Wednesday, January 27, 2010


As an exercise in "Journal Therapy," triathlete Bonnie Siegel (photos) recalls her first spin class. The "prosaic approach" seems to be working; the nightmares are less frequent and her meds have been cut in half.

Kidding aside, we think you'll enjoy this essay. Bonnie has a very interesting literary voice; funny and packed with rich imagery.

As a newbie to triathlon and just starting my first week of training, I was about to take my very first Spin Class. I had never seen bike shorts in person and hadn't even ridden a bike in decades.

Thursday morning came. I had been on the phone until just after 2am the night before and I was dragging like a cat on a leash.

Stumbling into the gym I tried to find the spin class and noted someone wearing odd clothing and shoes. I asked where she was heading and she confirmed to spin. She pointed up the dark stairway at the back corner of the building. "It's up there...." she said, her voice trailing off. For a moment, I thought I detected a hint of trembling in her voice. I broke out into a sweat and headed for the dark stairway. As I went up I noticed a man in front of me wearing a very expensive pair of cycling shorts with so much padding I began to consider a new marketing angle for Depends underwear. He looked as if he had just completed a successful race against Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France. He pulled open the door and walked into the room I was supposed to enter. Something gave me the feeling that this was not the beginers class. All of the lights were off in the room except one pointed at center stage. I froze in my tracks and let the door close in my face then quickly turned and pretended to be studying the schedule of classes that hung on the wall. I was feeling lost, confused and sure to die. No one would find me and I would be swept away with all of those who end up in the "Have you seen this woman?" literature. I wondered for a moment what my face would look like digitally progressed 10 years. Not a comforting thought.

I took a deep breath and swung the door open wide. It banged against the wall and I saw some of the dark figures in the room turn their heads towards me. Now I had their full attention. Perfect. I then proceeded to trip on one of the steps as I made my way to the back of the class to the elevated platform.

I moved to the only open bike in the very last row with, unfortunately, a window behind me. There was a small shimmer of light coming through the bamboo blinds and so I was highlighted just perfectly for the instructor to take full notice of. I could even see my silhouette in the mirror at the front of the class. Not a pretty sight. I tried to adjust the seat and noticed immediately that there was no seat at all. Instead, there was some sort of thin, hard torture devise mounted to the top of the bracket that was sure to be used for bringing forth unruly confessions used to put people away for a very long time. My thoughts immediately went to survival mode and I reckoned I may have to stand up off the seat for most of the ride. My mental picture of "Have you seen this woman" went to a funeral pamphlet. I glanced over at Armstrong's friend and wondered if it was worth the struggle to convince him to let me borrow his bike shorts for $20.

Everyone was instantly up and pedaling furiously as the instructor at the front began to encourage the riders to begin bringing it up a notch. I glanced around nervously and noted everyone was in deep concentration. I was almost sure we were going to enter an actual race. Next to me was a lean and mean blond girl that looked like she was hoping to get in a fight. .

Two TV screens were mounted at the front of the room on the sides of the mirror, each about the size of an Olympic swimming pool. There was a video taken from the front of a cyclist's bike as he rode at warp speed along the road by some California winery. I've never been there and I don't particularly like the taste of alcohol but at this point I was considering I may need to toss one back by the time I got home.

The instructor shouted to tighten the bike's tension clamp so we could enter into "zone 3", which she explained is when you are working very hard. I was still trying to calm my heart down as I struggled to get my feet in the clamps. These were no ordinary slip your feet in clamps foot pegs. These looked like the mouths of small mechanical monsters that were also rigged up as lie detector tests; feet defibrillators with wires and metal things coming out all over. The blond next to me glanced over and gave me a dirty look.

Finally I was able to start pedaling and went immediately from zone "let's all go back to bed and call it a day" to zone "dial 911 'cause she's gonna blow!' With that the instructor ordered everyone into "zone 4", which she literally described as the following:

1. You should not be able to breath comfortably or talk at all.

2. Your jaw should be hanging open and

3. You should be feeling a deep burn all over your thighs.

My reply:

1. Nope, can't breath regularly, in fact I can't breathe at all. Don't you hear me gasping from way over there?

2. Yes, in fact my jaw is hanging open, and by the way, is it okay to drool all over myself?

3. Lady, my legs are burning so bad my pants are on fire.

I forgot to mention this zone 3 & 4 stuff was all while we were standing up, butts off the seats. This is good and bad. I was wearing down so fast that I found myself leaning forward for handle bar support but had nearly taken it to the point of toppling forward over the bike.

The instructor boomed into her face mic: "Okay, people, this is an hour long class. We are 15 minutes into it so you should be nice and warmed up by now! Tighten that tension! Oh, and be sure NOT to lean forward over your handle bars." I immediately hated her guts and tried not to curse.

Zone 4. The big blur. The time of hallucinations and out-of-body experiences. I stood up off the pedals and cried. I needed a distraction. After looking at the screens I began imagining that I was a cyclist on that long, country road. The instructor boomed into her mic: "Tighten the tension people! And I don't want to see anyone pretending to tighten the tension! You know who you are and so do I!" I hated her. Loathed her screeching voice. I tried to focus on the video, imagining myself riding on the shoulder of that peaceful looking road. As I pedaled my way into zone beyond and back I was hallucinating, wobbling into oncoming traffic with complete muscle failure, cars honking and swerving in all directions. Just then I heard someone break my concentration. "Hey! Let go of my seat!" "Huh? What?" I then realized I had leaned over and had grabbed the back of the seat of the blonde's bicycle, clinging for dear life as if somehow hoping she could pull me along with her. I laughed a nervous laugh and she gave me another dirty look.

I'm not sure how I made it to the end or even why. I recall that the infamous "YMCA" song came on. I remember numbly trying to participate when the instructor told us all to do the large arm movements simulating the y, m, c and a. I vaguely recall realizing the trauma of the class had inflicted me with sudden dyslexia as I was somehow doing the letters backwards but I didn't care. By that time I was making the symbols for 911.

Before the lights came on I decided to make a dash for the door. I had been up off my bike seat for so long that as I walked strenuously towards the door I realized my butt was permanently in a skyward bound position. I made it home and went straight to bed. I didn't even bother to make egg whites or oatmeal. Just give me something that read 'Cadbury' or 'Nestle's' on the wrapper. Life was suddenly too short for this type of self abuse and not being a violent person, I quoted to myself, "Blessed are the peacemakers..”

Since then I have learned that Spin classes are not only fun but very beneficial for training, and of course, being from Minnesota, an absolute life saver. I love the 90 and 2- hour classes as well as just an occasional break from my bike trainer. I still huff and puff through the class but enjoy the variety of music, the feeling of camaraderie and just letting someone else direct my training while I give it my all. - BS