Spin Class

Last Saturday should have been the source material for Part III of The Marathon Chronicles (read Part I and Part II here) — the part where The Runner dragged me on a fifteen mile run.

To my great dismay, however, we had a nice big snowstorm Friday night, rendering the streets an icy, snowy, slushy mess on Saturday. Not ideal for a big run.

I was kidding about the “great dismay” part, by the way.

I called The Runner, asking for an alternative workout idea.

“There’s a spin class at Gold’s Gym in an hour. We could do that,” she said.

I was intrigued. You see, there are three forms of cycling that I have never tried, but have always been curious about, mostly because they seem so bizarre. These include:

  • Unicycles
  • Recumbents
  • Spin class

Well, maybe it was time to tick the “done” box on one of those items. I found an ancient pair of road shoes I knew had SPD cleats, put together a complete, matching Fat Cyclist kit — I know it’s important to look good when going to a Gold’s Gym — and headed out the door.

I Inspect Everything

The Runner and I got into the spin room about thirty minutes early. There were about 90 stationary bikes, all adjustable in pretty much every direction.

“Oh good, we get a place near the fan,” the Runner said, as she picked the bike closest to that fan. I chose the bike next to her. I did not realize at the time how incredibly important that would turn out to be.

I busied myself setting the saddle height. Then the saddle position. Then the bar height. Then the bar position. As others trickled in, I noticed that nobody else adjusted anything but the saddle height. Evidently, I’m a bike fit snob. Or just a goofball.

The Runner and I started warming up — high cadence, low effort. Then I turned the little knob that controls the resistance. One half turn was all it took to go from virtually no resistance to completely locked up. Which meant, basically, that I’d be giving the knob little nudges when asked to increase or decrease my effort, instead of the big manly power-twists I thought would more accurately represent the change in how hard I was working.

Which meant that I’d be forced to use other methods to add drama to my spin effort:

  • Dramatically squirting water from my bottle into my mouth, onto my head, and down my back
  • Dramatically toweling my face off
  • Dramatically gritting my teeth during maximum efforts

As we warmed up, I noticed one other guy, in full Pearl Izumi PRO kit, doing the same. I looked at his legs. Hairy. I waited until he made eye contact, then flexed my freshly-shaved quads. He looked down and away, deferentially. We both knew who was the alpha male in the room.

Then the instructor came in, and it was her turn to be inspected. The first thing I noticed was her legs.

No, not for that reason.

I noticed her legs because they were freakishly skinny. Seriously, her quads were no bigger than my calves.

And then she climbed up on her bike and started warming up. At which point it was all I could to not go over there and volunteer to help her get her position set up properly. Her saddle height put her legs at 35 degrees at maximum extension.

And then there was the cockpit. So cramped I was surprised her knees didn’t hit the bar with every rotation.

To my credit — and to The Runner’s relief — I refrained from going over and setting the bike up for the instructor.

I Give 110%, Which May Actually Have Been 92%

And then the spin session began.

The instructor took us on a virtual bike ride, having us adjust the resistance for climbs, sometimes standing up, sometimes sitting down, and sometimes increasing or decreasing our cadence.

All of which is fine, and pretty much what I expected.

But there were parts that were hard for me, as a cyclist, to get past. For example:

  • She said we were riding on a mountain road, which definitely indicates a road bike. But then — when she wanted us to just use our legs, not our upper bodies — she’d have us stand up, go to high resistance, and tell us we were riding on a “swinging bridge,” which would probably be best handled on a BMX bike. In any case, on a swinging bridge I’d definitely stay seated and would go for high cadence, low effort riding so as to keep the side-to-side motion to a minimum.
  • From time to time she’d let us know we were on singletrack, which made me start thinking about real singletrack, which made me wish desperately that I were not in a gym at all. In any case, now I’d need to be on a mountain bike, which made me think that this instructor needs to pick a better riding course, because it’s hard to pack three different bikes with me.
  • Sometimes we were asked to “run” on the bike. I didn’t get this at all until I saw a few people swinging one arm at their sides. I tried this for about one half of a second before my ridiculosity meter went so far off the chart that I had to go back to both hands on the bar.
  • We were supposed to put our hands behind our backs and ride sometimes. I have a feeling this would be frowned upon in a group ride.
  • At high effort — when we were supposed to be at a 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 — the instructor would be turning such an incredibly slow cadence that she would have been a swerving mess on a real bike. (I wanted to raise my hand and volunteer it would be more efficient to turn a higher cadence at a lower resistance, but had the sense that this kind of feedback was not currently being sought.) Curious as to what it would feel like to have that much resistance on a bike, I tried ratcheting the tension until I was going at the same cadence as the instructor. Unfortunately, my legs are so powerful that the friction caused by the bike’s braking motion briefly set the wheel on fire. Fortunately, my sweat quickly dowsed the flames.

Throughout the session, the instructor called out the effort she wanted us to put out. “Go to a 9,” she would call out, which I would interpret as “you should feel like barfing but can probably hold it back.” And then she’d call out, “Now go to 10!” Which I would interpret as, “This should feel like a sprint finish at the end of a race and should not be sustainable for more than one minute, tops.”

And then she said, “Now go higher!”

“But I’m already at ten,” I thought. “I’m maxed out.” But just to see what would happen, I’d nudge the resistance up a hair.

And I was able to keep going.

So I nudged it again.

Still going.

So, evidently, my perceived maximum effort is really about my 85%. Which means I’ve been slacking a bit.

Okay, maybe a lot.

Catastrophe Averted

The thing about spin classes is that riding technique isn’t rewarded, or even encouraged. You can thrash around and pedal squares and ride with your hands behind your back, and that’s just fine.

Which means that if someone ever wants to go on a ride with you and uses “I’ve been to spin class a lot” as their justification for why they’re in good riding shape, you may want to keep your distance.

And so the irony is super sweet that I very nearly caused a multiple-bike pileup in the spin class.

It was during a standing, 30-second standing sprint, I think at level 7. I was putting in about a 7.28 effort, though, because that’s the kind of guy I am.

And then I pulled my left cleat out of the pedal on the upstroke.

My knee came up nearly to my chin and I leaned heavily and wildly to the right, very nearly crashing into The Runner. Which — I have to assume — would have caused her spin bike to fall over into the next person, causing a domino-style crashing cascade of spin bikes and humanity.

Which would have been embarrassing.

I Am Strangely Competitive

The Runner and I didn’t talk during the spin class. We did, however, have a competition…which she was likely unaware of, but which I’m sure she’ll be very excited to find out about right now.

The competition was called, “Who Sweats More?” And the rules were simple. Whoever had the larger diameter sweat puddle at the end of the spin class, wins.

She won. By a landslide. Or by the sweaty equivalent of a landslide, anyway.

Before I knew it, the 45 minutes was over. Which is odd in itself — 45 minutes on a bike, even at high effort, kind of feels too short.

My overall impression? spin classes might in fact be an interesting and fun way to change up your workout, and they probably burn a lot of calories in a short period of time.

But I really doubt they make you a better cyclist.

Running With the Runner

Since we had originally planned on running that morning, The Runner and I decided that after the spin class we should get on the treadmills and run for a bit. The Runner was not — according to her — feeling great, so we agreed to run for just a mile or so.

The Runner got a fifteen second head start, so right off the bat I had some catching up to do. Surreptitiously, I looked at her pace and distance, and kept increasing my speed to see if I could “catch” her.

We hit the mile mark. I hoped she would slow down to a walk.

She kept going.

So I accelerated, and eventually — just as we hit the two mile mark, caught up. Yes, victory was mine. Meanwhile, I was hoping hoping hoping she would slow down.

Which, mercifully, she did. Which is good, because I was about to find out what happens when you throw up on a treadmill. Which is interesting-sounding in the abstract, but not necessarily something you want to see close up.

As we got off and headed out the door, I decided I would not mention that I had caught her. Because, you know, just knowing that I did was enough.

Then The Runner said, “I saw you managed to catch me.”

“Oh, really?” I said, feigning surprise. “That’s interesting.”

“That’s really good,” she continued. “You should be proud.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” I allowed.

“Of course,” she concluded, “I was running on a 4% incline at the time.”

PS: If you’d do me a favor and vote for me for the 2010 Bloggies (Best Sports Weblog, Best Writing, Weblog of the Year categories), I’d appreciate it.

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