In a moment of madness, I said yes: Yes, I would sign up to ride in a 109km cycling race with my sisters on the other side of the world. Me, who had three children aged 5 and under. Me, who did not have a working bicycle.
But love and sibling-peer-pressure are powerful motivators, and so it was that I found myself pouring my post-baby body into lycra cycling shorts and finding ways to rack up some miles on the tarmac. I shortly came up against two obstacles: 1) it was winter, and 2) the race we were training for was hilly, while our town was F-L-A-T. “You’ll have to do some hill training,” said my Dad. “Try a spin class at your local gym.”
Spinning? Spinning?! As in, an aerobics class on a stationary bicycle? With other people? And loud music? (Did I mention the lycra?)
I scoured the class schedule and found exactly one class during the week which would work with our family schedule without my needing to wake up before the sun. It was a Saturday morning 90-minute class, as opposed to the regular 45-60 minute ones. In hindsight, the instructor’s raised eyebrow when I said this was my first time should have been a clue that I was in the wrong class, but there’s nothing like ignorance to fuel one’s bravado.”I’ll be fine,” I said.
I was definitely NOT fine. Shaking and shivering with fatigue and muscle shock, I fell off the bike into the pool of sweat that had been collecting under the saddle after just TWENTY minutes. I limped out, hurting too badly to feel the humiliation acutely.
The next week, I organized child care and joined the beginner’s class. My goals were modest: to stay on the bike for the full 45 minutes, and to make sure I didn’t throw up. I survived that class (barely), and the one after that, and the one after that. By the 6th or 7th class, the danger of emetic eruption had abated, and I was beginning to feel a little stronger.
The next week we had a substitute instructor, and as she explained the basics of beginner spinning to us (how to adjust the tension, what cadence was, how fast we should be aiming to go), she made this comment: “Remember, folks, this is YOUR workout. You’re not doing this for me, it’s for you. You’re the one that gets the benefits of your effort. You can fool me, but you can’t fool your body. It’s your workout – make the most of it.”
Her words installed themselves on a mental billboard in my brain during that session. When I felt tempted to turn down the tension before an exercise was over, so that I could give my legs a break but still seem like I was keeping up – her words flashed in my head: “It’s your workout.” I kept pedaling. When she asked us to sprint for 1 minute, and my heart felt like it might explode out my chest at 26 seconds, I heard them again: “It’s your workout!” I kept pedaling.
Her words stayed with me through every spin class for the rest of the season, and I carried her voice and a backing track from Swedish House Mafia (a Spin class favorite) in my head when the day of the race finally came. “Don’t you worry, don’t you worry, child,” sang SHM, and I heard the voice say “This is your workout! This is your race!”
And it was.
It’s been a year since that first spin class, but I heard my instructors voice again this week as I faced the bible study homework that I had been neglecting throughout Christmas break. Small groups would be resuming soon, and my pages had great big white spaces between the questions: evidence of my attention being elsewhere over Christmas.
The temptation was this: to set aside half an hour, skim the chapter and fill in a few of the questions – enough to make the page look “full”, enough to have a few answers covered so that if I was called on in group discussion, I would have something to contribute. It wouldn’t take long for me to put in just enough effort so that I appeared to have put in a lot of effort. I could skip the “challenge” and “personal” questions – that would shave off at least half an hour.
An old, dusty mental billboard became visible in the corner of my mind’s eye. “It’s your workout,” it goaded. And I was convicted: yes, I could sit in the class and make the motions of participation, I could make it through the 45 minutes and call it “group exercise”. But it’s my heart that wouldn’t get extra oxygen. It’s my mind that wouldn’t be stretched. It’s my spiritual fitness that would be compromised. Because at the end of the day, I go to bible study for a workout for my soul – and it’s my workout.
It’s always painful to get back into shape. My faith-muscles are out of shape after Christmas, my prayer-joints a little stiff from disuse. But I know how good it feels to feel strong, and I know how a little fitness gives me more energy for everything in my day.
And so I’m going to make the most of it. Because it’s my workout, even when no-one is watching.