed to be doing, I kept my cadence in time with the music. I’m a slave to the beat, can’t not keep time. Years of marching band has seen to that.
Miracle of miracles, the leader announced we were 3/4 of the way done. Fifteen minutes left! I was going to make it! So I was very perplexed when half the class got up and left. I thought they had to be somewhere but no, they had all left their bottles and phones and whatnot. A rest then. When we’re nearly done?
I decided not to risk it. It seemed like the ideal cover to make a break for it, and that’s what I did. I took my free gym water and the tattered remnants of my dignity and skedaddled. I was proud that my legs weren’t too shaky to get me to the locker room (that part came later).
Never again. But it wasn’t a total waste of time. I saw how I’ve been far too easy on myself and how I can improve, and get a really intense workout on the bike. I just don’t play well with others is the problem, especially large groups of them judging me and doing much, much better than me.