Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Spin Cycle

I tried my hand -- or my feet -- at spinning again last night.

Oops! I meant to say I tried my hand at "Reaction Cycling" (TM). Wouldn't want to get a snotty letter from attorneys representing the Spinning (R) people ...

By whatever name, it sucks. It does no good for cyclists. In fact, it is bad for cyclists because it trains the anaerobic system.

Those are the things I'm telling myself, anyway. Because I do not really want to go back. That's how bad it kicked my ass.

Spinning is sick. Spin instructors are sick. It goes sorta like this:

First minute and 5 seconds: warm up.

Next 57:50: Ride like you're in a bunch sprint at the end of a criterium.

Last 1:05: Cool down.

I did this several times a few winters ago and thought I liked it. But I think that, as Roger Clemens might say, I misremembered.

Freezing rain was falling, though, on top of four inches of new snow. So I wasn't about to ride outdoors, and riding the trainer is vapid -- not to mention almost impossible when my kids are buzzing around and I'm guilt-tripping at the sight of my exhausted wife.

So I figured, Let's try the spin cycle again. My friend Tim is doing it several times a week. Tim is a Cat 2 cyclist posing as a crippled old broken-down racer who had to drop down to Cat 3. Do not race against Tim on a bet. Because if he is surviving Spinning/spin/Reaction Cycling multiple times weekly, he is going to be hell to beat.

However, Tim might have to find a race that is 45 minutes long and requires him to stand up for 20 seconds, sit for 5, stand up for 30 seconds, sit for 5, stand up for 20 seconds, sit for five, etc. That race, I haven't seen yet. But if Tim can find it, he will dominate.

I steeled myself for suffering and headed for the Bally's near my house. It's not that I expected to suffer too much from the workout. No, I feared everything I'd have to endure before they'd let me sweat a drop.

I signed up on line for a two-weeks-free pass, which required me to listen to the pitch. Bally's hasn't changed since I first walked into a "Bally's Scandanavian" back in about 1990: Some used-car salesman in a too-tight polo shirt descends upon you and starts the high-pressure tactics. This culminates with him trying to get you to sign a three-year contract obligating you to pay $40 or $50 a month for long after you stop going and fall back into your old drinkin' ways. If I were a TV news reporter on assignment to go find subprime-mortgage-crisis "victims," I'd just walk into a Bally's, wave a $5 bill and shout, "I HAVE $100 HERE AND I'LL GIVE IT TO ANYONE WHO LOST A HOME TO FORECLOSURE BECAUSE HE DIDN'T READ THE CONTRACT!" The building would shake from all the dupes dropping their weights at once and sprinting toward me.

The Bally Boy who met me seemed to have had his spirits crushed already by the pathetic nature of his job. I made it clear that he could save the hard sell, and astonishingly, he respected that. Just a quick walk-through and a perfunctory office sit-down where he showed me the bogus membership plans he knew I'd never buy, and we both nodded in a silent acknowledgement that we would quit wasting each other's time. I even gave him one of those light-tap punches on the arm to thank him for laying off. He seemed to appreciate it.

I now would have two weeks to try out the facilities, which is about 1-6/7ths weeks more than anyone would possibly need to realize that no sane person joins a Bally's.

I changed clothes and hurried to the spinning room. That is exactly what it quickly became -- a spinning room. Dude at the front was some aging, psychotic triathlete version of Timothy Leary. Sitting directly across from him was a woman : a wiry 90-pound 50-year-old who looked like she cut her own hair and worked at a BP. You'd picture her outside the gas station, smoking cigarette after cigarette, just running inside long enough to ring up one customer before her next smoke break.

But she was no smoker. This woman was right out of a comedy skit -- full of energy so furious that could only be summoned by crystal meth or a serious chemical imbalance. She looked like a broken ceiling fan: Her legs whirled at a cadence that never dropped below 130 rpm for the entire session. That is not a joke, nor an exaggeration. She was a blur, with her head and shoulders flying all over the place and sweat spraying onto the floor without a single slowdown. She must have had the resistence dial at zero, but that was immaterial: I've never seen such manic concentration. (Later, as soon as we finished, she scurried off to an aerobics class.)
Next to her were the two big lugs -- "husky" guys with somewhat surprising endurance and a respectable commitment to conditioning.

Then, alongside me, were the two office secretaries who probably dared each other to do a sprint triathlon. That's my guess because the Rev. Leary focused on them exclusively as he chanted his patter: "There's the woman up ahead wearing No. 6 ... she must be good because she's got such a low number ... come on now! You gotta catch her! We're sneaking up in her blind spot. We're 10 meters from a turn ... now ... GO!" Then the two gals and the rest of us would start busting our arses and he'd count down: NINE meters! (10 seconds later) EIGHT meters (another 10 seconds) SEVEN meters ..."

And I'm sitting there thinking, If I have to work that hard for that long to go one fucking meter, I am NEVER doing a triathlon. Ever.

Meanwhile, every few minutes, my SPD cleat would catapult out of the pedal at the top of a 125-rpm pedal stroke and I'd almost hurtle off the bike. Yeah, my pedal stroke was for shit, but Jalabert's would be on these bikes, at that cadence. The cleat still shouldn't have let go. But it did. Over and over. I flipped the pedal over to the toe-clip side. No better.

So 20 minutes in, I felt like a cat in a Sherwin-Williams paint shaker. I found myself watching the clock and praying for the end. The chicks next to me were doing just fine. And I could smell the flywheel melting under Cocaine Katie over there. Please, God, make this stop.

Then I began to feel the buildup of gases in my bowels ... growing, growing, growing. I began to get gastric cramps. It was a small room, with women a couple feet away. I needed some self-control.

I tried to distract myself by critiquing my form in the mirrors that adorned every wall. But Richard, the instructor, was quoting Shakespeare and demanding that we stand and hammer at insane cadences and intensity. My reflection became a blur. And I noticed that Richard didn't even have one.

Even worse, the clock on the wall ahead of me seemed to be moving backward. My spirit almost broke completely before I figured out it was moving backward because it was a reflection of the clock above and behind me.

When the end finally came, I staggered off the bike like Stephen Hawking tumbling out of a clothes dryer.

I slinked out and headed for the leg press. Damn good thing no one else was near and the music was loud, because that gastric distress began to relieve itself with the sound of a Harley rally in Peninsula on a sunny summer Saturday.

I squeezed among the Roger Clemenses and WWF cartoons to do some weight stuff for my legs and realized they were pretty close to shot already.

But it couldn't have been from the spinning, right? Because that could possibly translate to cycling training, could it? I want to think not. Because I'm scared to go back.

Web link of the day: I've added this blog to my faves. Check it out. The guy is a longtime race announcer and racer who just wrote a book about cycling that I'm eager to read upon its release.


Eric said...

Great post Jim. Loved you calling the spin instructor Dracula.

I hit a spin class on occasion for variety only. Sometimes I do my own thing and just enjoy the company.

You hit it dead on though.

JimmyNick said...

Hey Eric, thanks for the props! It's an honor.

- JN

Ray Huang said...

Cocaine katie-I'm rolling. Great post.

JimmyNick said...

Thanks, Ray! You and Eric are my valentines.

Actually, I'm just posting this so that it will say "4 comments" under my post and people will think my blog must be cool and provocative because other readers are commenting.

Julie Lewis-Sroka said...

If you didn't like spinning, you didn't give it a real chance. Many guys don't. It's a great training tool for the winter months - try another gym or instructor. And don't think all spinning is the same. The official "Spinning" classes are much different than say "Extreme Cyling" at Peak Performance or the indoor training rides with Pete Gladden in Akron.