Riding for Fun and Volunteering Helped This Cyclist Overcome His Fear of Races and Lose 20 Pounds

Colin MacLellan as told to Jordan Smith
Photo credit: courtesy
Photo credit: courtesy

From Bicycling

Age: 48
Occupation:
Teacher
Hometown:
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Start Weight:
260
End Weight:
240
Time Cycling:
8 years

Prior to riding seriously, I weighed 260 pounds. I got to my heaviest weight just by living. I wasn’t obese, but I was out of shape. At my heaviest it was a lot, even for my 6-foot-2-inch frame. I had spent the last 20 years hatching into an adult (having kids, starting a career, and taking care of, then burying, my father). Also, poutine. I ate a lot of poutine.

My body was a mess: bad back, two torn meniscuses, and I was stressed and angry. I always had a bike, but only rode for fun. Somehow, I started riding during the winter at a local indoor park (Joyride 150), and it felt good. Actually, it felt great. When it was too late, or I was too tired, or it was too snowy, or I just didn’t want to ride, my wife reminded me how great I would feel if I rode, so I did.

During the first summer, my family happened to be at a resort, and there was a bike race. I’m a teacher, and I thought “Hey, I should volunteer to help at a race some day.” I kept riding, and the chance to volunteer found me.

The opportunity arose to work with at-risk kids in a program called “Cycling For Success” (organized by Metro Toronto Police). Training for the program was at the Joyride 150 Indoor Bike Park, and I rode with the students. After one or two sessions with the program, I found myself hitting the park once or twice a week after putting my kids to bed, eventually riding three to four nights a week.

The next winter, at it again most weeknights, the owner of the bike park said “You should do a race.” Um, me? Nope.

However, a month or two later, the seed took root, and I registered for my first race: P2A (gravel point to point). I was terrified—whimpering and blubbering terrified. But I did the short distance race (40K). It was horrible and cold and awesome. Everything bad that could happen did.

But I was hooked. The next weekend, I did my first mountain bike race. It was horrible and cold and even awesomer. Once again, everything bad that could happen did. Also, I learned that two races in two weekends was a bit too much for me, so I said I’d never race back-to-back weekends again.

But by the end of that season, I raced twice in the same weekend! For the next four years, I did the short distance in every race that I could. Since then, I’ve clipped-in and kitted-up almost 100 times. The universe spoke to me when the bike park owner suggested I race. (I didn’t realize it was speaking, but I had the dumb luck to heed to it.) So, when the universe (a race organizer) told me to do a marathon distance race a few years ago, I did. I raced 60K on a single speed (because a dude told me it would be cool). Once again, it was the worst...and the best. When the universe talked to me again and told me to do an 8-hour mountain bike relay race, I did—solo, unsupported, on my single speed.

Photo credit: courtesy
Photo credit: courtesy

[Gravel! prepares you with everything you need to know to crush it, including the best gear, how to train, and much more!]

As far as my previous diet, aside from the above mentioned affection for poutine, I also like pizza (and wasn’t averse to all the fast food). Also, I really liked a late night bowl of Lucky Charms.

On one hand, I was always a relatively healthy eater (mostly water to drink, very little soda and juice, and no coffee or alcohol), and I had a decent raw veggie intake, but I complimented my daily vegetable servings with fast food and treats as a reward for any good eating habits.

Now my diet is much better. I start each day with a great smoothie (spinach, half an avocado, a cup of blueberries, and a small handful of almonds), take vitamins, and try to snack on fruit, vegetables, or nuts (although during COVID the wheels kind of fell off the bus lately). Endurance racing has made me very aware of my body’s needs, so I’m more mindful of my diet in general.

Overall, I try to eat less meat, more whole grains, and limit portions (which is still a work in progress). When I ride for long durations, I stay away from energy drinks and gels, and rely on water and actual food (a good meal prior, and almonds or a granola bar in my kit pocket in case I bonk). During races or rides that are longer than 4 hours, I use Hammer Perpetuem (starting at the third hour, and then hourly), but otherwise, I mostly just eat good (and bad) food.

I only weigh about 20 pounds less now, but I’m as healthy as heck, my waist is the same as it was almost 30 years ago, my knees are happy (well, as happy as they can be at this age), my back is golden, and I feel wicked.

Photo credit: courtesy
Photo credit: courtesy

Now, I race about 15 times a year. Usually I go for the marathon-distance mountain bike races (60–100K), gravel, fat bike (in winter), as well as a few different week-night series rips (when I can make it). Since most of the big kids don’t race marathon-distance, I won the 2019 Substance Projects XC Marathon Series, and I’ve probably stood on the podium more than most of my friends. (I just race a lot, and have a different—and very small—category.) Also, in the last five Epic 8 Hour races, I nailed a 100K pin.

A few mantras I have for myself during racing are: “I didn’t bring a teacup to a garden party, I brought my bike to a mountain bike race,” and “I didn’t win the race, I may have even come in last place—but I beat everyone who stayed in bed late and spent the day drinking coffee.”

You can follow Colin’s journey on his blog.

We want to hear how cycling changed you! Send your story and submit your photos to us via this web form. We’ll pick one each week to highlight on the site.

You Might Also Like

More From