Monday, April 17, 2006

breaking through...

On Saturday I watched the display on my clock roll over to "8:00" and waited for the shrill alarm that would pierce the morning silence. I took a breath and slowly rolled out of bed, shuffling across the room to hit the snooze button for the third time. I had set my alarm with the intention going to a spinning class at my gym that was scheduled at 8:30, in an effort to kick-start my exercise routine. My workouts had become sporadic lately, and had dropped off completely in the past week. I climbed back into bed and wrapped myself in the warmth of my comforter again. I began to come up with excuses and rationalizations for skipping class that morning and doing something on Sunday instead. But just before inertia completely set in, I kicked off the covers and swung my legs onto the floor. I quickly changed into my workout clothes and got to the gym just as class was about to begin.

Last week had started off with promise. I had an interview on Monday for a job that I really wanted. The firm had everything I required and I seemed to have the exact experience they were looking for to fill the position. I met with several people in the firm and felt that things went really well with all of them. I knew that I was the first of three people that they were interviewing, and I had been told that I would hear something by the end of the week. My former supervisor had called me on Tuesday to say that she had been contacted as a reference and that she had given me a glowing recommendation. I had always tried to keep my expectations low following my previous interviews, but everything had seemed to be looking good so far with this one. When no word came by Friday afternoon, I began to prepare for the likelihood that an offer had already been made to someone else.

Up to that point, an odd feeling of limbo had hung over me all week. I had put several job leads on temporary hold--partly out of superstition but mainly because I didn't want to start the process rolling for something that would hopefully be moot in just a few days. I put my writing for this blog on hold as well, finding it hard to fully concentrate and put the interview out of my mind. I kind of pulled back on some chores around the house, getting a little distracted sometimes in the middle of a task. I don't recall making a concious decision to launch myself out of bed and turn off the snooze alarm before it went off for the fourth time that morning, but as I strapped my feet into the pedals while the spinning instructor lowered the lights in the room, I was glad that I did.

Either because of the early start time on a Saturday or because of the amazing spring weather outside, there were only 2 other people in class with me. The room was 20 by 30 feet, with floor to ceiling mirrors along the walls and flourescent purple lighting to set the mood. Our instructor was a fitness dynamo--imagine Louis Gossett Jr. from "An Officer and a Gentleman" as a 5'2" blonde with a ponytail wearing spandex and you get the general idea. I needed a little push to help kick my butt back into gear, and before we finished our 5-minute warmup I was already reaching for the water bottle.

The class consisted of 45-minutes of non-stop pedaling that simulated sprinting, jumping, and climbing on road bikes with music blasting throughout the room to help set the tempo. The main component of a spinning workout comes from the resistance set by a dial located beneath the handlebars. The instructor would shout out a number from 1 to 10 as the target resistance during a song, but it was up to each rider to increase the tension up to their own personal limit to represent a particular number. So a Level 5 might be a quarter-turn to the right for a beginner, or a complete revolution around the dial for an experienced rider.

As we went from the warm-up into the first series of sprints, my mind was still focused on the job I had applied for and the things that I had been putting off all week. I was just going through the motions but not really pushing myself during the first part of the class. As the instructor took us through a section of jumps that involved sitting, crouching, and standing up out of the seat, I felt my heart rate begin to go up and noticed that I was breaking into a small sweat. I tried to push aside all of the distractions in my mind by just focusing on my breathing and my form.

Thirty minutes into the class we began to make a long climb up a steep hill. The instructor started us at a Level 6, and over the course of several songs had us turn our dial further and further to the right to simulate the ever increasing grade. She had us stand up out of our saddles and hover over the handle bars as we pedaled. When each song ended, she let us sit back down for a few seconds to grab a quick drink of water, and then it was back up out of the seat as soon as the music started again.

As our climb continued and we passed by Level 8, I felt the need to push myself further. "Burning Down the House" by The Talking Heads came over the speakers, and I began to fall into a rhythm with the heavy drum beat. The instructor called out for Level 9, and I reached down between my legs and cranked the dial hard over to the right. The muscles in my thighs began to burn almost immediately from the increased resistance, while my breathing became much quicker. My feet continued to crank the pedals around and around as the song played on, and I had to fight the urge to ease back on the dial. I focused on pumping my knees up and down towards the front of the bike and rocking my hips forward and back with each revolution. I wrapped my fingers tightly around the far end of the handlebars and pulled my body up with my arms to try to take some of the strain off of my aching legs. My forearms began to tremble and I felt the sweat pouring from my face down my neck and back. My mouth and throat were completely dry and my breath was exploding from my chest in short, rapid bursts.

And then I felt a sudden change wash over me. The urge to quit faded away, and I felt the onset of a sense of calm. I allowed the drumbeat to carry me forward, and I pictured myself from above and slightly behind the bike, imagining that I was on a road coasting down a long hill, while actually I was still climbing towards the summit there in the workout room. I was able to gain focus as my breathing became controlled again, and all of the concerns and worries of the week were now far from my thoughts. I felt a renewed sense of strength and energy.

The end of the song signaled our goal of reaching the top of the hill, and I was snapped out of my little moment of reverie when "Kharma Chameleon" by the Culture Club came on to begin the final 5-minute warm down period of class. We finished up with some stretches and then I was outside walking to my car, feeling both fatigued and refreshed with the warm April sun on my face. I got home and ran straight through all the chores on my to-do list, and then spent the rest of the afternoon outdoors with Brendan enjoying a perfect spring day. Later that night I sat down at the computer and laid out the beginning draft of this post.

As I was finishing up my stretches in the spinning room back at the gym, I had noticed a flyer on the wall for the upcoming 2006 Philadelphia Broad Street Run. It's a 10-mile race that begins up by Central High School and finishes at the Navy Yard in South Philly, running in a straight line down Broad Street for the entire course. I had completed the race back in 2000, but had been thinking about running it again to see if I could improve on my results. It was scheduled early this year on May 7, so I would have to quickly step up my training to get in shape for it. But after my little spin on the bike that morning, I was in the mood to start setting another challenge for myself again. So later that night I logged onto to the official website for the race and paid my registration fee.

Three weeks should still be plenty of time to build up my conditioning, and I decided that I will really push this year to finish way under my old time. I also decided that no matter what the outcome of this latest interview, I would continue to search for the right job that provided personal fulfillment and challenge. As I settled into my bed later that night, it felt good to be moving forward once more, with new goals to reach waiting ahead in the morning.