On Saturday, Trevor, Sarah & I took part in a Spin-a-Thon – a 4 hour extravaganza at Equinox Gym organized by Jessica, et al, to raise money for Cancer Patient Support Services at Boston Medical Center. That’s right: 4 hours.
I’ve never done spinning before, and I have no idea what to expect. Initially, we had planned to divide the 4-hour “course” up into chunks – each taking a warm-up and a peak section, in segments of about 30 minutes each. Once we get into the room, that plan goes out the window. We each get our own bike, which aren’t next to one another, and lines of communication go silent. I had recruited 4 co-workers to participate in the Spin-a-Thon on their own team. They come in, and take their places at the other side of the room. The instructor asks who’s never done spinning before, and tells us not to worry, that the seats will feel comfortable – in about three weeks.
We start warming up. What’s neat about spinning is that you’re totally in charge of your own workout – there’s no digital display, so you can increase and decrease the resistance according to your own comfort level without worrying about the silent judging of the person next to you (Anyone who’s ever been on a treadmill knows what I’m talking about). I begin realizing that this isn’t going to break me – that it’s really just riding a bike, and that I can do this. I look so happy:
About half-an-hour in, the first climb starts – we’re encouraged to kick our energy output up to about 80%. I’m breathing hard. Our instructor – perhaps in an attempt to convince us that we really are cycling, and not holed up in a room in the middle of a Boston winter – has unzipped his full-on racing outfit to reveal his hairy chest. I realize I’ve already decided that I won’t get off this bike until my co-workers and Sarah do. (Most of the time in my life, I can keep myself convinced that I’m not a competitive person – WordTwist, gambling pools, Scrabble – I am pretty fine with losing at these. But physical tasks are something else entirely – just ask anyone who’s ever tried to instruct me at tennis.).
The first hour ends with a sprint, 15 seconds “to the top”. I’m feeling good, like I’ve conserved enough energy to keep going, but I’m really wishing I’d been smart like Trevor and brought water.
The second hour begins. Sarah & I are motivated, and feeling good:
As the second big climb kicks off, I find myself staring at the map of the course – I’m initially just trying to figure out where we are, but I notice the title of the course, and remember that it’s based on a real mountain biking pass in Northern California. Besides the fact that it’s mind-blowing that we’re only doing Phase 4 of the whole course and it’s going to take 4 hours, I find it inspiringly appropriate to be in Northern California, a locale that always makes me think of Donovan.
For the unfamiliar, Donovan was my sister’s boyfriend and a camp friend, who died at age 25 from testicular cancer. My sister spent months taking care of him, dealing with the bureaucracy of MediCal and it’s services like those that BMC provides that they both could have really used. Donovan was the reason I signed up to do this fundraiser. I make a mental note to raise a glass to Donovan and my sister when we are enjoying our already-planned beer-and-food post-spinning celebration, and I grit my teeth to the top of the second peak.
Thrilled that I’ve outlasted my co-workers on the bike, and knowing that Sarah will break with me, the first half-hour of Hour 3 is break time.
Trevor has hopped back on to cover for Team Nowhere Fast, and Sarah & I go for a walk around the fancy gym to see what $170 a month gets you. Answer: some really weird machines, and meditation rocks along the base of the mirrors.
We re-enter the spinning room with 15 minutes remaining in the hardest climb of the course. As soon as my butt hits the bike, I regret ever taking a break. That half hour walking around had done nothing except give my butt time to think about what it had been sitting on for the last 2 hours:And it wasn’t happy about getting back on.
My legs can’t quite remember the cycling motion, and the 15 climbing minutes are torture. Trevor – battling a cold and dealing with reduced lung capacity – calls it quits. Hallelujah – give me that water bottle!
The instructor tries to distract us from the torture he’s putting us through with some story about an old guy he met while hiking Tuckerman’s Peak. I am not interested in this story. I wish he had not named the old guy “Wilson” because it makes me think the point of his story will be that he was invisible or a figment of his imagination during some particularly strenuous hike, a la Tom Hanks in ‘Castaway.’ Even just hearing the word Tuckerman’s was too much – I am now thinking of Tuckerman’s IPA and I want nothing more than to be seated at a bar with a pitcher of water and a pint of beer.
According to the course map, Hour 4 is pretty much all cool-down, but at this point, my biggest issue isn’t the exercise, it’s my butt. Oh wait, maybe it is the exercise – actual droplets of sweat start dripping from me onto my bike. I am disgusted by myself. Participants are dropping like flies.
Up and down, up and down – they’re trying to keep us engaged by mixing up the tasks. Here’s a speed segment, here’s a standing segment. I pedal with dread, just knowing at any point he’s going to tell me go to “back in the saddle” – that means sitting down, and at this point, it’s barely an option for me.
All of a sudden, I see a gleam in his eye: “A-ha, I know how to pump up this room of 20-40 year olds in Liberal Boston!” He cues up a remix of Obama’s inauguration speech to music. Some people might find this motivating. I find it torturous – how am I supposed to keep expending all this energy when I’m crying? The song ends. There’s half an hour left.
I place my watch on the handle in front of me so I can constantly track the amount of time left. Finally, there is one peak left. We’re encouraged to do it as a speed segment. Faster! Faster! I tune my resistance way down. My legs pick up speed. I find myself closing my eyes. I’m envisioning an actual finish line. I crank my resistance back up, I stand up on the pedals, and I move my legs faster than they’ve ever moved before. 10! 9! 8! The instructor counts us down. As I cross that imaginary finish line, I feel like I've actually completed a race.
I’m exhausted. I’m sweaty. I’m proud to have stayed on for so long. I’m thrilled to have participated in such a worthy cause. And I’m ready for nachos.