After spending nearly three hours in a humid industrial space with dance music blaring, sweat streaming down my face and my feet moving like there's no tomorrow, I think, "This must be what a rave feels like." But while I do feel a surge of euphoria, it's an all-natural high.
I'm at the tail end of a three-hour spin class, and I feel surprisingly fine.
At first, the idea of spinning for 180 minutes straight raises a few questions: first of all, who does this? That was my first thought upon hearing of the marathon sessions held at Quad, a Toronto-based spin chain. As it turns out, the class – broken up into six 26-minute sessions, each taught by a different instructor and followed by a four-minute break – has quite the (sweaty) following.
"We did our first three-hour ride as a fundraiser after the 2004 tsunami," says Martin Dzatko, who co-owns Quad with his wife, Micheline Wedderburn. It sold out, and since then they've offered one once a month from fall to spring. Never mind the promise of burning a day's worth of calories; Mr. Dzatko says most people are drawn to the feel-good vibe: "There's a huge dynamic that happens when all these strangers come together."
Douglas Reid, a 53-year-old regular, concurs: "You get into the moment with the group, and it's just so positive. The exhilaration is palpable."
With that in mind, I try to establish some rapport with my neighbour at the start of a recent Saturday afternoon ride. We're near the back of the studio, which houses a fleet of 58 black-and-silver Schwinn bikes, four rows deep. I tell her it's my first time and ask her if she's done one before. "Yes," she says. Then I ask her if she enjoyed it. "No." Alrighty then.
I look around the exposed-pipe-and-brick room and see that the crowd is similar to that at Quad's regular classes: about 30 people, most of them 30-somethings, the majority wearing at least one Lululemon item. There's slightly more women than men, but aside from a few Lance Armstrong-types, I'm reassured to see that the majority appear averagely fit instead of insanely so.
Mr. Dzatko maintains that anyone who has 10 to 20 regular classes under their belt, as I do, can finish a three-hour ride.
The first session starts off encouragingly with one of my favourite instructors (Braeden McMillan) and workout songs ("Till the World Ends" by Britney Spears). He leads us through the typical drills – seated, standing, sprints and hills – while advising us to pace ourselves. It goes by in a flash, as does the break. There's barely enough time to snack; I've brought a banana and a Larabar that I take bites of between sessions.
Round two, a series of hills, is unremarkable. But during the third leg, led by Mr. Dzatko, things start to get real. He's a tyrant on wheels, gruffly barking, "Go! Go! Go!" as we do a series of uphill sprints to an aggressive remix of Madonna's "Holiday."
Instructor No. 4 is also in touch with her militant side. "I said not to touch that resistance dial!" she shouts while scanning the room for dissidents. After this session wraps, I'm chuffed to notice that one of the Lance Armstrong-types doesn't return to his bike after the break. What a lightweight! Then I realize he's instructor No. 5.
At this point, it seems like I'm going to make it. I've drunk two bottles of Gatorade and several more of water to counteract the buckets I've sweat. My legs are tired but haven't shut down completely – likely thanks to the extra carbs I've eaten in the past 24 hours on the advice of Beth Mansfield, a sport nutrition specialist and exercise physiologist at Peak Performance in Ottawa. In full disclosure, she's a wee bit skeptical about the whole three-hour spin concept, at least for those who haven't adequately worked up to it.
Ms. Wedderburn is the final instructor. Unlike her colleagues, she spends most of her time off the bike, encouraging us to "dig deep" as she dances around Electric Circus-style in a pair of thigh-high Converse. We do one last gruelling hill (to the tune of "Stairway to Heaven") and the jig is finally up. There's a round of applause. The overall mood is positive, though perhaps not the revelation Mr. Reid had promised.
I feel pretty good, as well as pretty sore in the seat. Would I do it again? I think so – it's the most fun I've had working out this hard, and the time truly flew by – but only after investing in a pair of padded shorts.
Special to The Globe and Mail