Midnight might technically begin a new day, but the nebulous time between 11:59 p.m. and 5 a.m. still feels like nighttime to me. I'm confident that many others won't commit to the term "morning" until even later, when the first rays of sunlight peek over the horizon.
While most are still engaged in dreamy REM states at 4:45 a.m., there is an astonishingly alert and dedicated population of gym-goers who simultaneously gather in the parking lot at the downtown YMCA several days each week. By 4:55 a.m., they've formed a line at the front door, knowing that the front desk attendant won't be one minute late in sliding back the locked bolt to admit entrance.
Having heard rumors of these earlier-than-early birds, my curiosity grew. What was so compelling about being among the first arrivals at the gym to warrant a middle-of-the night walk-up call?
On my third attempt to drag myself out of bed at a quarter to 5 a.m., I finally resisted the impulse to hit the snooze button. Bolstered by auto-brewed espresso, I scurried out of my house and arrived at the YMCA in time to become the 17th person in line just as the front door was being pushed open.
Of this small crowd, nearly half made a beeline for the basement home of the spin room. Within the cinderblock walls of this cavern sit 30 heavy-duty stationary bicycles, several high-velocity fans and a stereo system with surround-sound. The instructor must have spent the night at the gym, because the brightly lit room was already vibrating with an up-tempo beat. The regulars staked out their territory immediately, brandishing dirty looks at an interloper (me) who might unknowingly mount a bike in their usual spot.
I was lucky to find an empty saddle thanks only to another gym rat's having snored through her alarm clock, surrendering her reservation in the first indoor cycling class of the day. There wasn't a single unclaimed bike in the room when the lights dimmed and the fans turned on. Stifling a yawn, I began to pedal, slowly increasing my cadence to keep time with Lady Gaga and the perky instructor, who encouraged the roomful to add a little more resistance to the flywheels on our bikes and amp up our collective exertion.
It didn't take long for the sweat puddle beneath my bike to reach an embarrassing proportion. Were people going to think I'd spilled my water bottle on the floor? In my mind I was climbing 10 percent grades, racing along at 27 mph, out-sprinting a massive peloton and covering more distance in an hour than most people cover in a day. But in reality, as hard as I turned the cranks, my bike hadn't moved. An energizing play list and borrowed motivation from the other participants in the class had synergistically created the most effective indoor workout I've ever done.
Body drenched in perspiration and veins coursing with endorphin-fed satisfaction, it dawned on me. This is why I arose so early--an experience worth getting up for is one that leaves you physically wiped out but mentally wired for the day ahead. I'll be back, even if it means staying up all night to avoid having to get up so early.