I'm not a competitive person.  I don't have to be the best.

But I don't like being the worst.

Which is how I found myself hunched over a stationary bike, furiously pumping my legs, dripping sweat off my chin, practically spitting from breathing so hard.

Only to look up and see my name on the big screen, again:

8th out of 8 women, Francesca S.

You have got to be freaking kidding me.

This spring, I've attempted to restore the summer body I had sometime back in July '09, with the help of a gift card for SoulCycle.

A present only a thirtysomething woman gets excited about.

Part of SoulCycle's self-care shtick is the absence of a bike monitor to display your stats.  Instead, you're supposed to "listen to your body."

My body generally says, "Let's eat bread."

But I've been going several times a week and feeling great, so I wanted a progress check.  I signed up for a different kind of spin class that tracks each rider's output and projects it onto a big screen.  The competitive spirit is supposed to push you to be your best.


I've always been indifferent to competition.  Growing up, I preferred individual sports like horseback riding, and I didn't compete often.  I remember the event where I placed the highest, I had to be reminded to pick up my ribbon. I'm hard on myself, but I judge my present based on my past and push myself to improve.  I have blinders for everyone else.

So I didn't think I would find myself too pushed.

I arrived at class early to set up my bike, and the instructor explained the class: five "games" of high-intensity intervals during which our power output would be represented by a ring of fire on the screen, and after, our finishing rank displayed.  Did I have any questions?

"No, thanks, I'll just try my best."  I gave a knowingly humble shrug.

"Good, that's what matters," she said.

I smiled like a serene spin goddess, just passing through to bless this class with my magnanimity.

She dimmed the lights, and we cycled through the first game. I felt strong. The final rankings were displayed on the screen:

8th out of 8 women, Francesca S.

Hmm, that's disappointing. But everyone's got to start somewhere, I thought to myself.

The next game started. This time, I cranked the resistance and pushed hard from the get-go.

8th out of 8 women, Francesca S.

Really? Well, I am new, and these other people probably take this class regularly. Good job, guys, very impressive group.

But then I noticed one woman near me was visibly pregnant.  I didn't know who she was on the board, but she was a woman and I was in last place, so she had to be better than me. Is that even safe?

By game three, the board felt like public shaming:

8th out of 8 women, Francesca S.

Is this thing on? That woman over there is older than my mother and her legs were way behind the beat. 

The instructor congratulated the leaders, even on down to, "Last but not least, good job, Francesca S.!"

Don't patronize me.

Game number four:

8th out of 8 women, Francesca S.

I got there early and pedaled lightly while the others arrived. Could that be pulling my average wattage down? That has to be it, a false average! It's really not fair to be penalized for punctuality.

Game number five begins: My last chance for redemption.

I go all-out. I'm pouring sweat, it's stinging my eyes and making my hands slip on the handlebars.  I dig deep in my soul, to the place where my wildest dreams and darkest daddy issues reside, to the spiritual world of my ancestors — provincial Italians who would shake their fists at a spin class — to summon my last, remaining burst of energy.  I've never seen numbers so high on my bike's console; I'm crushing my personal best and wondering if it's possible for your heart to explode.  I'm about to find out, because there is no effing way I am going to be —

8th out of 8 women, Francesca S.

I left the class before we finished the cool-down.  My excuse was a dinner reservation, but the move was not without a hint of John McEnroe.

The older woman I had noticed in class followed me into the elevator to the locker room.  My face was bright red, my chest still heaving, yet she looked utterly poised.

"That class was really hard! That was my first time," I said by way of explanation.

"Oh, yeah, it's great," she replied. I could hardly hear her over my heart rate.

I had to purge my embarrassment and confess. "I'm 'Francesca S.!' That was me, eighth out of eight!  I was trying so hard, but I just could not move up!"

She waved me off. "At least you got on the leader board."

Leader board? "Isn't everyone's name displayed?"

"Not for the rankings. There are over 20 bikes. You did well."

I felt like an idiot and a jerk. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to —"

"Oh, don't worry about it. I don't care.  I'm just there for the workout."

Here was the magnanimity I'd claimed to possess; the closest I got to it was sharing an elevator.

It's been a week, and I still cringe at the memory of my poor sportsmanship. Competition didn't bring out my best; it revealed my worst.

That said, I'm back at that class.

I may not be the Zen athlete I thought I was, but watch out, Number Seven — I'm not an eighth-place athlete, either.

Look for Lisa and Francesca's latest humor collection, "I Need a Lifeguard Everywhere But the Pool," and Lisa's  new domestic thriller, "After Anna," in stores now.  Francesca@francescaserritella.com.