Spin Class

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. Maybe because most of what we resolve to do, we should already be doing anyway in terms of health and human decency.

What I am a fan of however, is goal setting. As we roll the odometer over to 2012 I’ve set a few personal and professional goals of my own. On the personal side I have decided to return to recreational bicycle racing, not to win races (though that would be nice) but to be competitive and enjoy the health benefits that accompany such a pursuit.

In my twenties I raced both road and mountain bikes to varying degrees of success. In terms of any type of sporting activity it was the last time I actually competed and I find myself missing that sense of purpose and drive. I’ve continued to ride my bike but that’s all I’ve been doing, just riding with no sense of purpose and no goals set.

So this year, at what will be 48 years of age by the time cycling season rolls along I want to get back in the mix and race not just to show up (save that for running a 10k) but to be competitive. I probably won’t win, but I don’t want to be dropped either.

Being a cyclist on the east coast of Canada means you have to adjust your schedule and training regime to the weather and lack of sunlight that winter brings. This means heading indoors.

Turbo trainers, mag trainers, whatever you call them provide perhaps the best approximation of cycling. Hook it up to your back wheel, throw a towel on the floor and grind away. Here’s the problem: you’re pretty much on your own and some of us find it hard to be motivated spinning away in a dark corner of the basement. You iPod and old Tour de France videos can’t mask the fact that pounding away on your own is really, really boring.

A couple of years ago Spinning Classes started to grow in popularity across North America, eventually landing in our neck of the woods. I had looked into it and immediately looked down my nose at it. It was all too cheerful for me, happy instructors clad in a mix of cycling clothing and Lulu Lemon chirping out encouragement and dopey lines like “we’re climbing that hill now, let’s race over the top together!”.

Give me a break. I’m a cyclist and you’d never catch me nor any of my cycling friends in a mirrored room with these poseurs. Cycling is about suffering, you never saw Eddy Mercxk smile when he crushed the competition. If a spin class wanted to be anything like cycling they’d pelt you with sleet and have your instructions yelled at you in Flemmish.

Last winter, faced with no other choice and a growing post Holiday middle section I caved in and tried a spin class. You know, so I could tell my cycling buddies that it’s a joke. I mean c’mon, look around the room, how many of these people to you think actually ride bikes? And I’ll bet none of them have ever raced. Amatuers, pfft.

My first class was to be my last. I just wanted to prove to myself that spin class couldn’t possibly benefit my cycling. So I picked my bike, got the saddle position set up and spun a nice and easy 100 rpm while I waited for the the foolishness to begin.

Some kind of techno music rolled us along as we warmed up together, adding more and more load to get the muscles warmed up and ready for work. Once we were ready the instructor announced we were going for our first “race”. Get serious, a “race”? This is a joke but I’ll play along. The tempo of the music picked up, we grabbed a bit more gear and upped our RPMs into “race” cadence.

“This is so dumb.” I thought to myself. “Nothing like cycling. Cycling’s tough. This…..is…not….hard….at………………..”.

Okay, so I was huffing and puffing a little bit, that’s just because I had been off my bike for awhile. I’ll grab some active recovery between “races” and laugh this whole class off. Then came the next sets of work, there were speed intervals to drive the heart rate crazy. There were periods of hard work where thighs and glutes screamed for mercy. Maybe it wasn’t a joke.

About halfway through my first class, the varying levels of intensity started to remind me of the ebb and flow of effort during a criterium or relatively flat road race. This is turning out to be hard work.

I came back for a second class and for class after class after that eventually becoming a regular. As an experiment I brought my heart rate monitor along and was peaking out around 188 bpm. Everyone around me, no matter what their fitness level and no matter whether or not they were actually cyclists seemed to be working at their personal target level as well. That’s when I started to understand that spin class isn’t about cycling at all. It’s about boosting your cardio and giving everything you’ve got in the allotted hour and I was starting to enjoy it.

As the winter passed I left my cycle snobbery behind and made acquaintances with several of the other regulars, even sharing words of encouragement and congratulating each other after particularly hard sessions.

Eventually, the Spring returned and the ice and snow left the roads and it was time to start back on the bike and guess what? My leg speed was significantly higher. I’d always had a bad habit of pushing too large a gear and now, after over 25 years on the bike I was spinning efficiently at about 20 rpm higher than before. I’d also changed my saddle position, my cleats and foot positioning to help me spin more smoothly than ever before. With my new increase in cadence I was also climbing better and not using big muscle groups on climbs that eventually would fill my legs with lactic acid.

Don’t tell any of my cycling friends but spin class actually helped me become a better cyclist.

Now as the New Year starts us all with a clean slate, I’ve set a goal to rejoin the peleton. Along the way, I will lose weight, boost my Vo2 Max, put more wattage to the pedals and regain the spirit of competitiveness. And I’ll be using spin class to start me on that path.

But you’ll never catch me in Lulu Lemon.

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