When my Peloton arrived in December, I was at a low point. The pandemic had been raging for nine months, the days were getting darker sooner, and too cold for my Southern bones, which still haven’t adjusted to winters in D.C. In the copious spare time I had, I began running, but as the year inched on, I couldn’t stand the frigid mornings. Not being able to exert myself and, in a sense, outrun my agoraphobia and constant sense of dread threw me off my game. Exercise had become my go-to pick-me-up, replacing my half-a-pack-a-day cigarette habit, back in 2016. Before the pandemic, a good gym session gave me the space required to boost my confidence, release any anger I was carrying around that day, and wear me out enough to further relieve my anxiety-induced insomnia. Now all I had was a pair of 15-pound dumbbells and the outdoors.
Throughout the fall, I’d been getting notifications on my Apple Watch from my cycling friends, updating me on their Peloton progress. Stationary cycling, or biking generally, had never appealed to me. I would sparingly attend classes at local studios, have a good time, and sweat it out. But setting up the bike to work with my body took too much energy, and it had to be done each time I walked into a studio. And I often felt those classes were just too white. I can’t recall having a Black instructor or even someone of color. These instructors exist, of course, but so scarcely that I never ended up in one of their classes even though I tried. Rigid scheduling is mostly to blame for that, so I was forced to take whichever class I could get at a certain time.
And studio cycling in D.C. costs too damn much. But since I wasn’t paying for a gym membership, I figured I could at least ask my friends what they enjoyed about their Pelotons. They raved about how the bike had positively affected their mental health and given them a fun way to occupy their time. Cycling does have a host of benefits—improved cardiovascular fitness, better circulation, and easing feelings of anxiety and depression are among them.
It was appealing. But before I decided to leap into a commitment I wasn’t convinced I’d honor, I needed to know who was teaching these classes. I spent some time looking up the instructors and reading articles about their individual approaches. I was most drawn to Alex Toussaint, whose “Game 7 mentality” is exactly what I need when I’m doubting my ability to keep going and the power of my discipline.
Peloton felt like it could be different. I revamped my budget to make sure I could pay for it, and I liked that it was cheaper in the long run than paying for in-studio options. I also caught that little sale they had at the end of last year. It isn’t lost on me that being able to afford the bike, focus on the long-term savings it provides, and overall investment is a class privilege—even with the financing options currently available, which do make the bike more accessible—as is having somewhere to put it. And, in the back of my head, I still wondered if I’d end up sending it back to the warehouse so that it didn’t become an expensive clothes rack.
Even so, the bike felt like an opportunity to get back some of what had been taken from me last year. I hadn’t been on a run in a few weeks. My energy was pent up. I was full of angst and sadness. More bad news was delivered from back home, a recurring event in 2020. When I get into a dark place, it sounds loud inside my head. I was flailing; I couldn’t stop the noise.
My first class was Ally Love’s Beyoncé ride, and I let all of that go. When the ride was over, I was drenched in sweat, and my endorphins had returned. I felt like myself again. I had the tools I needed to begin repairing myself mentally. I took eight classes in my first seven days owning the bike, much to the chagrin of my legs. Now, I do three rides per week.
Twenty-two full-time cycling instructors offer thousands of classes across a range of disciplines and music tastes. And a few of them look like me, too. I can rely on Tunde Oyeneyin to boost my faith in myself and remind me that, as a Black woman, I have a level of resilience that others just don’t understand. Hannah Frankson’s rides are so much fun, and her music acumen best matches mine. When I need a massive jolt of confidence, I pull up a class by Toussaint.
One of the best things about exercising is proving to myself that I’m able to do something I didn’t think I could. The positive, motivating self-talk that happens during the workout flows into the other parts of my life.
“Pick your head up. You don’t drop your head in my class” is a common refrain from Toussaint, and it’s another I’ve incorporated into my daily life. I’ve shortened it to “Pick your head up. You don’t drop your head.” I’ve been using “stay up,” too. And I often return to Love’s “power of one” mantra on days I need a reminder that I can keep going. I have another minute in me, another hour, another day.
The return of warm weather hasn’t affected my cycling regimen. I discovered that I enjoy this more than running, and I’ve developed a habit I don’t intend to shake.
Now, on days when I feel like nothing, I get on the bike and remember that I am somebody who is loved and who matters. I feel the blood coursing through my veins, my breath starts to stagger and sweat drips down my brow.
I feel alive.