Sunday, October 30, 2011

Losing my spin class virginity

My (second) last post was all about going outside my comfort zone.  This post is too, although in a different way.  (I actually started this earlier this week, then didn't finish it.)


The discipline that I've focused on the least since starting my journey has been the bike.  I didn't need to build up to it as carefully and gradually as I did running.  I didn't need to learn the technique the way I did on the swim.  Every kid learns to pedal a bike, right?  You get on and go.

My first few triathlons even seemed to prove my point.  In terms of placing, I was doing best on the bike.  In Strathmore, I placed 61/250 overall.  It was the bike where I performed the best, relative to the field, at 49.  That would seem to indicate that the bike was my strength.

Of course, the aspect that I wasn't considering was the bike itself.  Sprint triathlons have a lot of newbies.  While I was a triathlon newbie myself this year, my bike is not a typical newbie bike.  Bella easily outclassed all of the hybrid, mountain, and cruiser bikes on the course, giving me free time in comparison.

When it came to my Olympic triathlon, the bikes were pretty much all road and tri bikes, which equalized the equipment factor.  My bike split placed me in about the same position as my overall time.  This isn't a bad thing, but it indicates that my bike needs just as much work as the other disciplines.  If anything, more, since the bike leg is the longest in triathlons (meaning it's the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to cutting down time).

Plus, I'll admit that I'm still not nearly as confident on the bike as I wish I could be.  I'm slow clipping in.  I'm scared going down hills.  I'm nervous in traffic.  I'm often unsure about my gearing.  I've never successfully rode standing up.  I can only grab my water bottle when I'm coasting, and not pedalling.

At first glance, this looks like I'm getting down on myself and dwelling on what I can't do.  That's not the case at all.  These are simply things that I am aware of, and have been working on.  Almost every one of them, I feel stronger in then I did last spring, when I started riding outside.  Having said that, I also recognize them as things that I need to continue working on.  When it comes to working on the bike, getting stronger and more confident can do a lot.

But, it's getting colder outside.  The trainer tire is already on Bella, and, as much as I hate to say it, snow is coming soon...

Considering spin class

Enter spin class.  (Just so we're on the same page, I'm referring to the kind of spin class aimed at triathletes where you bring your own bike and trainer, as opposed to at a gym on spin bikes.)

Going to a spin class is something I've really hesitated to do for a few reasons.  One is practicality.  It isn't that convenient for me.  I am able to run and bike from my house, and the pool is 5 minutes away.  Spin class is a drive into the city, so it's a good 35 - 40 minutes each way.  I prefer to use my time training rather then travelling whenever possible.

Another reason is cost.  It's a bit hard to pay to ride my bike on the trainer when I can do it at home for free.  Triathlon is far from cheap, but I've done what I can to keep costs reasonable.

The last reason is the one that held me back the most.  It's also a recurring theme in my life and my triathlon journey.  I found attending a spin class utterly intimidating.  I know how hard Angie can work us in the pool, and that's considering there's technique work in there that is done at a slower pace - meaning pool work is a mix of mental and physical work.  On the bike, it's much easier to work harder without sacrificing form.  Would I even be able to keep up?  What if I couldn't finish?  What if I puked?  Died?  I knew this would be a class full of triathletes.  Ironmen.

Hang on.  I am a triathlete.  And, one day, I'll be an Ironman.  Really, I felt about the same intimidation going to this spin class as I did joining the coached swim program.

Besides, what if some bike coaching can do for my bike what swim coaching did for my swim?  Since my own coach isn't in the budget yet, I may as well take advantage of any group coaching I can get.  The class I was going to attend is coached by Angie, who is the same phenomenal coach who helped me improve my swim.  While I may still find her intimidating, it's a comfortable intimidation.  In the past, she's pushed me beyond what I thought I could do, but not beyond my actual limits.

So, I sent her an email to ask some questions and indicate I would attend that week.  While I actually did have a couple questions, this email also served as a commitment in a way.  Once I tell people I'm going to do something, I have enough pride that I'm unlikely to back out.

So, when Tuesday evening rolled around, I packed my bike and trainer in the car and headed to spin class. I quickly found parking and headed in.

Doing Spin Class

I felt totally out of my element upon entering.  There were a bunch of people who looked like they knew what they were doing setting up bikes on trainers.  My solution to being out of my element is to act like I know what I'm doing.  It may not fool anyone, but at least I can pretend I'm comfortable.

I thought there'd be a lot of overlap between the swim program and this one, but at first, I didn't see anyone.  Then I spotted Leana, who I'd met at a race a few weeks earlier.  I took advantage of a familiar face and asked her how it worked and where I should set up.  Once other people started arriving, I saw a couple other people I knew and said hi.

Before long, Angie got there and class was starting.  She let us know that we'd be doing a lot of high cadence spinning in this workout.  She introduced a few of us that were there for the first time and announced some race accomplishments that others have had.  It was a great community kind of feeling.  Then the work started.

There were the single leg drills.  I read enough to know about single leg drills, but hadn't tried them up till now.  I started off clunking through the pedal stroke, but managed to get better efficiency.  It's still something I need to work on, but I could feel the difference.

Now, I know that spinning isn't supposed to be that hard, but truthfully, before I got my bike fit, I had trouble holding 75 rpm.  After the bike fit, I've tended to hold about 85.  Angie had us do sets where we built our rpm.  Basically 1 minute at 95, 1 minute at 100 and 1 minute at 105.  Then it was 2 minutes at each.  Then 3.  (Most other people in the class were working at higher rpms, but I thought that was a good level for me at this point, and still challenging.)

It didn't feel too hard at 1 minute, but by the time we were doing the three minute intervals, it took some serious focus to get through.  During one of the final intervals, Angie called out the phrase: "You can do it!"  

If I believe I can, I can.  One of my mantras right now.

Now, if there was one thing, in relation to bike riding that I would have used the forbidden "I can't" phrase, it would be in reference to standing up while riding.  When I was a kid, and everybody else stood up while riding, I never did.  Truthfully, I don't know if I really tried, if I was afraid of doing it, or just got frustrated.  I wasn't the most athletic kid.  Since starting to ride again as an adult, I have tried a handful of times.  As soon as I start pedaling, I've always felt like I'm about to fall over.  Even on the trainer.  I seriously felt so off balance, I thought I could overbalance the whole set up.

So, of course, there was some standing up to pedal during the class.

In the right situation, pride can be a great thing.  Surrounded by other people doing it and seeing it as no big deal, there was no way I wasn't at least going to try.  And, I did do it.  I sure didn't feel smooth or efficient while doing it, but I also didn't feel like I was overbalancing my bike and trainer.

Thankfully, standing up isn't a main focus in most tri spin classes, the way (I've heard) it is in gym spin classes.  There were two points where Angie had us doing it.  One was while pushing a hard gear at a lower rpm and one was while going as hard as we could for 15 second intervals.  I will admit that I didn't do it while going as hard as I could.  That was already a challenge, and I truthfully think I need some more practice first.  The point is, I did one of those "I can't" skills.

Then we finished off with some core work.  Um, have I admitted that I do incredibly little core work?  I always have good intentions of starting up, but then don't get off the ground.


This was one of the hardest and most intense workouts I've done.  Lately, I've been recognizing that, as much as I'm consistent with my workouts, I don't bring the intensity in often enough.  I've often considered riding on the trainer to be pure boredom, but during the spin class, boredom was the last thing in my mind.  Between the music, the coach, and being surrounded by everyone, it's incredibly motivating to work as hard as I can.

There were a couple points where I was working so hard, I thought I might puke.  Perhaps there is a bit of a masochist in me, but I love that kind of workout.  I rarely push myself to that point outside of races, but I feel phenomenal afterwards so I need to do it more often.

It is worth the travel time and the cost to do the spin classes.  As for the intimidation factor, it's definitely worth getting past that.  Quite frankly, when you are afraid to do something, it probably means you care enough that you really want to and should confront that fear.  If you just weren't interested, you wouldn't care enough to have fear about doing it.


  1. Yay for you! The first time is always the hardest. Don't worry about what anyone else is doing, just do your thing. I still remember my first spin classes, and my goal was to make it through and not puke. It was close a few times.

    While it's possible to stay at home and spin, committing to a spin class makes you be there and get it done. Plus it's a great way to meet other people.

    But the more I worked at it the better it gets. Hang in there. Soon you'll be one of the regulars.

  2. Good job.

    I used to be a spin class regular and found a big difference between a tri focused class and a gym rat focused class. My coach believes that there is too much down time in these classes and more efficiency can be gained from a detailed workout in the "pain cave." The latter is much harder mentally to commit though.

    The off season is the time for building a base and it sounds like you are in the perfect mindset.

    BTW: It snowed here yesterday. Boo.

  3. Spinning kicks my butt everytime. We bought a spin bike and I ordered a few DVD's online and I work up quite a sweat

  4. Great job, Deb! I was totally intimidated my first spin class. I really do believe they help, though! Keep making yourself do the hard stuff...not just the physically hard, but the mentally hard as well...and you are going to kill it in 2012!!

  5. I laughed at your title! I love spin classes because they kick your butt! I agree that they are a pain to go to with all the travel time and equipment needed.

    Regular spin classes will definitely help your biking! Plus it's fun to sweat with others and it's more social than a swim class.

  6. I'm so glad you made it out to class last week!! Are you coming tonight? I know, Angie's classes can seem really intimidating. Everyone is so friendly though and it isn't like your neighbour is going to look over and say, "oh, your cadence looks low..." You go at your own pace. All of this work inside will really help your cycling though!!